Feedback is critical

Last night I gave my first scratch performance of the full show before heading off to Edinburgh, and this morning finds me reading through the audience feedback, monitoring my reactions.

It’s a tricky business, receiving critique. I’m lucky, the comments received last night were universally positive, nay fulsome in their praise – and with only four days to go until my first performance it’s an enormous relief to feel that little needs to be changed in order for this show to work.

But is that just my ego speaking? Whenever anyone creates a performance, are we really just being treated to the spectacle of their egos prancing about on stage? Sort of. I think there are two people at work – the self that needs praise from others and the self that needs to express itself, to meet its own standards of excellence, regardless of general opinion.

This second self has been the one slogging away for the past six months, realising that generating fifty minutes of material that could stand as a coherent whole is a big leap away from writing a decent poem, realising that I’m a bloody amateur, realising that I need help…the feedback this self needs is NOT praise, no matter how bleak the pall of self-doubt. Praise to the fumbling teaches nothing. Questions are much more effective – the Socratic method; what are you trying to communicate with that section? How would you like your audience to feel? WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

The difficulty is finding an watcher who is able to ask the pertinent questions in the right way to lead you to your own deeper understanding, so that you can make authentic creative choices. Without this, all suggestions of change feel like impositions to be argued with, defended against, overturned in rebellion. It’s a rare skill, requiring compassion, sensitivity, focus, attention to detail and an understanding of the technical aspects of the artform being critiqued. I was extremely lucky to have director Helen Ferguson watch my first full run-through. Her questions initially left me deflated, but trying to answer them fully in the writing and the performance quickly transformed almost everything about the show’s structure and delivery for the better. With that crucial critique providing the clarity to complete the show, subsequent scratch performances became opportunities to tweak elements and start gathering some confidence-boosting quotes.

Because of course after all the second self slogging, the first self does still want the praise – and why not? It’s been earned now. All those beautiful bits of feedback, they’re my harvest, they’re going to sit in the storehouse of my soul like yummy pickled baby beetroots so I can perk myself up on those days when I feel as flat and dull as a cheese sandwich, those days when I’m convinced I am talentless and gutless, those days that are certain to come again. Probably halfway into writing my next show.


Snaith’s Field – second draft

Tag-team boys write themselves

Large on impossible flyovers, claiming

Names slapsimple, direct as punches,

All for kicks, feral afternoons,

Late sun and dares taken

Filling out their scrawny chests

Like the smell of hot wood

inside the potting shed.

Spray-cans, brotherhoods bloom

Here where the wildflowers scribble

Over the edges and it is observed

But never dissected, hedgehog

Carcasses poked with sticks.

Not really dressed for wing-walking,

The girls wait for them at Snaith’s Field

Wrapping their slouches round swing chains,

Editorial spread for Diamond White,

Accessories by Lambert & Butler.

They never attempt a perfect dismount

From the still top edge of the upward arc,

Not even when they are alone. Apart

From anything, bodies are harder to look at

When in motion. And to fall, to fall, no, no…

The others won’t hold the sheet tight for you,

They will only watch, then cut their eyes away.

A decade ago, before they were female,

They were bodies, bodies running

Through this same field, but spangled

With daisies, hundred of push-pop petals

As if summer is a snow-globe

And they are the glitter, forever

Running towards the far side, the whole body

A reaching hand so open, so infallible

Of course it grasps the finish tape

With everything else, as much blue sky

As you can eat, and this field, this field

As big as a field ever was, filled

With an eternal ovation of daisies.