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What to say after the performance?

You’re standing in the lobby of the theater…the audience is leaving and a few are staying behind to greet the performers.  Finally your friend emerges from the theater face flush from the rush of performance.

They look to you…their eyes widen a bit and their eye brows rise up….they’re asking for your thoughts…your opinion …your evaluation of their performance…your validation of their performance.

If you love the show and the performance it’s a no brain-er….you know exactly what to do and say.  But what if …well…it just didn’t resonate with you?  What do you say now?

You know it’s not appropriate to launch into a critical dissection of the script, direction, production and acting ensemble.  Even if you are correct, it’s just not appropriate at this moment.  But not saying something can be as damaging.

Here area a few suggestions of what to say;

1.  My acting coach at Boston University used to say this comment after a ‘rough’ bit of acting, “Interesting, very interesting”.  But she said it very slowly as if it was a thought provoking performance.  The danger is that it begs a follow up question from your friend:  What did you find interesting?

2.  Harpo Marx in his wonderful autobiography said that he never saw a performance that he didn’t like.  But that was because if the performance didn’t hold his interest, he’d shut his eyes and fall asleep….keeping him from seeing the performance.

3.  My college roommate did a show with Orsen Bean (actor, TV Personality and author) who suggested that you simply lie and lie big.  According to my roommate, Orsen suggests that you look at them with a big smile and say that it’s “the best thing I’ve ever seen you do.”

4. A musician friend offered me the best advice when he said the best thing to do was to look them in the eye, offer them a big grin and say, “Well, you did it.”

He says that they always agree and then go on to talk about their process or what it is that they’ve done….thereby saving you from telling a lie or upsetting your friend.

What do you say in this situation?

Is it different after a business presentation that didn’t work well?

About: william:
William Hall is an actor, trainer and improviser living in San Francisco, CA. He works with companies to engage and involve audiences at Trade Shows, Conferences and Training Sessions. He is a founder of BATS Improv and the author of The Playbook: Improv Games for Performers.

Reader Feedback

8 Responses to “What to say after the performance?”

  1. Ken Newman says:

    If I’ve been underwhelmed, or at the most, whelmed, I will sometimes offer up one of the following:

    “Wow. That was just …. WOW. I mean …. (exhale slowly, then nod …) WOW.

    “There was some AMAZING work up there. A M A Z I N G.” (the work may well have been the lighting design, but hey …)

    “I really saw the work you put into that…”

    Or just lie. Lying is good.

  2. Andy Crouch says:

    I often say “Fun show!” It’s almost always true in some way — either they had fun, or there were fun moments.

    I’ve learned the hard way to only give real notes when asked directly.

  3. Andy Crouch says:

    Or if I don’t even feel like I can say “fun show” in good conscience, I’ll say “fun stuff.” A weird distinction?

    I don’t think lying and saying really nice things you don’t mean does anyone any good.

  4. Holly says:

    It seems to me that in the rough shows I’ve seen, it’s rarely a friend of mine that tanked. Is that true? Is that just my bias coming through?

    Perhaps, but for some reason, it seems like I’m able to see the distinction between my friend’s performance and a hard show. And there are often moments of delight in my friend’s performance that I can comment on, or even moments when I see their true self come out and that’s fun to see no matter what’s happening onstage.

    To get practical for a moment, my words of choice are often “you did great!” or something else specific to them. I suppose even if it were their rough show, it gives them an opportunity to blame someone/something else for the bad show.

    And . . . my role in that situation is not to give a critique of their show. If my friend took the risk of being up on stage, I’m happy to affirm them for taking that risk no matter what the result.

  5. Klemmnonamyous says:

    Here are my go-to’s, hopefully none of theater friends read this:

    “Nice Job Up There!”, Big Hug!

    “It looked like you were really having fun up there!”, Big Hug!

    “Fun Show”, Big Hug!

    “I’m really glad I came!”, Big Hug!

    And, especially if I’m not digging a show, I’ll try to look for one or two moments from my friend’s performance that I can genuinely compliment them on…

  6. william says:

    A few great responses via Facebook…too good not to include:

    My friend David Barth always had the best line — “Must have been really fun to work on!”

    If nothing else, a “wow, you looked like you were having a lot of fun up there!” seems to work most of the time.

    I usually say “You guys were GREAT! I loved watching you perform.”

    My fav is “You’ve…done it again!”

    My usual response is “congratulations”.

    Thank you to everyone who read and who responded.

  7. Dana Kelly says:

    I’ve never had the guts to actually use this one, but here it is:

    “Good…..isn’t the word!”

  8. william says:

    Feedback must always be requested. If you have feedback and they haven’t asked for it…you must ask them if they want feedback.

    If they don’t….don’t give it to them. They won’t hear it and they’ll resent you. If they do then start with the positive.

    If it’s right after the performance [or presentation] then keep it very simple and light. Follow up later after the adrenaline has left their system.

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