It's almost time for the annual festival of the arts, extreme financial risk and broken dreams called the Edinburgh Fringe. Kicking off at the start of August each year, it can feel like a make-or-break moment in a performers' career. Touring opportunities, television contracts and all kinds of mad things can happen at the festival, and stakes can feel so high that reviews end up being life-or-death affairs.
I'm taking a new show to the festival myself this year (spy thriller cabaret Tomás Ford Stop Killing People - seeing my show is a great cure for festival blues). I've been playing Fringe festivals for a decade, and spent years in Bad Review Purgatory before getting some much-appreciated kudos of late, so I know the ups and downs of this stuff pretty well.
Lets' suppose you are reading this because you got a bad review. You want to curl up into a foetal ball, right? You never want to go onstage again? You want to hunt the reviewer down and... and... AND...
OK. Calm down. Here's my unsolicited advice on how to deal with your bad review.
Review The Reviewer
You've already moaned and whined about your review. Everbody does it, but you need to limit it. Your friends are definitely bored of hearing about it. Instead, find a way of summing up why the reviewer is wrong, so you can file it away in your brain.
Look at the writing, and check out any info you can about the reviewer. Do they have the vocabulary or experience to discuss your show? Compare the review to their other work - what kind of stuff do they usually like and how does your show fit in? Who is the publication aimed at - if it's not in your niche, nobody you actually care about will have read it.
Once you've found this reason, use it to sum up a review when you have to say anything about it, and then move the conversation on; you'll be happier if you're not dwelling on it.
Take Control Of Your Story
Most reviews make such a small difference to sales that it's important to remember that not many people read them. Sure, all your performer friends religiously scan the arts section of the paper for mentions of their name, but it's unlikely that your prospective audience does.
In this age of social media, it's generally up to you to promote a review. In the same way that you shout about a good review, you can easily bury a bad review. Print publications move to their next issue and online reviews will be swallowed into the deep web. None of your audience will know if you don't tell them.
In saying that, don't forget to look for a press quote - often the most useful quotes come from the unlikeliest reviews.
Get out of your head the idea that an afterparty is a time for celebration.
In the middle of a gruelling festival, you can't indulge in a heavy night out and expect to be at your best the next day. If you're going to do that to yourself, do it for a reason; your mental well-being. If you have had a bad show or a weird audience, that's exactly the time to let loose. During festival time, your show can feel like the focus of the whole day. Shift that focus to having the most ridiculously debauched night of extreme partying you can. Create some stories. Then they're the focus of that night, not some shitty gig.
I just read back the last paragraph and it looks like terrible advice. I don't know what to tell you - it's worked for me for years. Besides, after a good show I feel pretty sated. I go home and sleep the deep, contented sleep of the totally mentally balanced, world conquering performer/genius. Tomorrow, the usual festival anxiety will return.
Toughen Up, Princess
Remember that this is one season of many that you'll perform. There's a lot of lessons you can take from a festival - It could be that this city is not the best market for you. It could be that your show isn't pitched right.
In any case, you're doing the right thing; your show will improve just through running it for the run of the festival. The next festival you take it to, you'll find your show is tighter and better for having had this experience.
Make sure you finish your run with something special, like a climb to the top of Arthur's Seat, some kind of ridiculous massage treatment. I personally prefer a naked crowdsurf. It's hard to have perspective during a Fringe, but when August is over, you'll feel like you just climbed a mountain just for getting through it. At the very least, you'll be able to say your show comes "Direct From Edinburgh Fringe."
You'll high five yourself pretty hard. So suck it up.