Fringe Fest is unpredictable, but three things are pretty much a given: there will be construction around the Fringe zone; at least one play will have the word "sex" in the title; and someone, sooner or later, will call local reviewers "lazy" for assigning star ratings to shows.
That happened a bit earlier than usual this year. So if there's so much controversy over it, why do reviewers use star ratings at all? Here are four reasons they matter:
1. Star ratings are useful to audiences. 150 reviews is a lot for any Fringe-goer to sort through, so some means of separating what we recommend from what we don't becomes necessary. Obviously, it's our hope that people will actually read the reviews that go along with the rating (otherwise, we'd just publish show titles and star ratings, wouldn't we?). Performers may not always like them, but here's the thing - the reviews are there to try to help the audience first.
2. Star ratings are not "arbitrary". Assigning a star rating system is not as scientific as, say, weighing hamburger. But it's something we take seriously. Our Review Crew has spent a lot of time talking about how we use those star ratings, and what they actually mean. (We also have a pretty clear outline of what each rating means right on our website under "Reviews By Rating".)
3. Our reviewers know what they're talking about. As you've seen from the bios of our crew, many of our reviewers have theatre training or a performance background. Most have, in fact, performed at the Fringe; all have experience in arts/culture journalism. This certainly doesn't mean we're always "right", or that we expect people to agree with us in every case. But to suggest that we assign ratings out of ignorance is just not accurate.
4. There's no such thing as bad publicity. Like 'em or not, star ratings get people reading reviews, and talking about shows. And that kind of publicity is what Fringe thrives on. I've seen other Fringe festivals - recently - that don't have the level of media coverage Winnipeg's does. Trust me, I think audiences - and most performers - would prefer the results of "more coverage" to "less."
CBC Review Crew