Like it or not, reviews and criticism are an everyday part of the world of the performer. There’s little you can do to change or control that, but you can change yourself… for the better.
Nobody likes having their work knocked. We invest a lot of time, energy and, most of all, ourselves into each role we do and when someone doesn’t like it it’s just human nature to take it personally. Sadly, an increasing number of people are resorting to social networks to seek validation in order to gain their confidence back. In acts of quiet desperation, comments are posted that suggest in no uncertain terms that the person is upset. Some are angry and some are submissively sombre. Well-meaning friends and fellow cast leap to their defense with posts of praise and validation. This helps a little, but it still doesn’t solve the problem.
Hugh's not here to muck around.
The tertiary education system equips performers really well to accept and deal with criticism. Students at performing arts schools have a myriad of teachers and examiners all having their say and, based on the ones I experienced, they weren’t particularly fluffy with their words. During my very first performance at uni, one lecturer suggested I had some sort of speech impediment – the embarrassing comment laid bare in front of the entire school. I was a 1st year up there for the first time, trembling with fear, and I had 4th years laughing at me. Ouch!
You get tough, your skin thickens, and you learn to sort out the bits of critique you can use versus the bits you can’t. Above all, students at performing arts universities are steadily preparing themselves for the onslaught of criticism that is to follow when they hit the 'real world' and they are reviewed at a professional level. They know it’s coming, so they harden themselves accordingly.
A lot of people write to us complaining about TP Talk critics they think are too harsh and their solution is to simply gag the debate, shut it down. If I can’t hear about it, then it’s not happening. That may be a temporary solution and it may shut your critics up in that forum for a while, but, rest assured, they have plenty of other means to spread their message if they want to.
The solution is to learn to deal with it and turn a negative into a positive. Look at what the person is saying and ask yourself:
Do I know this person?
Do I respect this person?
Do they have something important to say?
If I look at myself objectively, does any of this really apply?
Can I improve on any of this, or is it beyond my control?
It’s hard to take any kind of advice from someone you don’t know or respect, so if you answered “no” to the first two questions, then toss the advice and move on. Simple as that. You all know that this (usually anonymous) person is a complete hack. Alternatively, as charming as you are, you might have pissed them off at some point and they’ve just not gotten over it. That’s their problem, not yours. Then look at the statement the person has made and try and work out exactly what they take issue with. You will always be your own harshest critic, so whatever the person said about it is most likely something you’ve already thought about yourself, either consciously or sub-consciously. Deep down everyone has their own insecurities: some they admit to, and others we don’t. We all have things we can improve on and the only mistake we can really make is thinking that we are perfect.
Then, get yourself one or two people who will always tell it how it is. These people won’t be the ones who respond to your cries for help on Facebook. Those guys are all trying to do the right thing in their own way, but the best and most valuable thing you can hear is the truth, plain and simple. I have a couple of people in my life that I ask those questions to and, while I quite often hate the answers they give me, it’s their advice that got me into gear and forced me to do something about it. If these people tell you that you need to lift your game, then listen to them. Don’t argue… just do it. If you don’t have someone like that, then you need to get yourself a mentor. Contact someone you respect in the industry and ask them if they will be that person for you.
I'm on a horse.
When I was performing in West Side Story (years ago), someone wrote into TP talk and had a go at me for my phrasing. Specifically, they said the end of my phrases were “weak”. That might seem like a small thing, but I’d trained for months for that show and I had really thrown myself into it. I got angry, upset, and the old ego took a battering that day, but for some reason Hugh Jackman popped into my head. Why? Sure… his rugged good looks would be enough for any man to ponder, but that wasn’t it.
Hugh is one of the most down to earth, honest and down-right likeable people in our profession. I thought to myself “He came up through the ranks and I’m sure he’s had his critics along the way. How would he respond?” It might sound silly, but I jumped in his shoes, got on the forum and said something like this:
“Hey mate – thanks so much for taking the time to write in and offer your advice on my performance. It really means a lot to me. I’ve taken on board what you’ve said and, you know what, If I spoke to my singing teacher he’d probably agree with you! Ha! West Side was an awesome experience and it really challenged me vocally. I guess that’s why I took it on in the first place. I actually went back to my singing teacher after a ten year break (tail between my legs) to get up to speed. I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt I gave it my absolute all. That’s not an excuse, but I did the most with what I had and that’s all anyone can ask, so I’m actually pretty proud of what I achieved. I’ll pay closer attention to my phrasing in future, you have my word on that. I hope you can come along to the next thing I’m in and notice an improvement 🙂 All the best – Hughesy "
Yep. That’s exactly what Hugh Jackman would have said. As soon as I’d posted it I felt better. This person didn’t hate me, they just didn’t like something I did on stage. So what? Even the performers I love (like Hugh) do things that I don’t always agree with. Does it mean they are not great? Of course not. Ever since that day I’ve paid much closer attention to my phrasing and I’ve become a better performer because of it.
Do yourself a favour… be more like Hugh.