Star Thoughts After Reviewing the 2014 Indy Fringe Theatre Festival for Nuvo

My media pass for the 2014 Indy Fringe Theatre Festival

I wish I could find the post I read several weeks ago by a guy who was throwing down his approach to the star ratings on GoodReads.

I’ve tried finding it again but instead found only that there are a gazillion posts from people delineating their approaches to star ratings and, except for the one I’m looking for, they all make for tedious reading.

So I’ll just paraphrase what my guy said:

Don’t be a douche/dick/dirtbag and give one-star reviews to everything. If everything you read is that horrible, maybe you’re not that good of a reader. It certainly implies that you suck at selection.

“On the other hand, if nothing you read is ever good enough to rate five stars, maybe that, too, means you’re not that good of a reader. Are you sure you are even open to the possibility of a five-star experience?

“But above all, don’t cop out and just give three-star reviews or zero-star reviews to everything. All you’re doing with that is wasting everyone’s time and showing your laziness and fear. You do have an opinion. It is valid and possibly even influential, but it is not THAT influential. You also can’t please everyone no matter how self-protective you think you’re being. So..articulate your opinion, own it, share it, and move on.”

I thought of that post when I agreed to start writing individual theatre reviews for Nuvo back in March, and I thought of it again when I headed into the 2014 Indy Fringe Theatre Festival as part of the Nuvo review team here in Indianapolis, Indiana (USA).

Nuvo Stars at the Indy Fringe

The team’s goal was to provide Fringe-ers with a handy-dandy booklet (and online guide) that included a 100-word review plus star rating for each of this year’s 64 shows.

I am proud to have helped the Nuvo review team accomplish that goal.

Writing for Nuvo during the Fringe was a lot more stressful than I had imagined, though. For one thing, it is MUCH harder to write 100 words than it is to write 1000, especially under a tight deadline. And Nuvo’s star ratings stir people up even more than the stars on GoodReads do.

The Nuvo review team included eight people all together. All had some kind of performance art background plus writing experience.

Our instructions included the following, which was also published with our reviews:

Here’s a general rubric for how we allot stars: 5 for life-altering, 4 for excellent, 3 for good, 2.5 for mediocre, 2 for pretty bad and 1 for execrable. Of course, any experience could be life-altering if you haven’t lived very long or have a low bar for what constitutes a mind-blowing experience. But we’d like to think that if we’ve given the show five stars, there’s a good chance you’ll walk out of it a slightly different person. Happy Fringing!

I evaluated each show on its own, not in comparison to other shows. But after I had turned in all of my reviews, I looked at how my stars broke down for my nine Fringe shows:

5 stars – 3 shows
4.5 stars – 1 show
4 stars – 2 shows
3.5 stars – 2 shows
3 stars – 1 show

I thought, “Uh-oh. I bet I’ll get some flack about this.” But when I thought about each of the nine shows again, I came to the same star ratings for each one again. None of them was “execrable,” “pretty bad,” or “mediocre.” Three of them had actually altered my life.

2014 Indy Fringe edition of Nuvo

Sure enough, when the Fringe issue of Nuvo came out midweek, it prompted a lot of discussion. Some people were very upset that their favorite show did not get as many stars as they thought it should. Other people told me I had been too generous to shows that disappointed them. Some people even followed me into restrooms to talk with me.

One person tweeted to me that six 5-star shows out of 64 was “#starinflation.”

I started to tweet back, “Seriously?”

But then I decided to go see another show instead.

I saw several more shows just for myself, buying my own tickets, for a total of 24 shows. (I saw one twice.) I wish I could have seen all 64 shows but it is logistically impossible. I am very pleased with what I did see.

When people flagged me down to tell me about how they disagreed with any or all of the Nuvo reviews, I tried to listen respectfully. I don’t care about being “right,” I care about being honest and clear.

I’m also sincerely curious about other people’s experiences of shows. As long as you don’t try to shove your opinion down my throat the minute a show ends, or call me (or my colleagues) names, or harass me while I’m peeing, I’ll respect your right to have your opinion, too, even if it is different from mine.

I still stand by all nine of my 2014 Fringe reviews.  And now that I know more about what to expect, I’m looking forward to being on Nuvo’s review team for the 2015 IndyFringe, too, if I can.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to figuring out my star ratings for more shows this fall.

But the shows, the SHOWS are what matter most.  Not the stars.

‘See you at the theatres…

Hope Baugh –
@IndyTheatre on Twitter.

© 2014 Hope Baugh

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