Mom always told me my big mouth would get me in trouble someday.

“When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.” –Bette Davis

This week, I was VERY controversial.

I met with friends for dinner early in the week. When I arrived, J. said “I don’t know, should we be having dinner with such a controversial person?” and I was all, “Whaaa?” and they all giggled and then got serious faces because they assumed I’d heard and now they were tasked with letting me know what was up.

Heard what, you may ask? What exactly WAS up?

Well! Apparently, I angered some people with a review I wrote a couple of weeks ago. Angered them enough that I got two – count ’em, two – letters to the editor written about me, and a comment on the review itself, and a private message on Facebook.

Whoo! Look at me go! Angering people all OVER the region!

A little background, I suppose, is in order.

I went to the show. It starred some of the area’s best actors. The kind of actors that, when you say their names around here, people take notice. The set was gorgeous. The costumes were perfect. The acting was quite good; the direction couldn’t be faulted.

That having been said, it was the second-worst show I’ve seen all year. And I’ve seen a LOT of shows.

It was the show itself that was the problem. It was extremely dated; it had very little to do with anything contemporary, so it was very hard to relate to. It was abnormally long; almost three hours, including intermission. It was extremely talky; a good hour could have been cut from that script and not sacrificed a single bit of the action. Sorry – “action.” That needs ironic air-quotes. Nothing that could be described as action happened in this show. Like, at all. It was painful. I wanted to leave at intermission but I was getting paid to review it so that wasn’t an option.

VERY close to me during Act II. Not quite, but almost.

VERY close to me during Act II. Not quite, but almost.

I’m not saying I need, like, a shoot-out scene or a huge sex scene or anything. (Well, not EVERY time.) But something needs to HAPPEN, dammit. And nothing happened in this play. There were some scenes that I think were supposed to be shocking, but they were just yawn-inducing. Maybe they were shocking in the 30s when this was written, I don’t know. The characters were written so flimsily and ridiculously that only a couple of them were at all believable.

It was a TERRIBLE show. It wasn’t terribly acted, directed, set designed, or costumed (or even lit or sound designed); it was just a poorly-chosen show, and poorly-written, and it was so hard to watch.

Now, I realize this is just my opinion…and you know what they say about opinions, right? Yep. Just like…elbows. Yeah, that’s it. Elbows. Everyone has one. (Or two, really, if you’re going with the elbow thing.) Thing is, I get paid for my opinion.

I don’t like to be mean. I really think there’s something to be celebrated in every piece of work, no matter how much I dislike it. I wrote a review saying how much I liked and admired the actors, set, and costumes; I even gave the director kudos (although I did say he could have cut some of the script, for our sake.) I did, however, excoriate the script. Listen, I’ve read a lot of plays. I have a decent handle on what’s out there; I have a somewhat informed opinion. That’s why the paper hired me, and not some yahoo who’s never been to the theater before.

I ended the review with the following, which I think I can share without being fired for sharing something that you’re all supposed to pay for:

“It’s a shame that, with such powerful actors on stage, their talent is being wasted in such a lackluster play. With so many shows in the area currently in production, audiences are — and I say this with regret, as these actors alone are worth the ticket price — advised to give this one a pass.”

I’ve ended a number of reviews with a similar sentiment (as have other area reviewers) – either that I recommend the show, or I don’t. It’s usually clear, from my review, whether or not I actually SAY I recommend it or not, whether or not I do. (I think that’s the point of a review, isn’t it?)

Apparently, it’s this last paragraph that upset people.

The comment on the review said they “felt (my) review was unfair-especially your final comment” because it “probably kept many people from attending.”

The first letter to the editor said the author took “exception to one of (my) comments” because “(e)veryone has the right to their own opinion; however, to come out and tell people not to see a show is going too far. People should be able to read a review if they need to, and decide for themselves…a comment (like this is) hurtful and detrimental to the company.”

The other letter to the editor said (in short; it was a VERY long letter) “Amy…advises potential patrons to give it a pass. I disagree with that.” (She then went on and on about how flawed the script was, but that the show was so relatable, and then broke down my review point by point to say why she was right in her opinion and I was wrong.)

Oh, and I also got a private message from an aquaintance on Facebook, asking me to explain myself – why did I advise people to not attend a show he’d PERSONALLY enjoyed very much?

OK. Here’s the thing.

First: I didn’t write that review to hurt anyone. I actually went out of my way to NOT hurt anyone. The only one at fault was whoever chose the show, and a lot of factors go into choosing a show. I’m not going to pick those apart; I wasn’t part of that selection process.

