How to Handle (Good and Bad) Reviews

Reviews are the bogeymen of the acting biz. Objects of both desire and dread, they hover in the shadows, singing a siren’s promise of approval, or else waiting to ambush the unwary actor with briskly-typed derision.

If you act professionally long enough, you will accumulate both “good” and “bad” reviews. I put these words in quotation marks because “good” and “bad” are judgmental terms. Since we as actors have no control over what critics write, I would like to start off by examining the one aspect of reviews every actor does control: his or her attitude toward them.

“Good” Reviews

A positive review can do great things for an actor. It can serve as a token of affirmation in a sea of ambiguity. It can lift one’s spirits and or boost motivation. The danger, of course, lies in the potential for ego-inflation. Remember, a good review is nice, but it is one person’s opinion. It does not an Olivier make.

“Bad” Reviews

Negative reviews can be toxic. They can trap actors in their heads, hobbling honesty and stifling creativity. Giving a negative review too much power is destructive. On the flip side, I’m sure some actors find bad reviews motivational. Either way, it is still one person’s opinion. Reviews are not gospel, and a bad one isn’t a lifelong condemnation.

Avoidance

One obvious way to deal with the potential confusion and possible toxicity of reviews is to avoid reading them altogether. Whenever possible, I try to steer clear of reviews until the run of a show is completed. I know from experience that I tend to take reviews too personally, and I would much rather peruse them post-closing, free of the danger of letting them affect my performance. If you are a person who can shrug reviews off without a second thought, have at. There is no right or wrong way to handle this area of the business. There will also be times when you might be unable to avoid reviews. Other actors might mention, even quote them, during the run. Or the idea that a review is out there, content unknown, might be the biggest bogeyman of all. In the latter case, it might ease your mind to bite the bullet and read the review, rather than let your imagination run wild. But if you do, remember . . .

Critics are human

Some of them will be well-educated, experienced, and artistically talented humans, to be sure. But they are still humans with preferences and biases, and their observations, however astute, are still the words of men and women, not gods. Moreover, they are men and women who observed you on one night of one run as one character in one production. Even if you believe every word of a review to be accurate, that review will never describe the breadth of your career.

Don’t let reviews define you

You probably saw this one coming. But it bears repeating and revisiting. As you will likely have to remind yourself many, many times, (possibly within the course of a day), acting is a subjective field. The aims are myriad: to move, to empower, to entertain, to offend, to share… accomplishing any of these goals demands getting one’s hands a bit dirty. You can’t win them all. In my opinion, you shouldn’t win them all. So read reviews if you must. Give them whatever attention it is constructive to give. Learn from them if they offer worthy lessons. And then show them the door. You have work to do.

 

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com