Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to Give Feedback

Photo (c) John Nelson 2009
Let's say you see an act and you have an opinion that you want to share with the performer. These guidelines have developed over my three plus decades as a performer, two decades as a director and performance coach, and seven years in burlesque. They should help you give feedback.

  1. First ask yourself if your feedback will help improve the performance. Be sure you don't just want to tell the artist how you would portray it because it was done all wrong and you would do a way better job. That's not feedback; it's "you beat me to the concept and I'm upset because I would've been better than you and your idea sucks."
  2. At least 12 to 24 hours after the performance, ask the performer if he/she is open to feedback. Don't be offended if you are told no. Some people work with choreographers, performance coaches, and legends to develop an act a certain way. Some people feel like the act is already as good as it could possibly be. Some people take feedback too personally and don't want to expose themselves to potential negativity. Some people will feel that you don't have enough experience/street cred/understanding of live performance/education to be the one giving feedback. Ask lightly and politely if the performer is open to feedback. Don't include your feedback in that initial exchange.
  3. If the performer wants your feedback, be sure it is based on your perceptions of the act and make it specific. Here are some examples: "You pulled sandwiches out of your clothes twice. I feel like a third sandwich could really send the comedy over the top. Rule of Three." "You have such a beautiful smile, and I think that if you smiled more in the act then the audience would be bowled over with your glamour." "It was unclear to me what the stuffed fish had to do with the rest of the act. I don't know if there was something else that I didn't see that would've helped me understand that better." All of these have to do with how I feel, what I saw, what I didn't understand. Notice none of them said that the act sucked and the performer did something all wrong. All of these give room for a conversation.
  4. Be open to the conversation. You might hear from the performer that there was a malfunction, an ex was in the audience and threw off the entire night, or that you didn't see the part where the tiny third sandwich was pulled out and immediately stuffed in the performer's mouth. You also might have thought they were doing one character but they were doing another.
  5. Clarify as necessary, but do so gently. You're still dealing with an artist, and artists tend to be sensitive. Make sure your end goal is the better understanding and appreciation by the audience. Examples: "I didn't see that third sandwich. Maybe if the sandwich was bigger, or maybe if you showcased that third sandwich a bit longer before you put it in your mouth. That way the audience can see it and process how funny it is that you have a third sandwich and this is the one you finally eat." "I wonder if there is a way to make sure the audience gets that the stuffed fish is the reason you have to strip. Is there something you can do that would communicate that more clearly?" "I didn't realize you were doing Floyd - Dick's Roommate from True Romance. I thought it was The Dude. The intro didn't really give me the info I needed, and I know both characters wear bathrobes."
  6. If you're giving feedback as a peer, a general audience member, or a classmate, give feedback on one thing. If you saw five things that could use work, pick the most important and give feedback on that. You don't want to overwhelm the person, and you don't want the person to feel attacked. (You make yourself vulnerable when you open yourself up to receiving feedback. You don't want to feel like you've opened the gates to a Trojan Horse.) You can pile on the validation of what went right to you, but only discuss one aspect that you feel needs to be addressed. If you're giving feedback as a coach, instructor, collaborator, or expert, give no more than three things for the performer to address before the next performance. How many things can you remember without writing them down? Three is a good standard. You want these three things to be considered, corrected, improved, clarified, but you want the performer to still be able to perform while implementing any changes.When those three things are handled, then you can look at three more.
  7. Validate the changes when you see them. Examples: "I really like the big sandwich. I heard the audience laugh so hard when you pulled that out at the end." "All that juggling with the stuffed fish and dropping it in your dress was brilliant. Nobody wants a fish flopping around inside her gown." "I'm glad the emcee said your act was a True Romance tribute. You were channeling Brad Pitt."
Keep in mind that the goal is to make sure the performer gives the best possible performance. When I do private coaching, I ask what the story is and what the audience should get from the number. (What's in your head and what are you hoping I take away from what you're showing me?) Then I can pinpoint where I didn't follow the story and where I didn't get the information as an audience member that would help me understand what's in the performer's head. It doesn't matter that I would do a mermaid differently or that I wouldn't choose the poppiest pop song if I was trying to show the aristocratic struggle during the French Revolution. What matters most is that the audience is entertained and that the performance communicates the intended story to the audience.

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