As many of you know, I began reviewing theatre at the Ottawa Fringe Festival back in June. Before I took on this assignment, I decided to check out other reviews from other Fringe festivals to see how others went about the job of reviewing. I quickly noticed that most reviewers had adopted the star system. The system was straight forward. Each show would earn between one and five stars based on how much the reviewer enjoyed the show. One star would be given to the worst of the lot and 5 to the best.
I decided not to adopt this system and instead chose to just use words to convey what I thought was or was not successful about a given production. Theatre is a very subjective experience. A show I loved others might not enjoy as much and a show that I found boring might have mass appeal. This is why I always encourage others to see a show and decide for themselves how “good” it is.
A star rating system would only be useful for those readers who either have similar theatrical tastes as me or the exact opposite aesthetic sensibility. I suspect both these instances are pretty rare. Maybe I’m wrong and excellent theatre is more universal than I am letting on here. Any thoughts?
For these reasons, I would feel very guilty if a theatergoer missed out on a show that they would have loved because I did not give it 5 stars. Yet, this is the kind of thinking that the star system encourages. People want to see “the best” without recognizing how artificial this is. (Then again it seems to work for wine.)
I do understand why this system is popular. I saw 14 shows at the Fringe and yet this was still only a sampling of what the festival has to offer. Most theatergoers don’t have the time to watch even that many and so they are understandably looking for short cuts.
I feel that talking about the various elements of a production gives a reader a sense of what a show is about so they can make these judgments on their own. This decision process, on the part of the reader, is more useful than simply seeing a show based on a high rating.