Although any form of criticism can feel like a personal attack to the highly sensitive soul, the ability to listen and respond to feedback is necessary to make it in the industry. Taking constructive criticism in a productive manner is a matter of recognizing what’s constructive and what’s not, knowing from whom to accept criticism, and learning how to apply feedback to improve your skills.
Constructive criticism is helpful. Constructive criticism is a type of useful feedback that provides specific suggestions for improvement.
Constructive criticism is actionable. When you receive constructive criticism, you should have a solid idea of next steps, whether that’s working with a dialect coach to perfect an accent, learning to smize, or spending more time excavating your character’s motivations.
Constructive criticism is delivered with positive intent. This form of critique is meant to improve performance and provide a catalyst for learning without causing personal offense.
For example, an acting coach might watch your self-taped audition and feel you don’t give a certain moment the emotional depth it requires. If they provide criticism in a helpful, actionable way delivered with positive intent, they could say, “This moment needs more emotional depth. Have you tried physicalizing so that your body feels like it does while experiencing that emotion?” Since the feedback points to a specific action or behavior (your non-emotional delivery), it gives you the helpful, actionable step of re-taping the audition and focusing on emoting in that scene. And because the acting coach wants to help you improve your performance and land that gig, it can be inferred that their intent is positive.
Constructive criticism is not destructive. On the other side of the feedback spectrum lies destructive criticism, a type of criticism that harms rather than helps its recipient. Destructive criticism is vague yet personal, like a netizen posting that they simply don’t like your face or a director calling you names for flubbing a line.
Where the criticism comes from can make a big impact on how you receive it. As a performer, you should request constructive criticism from:
- Directors: Your goal as a performer is to bring each project’s vision to life. This means that it is vital to seek out and integrate feedback from directors, screenwriters, producers, and other stakeholders involved in the creation of the production.
- Teachers and coaches: Acting classes and workshops should provide a safe space focused on collaboration and growth. Since you pay your acting teachers and coaches to help you better your skills, make use of that financial investment by asking for their critique.
- Agents and managers: It’s your agent’s job to find you work and your manager’s job to help you grow in your career. As long as you sign with good ones, you should feel comfortable soliciting their feedback.
- Colleagues: Other actors and performers can also provide you with helpful feedback—just be sure to take what they say with a grain of salt depending on their experience and abilities. While it’s probably safe to assume that the Viola Davises and Daniel Day-Lewises of the world will provide you with productive constructive criticism, your classmate in a beginner improv class with a penchant for melodramatic overacting might not.
- Critics: Who better to provide criticism than the critic? If you appear in a production that receives reviews, it can be helpful to read through them and consider how you might adjust your performance accordingly going forward. Just remember that there’s a big difference between Roger Ebert calling your performance stilted and some random Roger on Facebook criticizing your smile. Avoid the rabbit hole of destructive criticism by sticking to reviews by professional critics.
Of course, many aspiring performers will find themselves receiving most of their feedback from their family and friends. While this type of criticism can be constructive, use critical thinking to discern whether or not it’s something you should heed.
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Knowing how to take criticism well—and how not to take criticism personally—is a necessary skill for anyone hoping to make it in the biz. Here’s what the experts have to say about responding to constructive criticism.
- Seek constructive criticism from the right people: “The first thing you need to know about feedback is that you should be careful when seeking and receiving it,” explained acting coach Gwyn Gilliss. “Figure out who you trust to tell you the truth about whether you’re talented, when you’re ready, and whether you have the professional tools to be successful.”
- Trust your instincts: “You also need to learn to trust your instincts,” Gilliss wrote. “If you love your website/monologue/headshot/audition outfit, you’re comfortable with yourself and you should honor that. However, if over time, several respected professionals offer the same advice—that your choices aren’t great, that your headshot needs updating, that your reel doesn’t represent you, etc.—you also need to learn to honor that feedback. Rethink your choices and update your tools if you decide the feedback is warranted and feels good instinctually.”
- Put things in perspective: “You need to put it all into perspective; everything is an opinion,” Gilliss noted. “And things change: a new headshot, an updated demo, a new outfit or haircut. But you’ll do those things because you’re developing as a professional and it’s your choice to do so, not because someone told you that you’d be a failure if you don’t. Put things into perspective and keep going. Keep developing and polishing your craft and product. It’s a business, not a head trip.”
- Reframe the feedback: “When we learn to receive constructive feedback as helpful rather than hurtful, only then can we unlock the opportunity to actually use that feedback to become the incredible artists we know deep down we deserve to be,” according to acting coach Tony Rossi. “Just know that each time you’re given negative feedback, you’re in a better place to grow and change.”
- Listen, evaluate, and learn: “Just listen,” advised manager John Essay. “Resist the urge to justify, excuse, or defend yourself. If you’re not ready to analyze the critique, analyze it later.” Then ask yourself if the criticism applies to you and if the critic is speaking the truth, Essay suggested. “If the criticism is justified, you have been made aware of something you need to adjust, change, or do. Accept this knowledge.”
- Take action: “Once you have figured out what action you should take, do it,” Essay concluded. Write down the steps that will allow you to take the action and get going to improve your craft.