I stand by that last paragraph. I couldn’t recommend the show. (And I’m not naming names, but I spoke to a number of theater friends who saw the show over the couple weeks it was playing. Not a single one recommended it, either. And I got thanks – thanks for writing a review of a terrible show in such a way that it highlighted the positive, and didn’t hurt anyone. I take their praise over these letters any day. They matter to me. A great deal. These letters? Meh.)

When you read a review – a movie review, a theater review, a book review – do you read it thinking it’s an encyclopedia entry? Or do you (as you should) read it thinking it’s the author’s opinion, and when you see/read what’s being reviewed, your opinion might differ? As it’s an opinion? And what worked for one person might not work for another?

As I said, I’ve said “I do recommend this show” or “I don’t recommend this show” before. As have other reviewers. (And I don’t want to play the sexism card, here, but I’ve seen a lot more Letters to the Editor/mean comments on the reviews written by the female reviewers in the area than on the reviews of the male reviewers – and there are two, maybe three, female reviewers in the WHOLE AREA and, oh, I don’t know, maybe a dozen or more male reviewers – I just have to think that maybe men having opinions, that’s ok, but women? GAH WHAT DO STUPID CHICKS KNOW WITH THEIR STUPID CHICK BRAINS.) I don’t see anyone complaining when I DO recommend a show. So I’m allowed to recommend a show – because that INCREASES their box office – but I can’t NOT recommend a show, because that would DECREASE their box office. Because people are JUST THAT STUPID. They will read my review and walk, all zombie-like, to the theater…or they will STAY FAR AWAY.

Listen. I worked at a local theater for 8 years. We weathered both good and bad reviews. Did they have an effect our box office? Sometimes, yes. An excellent review got more people in; a bad review did tend to keep some people away. But that’s just the way the game is played. Sometimes the reviewer has an axe to grind; sometimes the reviewer only likes comedies or dramas; sometimes the reviewer is just extremely negative all the time; sometimes you luck out, and the reviewer loves the show, and you read it and you just grin. It’s just a review, in the grand scheme of things, really. It’s a quick flame of either helpful or hurtful.

But these letters and comments and private messages…

Listen, people. It was my opinion. As I say, I stand by this opinion. If I had it to do all over again? I’d write it exactly the same. (And, just so you know, my editor read that review, and ran it exactly as I wrote it. She had no problem with it, either.) Amy the reviewer couldn’t recommend that show; Amy the PERSON couldn’t recommend that show. If I’d just seen it for fun, I wouldn’t have recommended it to people. To be honest, I texted a friend while the show was in intermission who I knew was trying to find a way to squeeze it into his schedule with “DO NOT SEE THIS. DO NOT DO THIS TO YOURSELF. TALK TO YOU MORE ABOUT IT WHEN I SEE YOU ON MONDAY. DO NOT DO NOT DOOOO NOOOOOT.” And that was Amy the person, not Amy the reviewer.

I could have left that last paragraph out. Sure I could have. Thing is? Not to be too horn-tooty, people, but I’m a decent writer, and from the rest of the review, you’d know exactly where I stood. I came out and said I couldn’t recommend the show, but without saying it, I said it all through the rest of the review. That last paragraph was really just a summation of what came before. Take umbrage with it if you must, but the rest of the review said the same thing. Also? If you want a rainbows and sunshine review, and the show’s not (in my, as stated, OPINION) good? You’re not getting that from me. I don’t lie. Even if I have people I care about in the show, which has happened in the past. I will not lie in my reviews. It’s a promise I made to myself when I started, and it’s a promise I have vowed to keep to myself. I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the eye if there was something published in the paper I didn’t 100% stand behind.

And, much as I have the right to my opinion, those people all have a right to theirs. I’m so very glad they enjoyed the show; I have to say I can’t exactly understand HOW they did, but I do understand that everyone’s respective cranks are turned in different ways, and this show turned theirs, and it left mine completely frozen in place. (THE CRANK IS NOT A EUPHEMISM.)

However: I do believe I’m completely in the right, as a reviewer, to say IN THE REVIEW that I recommend or don’t recommend a show. How this affects your ticket sales is not on my shoulders. As a friend who will not be named said when I told him this story: “If you don’t want bad reviews? STOP PRODUCING CRAP.”

Also, I’m pretty sure once you start getting hate mail, you’ve totally made it, right? I’m a wicked big deal now, yo. Look out, world, I’m like the next Michiko Kakutani. It’s only upward from here. Today hate mail, tomorrow LETTER BOMBS. Whoo-hoo!

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About lucysfootball

I'm not the girl with the most cake. Someday. SOMEDAY. View all posts by lucysfootball

33 responses to “Mom always told me my big mouth would get me in trouble someday.

  • bwcarey

    i wish the bee’s had a spokesman too, no one spoke up for them till it was a dire situation, keep it going as they say, the truth hurts sometimes

    Like

  • becomingcliche

    Once you get hate mail, you have definitely arrived. It’s cool that people value your opinion so much that they feel the need to tell you what to say.

