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



Scratch night how to: our top 5 tips

Our first Brighton Scratch night at The Marlborough Theatre last week went really well. We had a lovely audience, a great selection of work, and the artists got useful feedback. This will definitely become a regular event in our calendar.

We hadn’t run a scratch night before this one, and there were a lot of things we had to consider (or that we didn’t consider but will next time!). So, to help out any of you who’re planning a scratch night in the future we want to give you some advice. Here’s our list of the top 5 things to think about when planning your scratch night.

The Top 5 things to think about when planning your scratch night

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

1.The feedback process.

This was really important for us and one of the first things we started thinking about when planning our night. A scratch night is only as useful as the feedback the artists get from the audience. Our event used the Critical Response Process developed by Liz Lerman to structure the feedback (post on this to come soon). You can structure the feedback however you want, or not at all. Some key things to consider are: what do the artists want to get from the feedback? Do they have specific questions, or are they happy for an open discussion with the audience? Might it be good to give the audience the chance to give non-verbal feedback?


Is it important to you that the venue you run your scratch night in is wheelchair accessible? Embarrassingly this wasn’t something we took into consideration before choosing our venue. Only when a wheelchair user emailed to ask if the night would be accessible did we actively think about this. Unfortunately the Marlborough Theatre isn’t accessible at present. We now plan to consider accessibility for every event we plan in future and to run events in accessible venues wherever possible. Lesson learned.

3. Ticket prices. 

Ask yourself why you’re running the scratch night. Is it to raise money for your company, or is it to provide a platform for yourselves and other artists to share new work? For us it was about nurturing other artists. Raising money was a factor, but a secondary one. We chose a Pay As You Feel set up and that worked really well. If making money is more of a factor for you, consider how much you want to charge your audience. You don’t want money to be a barrier to people taking a risk on new work, we recommend no higher than £5 per ticket.

4. Programming. 

Don’t forget that by running a scratch night you are programming an evening of entertainment. You want the audience to feel satisfied with the range of work they’ve seen. You might want to consider setting a theme for the evening, so people apply with work that fits that theme. We didn’t do this, but we chose work that we felt linked well thematically and our audience really valued this.

5. Liaising with the venue. 

It’s easy to think of a scratch night as something that will come together on the day and doesn’t require much planning beforehand. But, it’s well worth your time to make sure you check in regularly with the venue and communicate your needs for the day.

Find out what technical support you’ll be given, if any. Who will be around to offer any help on the day? Will         someone be running your box office? Also make sure you check what needs the artists have. Are they expecting you to provide any technical equipment or simple set pieces? Make sure the venue has anything you need so you aren’t running around trying to find a microphone or a table on the day!

 Find out when you can have access to the space from and get there as soon as you can. We had 3 performances        of 15 minutes each, and spent a good 6 hours setting up the space and sorting out technical aspects of their               pieces.

Let us know your experiences

Have you run a scratch night before? How did it go, and what are your top 5 tips for anyone thinking of running one?