Everything Is Already Something Week 21: Congratulations, Now Shut Up and Work

Allison Page has some polite advice for you. Yes, you. You’re the person who started this. 

When you’ve done something and people like it… well, that’s a pretty great feeling. It’s like pretty stars are gently raining down on you, and you’re twirling in a sparkly dress so poofy that you can barely walk; which is fine because you don’t need to walk – attractive people are carrying you on their shoulders through crowds of your adoring fans. Everyone is shouting your name, and you’re being spoon-fed a hot fudge sundae sprinkled with ambrosia. You are the champion. You are the champion, my friend. Everyone should get to have that feeling – hopefully even more than once. For me, that mostly takes place in my brain. I feel so effervescently happy, I could burst. And sure, I’ll say things like “I’m so happy with that! That was great! The work paid off! I’m so glad you like it, person!” But there’s a certain danger in congratulating yourself a little too much.

Don't start celebrating just yet, Stock Photo Guy.

Don’t start celebrating just yet, Stock Photo Guy.

Ya know how you’re always telling yourself to take negative criticism with a grain of salt? That’s important, so that you don’t throw yourself into oncoming traffic just because someone gave you a bad review, or maybe they just said they weren’t in love with what you did, or maybe they said it was the worst thing ever! The thing is…I try to take praise with a grain of salt as well. If you’re going to not base your worth on someone’s negative opinions, you shouldn’t base them on their positive opinions, either. Sure, take the compliments – you absolutely should! But just know that even if it wasn’t voiced to you (because people are afraid to ever say anything negative) someone probably thought it wasn’t great, or not your best, or just thought it was flawed. Now, is one of those opinions more right than the other? Not necessarily.

Inside this adorable walrus salt shaker lie the opinions of many. Both idiots and otherwise. But he's so cute, right?

Inside this adorable walrus salt shaker lie the opinions of many. Both idiots and otherwise. But he’s so cute, right?

To me, self-examination is an important part of being any kind of artist. Or actually, any kind of person. To be able to look at something and say “Okay, what are the positive and negative aspects of this result? Could I have done something more effectively? Did I achieve what I wanted to achieve?” is important to me. I want to be better. I enjoy thinking about what I can do to be closer to my own personal ideal, and congratulating myself because, for instance, a coworker who has never had anything to do with my creative world pops in and says “THAT WAS PERFECT, JANET! SEE YOU AT THE OFFICE!” doesn’t really help me with that. And my name isn’t Janet. I’ll be happy, of course, but I’ll know that the flaws might be there and not be discernable to someone outside the world of theater or really whatever else I might be working on. And then there’s another possibility:

They’re just being nice. I hate saying that, but we all know it’s true. Most of the time, people aren’t going to shit on your dreams. Most of the time, people want you to feel good about what you’ve done…and then they’ll TALK ABOUT IT BEHIND YOUR BACK! GASP. Sadly, it’s true. I like to initiate honest conversations about my work with people whose opinions I trust. And I am seriously okay with them not liking something, or having thoughts about it. It doesn’t mean I’m going to change something just because of someone else’s opinion, but it’s important to me to know how my audience has actually perceived something. Because I want them to see certain things. I want them to notice certain themes, and if they’re not seeing them, I want to know about it. If I’m going to bust my ass to create something, I want it to turn out properly. And it’s also completely okay if it doesn’t turn out. I’m a big proponent of failing, because it can be very useful to you later on, but the important thing is to learn something from it and to recognize when it’s not gelling. If you haven’t learned anything, that’s the only time it feels a little useless to me. If the only thing you’ve learned is that you’re fucking kickass awesome? That’s not going to help you later. I mean, it might help you write a really positive bio about yourself, but no one’s going to want to read it if you’re bragging your face off the whole time. Then you’re that guy. And no one wants to be that guy.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford: Totally "That" Guy.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford: Totally “That” Guy.

It’s really about self-awareness. Self-awareness is this thing people sometimes forget about. It’s knowing who you are, how you sound, how you’re perceived, how you make people feel. It’s that voice in your head that says, “Is this right? How are people reacting to me? Am I taking that into consideration?” and that’s even more necessary in a society where people are not always honest with each other, so if you’re not honest with yourself you’re sort of…fucked.

