how to talk to a playwright or any other artistic creator about their work

One of the best parts of Sewanee was meeting with Gary Garrison of the Dramatists Guild.  He came to meet with the playwrights to basically give us a pep talk. Which too often, I forget that I need. Especially when my friends are finishing graduate degrees or becoming super successful and specialized in their chosen fields. One of the main things he talked about was how to communicate with our loved ones about our work.

He said for a long time, it always bothered him that his mother never read any of his books or plays. Though she was supportive and said encouraging things, he was bothered that she hadn’t read any of his work. One day he flat-out asked her why she hadn’t. She simply said, “Well, you never asked me to.” So, he asked her to. And she gave him some great thoughtful feedback, and he felt much better.

I think it goes to show that you have to tell people how to best communicate with you. Sometimes I think loved ones aren’t sure what kind of support or feedback you need. Or that you need any at all.

Another anecdote he shared was before the first performance of one of his plays, he prepped his partner on how to deal with him afterwards. He said that normally, after the first performance of a new play – the writer is ridiculously sensitive and notices only the flaws in that first night. So, knowing this, he asked his partner to come up to him after and instead of giving notes – he asked him to give him a big hug, and say “I loved it.” And then in a couple of days, come back to him and give constructive feedback. I love that.

I thought to myself – how many times have I had a show or a reading and I’m very casual in my emails to friends asking them to come, like “Oh, hey if you’re not busy, you should come check out my show. But if you can’t cause you’ve got to wash your hair or watch the Jersey Shore on DVR, no problem.” And when not everyone I’d have wanted to show up did, deep down I’d be disappointed.

How about “This would mean so much to me if you could come and see what I’ve been working on. It makes me feel encouraged and supported for you to see my work.” Next time, I’m trying that.

We can’t expect people to be intuitive to our needs. Because at the end of the day, most people pursuing the arts – playwrights, novelists, composers, you name it – they’re insecure at some level. It’s incredible scary to put yourself out there and say, this is something I’ve created from the depths of who I am.

We need to educate people on how to communicate with us. Obviously, communication is always a basic form of compromise but I often underestimate how important it is to tell someone what works for you. Finding a common set of expectations, language and cues, etc. So we need to ask for support, and pretty much ALWAYS, our people will come through.


One thought on “how to talk to a playwright or any other artistic creator about their work

  1. I’m glad you actually wrote a post about how to communicate with loved ones in the audience before the show, letting them know what you need afterwards. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Expressing how you need feedback to be expressed immediately after the show is a tough thing to do, and very personal. Though I find it hard to admit even to myself, I know that after a show, it can break me to hear candid feedback that I can easily digest a few days later.

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