First published: MAY 19 2007

So the box office phone is running off the hook… and your show is over booked…People are busting to get in to see it. Actors peak nervously from behind he curtain or piece of set that has been hurriedly bashed into being… the reviewer is in… yep, the reviewer who is one of half a dozen opinion typists in tomorrow’s budgie cage liner…. And everyone waits. Baited breath. Waiting and wondering… what will he/she think? Will he/she like it?

There’s a thing that happens to some actors when they know a certain person is in the audience. It is also the same static electricity which develops as a result of a famous director/actor being in the room… or the same feeling when you have an un-quenchable crush on someone and you know they don’t even know your name, but you wish they did because they are lovely and I only they knew …if only they… sorry off the point there….

The Industry Peer
I was stage managing a show last year, and I was told by front of house that a particularly impressive industry person would be in the audience. A person, that it might be better if I told the actors… just in case. So on the half hour, I strolled around to the dressing rooms and told one dressing room full of actors the fact that “the grand dame” was in the house tonight. An actor thanked me, replied “thanks, good to know.” One actor barely blinked and asked if the “comp for his wife was ok…” Another actor asked how big was the rest of the house was for tonight because he was hoping that the industry peer could get a good seat. Then I went to the other dressing room, where another actor, on the verge of soapie stardom, burst into a blue fit of expletives at me. Raging “why had told him, did I want to ruin his performance!?!” I quietly and calmly replied that some people like to know, as “the grand dame” often sits in the front row and is slightly conspicuous due to her bright grey hair. I replied “Which would he prefer, being forewarned or surprised whilst on stage to find her right there front left?” I guess by his reaction that he would prefer I was dead, that the grand dame was invisible and that he was an accountant. To each their own.

The Critic
Some nights, the critic is in. A critic who may be from an internet website, a newspaper, a university rag.. Perhaps one who is often seen with a pipe, perhaps a silver haired be-spectacled note taker, perhaps a half baked punter, or a wine guzzling fanatic.. Whoever it is, the critic enters a theatre and the dynamic changes. The air sizzles. It crackles with the threat of a doomed review.

Can it be that after 4-6 weeks in rehearsal the fragility of the performer is dipped in the directors silver plating only to be worn away by the suggestion of a critic? The actors are rehearsed up, they know their lines, they have a director and a stage manager and possibly a producer, production manager and crew supporting them, helping them, believing in them… (in independent theatre: often doing all this for FREE!) They are ready. They are emotionally prepared…

But when a critic enters: One person with one perspective: I can change everything. Everything is reassessed, the heat is on. Its make or break time. The critic may have had a bad day. The critic may be hungry/cold/ sleepy/ suffering from bronchitis and they are ready to judge the whole performance. Ready to critique and put in writing that which can be re-read. Re-digested. Cut out, put in scrap books… that which can be quoted, that which is written in indelible ink. And suddenly nothing the director has said may make any difference. It’s up to the actor to do it. Get the job done. At least tonight. Get it right. Watch it!

The Audience
Let put this out there right here and now: EVERYONE’S A CRITIC. Everyone feels they can/ should write reviews. Some may not write well researched or articulate, inventive or exciting reviews. But they think they can, because everyone has an opinion about theatre. And everyone should. There should be a dialogue.. And that means that people may disagree. So should the Critic be more important than the punters opinion? I don’t think so. Sometimes, and yes this does happen, the theatre’s ticket sales absolutely don’t reflect the review. A wonderful review and no one sees it: it happens. Everyone sees it in spite of the review: yep, that also happens. Your mum, your colleague, neighbour and a random guy on a date sees your show.. and some like it some don’t. Would you change all of it to suit everyone? Would you try to satisfy everyone: The woman who only likes Rogers and Hammerstein, the neo punk princess, the corporate sponsor, the part time English teacher, your brother’s mate who is there incase there is free booze, the wannabe actor who dresses like a sparkling cupcake? HOW? How are you going to please them all?

So actors/theatre people… do your best, you know when things are a bit crappy. That’s fine, acknowledge it an try to remedy it. You are allowed to have an off night. But try your hardest, be clear of your intention and always aim to communicate. Not everyone will like you or your show. Not everyone will see your show. That’s fine too. You’ll be ok as long as you do all you can and are capable of making it the best it can be. No ones perfect.. and everyone’s a critic, so take what you want from the critics and your friends and neighbours and remember: at least you are being talked about!