    Honestly, I thought that’s what reviews were for – to guide people as they chose how to spend their money and their time. I read reviews all the time that tell readers to go see the movie, or not to.

    Crank is totally a euphemism. I know it is.

    Like

    • lucysfootball

      You know, people telling me what to say is the perfect way to make me say the exact opposite. I’m ornery that way. Always have been.

      I had no idea this group was so easily hurt by reviews – or they (or their patrons) were so vocal about it. I find that curious. When I was working at my theater, we weren’t like that. Still aren’t, as far as I know.

      You got me. I have to work at LEAST one euphemism into every post. If I didn’t, ALL WOULD BE LOST!

      Like

  • Bronwyn

    You’re big in Japan! :-D :-D :-D

    Like

  • Kris Rudin (@krisrudin)

    Yup, totally agree with you, here. But, of course, that’s just my OPINION. ;-)

    Congrats on making it to the “big time”!

    Like

  • summerstommy2

    If your job is to review then that is what you do. If you didn’t like for the reasons you stated then that is your right to state. What use is a review if you sit on the fence and when as you say you have years of experience then i would conclude you know what you are talking about. And I agree the people who chose the play have a lot to answer to when they deprive you of three hours of your life you wont get back. Great article I enjoyed it.

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    • lucysfootball

      Thank you! I guess people think everyone should all feel the same! About everything! All the time! And if I disagree with them, I MUST BE WRONG! Sigh. Suppose it’s the way of the world, though…everyone thinks everyone else is wrong all the time.

      Like

      • summerstommy2

        So true, we do all have an opinion we think is right. Sometimes you need to stand back and take an objective look at things, because then you might discover your opinion could be flawed, though not many can do that. Again I think your piece was very well written and I enjoyed it. Love how you stuck to your argument.

        Like

  • Stephanie

    Nice. I wonder sometimes what people are looking for in a reviewer. I mean, if you just said that everything was good, your reviews would be useless and they wouldn’t value them anyway.

    I did local theatre reviews for a while (volunteer) and didn’t have the heart for it. My integrity wouldn’t let me say good things about things that weren’t good, but my compassion made that really hard, so I’d find myself dreading each show in case it wasn’t any good and I wouldn’t have anything nice to say.

    I saw one show – it was a comedic noir environmental “message” operetta about jellyfish – and it was really really terrible. I was as nice as possible, but couldn’t not say it was terrible. I got hate mail. Really mean, personal attack hate mail. On one level, it was very funny, but it also kind of hurt. I quit a little after that.

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    • lucysfootball

      I love reviewing so much, but it’s not always easy. I do wish all the shows were good. It’s a lot easier to know I’m not going to write a review that crushes someone’s feelings. But I can’t lie. It’s not what they hired me to do and I couldn’t live with myself.

      Honestly, the hardest shows for me to review are the ones that are the ones that aren’t good OR bad. The middle of the road ones are tough. I think I’d rather have SOME emotions, good or bad, than nothing. (I feel that about all the arts. Literature, fine arts, movies…I want to FEEL something, dammit!)

      Like

  • emuse

    And here I want you to review my book. ;)

    I would not even care if you said it was a badly chosen book. (Okay, maybe I’d care a little.)

    If a reviewer isn’t honest than their reviews are meaningless. You have to take the bad with the good.

    Like

    • lucysfootball

      Reviewing books written by someone you know is TOUGH. It’s harder than reviewing a play starring/directed by someone you’re close to, even. (And I’m actually not allowed to review the shows at my old theater, not for a while, anyway – too much of a conflict of interest. I get that. I did help choose the season and the directors. Maybe in a few years it’ll be ok.)

      I completely agree – I have a handful of reviewers I read and trust, and they’re the ones that don’t whitewash it. (They also write beautifully, but that’s beside the point, I suppose.)

      Like

  • cynthiaw

    My mom used to tell me that my mouth was going to get me in trouble, too. She has a tendency to make nice, even when she doesn’t like something, and she doesn’t like to rock the boat.

    However, my grandma had a great piece of advice; she used to tell me “better to be thought of as a bitch than as a doormat”. True ‘dat, Grandma, true ‘dat.

    I would much rather read an honest review – nothing makes me more irritated than to have a reviewer either not give an opinion or, even worse, praise everything. Don’t waste my time – if I’m better off not spending my time and money on something – TELL ME.

    Like

    • lucysfootball

      My mom’s the same way. Dad’s more like me.

      I’m the same way. I know immediately if a reviewer is waffling, and I don’t trust that reviewer in the future. I want my readers to know my voice, and I want them to know I’m going to give them the truth as I see it – good, bad, indifferent. They might not always like it, but at least they’ll know I’m being honest with them.

