Mindful Reviewing

“Mindfulness” is getting to be a bit of a buzzword, I think. But I have found that I’m learning a lot from my study of it, and it’s certainly guiding me as I see and write about plays these days.

Now, I’ve always been a proponent of generous, compassionate reviewing. When we would bring new squad members on each summer to help us cover the FringeNYC festival, the main tenet I would share was always this: Remember, they didn’t put the show up just to annoy you.

The idea, of course, was to add some distance; to remind ourselves both not to personalize the experience and not to make any assumptions about it. Making theater is very hard work, and that is worthy of our respect and our attention.

Today, as I move to a post-reviewing mindset when I write about theater, I think a lot about a concept that underpins mindfulness: don’t want this show to be something else. This play or musical or performance is whatever IT IS, which may not be what you would like it to be. Wishing for it to change is unproductive.

We are so used to multi-tasking and distracting ourselves these days, and seeing live theater offers a rare but needed opportunity for authentic presence. Be in the room with the show, and let the experience happen as it will. Don’t judge. Don’t second guess. Don’t wish for something else. Take it on its own terms, as it is.

And here’s how to write about it:

  • Talk about what happened.
  • What occurred on that stage?
  • How did it make you feel?
  • What did it make you think about?
  • What did you do after you left: Did you talk about it (what did you say)? Did you google something when you got home?
  • Did you learn something?
  • What has this experience done to you?

You’ll note that the preceding set of questions does not include things like: was the lighting good? Why do you think the creators made such-and-such a choice? Was this performance better than that one? Because, none of that matters. What matters is what happened to you—your experience. If you sustained a mindful attitude during the show, then you’re bound to have had an experience, and I for one will want to know what it was like.

Here are a couple of reviews that I think exemplify some of the ideas outlined here:

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