Older Means of Reviewing No Longer Worth Its Weight in Stars?

Older Means of Reviewing No Longer Worth Its Weight in Stars?”

Below is an excerpt from John Ellingsworth’s most recent post “Could Twitter Spell the End of Star Ratings?” on The Guardian theatre blog, and it’s worth a read, particularly if you have been following last week’s conversation over at the Parabasis blog about the (de)merits of theatre critics and reviews:

“Real-time data is fast becoming more available. The two biggest search engines, Bing and Google, have just taken the first steps towards it by brokering an agreement with Twitter; finding ways to collect, convert and analyse opinion is already the focus of some extraordinary minds. You might not be interested in reading – though it’s probably more like viewing – the agglomerated thoughts of a bunch of strangers, but “recommendation engines” already control a large part of your user experience when you log on to Amazon or YouTube. Those products they recommend to you? That’s search engines trying to make you click, and commerce sites trying to make you buy; both steering you towards what they think you want.

This is what stars are, or were: shorthand for the desirability of a given show on a given night at the theatre. They won’t be necessary much longer, now that we’re changing the way we use reviews. I don’t think I’m unusual in checking Metacritic to see if a film is any good, then watch it, and then read the reviews. Similarly, I find theatre reviews most useful after the fact, as a guide or counterpoint to a challenging work, or simply to prolong the warm afterglow. Anyone can have an opinion, but it’s not the only thing that matters.”

While the star system has not really been used (at least to my knowledge) to rate theatre, its potential elimination has broader implications for the whole concept of reviewing, what constitutes a review, and how audiences use reviews (both traditional and new forms), which do affect the theatre.  If, as Ellingsworth suggests, the star system is on its way out, just imagine how many DVD covers at Blockbusters nationwide will have to be redone to eliminate this apparently outdated way of rating.  Que sera sera.  Ellingsworth also mentions the site Metacritics, which, interestingly, does not provide theatre reviews, but seems to cover just about everything else from books and music to film, television, and video games reviews.  Ouch.


After publishing this post, I opened up  to the theatre review section of a local paper, Tampa’s Creative Loafing to be exact, and what did I discover but critic Mark Leib giving a 2 1/2 star rating to The New Century by Paul Rudnick now playing at American Stage in St. Petersburg, FL. So I guess theatre critics do sometimes accompany written reviews with star ratings.  This is interesting…there is something very commercial about the star system… it is not just simple, but simplistic…is it also low-brow and somehow at odds with “people’s” perception of theatre as a high-brow form of entertainment? (Not that theatre is high-brow, and I, personally, find that stereotype to be annoying and ignorant of theatre history and the range of theatre that exists today.)

Ugh, and while I’m on the subject of critics and reviews (again), I’ll give you the first line of Leib’s review of Rudnick’s play as an example of why critics can get pinned as pretentious and vague, eloquent but insubstantive: “Paul Rudnick’s The New Century starts out incandescent, loses a little effulgence in its second scene, becomes decidedly lackluster in its third, and fizzles out completely in its fourth and fifth.”  What exactly does this mean? Really. I’m serious.

3 Responses to “Older Means of Reviewing No Longer Worth Its Weight in Stars?”
  1. CL Jahn says:

    I don’t know about “stars,” but Kevin Thompson of the Palm Beach Post has been using letter grades.

    Getting critics to write clear reviews the concisely summarize the evening is a minor crusade. I’ve seen reviews talk about the script, past productions, and the relevance of the story, but utterly fail to tell us anything useful about the production they saw.

    Feedback helps. Online versions of reviews often allow us to append comments to the review, and if they don’t, there are resources like my own South Florida Theatre Scene, where you can comment on plays and their reviews. Or start your own blog (like this one, Drama Daily).

  2. nstodard says:

    Perhaps, readers (and metacritics) should turn the star and letter rating systems back on critics to rate the effectiveness/usefulness of reviews.

  3. rageoffstage says:

    Tables,scales,clapometres,there is always a drive to quantify quality,in a simplistic way,to, in some way make the reviewers opinion the last word,its just one persons opinion in the end,you can enjoy,agree/disagree,but you would need to write a book to explain the differnce between 3stars and 4stars. rageoffstage.

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