Following the recent Burton Taylor Scratch Night and Cafe Reason’s latest Diamond Nights evening, Ana Barbour reflects on her experiences both giving and facilitating audience feedback to the artists, and raises some pertinent questions about how to do this effectively…

On Monday 20th September I went to The Burton Taylor Scratch night.  There, feedback had been encouraged from the outset –stipulated both in the artists’ application process and in the publicity to potential audience members.  The session was well organised and involved direct face to face communication between performers and audience members in small groups.  The performers were able to direct the focus of their feedback by asking for thoughts/comments on particular aspects they wanted addressing – these were written on the programme notes.    Organising a platform event in the same week I was curious to see if I could find a way to generate feedback from an audience that had not been expressly asked to do so.  I was also interested to see how to gather ‘evidence’  – a process now being required of artists more and more in order to support eg funding and job applications.

So, in the Diamond Nights evening on 25th September we handed out cards and pen to each person and asked if they could jot any thoughts, images or comments (even if just one word) that came up while watching each of the performances (which I numbered for ease of reference).

Advantages and disadvantages of two different approaches:

The advantages of this written feedback is that people can make their comments privately (anonymously) and without the stress of exposing their thoughts /impressions to everyone else.  It also leaves a written record, ‘evidence’, that a work has been seen by an audience.

Disadvantages are that comments are one way and leave no opportunity for the performer to engage or ask for clarification or for the person giving feedback to give any explanation for their comments.  There are also the practical issues of writing in the dark, time between acts to write, legibility, and then as I am discovering, how to process and pass on these to the different performers.

In the B.T. feedback session the performers and audience had the advantage of directly speaking to each other, asking questions, following up thoughts and bouncing ideas off other commentators.  The structure of the session which ensured that you spoke to the presenters of each of the different acts meant exposure to a variety of audience opinion.

Some disadvantages were that it was a quite daunting task for an audience member to have the spotlight turned on them (or so it felt) to express an opinion face to face.  This would probably be inhibiting for anyone who was not already a committed artist or promoter themselves.  Additionally the range of different mediums (theatre, music , dance, poetry) was a possible further challenge for the person giving feedback.

For me it has opened up lots of questions about how to ask for feedback, and when it is appropriate or desirable to have feedback.  How constructive can general feedback be?  For what purpose is the feedback intended?  Do we even really want it?   I’m looking forward to exploring and learning more.

You can read Ana’s accounts of Scratch Night and Diamond Nights here:

https://oxforddancewriters.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/untried-untested-tonight/#comments

https://oxforddancewriters.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/diamond-nights-2/#comments

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