      Like

  • innyganker

    My mom told me that I was born without the little person in my head that tells me to stop talking or not to say something. I suppose she is right. Oh well. Two thumbs up!

    Like

  • Corvidae in the Fields

    I think October was hate mail month for many. I got two for my restaurant reviews and I don’t even do it for money. Now that I think about it, I don’t do it for other people either. The last guy even called me a “douchebag” for not liking his favorite eating establishment. It was quite amusing in an absurd kind of way.

    Like

    • lucysfootball

      People get very up-in-arms about restaurants. We actually had a local restaurant reviewer and his partner get beaten around here – a restaurant owner hired someone to beat him up for a bad review he’d published. It amazes me that people think one review can make or break a restaurant (or a production.) It’s an opinion, not the only truth.

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      • Corvidae in the Fields

        Precisely. That “dirty deeds” crap is best left for the movies. Hiring henchmen for damage control is just gross. Either listen to what their saying or move on. 300+ million people in this country all having the same opinion? Poppycock.

        I told this guy straight up if he knew better, then he’d not be defensive about something that doesn’t involve him. He couldn’t squeeze it into his mind that badgering does not equate to civil discourse.

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      • cynthiaw

        You know what? A bad review or bad customer experience may or may not make me to decide to skip patronizing your establishment. However, the way that you react to and/or handle the situation is a HUGE factor in whether or not I will be a customer.

        React like a huge douchecanoe and call out your minions to harass someone? I will never, ever spend money on anything that you’re involved in. Send out henchmen to physically attack someone? You can be for damn sure that I will never eat in your restaurant.

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        • lucysfootball

          Agreed. I put a lot of weight on how people handle situations, and with how much grace they handle them…and if I have a choice between someone who handled something like an adult or handled something like a stompy toddler, I’ll go with the former every time.

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  • Heather

    I respect and appreciate your honesty in reviews. Go get ’em, tiger. RAWR.

    THREE CHEERS FOR LETTERS TO THE EDITOR! You’re in the big league now, baby.

    Like

  • aliceatwonderland

    When I reviewed the 50 Shades books, I was certain I’d get some crazed fans lambasting my blog. That’s not because my blog is big by any means, but because I remember when Twilight came out, crazed fans would dig up anything negative and pounce on it like crazed hyenas. Yet nothing ever happened. I was almost disappointed.

    I think my favorite thing about reviewing things is when someone else says “Well can you write a bestselling book / movie / play etc?” as if you must be able to do all of those things in order to review one. No, all you really need is to be a reader or a fan of movies and theater. That’s it. That’s all the requirements. It’s the entire point, really.

    Amazing the amount of flack you got for a review in which you were very balanced. Imagine if you had just torn it to pieces.

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    • lucysfootball

      I wonder if they’d been NICER if I’d torn it to pieces? Maybe I’d have scared them more. Who knows.

      I think I’d rather just review than write something like 50 Shades. If that’s what it takes to understand GOOD LIT-RA-CHURE, I guess I’ll never be in that club. GROSS.

      Like

  • grrgoyl

    Absolutely ridiculous. As you say, your opinion is just that, yours. Anyone taking it as an order or a command deserves to waste their night at a mediocre show.

    I’ve accepted that I have kind of quirky tastes. I’ve stopped feeling shocked or hurt when very few people agree with me long ago. How can people be so thin-skinned anymore when the internet is full of anonymous commenters who have no problem not pulling their punches?

    Like

    • lucysfootball

      I think it’s almost better to have quirky tastes. Because then when you find someone who shares those tastes, which is rare, you know you’ve found someone special. I’m not against popular culture – not even a little – but I do embrace my quirky tastes, and those I’ve found who share them with me.

      My guess is that the people who wrote these have never been slammed on the internet, and most likely don’t even use the internet much. You grow accustomed to people who are all “YOU SUUUUUCK!” when you live your life online. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes not.

      Like

  • godtisx

    This is probably not the emotionally detached comment it should be, of your review but here it goes. I’m happy there are reviewers and those who check reviewers. The general public gets to learn about the nature of the reviewer from the public exchanges and can then make assessments from there (I believe some promote for studios). However an artist can learn from reading reviews, bettering his approach if he/she finds reviews which have merit for him or her.

    But in order to abstract anything from a review, the reviewer has to offer something by way of details (outside of promotion). So though I know building and executing a production in hard, it’s good you exist.

    Like

    • lucysfootball

      Thank you! I try to be as unbiased and as honest as I can in reviews, without blatantly ripping into anyone and hurting their feelings. And yet I still apparently hurt people’s feelings. Can’t win them all, I guess.

      Like

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