About Me

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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Friday, May 23, 2008

If I want your opinion...

Isaac posts here about giving and receiving feedback/criticism. This springs from, in part, Don Hall's thoughts and these thoughts as well.

In Isaac's posting, he writes this:

I believe that if artists are interested in growing and developing they need to get used to "taking the hit", by which I mean accepting and listening to criticism when it is given. Sometimes "taking the hit" is confused with *agreeing with* all critiques offered. This would of course be deadly to our work. But even when it is a critique that to us is wildly off base, someone is still offering something: their opinion and impression of the work, and we should take what we can from it to help us.

I wanted to throw in my two-cents. Maybe I'll speak for someone else. Who can say?

Personally, I am one of those people that closely guards the way in which I take feedback, how I respond to feedback, and from whom I invite feedback. I may receive reviews and link to them, but you'll rarely hear me argue with or comment on the reviews in a public forum, like a blog. From friends and peers, though, feedback is an odd convergence of self-interested parties, and an open discussion can be just as corrosive to me, as a playwright, than one that is closed or cut off.

The assumption made in the above statement is that the growth of someone's art is a community activity, and by opening ourselves to different perspectives, we learn and grow. We become better by wrestling actively with outside perspectives, and it behooves us to be able to wrestle with even the most off-base perspectives.

I think there's a case to be made for that. I can't say that I see how it would help me as an artist to become better at listening to other people. There are certain feedback sources that I enjoy, celebrate, even seek out. There are certain individuals whom I trust to give me something useful. But those are very rare places.

That sounds, of course, preposterously self-protecting and suspicious of the motivations of my peers. It is, in fact, a way to maintain my own center and maintain the vision of my own journey. I don't want to write plays in relationship to the way in which the last one was received... I want to write plays that speak to something I feel is true or beautiful, with my own personal aesthetic fetishes expressed in their own idiosyncratic way, and then invite people to come and see what it is I've expressed. It is not a community activity in which I seek to become a better writer: it is an expression. The more pure that expression is, the more I am successful on my own terms. So a broad, open attitude towards feedback runs counter to that goal: it makes my work about discussion, about context, about satisfying others as opposed to simply speaking to them.

The other important factor here is that my audience is not, in fact, my peers. If your audience is YOUR peers, it might be worthwhile to think that over. I love and respect all the NY bloggers, and all the other writers out here banging their heads against the brick wall. But (and I'm sure many of you have experienced this) the most detached and clinical response ones work will receive will likely be from other writers or from peers. If I want to hit people emotionally, as opposed to do something "interesting," speaking to my peers is an uphill battle from the start.

Suffice to say, there are plenty who read this blog that I have asked directly for feedback. And I've certainly gone through that lovely dance of being reviewed all over the place. It's fun, it's part of the business, and we all need to come to our own peace with it.

As a writer, it is not understanding or a steel will or a sturdy self-image or the ability to grow that I most value: it is my own personal vision. Others may value my ability to receive their feedback with grace, and I certainly hope to have that skill. I may be able to learn something from others, but that's a process I have to control, and let no one's judgment of my ability to do so sway the way in which I act. First and foremost, I think of my own comfort and to reduce the number of voices that are talking to me as I try to work my way through a script.

In short: there will be countless points of view on my work, but only one of them is mine.


isaac butler said...

Great post! I've linked to it over at my place. I think this points out another reason why I abide by the "not offering my POV on someone's work that I know unless they ask for it" rule.

Freeman said...

Hey Dude ...

Thanks! Certainly not attacking the other side, just offering my own way of seeing it.

Tony Adams said...

How do you reconcile whether or not an artist wants an opinion with the fact that anyone who sees a work is entitled to have and express their opinion of it?

Freeman said...

Essentially, I would reconcile myself to the fact that I do not fully have control over how I prefer to receive feedback, and of course, when you put something into the public sphere, that's exactly what you're inviting: response. I certainly would never argue that people should avoid giving me their opinion if they choose to do so. I disagree, though, that its my responsibility to take it a certain way, invite it, or view myself as someone who is in a position to learn.

For example, I often decline feedback that is in the form of dramaturgy.

Paul Rekk said...

"I certainly would never argue that people should avoid giving me their opinion if they choose to do so. I disagree, though, that its my responsibility to take it a certain way, invite it, or view myself as someone who is in a position to learn."

That's about the best thing I've read on the topic in weeks -- the acknowledgement that others can and will gladly take what they take from a work and that, when it comes down to it, that only person that really has to matter to is them.

Hear, hear, Matt.

