The Critical Series: p2p review, it’s all in the timing. . .

On the subject of peer-to-peer review, more than anything else I cannot emphasize that there is a time and a place and a way for it.  And it isn’t at the post-opening night revels at the bar.

Here is one playwright’s list of do’s and don’ts. How to tell a playwright you didn’t like his play.

And here are mine–  DO’S AND DON’Ts OF PEER FEEDBACK 

1st things 1st:  You can write whatever you like on your blogs, in e-mails to friends, even on your status updates. We just ask that you do so out of a sense of friendship and generosity.  No one wants to silence you and often those types of reviews are helpful to us.  

But what we’re talking about face to face interaction among peers, so:

1. During the run, tread carefully.

Most performers, and many directors, are still too close to the work to deal with some peer to peer feedback on the show.   If you truly enjoyed the show, let us know.  Keep it on the positive vein.  If we are foolish enough to ask you what you thought, let us know the good stuff.  If there’s trust and a good relationship, you can say, “I have a lot of thoughts on some other things, and if you’d like to talk about them I’ll be happy to discuss the show with you over lunch after you close or whenever you feel ready.  You’re so busy now and need your rest”

That way the door is open for us to follow up.  Otherwise, zip it.

2.  Do not offer unsolicited “constructive” feedback.
Especially at the bar/lunch shop/cast party.  If they ask, if you’re very close to the artist and a discussion of the show’s positives and negatives comes up organically, begin by offering a light critical observation and. . . .

3.  Be aware of their reaction.
Be very aware.  In any situation where you’re offering a peer criticism, always be sensitive to their current state of mind, the surrounding circumstances, and how much they can take.  This is THEIR work, after all.  They’re  not the audience to your brilliant analysis and witticisms at the cost of their art.

If they trust and admire you, they’ll appreciate the open door and come back for more of your insight later, precisely because you could do so with sensitivity.

4.  Remember that none of the following is true:

  1. That there is one universal and objective measure of how good and bad anything is.
  2. That the critic is in sole possession of the skill for making these measurements.
  3. Anyone that doesn’t possess this skill (including the creator of the work) is an idiot and should be ridiculed.
  4. That valid criticisms can and should always be resolved.

Leave the gossip and snatchiness for your friends at the bar.

And for those on the receiving end, here is your list:

1.  If you don’t want to hear any criticism, don’t ask “What did you think?”.  Don’t put yourself or your friends in that position.  If you do want some feedback from them, thank them for coming and say, “In a few weeks, I’d love to sit down and hear your thoughts on the show/my performance/the writing, etc.” Then, when you’re less vulnerable and more rested, you can have a good gossip about your show.

2. When you read reviews, decide what is criticism you can use and what is completely useless to you.  Consider how you can work on the former and give up any responsibility for fixing the latter.

And consider the source:  do you trust them? are they actually interested in your work? and is this something you can discuss with them in order to grow?  If not, disregard as idiocy.

3.  When receiving criticism, consider the assumptions of the criticizer:

  1. That there is one universal and objective measure of how good and bad anything is.
  2. That the critic is in sole possession of the skill for making these measurements.
  3. Anyone that doesn’t possess this skill (including the creator of the work) is an idiot and should be ridiculed.
  4. That valid criticisms can and should always be resolved.
If this is the case, smile and nod and extricate yourself as quickly as possible.  If they are on you like clingfilm, you have every right to say, “Thank you, I get your point. I don’t find it helpful so continuing is going to be futile” and change the subject.

4. If you trust the criticizer, shut up and listen.   The easiest way to do this is when you have actively asked for feedback, chosen someone you trust to give it, and feel in control of the feedback process (that you have the option of stopping it when it gets too close to the bone).

If more artists actively sought feedback from trusted colleagues, and colleagues actually worked to earn their trust, peer to peer review would go a long way toward enhancing our work and our artistic community.

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