The Fox and the Critics


First, the Fox. Big Daddy Fox Volpone.

Exactly two years ago tomorrow, our recording of Volpone was In the Can. As of last weekend, it is finally on my desk, available in the lobby at The Barns and on its way to CDBaby and iTunes! (Should be available online in a little under 2 weeks.)

It was a much thornier and confusing process than it had any right to be, and it almost foiled us multiple times. But we persevered and prevailed, and we are thrilled to get this marvelous comic opera out there where more people can hear it!

Good Things about Bad Reviews

Second, the critics.

In recent seasons we’ve generally escaped the disapproving glances of the media. Didn’t get off so easily this time, so today was an interesting day. I’ve written before about the challenge of handling reviews within a young artist company. One of the biggest hurdles is getting folks to ignore the coverage when it’s approving. It’s so seductive to read that a knowledgeable person loved your performance. But once you succumb to identifying with the critic’s assessment, you’re doomed to the same buy-in when (not if, but when) it turns south.

So, in the spirit of gratitude journals and other various list-making exercises, my five good things about bad reviews:

1. You don’t have to tear them down repeatedly from the dressing room corridor. Good reviews tend to get posted on walls and doors throughout the theatre by folks who want to share their pride in their production. But not everyone reads these things, and most people shouldn’t. So we search and destroy, even though they’re flattering. Bad notices don’t tend to get posted as frequently :)

2. Colleagues feel you need respectful silence. (To mourn or something…) These days tend to be quiet. Folks who would normally be hammering at us for information are giving us a wide berth. It’s weird, but I love it. Got a lot done today:)

3. Fans and supporters are galvanized! Emails and phone calls come in from folks who loved the show and are determined to let us (and, generally, the media) know about it. God love ’em. I’m just happy to know that they had an enjoyable night in the theatre. That, and our continued efforts to serve the music and do our best work, are the most important things.

4. It has the potential to free you for the next performance. My worst work onstage (and in life, to tell the truth) comes when I am paralyzed by fear about what will happen if someone doesn’t like what I’m doing. Because it’s inevitable, you know. Once the worst happens, though, and the world continues to turn, an incredible sense of freedom can set in. And the next performance feels like flying.

5. They get you one step closer to embracing the only critics you should have. (Yourself, and those in the business you trust.) Not everything we do is flawless. Not every mistake we make is detected. And not everything we obsess about is wrong. The only way to continue to grow and to enjoy your journey as an artist is to be honest to yourself, to continue to seek out feedback from people who have your best interest at stake. Experience has shown me that many of the cringe-worthy things I’ve done have been soundly endorsed. And some of the most wonderful things I’ve been involved with have been savaged.

Let’s keep the conversation going. It’s part of the art form, and differences of opinion and perspective keep us all from getting too complacent. We’ll talk more about this some other day, but in the meantime, there’s more Mozart to enjoy. One more terrific performance tomorrow night!

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