For my first play, I thought it would be super fun and easy to adapt Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.* Interspersing live action with projection, it was supposed to make a really serious comment about society or some shit. Can’t really remember, it was bloody ages ago and directing is so stressful I’ve blocked most of it out. For all its sins and failings, it was something I was very proud of and I was lucky enough to see it longlisted for NSDF this year.
About three months after closing night (student newspapers are wonderful at timekeeping), I read a review of it. My first impulse, after the boiling rage and the desire for vodka, was to vehemently register my belief in the pointlessness of criticism. 6/10? I spent my whole summer writing that thing. I sobbed over my laptop. I didn’t get to watch a single box-set. I’m pretty sure at one point I grew a beard. SIX OUT OF TEN?!
I completely understand that initial reaction. When you create a piece of theatre, you are putting a bit of yourself on a stage for other people to point and laugh at, or loathe, or feel offended by. What I failed to realise was that much like Frankenstein’s creature, once you have created something and let it loose, no tantrum will stop other people judging it. There’s no other experience quite like that, other than the rare times I take to karaoke. You’re leaving yourself completely vulnerable.
The difficulty is in staying vulnerable. I think this is what a lot of creative people struggle with. Especially during this festival. There has been a lot of harsh criticism and harsh responses to that criticism. Well, fair enough, you might think. If you enter into a discussion with a piece of work, the makers of that work should be able to defend their work. But there is a difference between defending and being defensive. When we are subject to the next stage of that, of criticism, of discussion, we don’t engage, we retreat into coolness. We sit in cliques and bitch about that reviewer who just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand this context, they didn’t realise what that thing was supposed to mean. I understand that reaction, because it’s exactly what I did. But there is no shame in something we’ve created being slated; and no shame in doing the slating.
Theatre is such a transient thing. It’s not a film that can be analysed several times throughout someone’s life. It seems ridiculous that we are often so hateful towards those who criticise us, when what we do is of the moment, every night being different. It’s all water under the theatrical bridge. It’s there, then it’s gone. It’s not who we are, it’s just a slight reflection of who we are; a puddle, not a mirror.
So, from now on, I welcome criticism with an open heart and open mind, even when it hurts. But yes, next time I read a review of my own work, I’ll make sure I have that vodka at the ready. I might even buy one for the person who took the time to write the review.
* Please don’t try this at home unless you are Nick Dear.
This piece was originally published at http://noff.nsdf.org.uk as part of the National Student Drama Festival