Feedback is damn scary. The annual performance review, the D-minus on the final exam, Yelp, the bedroom partner asking, “How was it for you?” There is always the fear that no matter what we do, how hard we work, or how much we change, we will not measure up. Don’t we all have a little Stuart Smalley inside trying to convince us that we really are OK?
Unfortunately, after the (ever so slight) sting of not making a Ewing team had faded, Stuart turned on me. Instead of his usual mantra of “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough. . .,” I was plagued with that annoying little voice saying, “You’ve deluded yourself into thinking you did a credible job. But, really, you sucked.” (Actually, it more like, “You sthucked.” So, okay, I couldn’t take it that seriously.)
Fortunately, I didn’t have to hear that too long, as the Ewing gods promised to provide a glimpse into why I had not been picked. I received an email inviting me to respond if I wanted feedback on my performance.
Raise your hand if you like criticism. Be honest. I’ll admit that I don’t like it at all. I’ve taught college classes in which I never read a single student critique. RateMyProfessor.com terrifies me. When I make a presentation before a group of lawyers, I never look at the evaluation forms. I work for myself, grateful that I might never endure another annual performance review.
I am, however, committed to seeing these classes through. When I watch my friends and favorite improvisers on the stage, I want to be up there with them. There is no place I’d rather be than in class or in the theater on Jam nights. Perhaps because I suffer negative feedback so, I have become addicted to the laughter I hear from the stage. I want someday to teach in the training center to help further expand the reach of this cult. Doggone it, I like this stuff. So, how could I ignore a chance to find out what would make me a better player?
A week later, I found out . . . sort of. Here’s what they said, verbatim from the email and anonymous so that I would not know which quote could be attributed to which of the four judges:
"Stick with what you start with at the top of the scene and commit with bigger, bolder choices; being a bit louder would help, too."
"With Carron, I felt like all the right moves were being made but there wasn't enough emotion behind them. Walk the walk, not just talk the talk."
"This player certainly knows and understands the rules of improv, but I felt like I was watching someone tick off boxes, and not play a living, breathing scene. She might benefit from forgetting everything she knows once in a while, making a big, bold choice and just sticking with it to see what happens."
By the improv gods, they were not horrible admonitions to never set foot on a stage again. Not horrible at all. They also seemed to be remarkably consistent. Commit; make bigger, bolder choices; show more emotion.
The only problem is, I’m not sure what that all really means. I thought I had shown emotion and made good choices. Was I playing it safe? Was it too low-key? Was I afraid to act? Or was it something more fundamental?
These are not rhetorical questions. I want to know, I really want to know. What does it mean to commit and make bigger, bolder choices? How do I apply that to my improv? How do you apply it to your improv? Comment here or on the book of faces, email me, stop me at the Jam, let me buy you a drink in the bar. I want feedback, people!
Carron Armstrong is currently in Level 3 and has been obsessed with improv and DCH ever since she discovered that someone can actually take classes to learn this stuff. She is currently negotiating to purchase the naming rights for the brand new stairs added to ease access to the stages of DCH’s Main Street theaters (Thank you, Amanda and Kyle). During the day, she’s a lawyer.