Recently I was in a room full of people that all had the same thought about something, that thought was “Holy shit this is way too long and too complicated, it’s too slow and we’re all losing our minds,” and I’m almost positive the person who perpetrated those things feels like it was fucking awesome, when in reality, probably more than a dozen people who were in attendance relayed those same feelings that I had back to me, without knowing how I felt about it. Did anyone tell the person about it? Maybe, but likely not. I doubt anyone felt comfortable enough to do that. Soon after, I was witness to some more work by that same person and it suffered from the same problems, so I can only guess there wasn’t a lot of examination the first time around. If negative comments did come back to that person, I imagine they’d “take it with a grain of salt”, which is fine, but that’s why you need to be examining things on your own. Pay attention. Is this the result you wanted? Theater is not like painting something, mounting it on the wall and leaving, saying “It’s a rosebud. It’s a vagina. It’s a wagon wheel. It is whatever you want it to be…but it’s probably a vagina.” It’s a living, breathing beast.

But it's probably a vagina.

But it’s probably a vagina.

It’s an ever-changing painting on an ever-changing canvas and odds are there IS a desired outcome on your part and you have the power to alter it. Consider that power, and don’t just leave something a certain way because you thought it up in the first place. And certainly don’t think only of the positive reactions or only of the negative reactions, but consider the piece as a whole. And if someone says it’s the most amazing thing they’ve ever seen in their entire lives, I’m so happy for you…but there’s always the other side of the coin and you can’t consider one side without considering the other. Of course, you can always consider neither and do whatever the hell you want, this is just how I like to operate.

You can harshly judge Allison in Killing My Lobster’s Winter Follies Dec. 12th – 15th at ZBelow.

2 comments on “Everything Is Already Something Week 21: Congratulations, Now Shut Up and Work

  1. One of the things I like about the solo performer community is the constant openness to real thoughtful feedback from each other through workshops and on a personal basis. We want each other to succeed, and we’re not in competition for resources.

    Maybe it’s easier to give feedback on solo performance work than plays because there is only one person involved, the performer and the one giving feedback. We don’t risk accidentally dissing a playwright’s crush’s acting or a director we may very much want to work with on another project.

    I tend to avoid any critical feedback right after a performance during that vulnerable and high stage of the writer/performer/etc. It also seems wise to wait until asked for real feedback before offering it.

    And specific feedback is so much more gratifying than general. I much prefer, “It was so funny when so-and-so said those callbacks in Scene 2” to “It was great! Just great!” I got into theater from prose writing because I was tired of handing something to someone, having them read it privately, and then say, “I liked it.” The end.

    The audience is my best feedback, seeing them laugh or hold their breath or fidget. And of course, audiences can vary so… A Wednesday afternoon audience is just not going to give the same feedback as a Saturday evening one.

  2. Ponder says:

    I don’t know. I think this is just one of those fundamental personality differences you find in people. Artists often start out defensively, preferring to defend their choices and explain to you what “you missed” rather than absorbing the feedback and interrogating how they could more effectively express their intention and vision. I saw this in my classmates for years and it didn’t get any better when I did an MA and the students were older– it just depended on the person and I’m sad to say it didn’t really change over time. Sometimes the stubborn or less reflective ones got better at taking direction and realized petulant obstinacy wasn’t really a way forward with most directors worth working with– but it didn’t really make them more self-aware, curious or nuanced. As a teacher now sometimes I wonder if that’s a matter of how the feedback is delivered but frankly with some cases I just doubt it!

    But of course it’s not just artists– most people I’ve met are more invested in getting confirmation that what they have and are already is okay/lovable/desirable/awesome and perfectlyfinedon’tchangeathing rather than the introspection and courage required to keep growing and developing artistically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually etc.

    I think wanting to grow and having that be your primary motivation in life and work is a rare trait, even in the art world.

    Perhaps especially there, what with the systemic scarcity.

    It’s just tricky– again as a teacher I try to find the balance between acknowledging the courage involved in getting up there in the first place while finding ways to encourage further growth and braver choices. I think the best feedback does the same– but at the end of the day it’s a question of why the artist makes the art.

    most of the time it’s because they want people to like them and want to fuck them after.

    Sooo…..

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