Providing Feedback for Artists/Performers…

Over the years I have taken several workshops and received a variety of feedback.  I recently performed at event designed to elicit feedback from the audience and other performers.  It struck me that evening as people were providing what they considered to be feedback, that people have no clue as to how to provide helpful and meaningful feedback.
So, I looked up feedback on the Internet and mostly found feedback information on how to deal with your employees.  Nope.  Not what is needed.  Feedback for artistic endeavors is NOT the same as feedback for a specific job.  As a result, I decided it was time for me to do a column on feedback!!
So, here are my pointers on how to give excellent feedback:
1.  Tell the artist what works!!  — Be specific.  For example, don’t say ”I liked that number.”  Say, “I really liked it when you pushed your dance partner on the ground and laughed about it.  It made me laugh, too.”
People giving feedback often are wishy-washy and not very helpful.  “The costume was pretty.”  “That was a nice number.”  Say something you can be sincere about.  Maybe they dance terribly and it makes you cringe, but the facial expressions draw in the audience.  Tell them about the facial expressions and how well they worked.   You don’t have to lie to make someone feel good.  Don’t say something overly obvious.  Once when getting feedback on a fan dance, someone tells me, “I really like the fans.”  I thought, “Good, because it IS a fan dance…”  Comment on something that they did or created.  While it may be really nice to hear from someone, “Gee, you have really great tits,” they (the tits) really aren’t part of the creative process.
2. Tell the artist what doesn’t work.  Again, be specific.  Don’t be overly general.  Don’t be mean.  Don’t say, “Wow, you really can’t sing, can you?”  That is a personal attack and doesn’t provide a helpful response.  What you could say is, “Those last two notes are very high for your voice.  Maybe you could sing them in the octave below.”   Or, “the time you took to take off the corset seemed rushed, can you add extra counts in the music for that?”
3. Provide a specific suggestion or suggestions for improvement.  Use the what works and what doesn’t here to come up with specific ideas!  This is where I have gotten some of the most simple, but helpful, insights ever!  It doesn’t have to be earthshattering.
One of the best comments I have gotten was in a dance where I twirl my hair around while I am wearing ridiculously high shoes.  The combination of not seeing, spinning my hair, and wearing the heels makes me wobbly.  Someone said, “You have a chair in this dance, why don’t you hold onto it.”  Wa-la!  No more wobbles.  Simple suggestion, but what a difference it made!
4.Provide feedback without judgement or personal prejudices.  Obviously, you have opinions and that is what people want to hear, but you don’t want to color your responses with negativity.  For example, you don’t want to tell someone, “It is a clown act.  Clown acts suck,”  just because you hate clowns.  Okay, it is a clown act, not your favorite thing, but in the realm of the clown act, what worked and what didn’t work.  Don’t throw out the whole thing just because you don’t like one component.  Review the work for itself and for its own merits, not for the work that you would have created yourself.
5. Provide feedback that guides, improves, suggests, motivates!  Yes, it is hard work!  Yes, you have to think.  But, hopefully, you will get the same thing in return.
6.  Be realistic.  Provide feedback on things that someone can reasonably do.  If someone is performing in one hour, don’t tell them that the costume sucks and they need a complete new one before the show.  It is not going to happen and they will be a nervous wreck worrying about their costume during the show.  Help them get minor issues in the number where they need to be now, and realize that more work may be necessary later.  Recently, one person gave feedback to a dancer and said, “that act would be better with a really elaborate backdrop.”  Nice thought, but again, is this realistic?  I have acts that would look better with a full realistic setting, except fully rhinestoned, but I don’t think that is ever going to happen in my lifetime.  I am never going to tell someone that a fully rhinestoned bed would make the act.  It would be awesome, but unless you have a Swarovski sponsorship or are Dita Von Tease, it is probably not going to be realistic for you.
7.  Don’t get into an argument with someone else about feedback on an act that you are giving feedback on.  At one event, there were two ladies who were arguing with each other about how a dance made them feel!  “It made me sad.”  “Well, it didn’t for me, I didn’t think it was about sadness at all.” Etc. etc.  Who cares?  Is this really helpful to the person you are providing feedback to?  Is this really even feedback anymore? If you are this emotional, chill out or step outside or something.  If you are that emotional about it, maybe it is best to keep your mouth shut on this issue, anyway.
8. Get the person you are providing feedback to self-assess.  What do they think works and doesn’t work?  Are there areas that they want or need specific feedback on?  Listen to their needs and try to respond to them.
9. Provide a safe environment.  Don’t set up a scenario or a questioning situation (“Why did you do it this way?  Why didn’t you do it that way?”), where the performer or artist feels on the defensive.  This is not a good experience for the artist and doesn’t result in improvement of the act because the artist is often too defensive to listen to what may be good commentary and ideas.
10.  Be present and in the moment.  Be there during the run-through that you are watching to provide feedback on and be mentally there when you give your feedback.  Pay attention and take notes during the number if that will help you provide better feedback for the artist/performer.
Please share if you have further suggestions or comments!
Also, just for some examples of how NOT to do it, here are some of the worst examples I have received or seen/heard first hand:
Worst feedback ever:
“The costumes made the choreography.” – said to dancers who wore a leotard and short skirt and did nothing with their costumes during the entire dance.
“If you are portraying the 30’s, you should show a picnic or someone swinging.” – Because that is all they did in the 1930’s?  Go on picnics or play on a swing?
“A good backdrop would make the act.”  An act should stand alone, although a background may provide better context and visual quality.
“If you don’t grind your hips it isn’t sexy. You said the act would be sexy, but you didn’t grind your hips.”  Really?  Is that the only thing that is sexy?
“You didn’t come close enough to the audience.” To someone who came right to the edge of the stage.  Were they supposed to jump off?
“You didn’t flirt enough with me.” Said by someone in the back row of a large theatre.
“ Do you feel like you are Sally Rand when you do a fan dance?”  Well, I don’t know how Sally Rand felt when she did a fan dance, but I pretty much still feel like me, just me doing a fan dance.
“I didn’t get the denouement of your act.”  That would be when I was hopping around in pasties and a g-string.
“You had fluttery things.” In regards to the use of scarves and feather fans.
“How do you feel when you do that style of dance compared to how other people feel when they do that style of dance and how does that make it different for you?”  I will answer that question as soon as I have insight as to how everyone else is feeling when they are dancing.

3 thoughts on “Providing Feedback for Artists/Performers…”

  1. Very good article. Thank you for the insight & taking the time to write it. Xo!

  2. Thank you! I’ve found myself rather flustered in attempting to provide meaningful feedback recently and this will help me a lot going forward – and I can be more specific in the questions I ask when requesting feedback, too.

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