Feedback: The Right of Reply
Playwright/director/teacher David Geary responded to a query in the LMDA digest about post performance feedback sessions, whether they are useful and how they should be conducted. David has agreed to let us reprint his reply to the question.
The issue of whether there should be a feedback session with the public after a workshop presentation is a thorny one, and not just for Indigenous performers. These sessions can be fraught if not guided correctly. The last thing some writers need is a stranger to stand up and list everything they think is wrong with the work immediately after it’s been shown.
Sometimes questionnaires and emails are handed out so audience members can give feedback later.
These can be useful, but I think the audience should have some opportunity to talk to someone about the work they’ve seen after every show, workshop or full performance. It seems unnatural to me that we should be kept quiet in the dark for hours, and talked to, but at the end have no chance to talk back. And no response allowed but to be urged to “please tweet all your friends if you liked the show”.
On a Maori marae, whaikorero/speechmaking, dialogue and debate is encouraged. In fact, it’s seen as an art form. I think Maori theatre has gone some way towards embracing this and turning theatres into mobile marae when a show is on. It is not uncommon for Maori audience members to stand up after the curtain call to address the cast, and usually sing a waiata/song back to the production to honour their work.
That said, if the writer doesn’t want to be involved in a feedback session after a workshop, or show they attend, they should always have this option. However, I like to make myself, as dramaturg/director, available in the foyer to field any feedback. This way I can be a lightning rod for anyone who wants to… throw some lightning bolts, but usually those who take the opportunity to do this have good constructive feedback to pass on.
If the writer does want to be involved in a feedback session then I have some advice about managing this. If someone asks the writer what they meant by some part of their work, then don’t let the writer answer immediately. Instead ask the question thrower what they think it meant first. And the writer/choreographer can decide if they want to reveal their inspiration, or a meaning they hoped to convey.
Otherwise, it can shut down the multiple meanings that an audience might take from a work, ones you hadn’t expected, and can be just as valid. And in dance there’s always the classic answer to fall back on: If I could have told you what the dance was about then why would we have bothered to dance it?
Theatre is often more literal but don’t feel you have to have an answer for everything. Feedback sessions require careful moderation so make sure the guidelines for this are also clear. – David Geary