Fringe review sparks discussion

August 28, 2008
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A brief review I posted here on Friday of the IndyFringe show "Peace on Terror" has generated some intense reaction. See the post and ongoing comments here. The conversation, led by someone involved in the show, has spilled over to the Indiana Auditions website as well.

One of the great things about our brave new blogging world is that such conversation can erupt almost instantly. I welcome the discussion and actively encourage response to the issues and opinions raised here as well as in my print columns.

Apart from the merits of the specific show, one of the side issues raised is how a writer/director/actor/artist/musician/artistic director should respond to negative press.

As a full-time critic (one of the few left in this town) as well as a writer whose work has been negatively reviewed in a variety of places--from Nuvo to Publisher's Weekly to random readers posting on's a topic I'm very interested in.

I'd like to particularly encourage Indy arts professionals to chime in on the topic.

Your thoughts?
  • A truly professional artist should take both rejection and praise with a grain of salt, and with little more comment than thank you -- unless the comments made could seriously be construed as libel or contain massive factual errors.

    Of course, for publicity purposes, artists reserve the right to quote any and all reviews and make liberal use of ellipses, at the risk of straining credibility. :-) (In the case of movies, if you can't find anything else, Joel Siegel will usually have something nice to say. I always find it a troubling sign when the only critical quote cited on a movie poster is by Siegel.)

    Brian G. Hartz
    Board Vice President
    Heartland Actors' Repertory Theatre
  • I shared a coffee shop table yesterday with storyteller and Fringe artist Loren Niemi. If I had been him, I would have been disappointed that a) they spelled his name wrong in the print version and b) they gave him only 3 out of 5 stars.

    However, he laughed and read aloud to me this line from the review: Think of a less-angry Lewis Black, passionately discussing his worldly experiences, while accompanied by your coolest college professor.

    Then he turned to me and said, I don't know who is me and who is Howard in this review, but I can use 'a less-angry Lewis Black' in all our publicity from now on.

    THAT is one example of how a professional handles a negative review: he takes what he can use, if anything, and lets go of the rest.

    On the other hand, a second example is this:

    Yesterday morning I received an email from Fringe artist Nell Weatherwax (And I Am Not Making This Up) thanking me for my review of her show. I emailed her back to say, You're welcome and Congratulations on getting five stars in Nuvo this morning.

    She emailed back to say, FIVE stars? Where? The online version only gave me two stars.

    I quoted her the paper version that I held in my hand. Last I heard, she was going to call Nuvo and ask them to clarify. When I told this story to Loren at the coffee shop yesterday afternoon, he checked the website on his laptop and said the online version now has five stars for Nell, too.

    Which is as it should be.

    Sometimes, the correct, professional thing is to respond to the reviewer directly and say, Hey, wait a minute...

    Hope Baugh
  • I think it is important to remember the Fringe Criteria as a critic or as a blogger. IndyFringe provides a creative outlook for the performing arts community to be hone their craft. First come, first serve and you get what you get.... That is what makes the Fringe so special as Artists at all levels have an opportunity to create and perform. Constructive criticism helps raise the bar for the artists and performers. I am happy to see the duds as well as the stars because for me,,,the forum of creating an opportunity for artists to perform and discover is key to the great art of the future. Read the Fringe Criteria below and think about how the critique might change....

    I have been very lucky so far this year to view, Assholes and Aureoles, Stinky Flowers, Phil The Void, and Birdman. I am looking forward to several other shows, including In Rehearsal, The Honeymoon Suite, Tastes Funny, The Time Machine, Squashamole,,,,damn,,,,the list of my choices is too long,,,, How fortunate are we to have IndyFringe? See below....

    IndyFringe is one of more than 25 festivals in North America that follow the four criteria set out by the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF):

    • Participants will be selected on a non-juried basis
    • 100% of ticket sales will go to the artists
    • Festival producers will have no artistic control over the artistic content of each performance
    • Festival will provide an easily accessible opportunity for all audiences and artists to participate
  • The only thing that bothers me is you have an article titled Best of the Fringe, when you've not seen every show. How could you POSSIBLY know which shows are the best if you're not comparing all of them? And, on a side note, I assume the press folk from IBJ, NUVO, etc. who see shows on their closing performances will be paying for them rather than using press passes? Because if you're seeing the show on is last night, your review is doing nothing for the production or the performers trying to make some money from your press (good or bad).
  • Tony,

    Yes, Best of the Fringe was used in a subhead in my IBJ Daily e-mail blast today. The piece itself clarifies that to say that these are three above-average productions I've already seen at the fest. I can see how the subhead was misleading. You--and misled readers--have my apologies.

