Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Playwriting Do's and Don't's - Reading Feedback Edition

Don't Underestimate The Usefulness of Feedback: Let's say you do a reading of your play. Afterwards, in the feedback session, it becomes clear that 80% or more of the audience doesn't understand or is outright confused by a particular element. You may, (MAY,) want to revisit it.

For example, after the reading, an audience member or one of your peers observes, "Now, I was lost as to why John suddenly leaves his wife." Then somebody else then chimes in and agrees, and you suddenly you see more than half the audience nodding their heads, you may, (MAY,) want to revisit that particular element.

If you don't revisit it, I can almost assure you that half the actors will be confused or lost the rehearsals, more than half the audience viewing the eventual production is going to be lost, and almost every critic who reviews the play is going to be lost about it as well. In fact, if the play has gone through a development process, the critic may well directly ask in their review, "It is a wonder why this wasn't brought up during all of the development."

Don't Overestimate the Usefulness of Feedback: Feedback sessions can be hijacked by somebody who has had a bad dinner or has just been rejected from a play festival for the fourth time in three years. Play reading audiences can get intimidated by the alpha feedbacker* and will start to contort any feedback they give you to conform the pronouncements the alpha has already sneered out.

People also may not understand something because that particular part is hard to follow in a reading environment.

Do Take Control of Any Feedback Environment: Always do feedbacks with a moderator. Even if it is a small gathering, get a friend to sit on stage with you as the moderator and to help you prepare some introductory questions that you would like the audience to answer.

Never, Never, Never, Never get in a feedback situation in which you are onstage, alone, and the audience is let loose on you to just fire off questions, suggestions and criticisms. This type of experience has the potential to be the biggest waste of time you will have in any development experience. Come to think of it, that time would be better spent putting a member of the audience onstage to get interrogated about your play by you.

*The alpha feedbacker in this example usually can be identified by their rapid response. When the moderator or playwright opens up the floor to questions, the alpha feedbacker is the one who immediatley says, "Well, I didn't get it and I didn't care for these characters and I think anybody who would care about this situation or these people is just... I don't know, I just didn't like it." The rest of the audience becomes paralyzed and cautious about venturing any sort of opinion. The rest of the feedback session is then spent trying to build comments around the latent desire of everybody in the roorm to bring the alpha feedbacker into the fold again - to convince them that the play isn't all that bad.

1 comment:

Ian Thal said...

Thanks again, Art, for the advice about not taking control of the feedback environment. It was very helpful when I had my own staged reading.

And by the way, I think the rewrite process is going ahead nicely.