August Schulenberg's On Quality, Value and Criticism, which can be found here. It's long, and difficult to exerpt, so let's just say it's an attempt to begin a conversation about artistic quality amidst all the talk in the theatrosphere about models, getting the younguns in etc. The basic premise, and I agree with it, ist hat we don't spend a lot of time talking about artistic quality because it's... well... tough to talk about something so subjective. So Gus tries to get the ball rolling.
There's a lot in there, and I hope he writes more on each point, I just want to quickly address for myself something he says when talking about critiqueing each other's work:
But how do we imagine ourselves within another company when it is so difficult to critique work within our own? Flux has annual and post-play post-mortems, but they focus entirely on the process of producing, not on the quality of artistic decisions. And this is, of course, because feelings get hurt. And yet we must improve the quality of work, and we can do that best by talking about it.
So how do you talk about it within your company? Do you use the Liz Lerman Critical Reponse Process? Do you just say the ugly truth and wound each other terribly and then recover over beers to do the whole thing over again, like Valhalla? How do you do it?
I can't speak from the perspective of being within a company, because I'm not, but I'll just say that in discussions with theatre artists of my generation I hear-- and share-- a great deal of discomfort if not outright disillusionment with the Liz Lerman Critical Response Process. If anything, many I talk to think it's basically used these days as a way to avoid having authentic conversations about work. And many playwrights I know are made incredibly uneasy by it, because they basically feel like people responding to their work are, essentially, hiding what they really feel about it in an effort to make the process work.
When I receive notes from people as a director, I expect them to be both direct and considerate. Both of those are important. We have this weird association in our society between honesty and assholitry. A good example of this would be Ethan Hawke's character in Reality Bites. We all know the type-- "hey, man, I'm just being honest" when in fact the value of honesty is used to basically be inconsiderate and cruel. Fuck that, I have no patience for that shit, you can tell the truth and not be a dick about it.
You have to ask yourself when offering an opinion on something-- why am I saying this? What goal do I have with this note? If your goal is to actually affect the thing you're talking about for the better, than you must on some level also be concerned with being heard. If you aren't heard, by which I do not mean the sound waves pass out of your mouth, vibrate the air and are received into the ear where they're translated into signals in the brain but rather someone actually takes what you say and considers it honestly and discusses it with you, than what you said doesn't matter. A lot of people say shit to just say shit. It's a pervasive problem.
If you want to be heard, you have to give feedback in a way that allows it to be heard. And that way is going to change in a way that's contextually dependent on who you're talking to, where, around who else etc. Which is why I think the Liz Lerman Process feels a bit off to me... my conversations with Dan Trujillo, a writer I've worked with many times, co-produced work with, acted with, directed his material, acted in his material etc. are going to be very different with my conversations with Gus about his work, given that he and I have (sort-of) worked together once, and both like each other but aren't close friends.
And there's another problem, which might be subject to another post, which has to do with the lack of honesty in our responses to each other, the common problems of thinned-skinnedness and taking things personally etc. This is why, as I think I said in an earlier post a year or so ago, i don't tend to offer my opinion on people's work (to them anyway) unless they ask me, and then I try to respond honestly. If they dont' indicate they want my opinion, that's okay, there's usually others who do and I can talk about it with them.