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Getting honest feedback from people you know

Printed From: Community Theater Green Room
Category: Producing Theater
Forum Name: Acting
Forum Discription: Q&A about auditions, character development and other aspects of the craft
URL: http://www.communitytheater.org/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=5361
Printed Date: 9/21/23 at 5:16pm
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Topic: Getting honest feedback from people you know
Posted By: micbarry
Subject: Getting honest feedback from people you know
Date 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!




Replies:
Posted By: jayzehr
Date 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.   


Posted By: vickifrank
Date 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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Posted By: jayzehr
Date 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.



Posted By: Rorgg
Date 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.



Posted By: jayzehr
Date 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." :)


Posted By: falstaff29
Date 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!


Posted By: micbarry
Date 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. :)


Posted By: micbarry
Date 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!


Posted By: jayzehr
Date 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...:)  )


Posted By: micbarry
Date Posted: 8/24/12 at 2:43am
I really need to break that habit, so your note is absolutely welcome - thank you! :)

I agree that I shouldn't try to change anything based on what she said. What I meant was that even if I wanted to, I'm not sure if I could; it didn't really make sense to me as something I could change.

On the other hand, a suggestion like, 'be more conscious of what your hands are doing' is something you can get on with.

A suggestion like, 'try to make sure your body is doing the same thing as what you're saying' isn't really a statement I know what to do with - even if I wanted to. It's not really specific enough.


Posted By: jayzehr
Date Posted: 8/24/12 at 2:54pm
I talked about this a lot on my last show.

When trying to get control of this as an actor way back when I vividly remember looking down once on stage and seeing my arm moving seemingly independent of any conscious thought.


Posted By: Thudster
Date Posted: 8/24/12 at 5:41pm
Originally posted by jayzehr


I talked about this a lot on my last show.When trying to get control of this as an actor way back when I vividly remember looking down once on stage and seeing my arm moving seemingly independent of any conscious thought.


I sang a solo last year for the first time (only took 50 years to get to it) and I watched my daughter's video of a rehearsal. The entire time I'm singing, I'm opening and closing my hand like a crab. I don't know if I was keeping time or what, but I was completely unaware of doing it.

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"Hey look! That's my dad up there whacking himself with silverware!"


Posted By: micbarry
Date Posted: 8/25/12 at 11:02am
Just got home - the show has wrapped!!!

We had a matinee and a night show for our closing day. I felt that both performances were very strong - especially the final! There was this feeling of 'this is the very last time I will speak these words with this cast - go for it!' and I wasn't really nervous at all - very excited and buzzed, but not nervous. As a result, things flowed beautifully.

I'm sad that this is over. I'll never forget it - wow!


Posted By: Majicwrench
Date Posted: 8/27/12 at 5:03pm
There is ALWAYS another show.
 
Congrats. 


Posted By: Rorgg
Date Posted: 8/28/12 at 9:50am
I used to play online role-playing games.  Then I did a show.  And at the end, it was such a downer that within a month, I went on another audition.  Didn't get it.  So, a month later, I did another one.  I got that, so I cancelled my account, explaining to my online friends that I'd be back when I was done with the acting thing.
 
That was four years and twenty-seven shows ago.


Posted By: jayzehr
Date Posted: 8/28/12 at 3:11pm
Originally posted by Rorgg


That was four years and twenty-seven shows ago.


Were those all with one theater group?

(And sorry if I've asked you this before. Fuzzy brain :) )


Posted By: Rorgg
Date Posted: 8/30/12 at 9:46pm
Oh, mercy no.  Just got cast in my 28th show, that's with 17 different companies, the most with any one group is 3 times.  There's a lot of theatre within an hour's drive of home, but really nothing actually IN my hometown, so the difference between a 20 minute (the closest) and a 45 minute drive is pretty minimal, so I cast a wide net and cherry pick the parts and/or plays that I really want to do, and they tend to be spread out.


Posted By: micbarry
Date Posted: 9/01/12 at 4:32am
28 different shows! That's amazing! :)

Can you tell me: do certain aspects of acting get easier the more experience you gain when you compare what you're like now with your first efforts? If so, which ones?

I went to another play last night and really paid attention to what the actors were doing. It was a non-professional show (ie. cast and crew not paid for their work). It was opening night.

This wasn't easy as there were up to eight actors on stage at once, so it was hard keeping track of them all, but in this 2 hour production with no intermission - and with a newly written script to boot - I didn't detect any hesitation at all in their delivery of dialog. No one tripped over their words or hesitated with their next line at all - or so it seemed to me.

In my show, even the actor with 20+ years experience tripped over his words at least once.

Even in regular conversation I can stutter occasionally - we all do.

But in last night's show, no-one seemed to miss a beat. I don't get it. How can they be that cold in their delivery on opening night? Or maybe if I was following along with the script in my hands in would have been a different story?

I've read plenty about famous actors going up on lines or stumbling even on Broadway. So...what gives?


Posted By: jayzehr
Date Posted: 9/02/12 at 4:59pm
Originally posted by micbarry


I've read plenty about famous actors going up on lines or stumbling even on Broadway. So...what gives?


It's live performance so of course there are going to be mistakes sometimes.  But there are also no doubt many, many performances on Broadway where no one makes a noticeable mistake at all.

If everyone has done their work and is prepared and you've had enough rehearsal it isn't uncommon for a performance to appear as if no one "missed a beat," even on opening night, even in community theater.. Of course, nothing is ever perfect but it's not always something big enough for the audience to notice. Everyone just has to buckle down and get their lines memorized well enough so that there isn't a lot of "hesitation," "bailing out", and "covering" going on.




Posted By: Rorgg
Date Posted: 9/02/12 at 11:19pm
>28 different shows! That's amazing! :)

Twenty-eight productions in 4 years, yeah.  I've repeated a couple of titles in there.

