Thursday, August 19, 2004

Fringe Number Crunching

I realize the reviews in the press - both mainstream and alternative - are very important for getting the word out. I'm awfully grateful for the positive notices in the Star Tribune for Dandelion Snow and Fast Fringe 1 and 2 - reviews like that put you on the map with folks who aren't quite as addicted to Fringe website buzz.

Me, though, I'm always very interested in the audience response, particularly the way the audience reviews on the Fringe website pan out. Those are the hard core people, the most invested Fringe-goers. If someone takes the time to write about your show, you have no doubt at all that you've moved them, for better or worse, to action.

It's fun looking at the tallies and dissecting it all. The key indicator for me is not just how many stars, but how many reviews it took to get a show there.

For instance, there are a little over two dozen of the plays out of the 175+ shows in the Fringe that managed to land and hang on to a 5 star rating.

The shows I'm most impressed with are the ones who had multiple reviews and still managed to hold onto a high rating.

After all, while it's good that a even a single person thought so highly of a show that they gave it 5 stars, if it's only one person who gave those 5 stars, that's hardly a universal endorsement. Six shows got a 5 star rating that way. Another nine shows had five reviews or less and hung onto that 5 star rating. While that's certainly impressive, and for all I know may be warranted (they weren't shows I've seen so how am I to know, I have to trust the people who were there and actually experienced it), the shows I'm most bowled over by are things like Knock! with 18 reviews, or Wanted with 12, or, Goddess Menses & The Menstrual Show with, get this, 35 reviews. Even with all those people weighing in, the opinion was damn near unanimous - these shows were judged to be great. The 5 star rating is even more of an achievement in situations like that.

Conversely, it's too bad for a show when its only review is a less than stellar one. They end up sitting out there with one star or less the whole festival, warning people away even if they never read the actual review to judge for themselves. (I'm not going to pick anyone out of the pack for that. If you're really curious, go to the Audience Reviews section via the link from the front page of the Fringe site, and click on the column header for "Number of Reviews." The ones with the most reviews are at the top, the less widely reviewed ones are at the bottom.)

Another fun thing to browse through is to see when and how long people were talking about these shows. If you go to Audience Reviews and click on the column heading for Most Recent Review, you get a whole different picture. Knock!, Spilled Drinks, Women! Live On Stage!, and On The Beaded Fringe 2were all still being reviewed by audience members two days after the Fringe was over. Another thirty shows were still being reviewed the day after the Festival closed, in many cases a couple of days after they'd had their last performance.

Conversely again, it's a little sad to scroll to the bottom of the list and see what shows people gave up writing about (and perhaps even attending) early on in the Fringe schedule.

Personally, even when the review is less than glowing for a show of mine, I'm happy to get it. As I said above, it means, for whatever reason, that my show either really pleased someone or really disappointed them. That's what you want a show to do - incite a response. Dandelion Snow ended up in a four way tie for 6th place toward the top of the list of the shows with the greatest number of reviews. That's gratifying, even if it does mean that as the more negative reviews got added on, the star rating slipped down from 5 to 4.

More importantly, I've been getting a lot of really specific feedback - both the postive and the negative equally constructive. It's great to know where the script perplexes or frustrates people, what they want more or less of, what their questions are. In some cases, I already had an inkling something would or wouldn't work. In others, I'm getting an outside perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of my play that I might otherwise have missed.

So thanks, everyone. I've copied your reviews into a file on my computer and as I move forward with this script, your thoughts will be on my mind.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit

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