Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Feeding back

So, last I posted, Stolen Chair and I were struggling to figure out to go beyond "managing" the constructive criticism of our Community Supported Theatre (CST) members and actually try to figure out a way to create a culture where the work can be discussed and interpreted. I think we may have discovered a tool to make this possible. As I mentioned in earlier posts, quite a few of us Chairfolk are educators, and so it's probably no surprise that we again pulled lessons in from our teaching experience.

The solution to the feedback question: B-I-N-G-O

Our most recent member meetup was rather like most of our meetups: we presented about an hour worth of theatrical material, drinks, and themed gourmet munchies (since it was an open rehearsal [more on that later], we served open faced mini sandwiches like lobster & avocado and nutella & banana). During earlier such meetups, we followed up the presentation with discussion questions for our members, many of which had a habit of veering into somewhat uncomfortable terrain. While there is certainly a time and place to hear difficult artistic criticism, the CST (as I wrote in my last post) is probably not it).

With one tiny tweak, however, all of my wildest CST dreams seemed to come true. Before we offered the material, I presented (to both the cast and the CST members) a list of 10 scientific concepts that our show explores and 10 theatrical devices we exploit repeatedly throughout. I described each item in detail and then let members ask questions about them. They were given a handout with each term defined and a space to keep notes. We then presented our material, after which actors were paired with members. Their task was to complete a B-I-N-G-O card (custom designed here) filled with the terms they were watching out for. After they got B-I-N-G-O, each pair talked us through the moments of the play which they felt fulfilled the terms. I was surprised and delighted by the thoughtful processing of the work; this silly little B-I-N-G-O game, which was a blast to play, actually helped us look at our work with fresh interpretive eyes. And it had theatre-goers and -makers (who had just been on stage acting) teaming up to do so! Doesn't get much better than that...

...except for the fact that it kinda does. I, as a director, had a break-through moment during the presentation when we offered one of the scenes up as a fully open rehearsal (instead of the pre-rehearsed scenes we usually present). The actors and I worked through the material together for the first time (from reading to staging) all before the CST members' eyes. It was simply exhilarating. In many ways, it was an entirely different sort of feedback, more akin to a biofeedback machine which attunes you to your brain's natural waves. After only a few minutes of directing the scene, I could feel the audience as a single organism, responding (through breath, sighs, laughter, yawns, fidgeting, etc) to each change we made in the piece. My ideas have never flowed so freely, nor have I communicated them to my collaborators so clearly. While I don't think it's necessarily the best idea to open up all rehearsal to audiences, I think that it certainly well-complemented the other types of feedback we were pursuing that evening.

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