Saturday, August 24, 2013

creating a/broad, August 24, 2013

by Cameryn Moore

In the final week of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I was a little frustrated about not being able to get reviews, this being one of the main reasons that I had for coming to EdFringe this year. When I finally got a review from one of the main Fringe outlets, I was actually pretty pleased on first read:

As Cameryn Moore makes adamantly clear before the play begins, ‘Phone Whore’ is NOT a comedy. What followed was an incredibly brutal, piercing and thought-provoking commentary on sexuality and the sexual taboos that exist in our society. To say that this isn’t for the faint-hearted would be an understatement: fully-grown adults were running for the door, nervously giggling, well before the sucker-punch of an ending. From a moral standpoint, you may not agree with or condone Moore’s views on how to deal with the more depraved sexual thoughts that some people have. But she is clearly a very intelligent woman, just trying to have a grown-up, buttoned-down discussion about the world’s greatest obsession.

Unfortunate that the writer wasted a full line on the audience’s response, but generally, that’s a pretty good review, right? So when I got to the bottom, I was totally blindsided: they had given it two stars out of five.


Three stars are better than two, never mind that the review “reads like a four”, according to everyone who I’ve shown it to.

Now. When I get an unjust (in my opinion) review, I do not normally gripe about it in public. I vent to a few select people and then move on. Here in Edinburgh I showed this to Jem Rolls, Clare from Die Roten Punkte, and Elaine Liner, a theatre critic of 30 years-turned-playwright/performer from Dallas. They were just the first three friends who happened to be awake after I read the review. They all said it was shit. They all said strip the stars and use the pull quote. So I did, stapled about 120 cards up—I’m not going through them very fast here—and that’s all good.

But I didn’t count on my tech, Carys. She went above and beyond during our three weeks together, helping me on promo events, filming and taking photos during Sidewalk Smut, trading rounds of post-show cider. In this case, she was so angered by the discrepancy between the great review and the shitty low star count that she wrote to the publication and asked them, in very polite but pointed language, What The Fuck. 

If she hadn’t done that, I never would have gotten independent verification of what I’ve suspected all along: Phone Whore may be too Fringe for the Fringe, and some reviewers can’t keep their morals out of their work. See, here’s what they wrote:

I think what our reviewer was trying to communicate with the 2/5 rating was that she found it hard to recommend the show because, given it's explicit nature and hard-hitting style, it is a full-on experience even for a seasoned Fringe-goer. 

In some ways this reflects a weakness with the rating system - and with rating systems in general - in that the ratings are trying to communicate both whether a show was well performed, and whether it is recommended. We review our ratings system every year, and this is something we will probably consider again the next time we do so. 

However, in the meantime, I think it does look odd there being a 2/5 rating underneath the 'Phone Whore' review, and while we hardly ever do this post-publication, we have decided to increase the rating to 3/5 in this case. 

It has been amended on the site.


Three stars are better than two, never mind that the review “reads like a four”, according to everyone who I’ve shown it to. And I’m always glad to hear that my performance stirred up some kind of debate, even if it’s just an email back and forth between an editor and their young, possibly inexperienced, writers. But the idea that a show can be well performed, but not recommended, and furthermore, assigned low stars to avoid the appearance of encouraging people to attend… that makes my blood seethe.

I mean, in any genre, if something is well-performed, then presumably fans of that genre will want to know about it. Is it not sufficient to put red flags in (“not for the faint-hearted”, can we PLEASE come up with another phrase for writers to use about my show?!), in order to remind the public that a show is not generally recommended? Are those painstakingly chosen adjectives (“brutal”, “piercing”, etc.) not enough to give the reader a fairly accurate idea of what they’re getting into? Are reviewers so concerned about whether their readers can make (the correct) moral judgments that they have to drop the bomb on the stars?

There are still media that fold morals or “accessibility” into the concept of artistic merit.

Because I don’t think audience members see stars as a recommendation to attend or not. I think most audience members, rightly or wrongly, see stars as some kind of attempt to objectively rate a performance’s quality. If something is “full-on”—I’m reading that as “hardcore” or “extreme”—just say so, and let the reader decide if they want to go there.

This publication is by far not the only reviewing outlet in Edinburgh. But it is one of the more prominent ones. So I am left wondering: really? Is Phone Whore too fringe for the Edinburgh Fringe? I didn’t think that was possible. I honestly came over here thinking that, both in terms of my show and myself, I would, well, maybe I would stand out a little bit, hopefully I would! But given that this is the mothership of all Fringes, surely I would occupy some space a little closer to the centre of the bell curve. Surely, I thought, there would be much Fringier productions, impossible to categorize, challenging to the moral status quo; I think I imagined that there must be a whole program section just for shows involving the ingestion of piss.

But no. Edinburgh is just “bigger” Fringe. It is not more Fringe. There are still media that fold morals or “accessibility” into the concept of artistic merit. Hopefully, there are still audiences that can see through that.

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