Back when I was an actor and director I had a policy of not reading reviews while the show was running. Everyone else read them so I had some idea if they were good or bad, and the general blame & praise placement. I really tried to avoid them because I knew that those outside opinions would color my thinking and maybe sow doubt.

Most theatre critics are skilled at offering criticism and analysis that helps folks decide if they want to spend their entertainment dollars on a particular play. Which can really go a long way to help playwrights, actors and directors get their name out and build a reputation.

Sometimes the critic is inexperienced or kind or simply disinterested in theatre because they are really the food or music critic. Occasionally a critic is in love with their own writing and their clever turn of phrase. Hence the avoidance.

There was one time when I read a review that I believed 100%.

It was an awful review and the critic hated everything from the acting to the set and lighting design. I had several pointed mentions that gave me great satisfaction because everything they criticized was exactly what the director requested. I remember thinking “Success!”

For better or worse I still think in terms of reviews when it comes to my workshops and training evaluations

I don’t read the evals right away and when I do, the first thing I look for is evidence that what I delivered matched what was requested. So folks who don’t like the content or scold me that “referring to myself as a white woman highlights difference when we are all the same”, all that is just fine.

And even the folks who just don’t like my style or delivery, thats ok too. I personally don’t like Joaquin Phoenix’s acting, but the Academy disagrees apparently.

What is harder to take is the folks who attack my credentials, the research I reference or the need for the kind of work that I do. Sometimes they include words like “identity politics” and “snowflake” and “trigger.” Occasionally thoughts like “we are all human beings”, and “everyone should just be kind” get tossed in.

The most scathing reviews/evals always seem to be from the disgruntled. Evaluations can also be used to highlight what went well as a foundation for more positive work, but again, maybe thats just me.

I recently reviewed a batch of my workshop evaluations and found one golden thread amongst some severe and harsh paragraphs of dissatisfaction.

My critic said that my calling participants Sir and Ma’am was “disrespectful and clueless” given that I had introduced my self as a Cis-gender woman using she/her pronouns. They went on to share a whole lot more about my lack of everything from brains to training to a legitimate right to speak about diversity but thats not important.

What’s important is that they were right. After 2 years of living in Alabama I had exponentially increased the possibility of misgendering someone because I’d conformed to the Sir/Ma’am norm.

From now on I’ll try to refer to participants by something visible like “the person in the yellow shirt”, or “I think the person with the pink go-cup was next”. That may not work in room of participants all wearing white coats or uniforms, but I can figure that out when it happens.

So thank you Squeaky Wheel for giving me some feedback that was necessary, helpful and 100% true. I humbly apologize for making you uncomfortable and I will do better next time.

PS – Always fill out your evaluation surveys! Use that 5 point scale! Everyone needs feedback! 

There is a years long construction project near where I work. It has been fascinating to watch the process, passing by in the morning thinking ‘I wonder what that crane is for?’ and returning in the evening to see a new skeleton. Every once in a while one of the construction workers strikes up a conversation with me. This morning an older guy taking a smoke break started talking about how he needed to quit smoking. He quit for 15 months and then started up again.

I told him I smoked for 17 years and had been quit for 20 years now. He said “And you don’t miss it do you?”.  I coulda lied but I didn’t.

I told him that it still smelled good, and I still wanted to smoke sometimes, but when I did it tasted and felt awful. The craving is there but the enjoyment is gone.

I’m sure if I powered through and kept smoking the nicotine would start to compensate and I would once again think it tasted & felt good. But I would have to work at it.

The will power to quit has to do with mastering associations, for me at least. It took years for me to stop wanting to light a cigarette when I started the car or had a drink in a bar. The first time I directed a show after I quit was harrowing. My habit was to smoke all through rehearsals – going to a pack a day during tech week – so that was a tough change to make.

Since smoke was in my cells since my conception, I’ll always consider myself a “former smoker” rather than a non-smoker. My last smoking trigger seems to be emergency rooms or hospital visits. Very high stress associations that produce an almost overwhelming urge to go outside for a cigarette. A soothing escape that puts you one step closer to the hospital yourself. Addiction logic.

I told the construction guy that if he could start again, he could quit again. He said maybe. For his birthday. He flicked the butt, told me to have a good day, and wandered back to the site.

The construction is almost finished now, they are working furiously rolling out grass and touching up painting. I will miss my random conversations with construction workers when they leave. I don’t miss my Newports.