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micbarry
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Quote micbarry Replybullet Topic: Getting honest feedback from people you know
    Posted: 8/20/12 at 2:20am
Hey there!

I'm currently halfway through a season of 'Proof'. I'm playing Hal. It's my first time doing any acting of any kind, with the exception of an acting class I took a few years ago using the Practical Aesthetics method.

I'm having an absolute blast!! It's been quite the journey. I went from thinking that I'd never be able to learn all my lines to actually doing the play. It feels so freaky that I'm actually doing it.

One thing I've discovered is that I am more confident and relaxed when performing for an 'anonymous' audience. When I know there's someone out there, I become a little nervous and lines tend not to come when I least expect it. I'm getting good at covering and my scene partners are excellent at throwing me a line to bail me out. The director and stage manager have told me that I'm doing this for others, too, even if I'm not aware of it.

I'm getting good feedback from the public. When I was on my way out after yesterday's matinee, a couple told me they really enjoyed it, then they came back and told me that I acted beautifully. Also, the director, fellow cast members, and other theatre alumni - past and present - are most encouraging. Especially when they learn that I've never acted before. Our production co-ordinator told me that first time actors have a tendency to overact, and that I'm subtle and sensitive in what I do. My acting coach and classmates had similar things to say when I was taking the class.

However, people that I know - work colleagues, parents, etc have been absolutely silent at the end of a performance. Not even so much as a perfunctory 'good job' or anything. They say NOTHING. I've found this really eerie. I probably shouldn't think about it, yet I don't know what to make of it at all. I don't want to solicit a response, as I feel that they ought to volunteer feedback. I should not have to coax it out of them.

A few nights ago about 3-4 colleagues came as a group. When I left the green room, they said nothing. I felt compelled to break the silence because it was actually getting awkward.

I mentioned that I thought that the script was very funny in places and there are some lines that get consistent laughs from different audiences, yet others which don't seem to get laughs. I gave the following example to them:

Catherine: Long drive to see some nerds in a band.
Hal: God I hate when people say that! It is not that long a drive.

One of them said that the reason why this didn't get a laugh was because my comic timing was off.

That was the group's one and only piece of feedback. They then left.

I still don't know what to make of this. If my reading of that line was really that bad, would this not have been picked up in rehearsal? Even so, I have a hard time imagining how this line could be said so as to make the line NOT funny. I think it's an inherently funny line, and that it would be pretty hard to say it in such a way as to prevent an entire audience from finding it funny. On the other hand, I wonder what that killer reading of that line would sound like - what could she have possibly meant?

Has anyone here experienced this kind of thing? Why won't they say anything??

Thanks!



Edited by micbarry - 8/20/12 at 2:25am
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jayzehr
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Quote jayzehr Replybullet Posted: 8/20/12 at 11:03am
Congratulations on your role! It's very hard to do this but as an actor if you're not finished with the run yet you probably shouldn't be dwelling on what audience members have told you --pro or con. If the director hasn't told you anything just relax and keep on doing the show you've been doing. We could discuss what you've brought up after the show is over if you're still interested.   
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Quote vickifrank Replybullet Posted: 8/20/12 at 11:04am
Non-theater people don't have a good instinct about feedback to actors (and some of the theater folk don't have either!)  Fact is that its hard to know how much to say.  And worse still, you are never going to get raves from everyone. And not everybody knows what is good timing or what makes them laugh.
 
So, be happy for the (very) nice comments you have gotten from cast members and fellow alumni.  Pay attention to what they say they like.
 
Now, how to get valid feedback from people who will give it.  Approach an actor or director who you really admire.  Tell them why you admire them and ask them their 'secret' or for any positive advice they can give you--because you'd like to grow.   They will say something....hopefully positive.
 
People rarely react well to negatives, and people don't know how to give them.  But people can give and react well to positive comments.  You will get at least one really good insight.
 
Finally remember something: Acting is an invisible art.  If you do it really well people are so pulled into your character that they will believe the character and no longer see you.  The best performance doesn't seem like a performance.  The best performance may also make the other guy's character and acting look marvelous (think of the Odd Couple: a great Oscar makes Felix believable).  So, tell me, is it better to get comments from the audience (which feel great) or have a director say he'd cast you again and again--or an actor say they REALLY like working with you?
 
As a set designer it always felt good to get the audience tell me how great the set was.  But part of me thought that a set ought to be so good it is un-noticed by the audience.  I strived for the second.  (Humorous side note: my worst comment came from an older audience member who saw I was the set designer and said : "Don't worry honey if you keep trying they will cast you!"  I, of course, had never tried out.)
 
I once branched out to direct and experienced exactly what you did.  People who I invited from another theater I worked with attended and didn't say anything.  I was hurt.  But then our attendance was great and the audience laughed.  My role as director was to make the show a success--and it was.  I can hang my hat on that.
 
Contrast to my one adult acting role (the director --a friend of mine--made me a late addition after someone dropped out)  People came up to me and told me I did a 'great job'.  I know I did an 'ok' job.  So that shows you.
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jayzehr
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Quote jayzehr Replybullet Posted: 8/20/12 at 11:59am
Originally posted by vickifrank


]Now, how to get valid feedback from people who will give it. Approach an actor or director who you really admire. Tell them why you admire them and ask them their 'secret' or for any positive advice they can give you--because you'd like to grow. They will say something....hopefully positive.


I'd have to slightly disagree with you there. Why hopefully positive? For me I'd rather get some good constructive criticism than the usual chorus of "it was great." It took me a long time to get to the point that I could listen to negative feedback but now I find it much more useful than compliments. I'd rather hear "XYZ didn't work and here's how you might have fixed it" than "What a great show!" That doesn't mean that no one liked the show or that we failed; I just find that more useful information to act on in the future.