>Can you tell me: do certain aspects of acting get easier the more
>experience you gain when you compare what you're like now with your
>first efforts? If so, which ones?
More than anything else, auditioning has gotten a lot easier.  I mean, it was never super nervewracking, since at the start, it was just kind of a lark, I didn't consider myself an actor by any means.  But it's a combination of it being sort of old hat by now, and having a track record of success that lets me take a relaxed attitude.  That really helps, especially when it comes to vocal auditions -- I've seen plenty of auditioners who you can tell, the problem is simply nerves, and wonder what lies underneath that.
Also, I can't tell if this is contrasting, or goes hand-in-hand, it's gotten easier to deal with rejection.  You know there will be another show, and another, and another, and you'll get one or two of those that maybe you couldn't have done but for that one.

>But in last night's show, no-one seemed to miss a beat. I don't get it.
>How can they be that cold in their delivery on opening night? Or maybe if
>I was following along with the script in my hands in would have been a
>different story?
First of all -- yes, almost certainly there were slips you didn't notice because they sounded natural or the actors just covered and kept going.  The audience SO rarely actually notices errors that seem obvious when you've been living with a script.  Earlier this year, I was doing The Odd Couple, and in the opening scene, which is a poker game, one of the poker buddies missed a cue.  There was a bit of silence (as happens in that kind of situation -- not too telling) then one of the others tried to cover, by giving his next line he could think of -- some 5 or 10 pages later in the scene.  Threw the entire action sequence into chaos.  A minute later, the guy playing Oscar tried to cover by giving the cue line for the phone to ring, which should have been coming up soon and was a necessary action point (that had flown by) to re-establish things, and ... the tech staff wasn't expecting it.  So nothing happened.  So he just walked over to the phone and picked it up and started talking.  We then semi-righted the ship and went on from there, repeating at one point some of the dialog we'd accidentally jumped to earlier.  After the show, audience reaction was along the lines of "oh, is that what happened?  I just got that the phone didn't ring."  That's pretty typical.
The other thing I have to say is that really, you should be pretty damn solid on your lines for opening night.  I mean, we've all had those tricky bits of verbiage you may paraphrase a bit too long and it may not be 100% set in stone for night one, but it should be pretty much there.  That's what those 5-10 full runs you have before opening night are for.

>I've read plenty about famous actors going up on lines or stumbling even
>on Broadway. So...what gives?
Going up is part of the experience, but that's a kind of random thing.  When it happens, you usually walk off stage repeating the line you blanked on to anyone who will listen to you.  You KNOW it, dammit, it just wouldn't begin to come out of your mouth right then due to synaptic misfire.




Posted By: David McCall
Date Posted: 9/03/12 at 1:34pm
We have taken to having someone on script help the sound person with the mic cues. Unfortunately this can be a problem with middle schoolers because they sometimes jump around in the script and confuse everything.
 


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David M


Posted By: falstaff29
Date Posted: 10/17/12 at 7:11pm
Originally posted by micbarry


There was this feeling of 'this is the very last time I will speak these words with this cast - go for it!'


You don't always get to a point in performing a show where everyone's so in sync that the play just seamlessly evolves, but when it happens, it's magic.  :)


Posted By: falstaff29
Date Posted: 10/17/12 at 7:18pm
Originally posted by micbarry

I didn't detect any hesitation at all in their delivery of dialog. No one tripped over their words or hesitated with their next line at all - or so it seemed to me.


As well as being a hobbyist actor, I'm a hobbyist musician (sometimes doing pit for shows; sometimes other sorts of gigs).  One of my old conductors once said, "There are no wrong notes in jazz, only soft ones," the idea being that you can always resolve a dissonant chord, etc. with the next one; what gives away that it was "wrong" is a lack of conviction.

I think this is true in theater as well.  When I go to the theater and see a mediocre show, more often what makes it underwhelming is not that the actors are making WRONG choices with their interpretation; it's that they're making WEAK ones--they have yet to convince themselves of the reality of what they're doing.  I see this especially in settings with less experience, e.g., high school.  (I teach in a high school, though not theater.)


Posted By: hobbyactor
Date Posted: 10/18/12 at 11:19am
I just revisited this thread after closing a show last weekend. First, let me say that I loved this play and loved the role I had in it.  It allowed me to play a whole range of emotions.  It was challenging and, in the end, very rewarding.
 
It was interesting to note the feedback that I received from both people I knew and people I didn't.  I think sometimes people that know you well have trouble giving you feedback for a variety of reasons.  They are too close to you and cannot always seperate you from the character you're playing.  I did get lots of positive feedback from people I knew, but there were some who said very little.  Maybe they didn't like my performance or they didn't like the show . . . or perhaps they were just not comfortable providing a response.  -- and that's ok!
 
What I found most interesting was the feedback that I got from people I didn't know.  These are people who are not encumbered by any baggage of past perceptions and don't have to try to separate me from my character.  I didn't get any negative feedback from strangers, as you'd expect, but it was very rewarding to have someone make a point to pull me aside to tell me something they liked about my performance.  One man, who I later found out was a director from another theater, told me that he enjoyed my portrayal because it seemed like I was truly feeling the emotions of the character and not just acting.  Now, that is a compliment to savor!
 
I am feeling a bit of the post show blues now.  Thinking back on moments like that one is keeping me going!


Posted By: Thudster
Date Posted: 10/18/12 at 1:08pm
Originally posted by hobbyactor

I am feeling a bit of the post show blues now. Thinking back on moments like that one is keeping me going!


I hear you. I just finished up a play last weekend too, too much work but a lot of fun. Evenings are kind of empty without rehearsal!

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"Hey look! That's my dad up there whacking himself with silverware!"



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