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Finding the positive in criticism

Brasil Observer - Sep 19 2017

(Leia em Português)


We, artists, crave to have the merits and faults of our work judged by experts. But who are those experts? What is their background? How deeply do they know the art form they are judging? And how to make the best use of the criticism one receives, whether constructive or not?

I have just returned from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where over 3,000 events were vying for audiences, hoping that their show would make it through the festival with decent audiences and good feedback.

A good review may mean good audiences, but many shows do not get reviewed, let alone hit the ‘what to see’ selective lists of the bigger publications, so reviewers and publications have grown right, left and centre to accommodate the demand. In fact, this year there was a big hoo-hah around a new online publication that was planning to charge for their reviews, protests meant it never went ahead. But still, there are hundreds of reviewers at the festival, many at the beginning of their careers and few with years of expertise.

When you go to see a show, there are a series of elements that might influence the audience’s opinion of your work, however good it may be. Audiences go to see shows carrying positive or negative expectations that will definitely influence their opinion. It is also important to highlight that it doesn’t matter if your show was created over a 2 week or 4 week rehearsal period, or if they are already an established product, the process does not count here, it is the end product that is being judged.

Dale Carnegie, author of ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ says, “any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

We all hope to collect as many stars as we can, but what are these stars based on? Sometimes I come across a review that reads like a four or even five star review, only to find that the reviewer gave it three; or I read something that is more like a three star review and it is given five. What is the game here? Your guess is just as good as mine.

Through the course of the years I have learned to take criticism with a pinch of salt; I highly value the opinion of our audiences, but let’s face it, you cannot please everyone; and if I can be honest, some reviewers have no authority on the form they are writing about and others write in such an abrupt manner that artists feel personally attacked; I have seen many reviews that read like petty criticism; in fact, this year, I have read some that bordered on bullying.

I realise that criticism and rejection are both part of life, but we cannot deny that it can be upsetting and may even leave a lasting bitter taste. We can end up feeling miserable, angry, hurt and so on. We may want to retaliate, but I’d be careful with how you do it. Whatever you do, stop the endless negative thinking, it will only undermine your self-esteem and waste your valuable energy.

If I could, I would avoid reading any reviews of my own shows, but that is impossible. So I read them, and all good if they are positive; negative reviews, however, are really hard to take. What to do?

Over the years I have learned that to grow I must make sure I fully understand the person criticising me, and if I have the opportunity I ask them questions, find out more about their background and try to understand what contributed to them forming that particular opinion.

If I don’t agree with the criticism, I move on, it’s not worth lingering on it. Conversely, if I agree with them, I try to absorb the criticism. And then take responsibility for what went wrong. Lots of people don’t own up to their mistakes. They put the blame on someone else and that keeps them from improving. Once you own it, you can get better.

Try to find the positive in the criticism. Certainly, some may be rude and mean, but in most criticism, you can find a nugget of gold like some honest feedback and a suggestion for improvement.  Sometimes it’s just someone having a bad day, but many times there’s at least a grain of truth in the criticism.

Attitude is the key, and if you don’t push yourself to be more positive about the criticism you get, it’ll always get you down. Look at criticism as an opportunity to grow and get better; or even to outshine the person delivering the critique, or prove to them that you can do better in your next project. I have been told once, if your production stank this time around, get a better production on as soon as you can, you are only as good as your last show.

It’s easier said than done, but knowing your strengths and being ready to hear and accept your weaknesses is the most powerful thing you can do.


  • Franko Figueiredo is artistic director of StoneCrabs Theatre Company and artistic associate of New Theatre Royal Portsmouth