Thursday, July 19, 2007

Reviewing Ain't Easy (But It Can Be Entertaining)

As you know -- or as you know now, because I'm mentioning it -- last night was the opening night of the 2007 Winnipeg Fringe Festival; I went and saw the production of Wolseley Tales at the Partners Deli in City Hall last night, and I must say I enjoyed it. The general consensus amongst our group -- my mother, my sister and I -- was that A) it was very endearing overall, B) it had a couple opening night kinks that (we were assured later by the performers when we talked to them) were going to be ironed out for the next show, and C) it is exactly the kind of gentle and quietly charming show that reviewers tend to bristle at.

Sure enough, the next day on the Winnipeg Free Press' staggeringly unappealing WhatsOnWinnipeg site:

Now, personally, I would have bumped the rating up by at least a star; your mileage may vary, of course, because reviewing anything is by nature a largely subjective and arbitrary activity. And I say this as a former arts reviewer myself, because I volunteered for two years at the Manitoban as a CD reviewer. (It was awesome. Ask me about it another time.)

Subjectivity and whatnot aside, this Fringe review was largely as I'd have expected. What definitely threw me about it, though, was the first sentence of that third paragraph:

"It's not a terribly compelling set of stories about everything from Mrs. Lipton's restaurant to Tall Grass Prairie's famous cinnamon buns, but the audience this night appreciated the amble down Home Street."

Or, to rephrase that -- "the show wasn't very good, but the audience enjoyed it".

Are you seriously allowed to write that in reviews? "It entertained the crowd, but it isn't entertaining" -- you can write stuff like that for the big papers? Oh, man!

When I graduated from university and was subsequently passed over by every newspaper in the city that went hiring since, I presumed it was because my writing skills are amateurish and unrefined in their current natural element. And, granted, they are -- but this looks like far less of a problem than I had originally assumed. Hell, I could do this stuff after all!

Oh, man, I'm all fired up now; that skittering noise you just heard was the writing bug crawling up and biting me. I loved doing record reviews back in university, and what's to stop me from doing them now? Since reviews are largely subjective, the credibility of reviews lies in the real or assumed authority of the person doing the reviewing -- and, hey guys, I've done this before! Clearly you can trust me!

I know I've still yet to post the concert pics and etceteras I'd proposed back in the day -- but nobody's really been clamoring for them, and I can always just backdate them to sometime and announce where (when?) I've put them up. Or I could do what I usually do, which is wing it to suit my whims and then hope for the best; these are the luxuries one has when one isn't specifically paid to write anything. (And if it turns out that is what one does when specifically paid to write, then I intend to shake violently with barely controlled jealousy.)

Anyway, to sum up, the Fringe production of Wolseley Tales is good for audiences and bad for reviewers. And I'm going to start reviewing CDs again at some point, just like the old days, because it'll be fun. Keeps me off the streets, at least!

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