After spending 3 months in rehearsal, pouring everything we know how to do into our performance, we open our season to the audience. We’re having a ball and the audiences all seem to be enjoying the show. And then we see it … that one comment on a social media post or a theatre review that challenges our performance ability, our costumes, the sound, the lighting, anything really - and all our enthusiasm and joy is flushed like yesterday’s lunch.
How do community theatre people handle criticism? In my experience, not well. We give way too much of it and we don’t know how to accept it from a position of strength.
Community theatre is always working to improve how we do things but we all get to the end of a project knowing that if we had our time over again, we would do things differently. This isn't because we're unhappy with what we achieved; it's because we learn so much in the process that our skill base has expanded way beyond what it was when we began the project.
So let’s assume that we’re facing criticism with a mind that is set on learning and a heart that is passionate about performing. What do we do when someone doesn’t like what we do?
Well, there’s the heart of the matter right there – “when someone else doesn’t like what we do!” A single person voices their opinion (which is valid for them and they have a right to it) and we make it our own. For some reason we believe it like it’s a truth. We don't examine it. We don't consider the value of who said it. We just absorb that sucker into our pores, and then soak in it for a few days until it's good and mooshed into our soul.
There's no denying that criticism, given graciously or not, hurts us and, as creatives, we feel deeply. But at some point we have to start seeking more emotionally healthy ways of dealing with it.
I'm a proactive person. I like to come to the creative's 'pity party' prepared to swish around in the criticism for just long enough to check it out but then have a plan for moving through it and I've discovered some things that have made a difference to my creative life.
You must know your own truths, having developed boundaries and baselines for them so that when they are challenged you can take the criticism, measure it’s worth against your truth, pack away anything you want to work on later, then drop kick the rest off the field. But here's the important part -
Your truths must be in place NOW, secure and fixed. Write them down (yes, it makes a difference) but don’t leave it until you’re dealing with the criticism to decide what you believe because it won't happen then; you'll be too busy wading through the shame and embarrassment you're creating for yourself.
I am a performer and, like you, still working on my ability to handle criticism but I’m working toward a place where I am gracious and kinder to myself. So what are my truths? Let's throw them out there and see if you find any of them useful.
I have sacrificed many things to participate in this production and I am giving it my entire focus, my passion and every skill I currently have.
I have an open mind ready for all the things I will learn during rehearsals to make me a better performer.
When I walk on stage I know that I am doing my very best for the audience. I am not half assing it out there. They get everything I have.
Most of the general population would pee themselves just walking onto the stage, let alone have to speak, sing or dance. I am already extraordinary.
When I make a mistake in a performance I already know it! I don’t need someone else to point it out. I am already working through what I need to do to avoid the same mistake.
This is live theatre and stuff happens. The unpredictability is far more exciting than loading the dishwasher after dinner.
Everyone else is trying their very best just like me. My criticism of them makes me a self righteous idiot, so shut up, Sherryl-Lee!
Build your own truth. Don't wait for some critic to create it for you. Be passionate, expect more and be extraordinary!
The best you can do is all you need to do!
Sherryl-Lee Secomb writes her blog, An Idiot On Stage, specifically to encourage and equip community theatre to expect more and be extraordinary. Sher has been building brands for performing creatives in Australia since 2011 and now advises theatre organisations and performing artists in marketing their work and building awareness of their brand.
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