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Quote Rorgg Replybullet Posted: 8/20/12 at 1:10pm

Well, constructive feedback can (and should) include positives.  It's good to let people know what they're doing that worked along with aspects of the production that didn't connect.

But hey, sounds generally good -- they stayed to talk.  There have been a couple of shows I've gone to that I just couldn't bear to either tell the people involved what I thought or lie to them, so I just made the quickest possible exit.

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Quote jayzehr Replybullet Posted: 8/20/12 at 4:28pm
Originally posted by Rorgg

There have been a couple of shows I've gone to that I just couldn't bear to either tell the people involved what I thought or lie to them, so I just made the quickest possible exit.



Yeah, in many ways you can pretty much tell how a performance was received by how many people hang around afterward and what kind of mood they're in. I remember a show I was in a couple of years ago where we barely had time to turn around and come back out after the encore and the entire place was empty. Not even the director was there. Just the light board operator working on a crossword puzzle.

A worse situation was two theaters I worked with that had the policy of making the actors rush out and form a receiving line that everyone in the audience had to go through to leave the theater. That can be very painful both as actor and audience member. I remember one show where everyone shook my hand, smiled and lied about how good it was except for one relative who whispered "I know how much you must hate being in this play." :)
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Quote falstaff29 Replybullet Posted: 8/20/12 at 5:36pm
It's hard to get honest--and useful--feedback from people you know, no question.  I recently directed a show for a theater group where I was pretty unknown, and it was eye-opening how many people had loose lips about the show (some positive but some definitely negative) in my earshot, not realizing my involvement.  I'm used to audience saying nice generic things to me.

You can sometimes get a better idea of the audience's true feelings from how they react during the show--the quality and quantity of the laughter, the applause--but even then, sometimes audiences actually are appreciative and quiet.

As you become more experienced as an actor, you'll not only improve your craft but also get a better intuition for how you're doing in any given moment onstage.  You'll be better able to discover when co-stars, directors, and audience are "performing" to you by complimenting you versus when they are genuine.  You'll be able to feel when it's really, truly "working" on stage or not.

But never shy away from honest criticism and attempting to learn from it.  There are some (nay, many) actors who believe critics (for newspapers, for instance) should be in the business of merely writing panegyrics for everything, and are deeply offended by critiques.  I, on the other hand, am of the opinion that one can ALWAYS learn from a show, no matter how good or bad, and one always should!
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micbarry
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Quote micbarry Replybullet Posted: 8/21/12 at 12:31pm
I really appreciate everyone's insight - it has really helped!


Originally posted by jayzehr

Congratulations on your role! It's very hard to do this but as an actor if you're not finished with the run yet you probably shouldn't be dwelling on what audience members have told you --pro or con. If the director hasn't told you anything just relax and keep on doing the show you've been doing. We could discuss what you've brought up after the show is over if you're still interested.   



I agree with this - and would love to discuss it some more after the run. :)

Edited by micbarry - 8/21/12 at 12:32pm
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micbarry
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Quote micbarry Replybullet Posted: 8/23/12 at 10:03am
Just arrived home from a performance that felt very good. :)

I think I'm developing more confidence and my lines are extremely close to verbatim. That's something I really wanted to achieve. I'm no longer so terrified of going up on a line and if there's an instance where the next line isn't there, I just take a (very) brief, calm moment and then the line comes.

...and yes - the line I mentioned before about it being a long drive to see some nerds in a band finally got a laugh tonight! :)

The audience was great tonight - very attentive and astute. Good energy! Again, great comments on performance quality from people leaving tonight.

I ran into that colleague today - the one who told me my comic timing was off. She proceeded to provide me with 'notes', and offered a lot of advice. It turns out she used to study acting. The method she studied is very different from the one I studied...I kept an open mind and listened to her suggestions. She mentioned that my body language contradicts what I'm saying.

I lot of what she said was a little abstract and I'm not sure how to act upon it.

One thing my (actual) acting teacher pointed out to me is that I tend to accompany too many lines with hand gestures - they lose their power with overuse. I'm more aware of this and have more confidence that my voice alone can be convincing. Like any rote habit, it's hard to break. I'm working on it.

I'm taking the advice you guys have provided me with - namely, to keep doing the show the director signed off on. It's his creative vision and we're doing the show he wanted. The audience likes it, the houses are nearly full each performance and everyone goes home happy. What more could you ask for?

Of course, I'm looking to improve and become a better actor with each performance.

As an aside, I went to auditions that the theatre held this week for 'The Sunshine Boys' and read for a walk-on part. I just found out that I got it! :)

Once again, I really appreciate the feedback here, so please let me know if you have any further advice/ideas. Thank you!
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Quote jayzehr Replybullet Posted: 8/23/12 at 6:01pm
Originally posted by micbarry


I lot of what she said was a little abstract and I'm not sure how to act upon it.


Once again, you shouldn't really try to act on a bunch of notes you got from an audience member no matter how qualified or unqualified.  If she's a theater person she should know better than to give you a lot of acting notes during someone else's show. (Maybe just the director in me talking.)

Originally posted by micbarry


One thing my (actual) acting teacher pointed out to me is that I tend to accompany too many lines with hand gestures - they lose their power with overuse. I'm more aware of this and have more confidence that my voice alone can be convincing. Like any rote habit, it's hard to break. I'm working on it.


A hard beginner habit to break in my experience.  You get onstage and feel the impulse to be "doing" something when less is usually more. First step is  to just try to be consciously aware of what you're doing onstage.  (I guess that's me giving you a note...:)  )


Edited by jayzehr - 8/23/12 at 6:05pm
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