Last week I went to the Theatre Ontario Adjudicators’ Symposium, a day long professional development opportunity for adjudicators to get together, share information, ask questions and discuss answers. I’m relatively new to the adjudication field and it was great to be in the same room with some folks who have been doing it for 30-40 years.
One of the points of discussion was engagers (theatres mostly) wanting ‘more specific feedback’ in public and private adjudications. What does that mean, exactly? One would hope as adjudicators that we’re being specific – our job to back up what we say about a show with specific examples. Instead of generally saying “the energy was low” to get into a discussion about what exercises were used in rehearsal to address pace, to give an example of a good use of energy and then compare to another moment where it was less successful. To address if actors were pausing after their lines or within their lines and so on and so on.
Sometimes when the “more specific feedback” comment is floated it means – “sock it to me, give me the nitty gritty, the in-depth criticism, I can take it.” And more often than not, they actually can’t. They don’t really want it. They think they do, they think they want more, the nitty gritty and all that. But really, what they want is more praise.
I find that this is often the case. I talk to playwrights who say – sock it to me, really be specific with your feedback, take no prisoners, I can take it. And while I’m not really a ‘take no prisoners’ responder, if we do start to get specific and I do start asking questions, there is sometimes a point where I can feel the writer shutting down. They didn’t really want me to be specific. They wanted me to say their play was good.
There is nothing wrong with wanting people to think your work is good. It’s what we all want, we want to be told we’ve done a good job. It’s human nature. It’s also human nature to think that we are good and we have done good – our brains go into defense mode if someone says differently. What do you mean you have questions? What do you mean you don’t have only wonderful things to say?
So, my suggestion is, instead of saying “sock it to me” if you’re soliciting feedback, give the person you’re asking specific questions to address – is it clear that this character is hiding a big secret? Look at your work, look at what’s at the heart of it and put that heart in the form of a question. That way the feedback that’s going to come back to you is focused, specific and something you know you need answered. And that is better than a punch in the jaw any day.