    As to your other issue, a reviewer's job isn't to do anything for the production. Very often, my print reviews in IBJ run after a show has closed. And ANY review of an ISO concert, touring performance at Clowes/Madame Walker/Pike/Warren, concert at Verizon or the Lawn, or other one-night-only shows can't help but be printed after the fact.

    Three points: 1. I consider the reader is the primary audience, not the artist or the artist's marketing folks. And I believe most other critics would say the same. 2. The feedback I've gotten from the arts community has been that they see enormous value in reviews being written ANY time. Not only are they used for grant and donor building, future press kits, awareness building for the company or artist, etc., but they are also valuable as feedback for the artists themselves. 3. Seeing as much work as possible is enormously helpful in writing shows about those arts organizations and artists in the future.

    That being said, If you do not want press at your show after a certain date, let us know--although, as long as Fringe rules allow, we still may show up. If you feel very strongly about this, I'd suggest taking it up with IndyFringe organizers to try to change the policy for next year.

    Until then...

  • The critique is intrinsic to the artistic process:

    One creates something, presents it to the public, and the public responds.

    The pain caused by reading a negative review is understandable. But allowing humanity to view your work expecting only roses in return is exceedingly naive.

    All art forms in Indianapolis should be held to a higher standard. Public critique, positive or negative, is one of the best ways to achieve this.
  • Critical work addressing the impact of technology and the loss of audiences for the performing arts is being undertaken by artists and organizations throughout the country. Many are newer, not well-known, lack the resources of larger organizations, and/or have yet to develop a substantial body of work. In addition, some by their very nature may not aspire to exist in perpetuity.

    These artists and organizations often live on the aesthetic fringes, exploring new forms. They are often the first to investigate the implications of shifts in technology, the most multi-cultural, and the most open to challenging traditional assumptions about the audience-artist relationship. They have been the first to redefine audience as participant and remove barriers separating the amateur from the professional, seeing the value of art not as a product to be consumed but as a springboard for the audience’s own creativity.

    For this diverse group of artists and organizations, innovation is not a risk: it is a raison d’etre — and some of these artists and the new forms they are creating will rise to prominence in the future, just as modern dance and jazz, both championed by the International Fringe movement when they were still seen as avant-garde, have now moved comfortably into the mainstream. The Fringe Festival concept believes that these types of artists and organizations are worthy of its time as they create new work and address the challenges of technology and audience erosion.

    I believe changes in the way we critique these types of performances is warranted. It is not enough to address whether you like or do not like a show....certainly insults are not appropriate....and my opinion...your critical review of Peace on Terror did include insulting language....where other manners of language communication can achieve the same result.... I am just not sure you get it.
  • Fringe Goer,
    I respect your thoughts--and would respect them more if you would identify your affiliation with Indy Fringe.
    I ask anyone contributing to the discussion on this blog to state the fact when they are affiliated with an organization they are writing about.
    The readers--and other posters--deserve that.
  • I think the point that some of the writers / performers are trying to make about reviews is that instead of being just plain mean, they be meaningful. When reviews pick apart the way a performer looks - i.e. their weight, their age, or their hair for that matter, it devolves into being petty.

    What about the performance did you like or didn't like? What parts did you really think worked well, what didn't? An honest, unbiased review by someone who truly paid attention during the show can be an invaluable resource. Those that are written by someone with an agenda are NOT helpful.

    I've been disappointed in the reviews from several sources this year and have not agreed with many of them. Do I let what any reviewer has said about a show really influence which ones I'm gong to see? No. If I did that this year I wouldn't be seeing much.

    In addition I think some reviewers become drunk on their appearence of power and don't write honestly about a show, allowing prejudices against certain actors or theaters get in the way either negatively or positively.

    I've heard the phrase Those who cannot do, review.

    I'm not saying that's the case all the time - but some of the time I think it is.

    In this day and age of blogging - please write responsibly and without prejudice. No one can fault an absolutely honest review and many will thank you for it, but we all know that negative opinions are hard to hear.

    If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, please don't hide behind your blog and lob insults.

    That's my opinion as a theater-goer with absolutely no writing / acting talent whatsoever.
  • FringeGoer's comments above are directly from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation website. I do not know if the comments are original to the author, but they are not original to FringeGoer's post.
  • Thanks Alec.

    FringeGoer--if you are going to life text from someone, please at least note the source.
  • You are correct, I should have noted the source,,,apologies....
  • and how about identifying yourself and your relationship to Fringe?
  • My Husband is associated with the Fringe and we do not share all opinions, but have a common belief in the Fringe and Arts.
  • More thoughts on the Fringe in the September 1-7 IBJ.
    The issue also includes IBJ's Arts & Entertainment Season Preview.

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