On giving and receiving criticism


I think people often wonder what to say to people who make things like plays. And they often think artists are upset by criticism. But actually I don't think that is quite true.

I like criticism. I like opinions. I listen to them. In fact I seek them out. I respond to them. I change what I do in response to them. But they need to be specific. "I didn't like the scene when..." Or "that bit annoyed me". Or "I didn't get what it is about". Or "you should have done this". Or that. Or the other. Actually that last one is probably the most useful. When someone thinks there is something that was glaringly missing, sometimes that is the key to the whole thing.

Someone (Kieran Fay) once said to me in a slightly exasperated voice, after seeing an early performance of one of our shows (Low Life) that wasn't really working, "If it's supposed to be a cabaret, have an Emcee who talks to the audience, like they do in cabarets" It seems obvious but I hadn't thought of it. The next night we added an Emcee and the show came alive, went to Edinburgh, toured the world for 5 years. It wasn't that he was polite, or kind, he was specific.

What I don't want to hear is "it was rubbish". "It wasn't funny". "It should have been like this". Or the worst of all, "It didn't have a story" or "why don't you just tell a story?" That isn't criticism that's just rude. And stupid. And it's absolutely no help at all. Of course it might be true but so what? Why would you tell me that? How does it help? If you didn't like it, well you didn't like it. That's ok. Of course I am very sorry, but there isn't a damn thing I can do about it so there is no point in telling me.

I mean you might not like the colour red - but what can red do about it?

On the other hand you might think a red wall "is too dark" or red "doesn't look good in here", and that could helpful. Because it is specific. We can agree, disagree, discuss, debate, do something about it.

But if you just don't like red, well then you just don't like red. I can't respond to that - it is just undermining.


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