I was nineteen-years-old, and had just started my first acting class in college. I had an assignment to do and chose a soliloquy. I stepped forward on stage and gave it my all, having practiced for hours on my delivery. When I was done, the teacher told me to pull up a chair, sit down, and listen as the other students sitting in the audience critiqued my performance.
So I got a chair and sat. Well it was plainly evident that the first student to speak had definitely not paid attention during my performance; so I ignored his “input” as to how I approached the scene. The young girl that followed likewise hadn’t been paying attention. When the third student started voicing his opinion, I had had about enough.
“What are you saying?” I ask indignantly. “I was trying to convey that—“
“Excuse me!” a voice rang out from the audience; it was the teacher. “You had your opportunity to deliver the scene. You’re done now; it’s all over. So sit there and listen to what the audience saw. Don’t start telling us we’re wrong. We saw what you did and have an opinion on what we saw. So listen up. If what we describe wasn’t your intent, then that means you have some work to do as an actor. Nothing more. We’re not telling you that you’re a bad actor, only that your scene didn’t come off as you expected. By listening to our observations, you will learn how to act a lot faster than you would by rejecting our comments.”
It was at that moment that I realized I should accept other people’s criticism, as long as it was constructive. In fact, I decided that I should start searching it out from that point forward. I recalled how in my high school art classes, other students would come and ask me what I thought about their drawings. I was one of the better artists in school, so they wanted to know my opinion. What I discovered was they only wanted to hear how good their drawing was, not any form of criticism.
As I continued to sit there on stage and listen, the teacher turned his attention to the entire class to expound further on the value of searching out constructive criticism. I then realized that I had done exactly what the art students had done. What my fellow actors were giving me was information on how I could become a better actor. What they weren’t doing was showing any ineptness on their part, or jealousy toward me.
I learned a very valuable lesson at an early age, and thank Professor Martin for teaching me and the other students such an important factor in life. I have searched out constructive criticism since then and still do. Any time that I have the opportunity, I will ask a reader what parts of my book lost their attention or they thought could have been better. And in all occasions, without exception, I take their comments into consideration. Now I’ll admit, I don’t always alter my writing style based on one person’s input, because not everyone is going to like how I write. But when I hear something that’s constructive and can see how it would improve me as a writer, I’ll change without hesitation.