Monday, September 29, 2008

Critiques of Castmates: Proceed with Caution

Moving to a new apartment can surely put a cramp in one's apologies again, loyal blog readers, for a Monday appearance this week. ---Ty

If you are in theatre, in particular amateur theatre, it will happen. Someone in the show with you will ask you what you think of their performance, and ask for ways they could improve it.

Before you get a chance to wince and stammer, the one who approaches reassures you;

"Be honest. You can't hurt my feelings on this, I want to know what you think, so I can improve."

Given that you are in a show and have obligations, you cannot run. And they know you are probably not deaf, if they have exchanged verbal lines with you on stage.

In the end, some response is called for.

Overall, my suggestion in such a situation is this; unless they are a personal friend of yours of extraordinary depth, or if you have no desire to make friends with said person, do NOT give them a full critique, if you can help it.

Yes, there are people who are professional enough in spirit to handle any criticisms without go haywire over it. But I am not reluctant to conclude that the vast majority of people who ask this question are really asking, "Am I doing good? Am I at least doing better than I think I am? Because if not, that would be really horrible."

To come back at such a person with such hidden motivations, one who does not make their living in this fashion, with lists of things at which they are lousy would have, shall we say, unpleasant results. Bad blood, awkward times together in the future, misinterpretation, retaliation, tears, and in some rare, (but not unheard of cases in my experience) resignation from the show, on their part.

Sort of takes the whole "community" thing right out of community theatre, doesn't it?

I like to remind people that I am not a director, and that it is hard for me to assess an entire performance, when I myself are coming in and out of the show, seeing bits and pieces, and concentrating mostly on my own performance. All of which are true and fair responses, from my perspectives. One cannot deny that the above truths apply.

However, if that should seem too cold, or if the advice seeker is persistent, I try to always start with positives things. Nothing is too small here. The way they enter, a face they make in Scene 3. How they look in the costume.

I then try to get from them what it is they think they are not doing well. I ask them what they think their problem areas are. When I learn this, I feel somewhat more free to discuss with them some of the problems I notice, (if I have indeed noticed ANY) with the aspects of performance in question. This is because they know that they are struggling, and hearing it from someone else will not strike quite as deep a blow.

There are always exceptions of course. But try to remember that in most cases when you are in a show, you are NOT a director. If you have a problem with something someone else is doing go to the director. If someone has a problem with what they themselves are doing, advise them to ask the director what they think. Otherwise, be positive, interactive, and as brief as possible in your response. It saves them face, and saves you and the show, a lot of other negatives.

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