Reviewer Woes

Last Friday, I saw a show in Baltimore. I reviewed it and you can read it here.

But it’s missing something. This evening, my editor removed this paragraph:

In a similar vein, there’s an unavoidable streak of bi-erasure present in the script. It may be played for quick laughs here, a sign that Michaels’ friends and family understand him,  but with lines like “you’re going through a phase,” and a discussion about everyone being “addicted to the penis,” the very possibility of not just Michael being bisexual but of anyone in the world of this play being bisexual is completely dismissed. It’s a familiar and damaging narrative, the inclusion of which does Tying the Knot no favors.

He did so in reaction to an email from the playwright, who said I had completely missed the point. I don’t know if he requested that the paragraph be removed – the comment I was forwarded didn’t ask for it – but my editor did so anyway, despite my objections. Despite my discussing it with him on Saturday and backing up my opinion with lines from the play, something which he’d assured me time and time again in other, happier reviews, was the only criteria I needed to meet if I had a criticism. And that’s obviously a lie.

I’m flabbergasted right now. By the playwright and by my editor. I started reviewing in the book community, where an author approaching a reviewer or publisher like this is considered the height of being unprofessional. Authors are regularly and rightly laughed out of the proverbial arena for behaving like this, because it is implicitly understood that reviews are NOT FOR THE CREATOR. Once you’ve put yourself out there enough for a reviewer to come into the picture, your creation is no longer yours.

Yes, you wrote it and now, you fool, you’ve set it loose into the hands and minds of strangers who will consume it and interpret it from a million different experiences and perspectives, none of which you can control. And they will always find things to criticize. Some of those criticisms will be baseless but many of them will be on to something. This is why you share your work, as liberally and openly as you can, to get feedback from as wide an audience as possible, so that you can be sure that before releasing a final product you’ve made your point as clearly as possible. This is why creators have editors, beta readers and critique partners, go to workshops and conferences, where people you barely know will take your baby into their arms and objectively tell you it’s ugly. Because that is the reality; you have an ugly baby. But it doesn’t have to stay ugly! These people with the opinions you may not want to hear are the safeguards of the creative process, there to make sure that what you ACTUALLY say is what you MEAN to say. Because, as a creator, you can do what no parent can: wield your scalpel pen and make that ugly baby beautiful.

God knows I’ve shared work where the feedback I’ve gotten is horrible, where people have completely missed what I intended and came out on the other side. It hurts. It can be humiliating and infuriating. But in nearly every case, after I’ve calmed down (usually a few weeks later, I admit), I’ve gone back, looked objectively at what was said versus what I wrote – not MEANT to write but ACTUALLY wrote – and discovered that I had indeed dropped the ball.

And while I may have brought a perspective to this play that makes me more sensitive to bi-erasure and the like than the average viewer, I don’t think anyone who goes to this play can doubt that it’s in need of some editing, in terms of the obnoxiously repetitive content at the very least.

I’m sorry that the playwright is upset that I’ve seen something in his work he never intended. I’m sorrier that he didn’t get that feedback earlier, either because no one picked up on it or didn’t think it was their place to mention it. I’m glad that my editor told him to search for a 5-star review elsewhere. I’m equally angry, if not more so, that he nonetheless removed the offending paragraph instead of letting it stand for audiences to consider for themselves.

And I’m so tired of fearing that every time I see a less than stellar show, I’m going to have to defend my criticisms to a higher standard than my compliments are ever held to, only to have them dismissed anyway at the first sign of controversy or argument.

Tl;dr – The 26 year-old with only an associates degree under her belt is the most professional party in the equation and it is exhausting her.


About Morgan Maria D'Isidoro

Morgan Maria D'Isidoro has lived in Baltimore, MD for most of her life, saving a handful of failed escape attempts. Given the murder rates, she'll probably die here too. Morgan is a writer of speculative fiction and poetry, a musician of dubious quality, cat aficionado, art history fangirl, kitchen sorceress, recovering pyromaniac, accomplished liar, and an all around person of questionable employability.
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