Dan, an actor friend of mine, showed up for an audition—Fiddler on the Roof, at a Las Vegas casino, nice gig if you can get it. He’s handsome, twenty-something, sings like an angel. Walked onto the stage, looked out at the director and the assistant director and the producer sitting in the house, halfway back, opened his mouth and said, “Hello, I’m—”
“Thank you! Next, please!”
He was dumbfounded. He could barely stammer out, “Don’t you want to hear me sing?”
Later, he sat in a coffee shop, stunned and hurt that they would take one look at him, not even listen to him sing, and decide he was wrong for the show. Another friend, a stage manager on Fiddler, walked in and saw him. “Hey! Dan! What were you doing there today?”
"Not you, too!” Dan said. “What, I suck so much I can’t even audition?”
“Dude, we’re replacing Bielke. She’s a seven-year-old-girl. Your agent fucked up.”
Sometimes it’s not you.
Haters gonna hate, but they aren’t always hating you. In auditions, an actor can be cast because they’re good—but they can also be cast because they look like the actor already hired to play their sister. Or because they had the same professor as the director, and that led to a five-minute chat about school, and when it came time to sift through the last fifty, they-were-all-pretty-good headshots, that’s who the director remembered.
Sometimes it is you.
I wrote a piece a few months ago about appearing on a popular American reality show. It went viral in a small way, and hundreds of performers saw it here and on Facebook. For many, it confirmed what they already knew. For some, it was a beacon of hope, explaining what had happened to them, when they went on the show and didn’t understand how the audience responded. The New York Post interviewed me, and wrote a small article about the unreality of reality TV (reprinted on About).
And then the hate mail started.
You sound like a bitter wanna-be.
You put yourself in a position to be judged, and you were judged to be bad.
You blew it, don’t blame the show. Whiner.
Make no mistake, when I put my words out there in public, when I state my opinion and invite others to read it, I have hung out the “Open for Criticism!” sign. If you can’t take the heat, don’t state your opinion on the internet. But it still punches my chest like a fist with a knife when I open up the inbox and Surprise! Hate!
It’s worse when I’m on stage. Getting a bad review—and by bad, I mean anything less than five stars and a pullable quote along the lines of “CHANGES THE WORLD OF THEATRE SEE IT NOW MORE FUNNY THAN STILLER MORE MOVING THAN CHURCH”—wrecks my feelings, leaves me sniffling in the corner. And someone who genuinely disliked the show? Those words brand themselves.
“An acting exercise.”
“Standard Fringe fare.”
“I don’t get the fuss.”
One of those quotes is from ten years ago, and yes, it’s still verbatim in my brain.
So what do you do with bad reviews, with hate mail, with Facebook jibes and YouTube thumbs-downs?
You thank your lucky stars.
Wait, what? Thankful for hate?
Because when people love you, it’s lovely, that pumps up ticket sales and your self-esteem. It’s the cosmic pat-on-the-head, good-girl-here’s-a-treat, glow like a Christmas tree all the way home. But when people hate you, it’s useful.
It means you’ve poked them with a stick, touched a tender place, stirred up their feelings of protectiveness about something they love. You’ve made them ever so slightly question their worldview. And the faster they lash out and the more mouth-frothy they get about it, the more you’ve hit them where it hurts.
It means you can go back and examine your work and ask, “How did this offend someone who believes thus-and-such, and do I want to offend them again? Or do I want to see if I can reach them and change their mind with a different tactic?”
It means your work was powerful.
You got someone angry.
There are tools to hold your tongue, soothe your own feelings and keep working. I write thank you notes to reviewers—all reviewers. Good reviews get an “I’m so pleased you enjoyed it.” Bad reviews get “Thank you for taking the time to review my show.” Sitting down, writing that note, that makes me a colleague engaged in critical dialogue instead of a pathetic starving artist grubbing for the scrap of a good review. A show at the festival I performed at last week had two quotes on their poster:
“* OFFENSIVE—HORRIBLY CRASS”.
That speaks to their audience—that tells the people who want to see a controversial show, or a cynical show, or a crass show, that’s what these guys do and they own it.
Works for the Farrelly brothers.
People “like” things that are pleasant. Unchallenging. Easy. Do you want to make work that is pleasant? Easy? Would you like to be Thomas Kinkade or Picasso? When Stravinsky premiered his now-classic ballet The Rite of Spring in 1913 the audience hated the atonal, complex rhythms so much they rioted, ripped up chairs and destroyed the theater. There were fistfights in the aisles between defenders of classical music and those who embraced the new style.
There is a balance to be found—if you have a zillion haters but no-one passionately adores your work enough to throw some punches on your behalf, you may need to recalibrate.
But the next time you get a terrible review or an audience member walks out or someone writes, “Shud b a ‘dislike’ bttn!!!!!!!” be proud. Be thankful you stirred up the haters, mobilized the reactionaries. Be thankful you’re not just “liked”. Because if everyone likes you, you’re probably not very good.
whipchick's most recent reviews have been two positive and one indifferent. Fucker.