Lighten up, readers; review was positive

Red Wing Republican Eagle
May 17, 2001

Staff writer Mike Fielding enjoyed Red Wing High School’s spring musical, “Pirates of Penzance.” Just ask him. Better yet, read what he wrote about the play in the May 11 edition of the R-E: “While it is an agreeable entree into operetta and the roots of the modern musical, ‘Pirates’ also is a fine example of what high school theater could be – but so often fails to be.”

Fielding’s sentiments were clear to him, and this editor, but not all readers interpreted his remarks the same way.

A couple of readers called directly and other comments were published on this page, taking the review to task for – in the readers’ opinions – being unduly critical of student performers.

For the record, the R-E prides itself as a booster of all high school activities ranging from athletics to academics to extracurriculars. We do our best to publicize activities in advance and follow up on those that warrant additional coverage.

It’s our job to present a balanced and knowledgeable report. That’s why individuals like Dave McMahon and Ben Pherson – our sports staff – cover the games. And that’s why writers like Ruth Nerhaugen, Anne Jacobson and Mike Fielding critique arts and entertainment.

Fielding is no stranger to writing reviews, contrary to the suggestion of two readers. He received a minor in theater in college and studied dramatic criticism in graduate school. He was the only theater critic at the student newspaper at St. Mary’s College in Winona, Minn., where he got his undergraduate degree. Fielding has written reviews for a newspaper in suburban Chicago and was a correspondent with a theater trade magazine in Chicago.

He’s been on stage, too, having acted in both college and community theater and worked on the light crew for a college production. He also has appeared on the Sheldon Theatre stage.

High school theater should be held to a different standard from community theater, which in turn is held to a different standard from professional theater. At the same time, no one involved in any production should expect to read a review that only sings praise. No production is perfect.

Fielding said he took care to balance the review, offering both compliments and constructive criticism. A key comment was that there were bound to be shortcomings in youthful voices tackling such sophisticated music.

If beauty is in the eyes – and ears – of the beholder, that holds especially true for reviews. Readers’ perspectives of a review will vary immensely, ranging from the extreme of being closely associated with the production to the casual reader with no connection to the performance.

The feedback was instructive, however. It drills home a point that bears repeating for writers. It’s not necessarily what is written, but how a message is conveyed. A different choice of words might achieve the same meaning. A review is not doing its job, however, if it doesn’t point out a fumble or two among an otherwise strong performance.

In the final analysis, the opening night performance of “Pirates of Penzance” was a real crowd-pleaser for all – including Fielding.