It’s no secret that directing a production can be stressful – and there’s no shame in getting overwhelmed every once in a while. What you should avoid, however, is taking out those negative feelings on your cast and crew via aggressive criticism during rehearsals. Constructive criticism, when executed correctly, can help your show succeed and help your cast grow their talents simultaneously. On The Stage offers a few lessons on properly delivering constructive criticism to your cast. 

Establish trust first

Why it’s important: Presenting notes to your actors is never a fun thing to do, but it is necessary to make your show better. By establishing trust prior to relaying critiques, your actors will feel safer and more open when it comes time for tough conversations. 

How to do it: Establishing trust is an exercise that takes patience and time. The best way to go about it? Consistently directing and leading with empathy, acknowledging your actors’ abilities, and having the best interests of your cast and crew at heart. With a slow and steady baseline of developed trust, constructive criticism will be easier to both relay and hear – leading to productive conversations about the betterment of your show.

Start off on the right foot

Why it’s important: Keeping energy and morale high when it comes time for notes is conducive to a fruitful exchange. If you begin your notes with a negative attitude, your cast and crew will soon feel that negative energy, too. 

How to do it: Begin your notes with the day’s highlights. Make sure you start by acknowledging the hard work of everyone involved, as well as the best moments in your production thus far. If you know you’ll be focusing specifically on a few of your cast and crew, ensure they’re also feeling extra appreciated before you start on the negatives.

Balance the positive and negative

Why it’s important: Keeping a strong balance between both positive and negative feedback will ensure your production moves forward and your cast and crew stay motivated.

How to do it: Moving between positive and negative notes helps to present a balanced perspective to your team – unmarred by extreme pessimism or unbridled optimism. For example, if today’s rehearsal didn’t meet your expectations, point out that you’ve seen your cast and crew perform better, and that you know they can get there tomorrow. Stick to the truth. 

You always want to be truthful – don’t mislead your team into thinking their performance is better than it actually is, but don’t forget that even a few small words of positivity can go a long way. 

When it comes to positive constructive criticism, ensure your actor or crew member still has room to grow; motivate them to surpass expectations.

Be as specific as possible

Why it’s important: People can only improve if they’re given the tools to do so. By giving specific critiques, as well as ways to achieve what you’re looking for, your actors and crew members will more quickly deliver a great performance. 

How to do it: All in all, avoiding generalizations for both positive and negative feedback is the key component to making big changes. For example, avoid critiques with no action items. Telling your actors they’re uninspired or low-energy gives them nowhere to go. Instead, give them another way to approach a scene. Along the same lines, giving a general “great work” to your ensemble doesn’t let them know what, exactly, they’re doing right. Get specific with positive notes too – if an actor makes a choice during a scene that you enjoyed, point it out so they continue trying new things. 

Discuss face-to-face

Why it’s important: The most genuine interactions often happen face-to-face. After all, there are missed nuances when delivering criticism via email or phone. Digital interactions can lead to misinterpretation – because you aren’t getting context like body language, tone, and inflection. 

How to do it: Establish a time after rehearsal specifically dedicated to notes. Come prepared to each of these meetings to ensure you aren’t wasting anyone’s time. If you have longer, detailed notes for leads or techies, dismiss the rest of the cast unless you deem the critiques necessary for them to hear. If you’re open to it, include time for a dynamic conversation where your cast and crew can ask questions back to you – thus digging deeper into their characters and motivations. 

Keep it professional

Why it’s important: Emotions can run high during rehearsals, especially as it comes down to the wire during tech week. Keeping your emotions out of your critiques means no hard feelings after rehearsals end. If you stay on-task and in control, your show and cast will be better for it.

How to do it: Keeping it professional can be tough if you’re wrapping up a bad rehearsal. If you don’t think you have the mental capacity to stay in control and unemotional, that’s okay – you’re only human. Push back notes until the beginning of the next rehearsal. During notes, remember to distinguish a person from their actions. Focus on the issue within the show, and not the specific actor or crew member who is making a mistake. If it feels like a personal attack, your actor or crew member will be more likely to shut down, lose trust, and not grow. After all, you can stay professional and employ empathy at the same time. 

Stay consistent and timely

Why it’s important: Regularly delivering feedback right after rehearsals will ensure you and your crew are on the same page about expectations from the get-go. Consistent feedback is also a great way to keep track of progress – if you notice you’re delivering fewer notes as time goes on, your show is moving toward success.

How to do it: If you don’t want to do notes after every single rehearsal, make sure you have consistent days/times each week specifically for notes. Additionally, don’t let days or weeks pass by before you give someone feedback, especially when it comes to a specific scene, move, or technical element you need to perfect. You want the show – and the notes – to be fresh in everyone’s minds, so that the conversation will be relevant and actionable.

Yes, giving feedback will be a bit taxing no matter what – but it doesn’t have to be a source of major stress. On The Stage can be a big help when it comes to alleviating behind-the-scenes pressure; book a
personalized demo today with an OTS expert to start elevating your theatre experience and granting you more time to focus on what matters: your show!

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