Why to use Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process

Helping artists stay true to their own voice

The Critical Response Process (CRP) is a way of giving feedback created by the American choreographer Liz Lerman. I think it’s most brilliantly used when work is at an early or developmental stage. Where artists are seeking feedback specifically to influence them towards making the rest of their piece. It has quite a structured format, but I actually really like this.  I find it supports and nurtures the artist presenting work.

Why the Critical Response Process works for theatre post-show discussions

Clown Funeral receiving feedback on stage at Witness Theatre's Brighton Scratch 16th November 2016.
Clown Funeral receive feedback at our November 2016 scratch night.

Sometimes post-show discussions can go really wrong. They can be hijacked and directed by particular viewers (which can be painful for the other audience members and the artists). I’ve found that when using the critical response process that doesn’t happen.  Which is great.

The first time I ever used the CRP, was when I was working on a collaborative dance project as the designer.  The choreographer and I were presenting our piece to an audience of nearly 50 people who all wanted to help by sharing and contributing their ideas.  Finding a way where that feedback can be organised and presented to the artists, ideally in a short amount of time, so that they can get a sense of what the audience thought is not an easy task.

How the Critical Response Process helps artists

There are an infinite number of options when making art of any kind and it’s tricky to hone in on what you want that specific work, at that time, to be about.  There are a million really good directions you could go in but it’s important to stay focused and driven in a particular direction. Audience members might have ideas for how the piece could go, which could be great and valid, but aren’t ideas that the artists are interested in moving forward with at that time.

It’s important to understand what the artist is aiming for. I think that’s not always taken into consideration by an audience. The CRP really guides everyone, the artists and the audience, towards giving feedback in the direction that the artists are looking for.  And I think that’s because of the structure.

The Critical Response Process structure

There are three roles in the feedback process and four stages of the process.

The artist—the person that’s presented the work.

The audience, officially called the “responders”—the people who have witnessed the work.

The facilitator—the person who runs the feedback sessions and tries to keep everyone on track and within the structure.

4 stages of the critical response process: 1. Initial Impressions. 2. Artist Questions the Audience 3. Audience Questions the Artist 4. Audience Expresses Opinions
The 4 stages of the Critical Response Process

Stage one: Initial Impressions.

Everybody shouts out words or phrases or things that come to mind that they took initially from the piece. This could be overarching themes, or how it made them feel. Or, it could be colours, pretty much anything.  There isn’t a right or wrong answer it’s literally whatever they want to express as their impression initially from the work.  Liz Lerman uses some buzzwords to help guide things.  What was “meaningful, evocative, interesting, exciting, striking” in the work?

This section is usually pretty quick but the artist gets an initial understanding and feeling for the audience as a whole.

Stage two: Artist Questions the Audience

The artists come prepared with questions such as: “Did this go too far for you?” “How did this section make you feel?”. Then we can all really delve into the topics that the artist is most curious about and how those came across to the audience.

So the key thing here, the rule to be followed, is the audience isn’t supposed to express any opinions unless it’s directly relating to the question that the artist has asked. They have to stay on topic with what the artist is interested in.

Stage three: Audience Questions the Artist

Liz Lerman does a really fantastic thing here in that they have to ask neutral questions.  They’re not allowed to imply their own opinion with their question.

So instead of asking “Why was it so dark?” they could ask, “What ideas guided your choices about lighting?”. By consciously staying neutral people don’t get defensive about how the work has been presented or interpreted. By understanding the intentions behind something everyone can collectively determine if that’s how it came across or if they have other ideas about what could be done to create that.

Stage four: Audience Expresses Opinions

In this phase the audience is allowed to express their opinions to the artist—but again there’s a lovely little catch—they ask permission.  So an audience member says “I have an opinion about your lighting would you like to hear it?” The artist is then able to say “yes I would love to hear your opinion about my lighting” and the audience share it.Or the artist can say “no actually that wasn’t something I was focusing on for this performance so I’m not really interested in opinions about that”.  People don’t say no very often.  Most of the time people want to hear feedback and opinions.  Also by this point in the process the audience should have a good idea of the direction the artist is trying to go so their opinions and suggestions won’t usually be completely random anymore.

There’s something else about asking permission to express an opinion that I would hope gives people the freedom and confidence to express critical feedback as well.

Quote about feedback from Liz Lerman
Wise words on feedback from Liz Lerman

Kelli’s Conclusions

It’s tricky with feedback sessions. They can often end up being this love fest of “oh this was really great” and “oh I loved this bit” and everybody just brushing over the things that still need to be worked on.  But what would be even better is to get some of that constructive criticism in a way that can still be motivating for the artist.

I was really interested in using this process for our Witness Theatre Scratch Nights because I had experienced it and I personally found it really helpful.  We’re also really committed to supporting the people who are sharing at our scratch nights. So if you’re interested in seeing the Critical Response Process in action you can check out one of our videos from our November scratch night ( coming soon!) or pop along to the next one. Sign up to our mailing list to find out when future scratch nights will be!

– Kelli



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