Last year was the first year we took a whole team up to review at Edinburgh Festival Fringe. We were all aged between 18-25, and had been trained in review writing. Before coming up, the team had all played an active role in keeping Voice running. During that time we reviewed over 70 shows, secured numerous interviews and made many industry contacts. Oh, and we also wrote a review which attracted much unwanted attention.
This review, that we have affectionately named Marcel-gate, was the result of our reviewer not realising that Marcel Lucont is an act, and finding the humour not to her taste. Her opinions were well considered, and her points were valid. Marcel is a sexist, misogynist, slightly racist character. She didn't find him funny, and said as much.
As I said, there was much controversy around this review, and a good part of it centred around whether or not it is fair or appropriate to take young people to festivals in a reviewer capacity. Some cited lack of experience, and the cutthroat nature of reviewing as reasons against this. While both are true, I don't think it is a valid excuse for getting rid of them.
In fact, I feel it is quite the opposite. We at Voice have a great team of young people, both paid and voluntary, who are heavily invested in the arts, many of whom seek a career in journalism in the future. How are they going to know whether it is right for them, or gain that industry experience, if they never get taken seriously?
Equally, at what age is the magic number? At what point do you stop being a young reviewer, and can suddenly be taken seriously? Why would, lets say, a 25 year old with no prior experience be better suited to be included in a reviewing group than an 18 year old who has plenty of experience in the arts, and review writing? If we create an artificial barrier to entry based on arbitrary age requirements, we are limiting the opportunity to develop the skills that will make those 18 year olds exceptional reviewers by the time they are 25.
There is value in working with young people. They offer a perspective and outlook that many have had eroded away by the pressures and toils of life. Their view is no less valid, it just takes a different approach. Who wouldn't want a show to be reviewed by somebody less cynical, less institutionalised, and less bored by over-exposure? To say young people cannot voice an opinion on a show is to say that young people do not deserve a voice, which is simply ridiculous.
Young people are also more likely to know whether or not others in their age bracket would appreciate the show. Obviously if they didn't like your show, your natural reaction would be to blame the reviewer for not appreciating the topic you're trying to discuss, on account of their fewer years placenta-free. Maybe they do miss the point. Maybe your show is just poor. That is the risk you take performing for the public, and age really doesn't play as big a factor. Last year our reviewers found many shows they absolutely loved, and those performers were grateful for our review. I'd be inclined to suggest that a performer would take the chance of getting a positive review over banning young reviewers altogether. You open yourself to a bad review every time you perform, and shutting off a segment of society in the hopes of reducing the number of bad reviews is untenable. A show that relies heavily on chauvinism or racism wouldn't exclude females or BAME's, and would be rightly torn apart in the press.
The relationship between reviewer and performer is a two-way street. Reviewers need performers for their livelihood, and performers need the trust and respect of reviewers or their career will struggle to take off. I personally fail to see why someone would object to inviting younger people into the fold, and start on building that mutual trust and respect at an early age. Young reviewers, like young people in general, have the potential to become great individuals, they just require the opportunity to grow and develop. If we create barriers to entry, we will deter those who could otherwise have been fantastic reviewers, and then everybody misses out.
The industry can't have its cake and eat it.