Reviews, Reviews, Reviews

They say that ‘three’ is a magic number. A lucky number. Well, if that is so, I expect piles of leprechaun gold to be showered down upon me, rainbow unicorns to start flying out of my arse. My Edinburgh Fringe show, you see, has now been graced with five 3-star reviews. It has had so much mediocre fairy dust showered down upon it that I can only reasonably expect miracles to start occurring in each performance. The blind can see. The lame can walk. A wooden puppet turns into a real boy.
I apologise in advance for this massively self-pitying post, when there are many more dreadful things happening in the world. Gaza. Isis. Robin Williams. But, hey, what can I say. I’m a selfish c**t.
I am going on swings and roundabouts with the reviews. The first one devastated me and resulted in me sobbing for several hours before and after my second show. The second one I expected and so didn’t faze me, not really. It was actually quite nice. So nice, in fact, that several people have asked, ‘exactly why didn’t they give you 4 stars?’ The third was so completely inconsistent in it’s praise/condemnation that it’s barely worth mentioning, except for the fact that I’d secretly hoped it would be 4 and so it destroyed me anew. The final two I checked the star rating of and then didn’t bother to read. I don’t really need any more half-hearted praise.
Everyone says 3-star reviews are a recommendation. But they’re not. Not really. Certainly not up at Edinburgh Fringe, where EVERYONE has a 4 star or 5 star review plastered to their flyers. As a reviewer, when I’m giving 3 stars, it’s usually a bit like saying, ‘yeah, it’s a fine show. If you have any interest in [insert topic of show], you’ll probably enjoy it.’ Or, ‘if you’ve got nothing else to do that night, it’s probably worth paying some money for.’ It’s like one big ‘meh’. And after 5 of them you start thinking, yeah, pretty much all of my audience is watching me and going, ‘meh’.
It’s been happening for years, really. My Year 7 English teacher (the evil Mrs. Clack) had a similar reaction to the first piece of creative writing I ever gave her. She gave me the grade equivalent of 3 stars and wrote, ‘not creative enough’ at the bottom. As the years have gone on, I’ve realised what shit feedback that is and in no way useful for letting me know what she ACTUALLY wanted me to be doing or teaching me to become ‘more’ creative (whatever the hell that means). But, she was at least expressing a general feeling that I should perhaps have taken more seriously at the time. If only I had taken her feedback more fully on board and worked harder at maths and science, or some other kind of subject. If only I had realised then that ‘creativity’ was not the career path for me. If only she had spelled it out more clearly. If only I’d inspired enough strong feeling in her for her to forbid me to ever do anything creative ever again, then, maybe I would have gotten the message. Instead of just, ‘meh.’
I have, by and large, received very little support from people who might have been able to help me develop over the years. Like Mrs. Clack they saw so little potential in me that they dismissed me without even bothering to let me know why. This is the case from arts funding bodies, from development programs, from theatres, from artists a bit further along the path than me. I’ve had to try and make up most of this on my own. I recognise that some of this is due to my own lack of confidence, my inability to ask for support or assistance from people that I admire. But the majority is being rejected for most every opportunity that I apply for (unless it’s something I have to pay for – those are things people are MORE THAN HAPPY for me to be involved in).
The disturbing thing from my perspective is the frequency with which I get 3-star reviews. If you added up all the reviews I have gotten over my lifetime, it evens out at pretty much 3 1/4 stars out of 5. That’s not a ringing endorsement for someone who is trying to make a career out of this. I mean, 3-star reviews are fine, as long as someone, somewhere, thinks that what you are doing is fantastic, game-changing, speaking their language, speaking to their experience or whatever. I don’t really get that reaction. I’m kind of ‘meh’.
There are plenty of artists out there who think that reviews are not important. That would be easier to believe if I was making lots of money and having big audiences. It would be easier to believe if I was being supported by some kind of funding body. But, frankly, I’m not so arrogant to think that if I’m getting shitty reviews, it’s the reviewers fault. I don’t think audiences falling asleep or leaving the show is because they are crap human beings, or not smart enough, or not good enough, or not paying attention enough. It is my fault. I’m not doing my ‘job’. Certainly there have been difficulties with this show – the venue, for one, great, big, huge reason. I do recognise that I haven’t had as much time to work into it as some of the others that I’ve put on. However, the larger, bigger point remains, that if, after how many years of trying, I am still, by and large, inspiring a reaction of, ‘meh’, it must be time to reconsider the path that I’m on.
So, in summary, I am not enjoying this Edinburgh Fringe. When I wrote on the first day that I thought audiences would ruin everything, I didn’t really expect it to be so accurate. I mean, I know it’s not really their fault, but showing it to everyone has made me feel very differently about it and me than I did a few weeks ago. It might, eventually, be a good thing. It’ll be the final nail in the coffin of my so-called ‘career in the arts’.
Unfortunately though, my bro, Chris, says that I’m not allowed to give up theatre before the 24th. Which isn’t that far away, I know. But I am secretly (ok, not so secretly) thinking of deliberately spraining/breaking my ankle so that I don’t have to do any more shows. I know it is only 10 more shows, I know that doesn’t seem like much, but it’s like being a child again and being told you only have to eat 10 more Brussel Sprouts before you can have dessert. Or, just 10 more pages of homework before going outside. Or, just 10 more hours before you can open your Christmas presents. Or, only 10 more days before the school holidays.
It feels like FOREVER.

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