David D. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David D. said...

I look forward to the later years when Matt Freeman, Glenn Gould-like, eliminates the audience entirely.

But, to be serious for a second, I think this is a great post. There are times and contexts for feedback, but I don't know how helpful it is for a play to always be thought of as malleable. There are times when I think it is more helpful to consider a produced, presented work as a finished expression, and accept it (and our reaction to it) in those terms.

Or, put another way, how often would one think to write a letter to an author (or approach them after a public reading) to say, "You know, when you write this book again, I think you should..."

Now, I know that theatre is a different medium, but sometimes I think we, as audience members, collaborators and critics, tend to assume that things are always in progress, and that may not be the case. Productions may change and interpret in different ways, but sometimes I think we should remind ourselves that they play may be done. Whether you liked it or you didn't, it may be a complete expression that is not looking to change. That is something I will try to remember.

(PS- My prior post was this one, only with an embarassing spelling error)

Christine said...

Question: I know we have limited this to post opening criticism, but what about pre-production feedback on a script? Matt, you say you don't like dramaturgical feedback... how come?

Freeman said...

Well...pre-production is a much clearer line: there are collaborators and that have express permission to offer some help, comments and dramaturgy. That's expected.

But outside feedback that is dramaturgical based on a single viewing of the play, for example, seems ill-advised to take. It tends to come from a set of principles ("this is how I think the show SHOULD have been") as opposed to simply responding to what the show was. Dramaturgical feedback is expressly that which intends to instruct or offer advice.

Suffice to say, there are pros and cons to limiting or at least expressing the desire to "not hear" dramaturgical feedback. A con is, obviously, there may be good advice out there that I'm missing. The pro is... my personal agenda can't be even subconsciously co-opted by someone else's preferences. Some people find good advice too an opportunity to pass by. I find that even sound advice moved quickly into the category of "more advice." And, in being so, becomes not useful to me.

Again, that's my personal preference.

Christine said...

Oh I don't want outside dramaturgical advice after one view either. Yuck!

I thought you meant something else in your earlier post, which prompted my question.

Devilvet said...

Ideally I would want both kinds of dramatrugical advice (first time as well as over time) The first time advice has a value to me in that most people will only view the piece once and that is it. A second viewing will not occur unless something reverberates.

What I really like about your post today (no asked me...so I get the Irony) is that you clearly state your desires and intent regarding feedback on the material.

So long as we all know the rules of engagement in each others homes (i.e. blogs) then we are all as a community in a better place to engage each other in ways that work for all involved...the sort of feedback I want and welcome is different than the sort others welcome...so when someone is at my house they can feel free to act one way and went they are in your house they understand the rules are probably different.

Things are bound to get more complicated as time moves forward. There will be a day very soon where people will be able to "phone in" literally any thought they have the moment they have it.

Soon folks mightliteraly have to turn off their comments or just not put their thoughts out in the public arena...if they are uninterested in others POV and how that POV affects the art making.

RVCBard said...


I hear ya on so many levels. Check my blog for more.

Scott Walters said...

Matt -- I am starting to sense that what you have written here (and all those who have expressed similar opinions in the past) and what I have been writing about the relationship between the artist and the audience within the context of the theatre tribe may represent a clear dividing line between two approaches to theatre. My orientation, to perhaps express it in simplified form, is to see the artist in terms of "service" to the community, which of course leads to a much more interactive relationship between artist and audience. However, after reading the fascinating book Polarity Management, I see this less as a problem to be solved, a boundary between different artistic orientations that cannot be crossed, than polarities that must be managed, that exist not as exclusive positions than as points along a continuum. Each artist probably has his or her own level of permissable dialogue beyond which they lose their own voice, their own vision. The challenge, it seems to me, is to dance along the boundary, to seek a point where one's own voice and the voice of others blend in a productive way, like melody and harmony. Some artists may sing in the choir, others may be solo singers, and others may be lead singers in a band. Perhaps the key is to find the type of theatre that works best with your own sensibility, rather than seek a universal principle.

Freeman said...

I think one of the dividing lines is simply a matter of perspective. It is far easier to view theater as an interactive and community activity when your success doesn't depend entirely on being the creative force. As a writer, it's just not very easy for me to accept the idea that my voice must blend with that of the community. Perhaps, in the long run, that's what happens. But it's certainly not what I write for.

I don't view the arts as a sort of service.

But I do believe that each artist, or practitioner, or enthusiast, does best when they work from their own unique perspective. I've yet to find a universal principle that seems to fit anywhere; not in business, not in physics, not in art.