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Notes: Necessary, not Nitpicking
Carl: Quick! Grab the Mailbox!
--20 minutes later--
Note giver: When Carl said "Quick! Grab the mailbox," you should have taken a few seconds and created your environment. If I was in the scene, I would have said, "Mr. Robertson must be racist since his mailbox is the only white one on the block."
*Insert sound of car screeching to a halt*
There is a one in a million chance that you'll hear a similar statement on stage. Even if you do, you are not going to use that second line anyway. That is not what notes should be about. Phrases like "I would have done this," or "I would have liked to see this," are not what actors want to hear after a show. Some don't want to hear anything negative at all.
However, for a group to improve, notes are necessary. There is a big difference between an audience thinking they saw the best, and a group actually doing their best. Minor slipups can go unnoticed by an audience. But when these slipups are corrected, the audience sees the difference between a good show and a great show.
What notes should stay away from is critiquing instinctual choices or reactions.
Notes can cover things such as technical aspects, basic scenic flaws, weak character choices, sloppiness, and safety. What notes should stay away from is critiquing instinctual choices or reactions. There was a reason that you thought "This'll teach Mr. Robertson for keeping my wiffle ball." That cannot be argued or fixed or whatever.
The last time I gave notes, I pointed out something specific that I thought was wrong. But the scene ended up being great. And when I told the actor about it, they said that they didn't see a problem with it because the scene went well. How can someone possibly learn from a note that criticized a good thing? They can't. A note cannot focus on a single choice. They may never be in the position to make that choice again.
One other note no-no is criticizing something that someone needs to work on. If you and Carl do a scene and you do very good and specific object work and pantomiming, and Carl doesn't, this shouldn't be covered in a note: "Carl, next time be better at pantomiming." That's an insult. Pantomiming is something that needs to be practiced in rehearsal or with games that stress solid object work. Notes should also only focus on the show. If there is a weekly reoccurrence of rule breaking, it should be addressed at rehearsal or one on one, not in a notes session.
The most helpful note I ever heard was not even given to me. I was in a scene where I felt like I had no control, and it went very slow. I really couldn't figure out why, so I blamed myself. However, in notes, our director said to my scene partner, "You know, you asked Ryan a lot of 'Why questions' in that scene." I always knew that those types of questions were scene speed bumps, but I never thought that they could make the other person feel uncomfortable. It's something that I'm sure both of us learned from.
Accepting notes is all about the desire for self-improvement; we all want to hear something that we can use next time.
This is the exact reason why people should be receptive to notes. If I can do something (or not do something) in the future that can make someone feel more comfortable, I will do it. A fixed bad habit can cure so many scenes. And usually bad habits are not known by the person doing them. Accepting notes is all about the desire for self-improvement; we all want to hear something that we can use next time.
Someone once told me, "I don't want to hear anything negative after a show." To me, that translates to "Don't tell me what I did wrong because I don't want to improve." If notes were meant to make someone feel more comfortable in a scene with you, why in the world would you not want to hear it?
On the other side, stressing the positive is just as important. I mean who doesn't want to hear that they did something right? And the note giver is not the only one who can speak up. I love getting feedback from fellow actors. It means a lot more when Carl, himself, tells me that he felt like I denied everything he said. No matter what your experience level is, don't be afraid to tell another actor how they made you feel on stage. The more comfortable you are on stage the more fun you'll have. And what is this about again?
Do you think it's possible I can relate all of my columns to having fun? I do. Carl does too.
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