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When You Get Panned (The Audience is What Matters)

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Please note that this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to anyone, or that anyone who pans you is nutso. It simply means you need to keep the people around you whose opinions you trust to be both fair and objective. If your group’s latest show was panned, but you and your associates and artists feel like you staged the vision you intended, and that it still takes your breath away, and (best and most important of all) your audiences are enthusiastic and responsive? Ticket sales are great? Forget about the review and laugh all the way to the bank. Simply put it into its proper perspective, as one piece among many, and as one opinion among many.

Meanwhile, as I’ve outlined elsewhere, make sure you thank the critic for his or her coverage, and that you also send a polite handwritten thank-you note to them for taking the time to attend and review your performance. Include your business card and contact information, and politely invite them to the next production you stage, in hopes that you can give them a better experience next time.

Then move on.

Or, better yet, smile, and see if you can’t find something funny in the whole thing.

For instance. I once submitted a story to a magazine edited by an editor and writer whose work I admired enormously. The editor’s response to me was brief, and devastating, but it was also so witty and cutting I have never forgotten it:

Dear Angela,

At our magazine, our readers demand characters who are both likeable and interesting. Yours were neither.

Best wishes,

Famous Editor

I was devastated at first, but I never forgot it, and was eventually able to find it really funny, once I had achieved some success with other publications and stories. While the story in question wasn’t that bad, I did nevertheless agree with the editor that it probably wasn’t my best work. It made me that much more careful about what I sent out into the world, and made me value the positive responses I received.

I also just plain got a kick out of it. I hadn’t impressed the editor with my intelligence or wit, but you know what? The editor sure impressed me. I still love that response, even eighteen years later.

So, bad reviews? They're part of life in the arts. People will not always love what you do. You’ll need a thick skin to traverse the occasional scathing pan or dismissive review. But the good news is that everyone -- and I do mean everyone -- gets them at some point, so smile, adjust your armor, and soldier on. Just stay secure in the knowledge that someone else is going to write a delightful rave about your work soon enough, and you won’t even remember that negative critic’s name!

(Well, almost.)

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