Last evening, I attended a reading of a colleague’s new play, and he asked me for feedback.
Playwrights habitually do this, we help each other understand which pieces of our stories ended up on the page and which still exist only in our heads.
I’ve gotten into trouble over the past couple of years – with only one playwright, but still – by giving positive feedback that turned out not to be welcome. So, last night I started musing on context in feeding-back, and came up with a list of my filters, or you could call them prejudices, fostered by a lifetime of practical theater experience as well as a few years of sitting-down-and-writing-plays. To wit:
I love discoveries – both within the characters and mine as audience.
I need urgency, why THIS moment is being explored/ portrayed rather than some other.
I love surprises when, in looking back, they have been given a signposted logic. Left-field surprises can be fun, but ultimately take my thoughts out of the play.
Logic problems, similar thing, make me stop and think about the logic rather than being carried along in my lovely suspension of disbelief.
I’m on the fence with cleverness, love it if it carries the plot forward or shows me something new about a character or situation, hate it if it’s just there to be clever.
I can’t stand “I feel this,” “I want that.” I want to know a character via their behavior or relationships or activities rather than hearing statements of subtext.
I hate “by the way,” “as I was saying,” “let’s talk about this now.” Subject changes that don’t come organically jar me.
I detest explanation and, even more, reportage. I want to live with the character’s experience, not be told about what happened next door or last week or down the block. Even worse is a character reporting what they felt last week or down the block – unless it carries them (and me) into a discovery or surprise.
All of that said, and yes, there’s a lot, my prejudices get exploded from time to time.
Recently, I read a play in which the plot/story was reported by a community, each character having their own take on it: nothing actually happens on the stage. Ladies and gentlemen, it blew me clear into next week. I still hate reportage on principle, I don’t go to the theater to be lectured, but this playwright managed to entertain and surprise and move me by using what I consider a stricture, as a strength.
So it turns out that my filters aren’t nailed down, they’re slightly awry as I read and watch, they help me understand and help hone the work, not restrict my comprehension of it.
If you ask for my feedback, you won’t get nicey-nicey, you’re-so-brilliant, I-don’t-understand-why-your-plays-don’t-get-produced palaver. I won’t be mean, it’s not in my nature, but I will be direct.
Playwrighting is personal, but feedback isn’t. It’s not about you, it’s about sharpening, refining, perfecting your work. Which is not you, and nor is it your child, it’s your WORK.
If you don’t like my filters, don’t ask me! And if you don’t find my rules, questions, or comments helpful, throw ’em out!
Trust me, I will not be offended.
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