Burlesque is a very supportive world. We praise and encourage each other, we cheer each other on. Constructive feedback is rare and any reviews tend to be either descriptive or uncritically glowing.
It is quite an unusual situation, as most other creative scenes are known for their brutal feedback and often unflinching review process. So what are the positives and negatives of reviews and feedback? Does it matter that we don’t really have these things?
In some ways, the lack of critical feedback makes it harder for us to see our performances clearly- if everyone constantly tells you that you are AMAZING, then you will probably think you are, even if you are not. Alternatively, you get the situation where if people don’t tell you you were good, but just don’t say anything, you interpret that as “you were crap”, and get paranoid and frustrated because it is so uncertain (if you are me!).Feedback, delivered in the right way, allows us to develop and improve as performers, and have a more realistic idea of our abilities as performers. But not all feedback is equal; what makes it good?
– Experience Feedback from someone who has seen a lot, made a lot of their own mistakes, can be valuable. An experienced person is better placed to advise, than someone who is not. Peer review, even if your peers are not particularly experienced, can be useful too, but is likely to be more based on opinion.
– Constructive All criticism should come with an explanation and a solution. It is not enough to say “that doesn’t work”, it needs to be followed up with “and this is why” and some suggestions of how to solve the problem. And its not about being told what to do- a good act doctor will work with you to find the best ways to do things. After all, it’s your act!
– The shit sandwich; all feedback should a mixture of what works and what doesn’t, because you learn from successes as well as failures.
– Impartial Feedback should be without agenda! Choose carefully who you ask for feedback, because even a performer friend might not be able to be impartial, if they are in competition with you for shows. A teacher, an impartial performer or someone you trust implicitly is best.
Reviews are a similar kettle of fish- if done constructively and well, they can be useful; if written from inexperience or with an agenda, perhaps less so.
Up to press (with one or two notable exceptions), reviewing in burlesque has mainly followed the same pattern- it is either purely descriptive, overly negative, or too nice, which is of limited use. How can we use reviews to our advantage as performers?
A good review will be impartial (to the extent that this is possible; reviewers are people with motives and predispositions, like everyone else). It will not simply describe a show, it will look at it critically, mentioning good points, bad points and points for improvement. It should give you an idea of what to expect from a performer or show. It will do more than describe a show or act; it will analyse. But what use can we, the performers, make of reviews? Here are a couple of tips.
Take it with a pinch of salt
A review is just someone’s opinion. If they say you are AMAZEBALLS, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are. If they say you are TOTAL SHIT, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should sack it all in. Learn to spot the constructive points and use them, but beware of absolute statements about your crapness or brilliance. Just because this reviewer loves you, doesn’t mean the next one will and just because this reviewer hated your act, doesn’t mean the next guy will.
Use the comments to develop
If its a proper review it will have some comments you can use to your advantage. If the reviewer says your narrative was rushed, or your striptease was clumsy, or your jokes fell flat, consider it. The point of being an entertainer is to please the audience, so although you should take it with a pinch of salt as mentioned above, don’t dismiss comments out of hand. You may be convinced that they are wrong for not understanding your narrative or for disliking the way you take your gloves off, but maybe there is something you can learn from these comments. Be brave, and consider that this time you might not have hit the nail on the head. F*cking up isn’t the end of the world, and you can always do better next time.
Don’t take it too personally
It can be really harsh if you get negative criticism in a review, particularly if it only points out the bad stuff with no constructive comments. You may be tempted to go online and complain, you might want to challenge the review or send an angry email to the reviewer (remember in Friends when Monica stalked the guy who called her Mahi Mahi “awful awful”?). DON’T DO THIS! This person is entitled to their opinion and entitled to publish it. Getting dodgy reviews is part of show biz. Take a deep breath, see if you can extract anything useful from the comments to improve your performance, then move on. Just because Lydia Thompson allegedly beat up a chap who gave her a bad review, doesn’t mean you should.
All this sounds brilliant! What is the problem? Why are we not all over feedback and proper reviews? I will tell you why: BECAUSE IT FRICKING HURTS!
Boy does it sting when someone criticises your work. Your act, your brand, you product; its your baby. Its your creation. It is not easy to have someone come in and tell you that it is not a brilliant as you hoped. But no one can get it totally right all of the time, and you can learn so much from buggering up. If you have a problem in life, you go to your wisest confident for advice, right? And the same in burlesque- 2 expert heads are always going to be better than one. Even if you reject the feedback ultimately, it can only make you more aware as a performer, to find out about other points of view.
In some ways, the supportive, uncritical nature of burlesque is fortunate. It allows the tentative and inexperienced performer to find their feet and develop without their confidence being knocked. I personally avoided proper feedback for years because of my own lack of confidence, but when I actually got it, it did me good. We need to learn not to fear feedback- YOU DONT HAVE TO BE FLAWLESS ALL THE TIME! MAKING MISTAKES DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE NOT A GOOD PERFORMER, IT JUST MEANS YOU MADE A MISTAKE.
So there is a lot to be gained from feedback and constructive review, as scary as it can seem.
But just to prove that reviews are not the be-all-and-end-all final word on your worth as a performer, here are some funny review comments I have encountered that show that reviewers can be less than credible…
“The lead singer had the most atrocious and unbelievable fake French accent” (the lead singer was genuinely French)
“The dancers were terrible and not professional” (they were trained ballerinas)
<pThe women had really bad make-up, really overdone" (its called stage make-up)
“witless and synthetic” (first review of Les Miserables the show)