Observations on the Critical Response Process workshop with Liz Lerman (June 2017)
By Suzannah McCreight – Choreographer
I first heard about Liz Lerman from Kelly-Anne of Dance Resource Base who had been raving about a process and discipline that Liz had developed, initially for the context of dance but from there, many other contexts. I was excited to hear she was coming to Belfast and signed up for the workshop in June.
The Critical Response Process (CRP) has been developed to help artists (and others) initiate, develop, process and respond to feedback in a way that is most helpful to the artist. It all sounds very technical and on one level it is, but being involved in the intensive two-day workshop at the Lyric Theatre was quite a personal and artistic journey for those who opened themselves up to the experience of learning from Liz and going through the vulnerable process of CRP with work they wanted feedback on.
My experience of sharing an excerpt of a dance piece was initially daunting, in part because I felt what I had wasn’t ready. I could barely remember the work-in-progress I had performed four months beforehand. However, it was worth doing with just the snippet I was able to share. Liz herself is an incredibly astute artist and nurturing tutor. Her approach is all about finding what is most useful, positive and generative for the artist.
For that to happen, the agenda has to be set by the artist, helped along by a ‘facilitator’ who initiates and steers the process. Those giving feedback to the artist are called ‘responders’. This is not an environment where unhelpful or negative opinions can fly or where loaded questions are asked of an artist. Rather, a discipline is developed to find ways of sharing positive meaningful reactions initially, before allowing the artist to ask questions of the responders. The artist will then answer questions from responders who must ask open and neutral questions such as “who were you thinking of when you created this?” as opposed to “did you consider how unsuitable for children this would be?” (which is both closed and loaded with judgement). The questions must also steer clear of any “fix-it” attitude such as “Do you think more light would help that scene?” And find more open-ended ways to allow the artist to speak on their terms.
Learning how to phrase things is a discipline in itself and another is the patience needed to wait until the final stage for those ‘opinion’ – based comments, which people often want to share first, because that’s what they would do. Crucially, artists need to be asked if they want to hear an opinion on something. For example, “I have an opinion on the possible use of background music – do you want to hear it?” The artist is free to say, “No I’m not considering that right now”, or perhaps “yes”. Either way, the artist is in control of the feedback.
In the experience of learning this, I occasionally questioned whether the process could actually stem the flow of what would otherwise be free conversation, as it separates things into definable stages.
However, there was a word that kept cropping up. Liz spoke often of developing a ‘generative’ experience during feedback sessions. Responders are there to help the artist make the best work possible. The process is supposed to inspire an artist return to the studio or computer or drawing board or whatever. In this way it is generous, and worth the discipline of going carefully.
I recognised the vulnerability in other artists as they shared work. There was a rawness felt in exposing an unfinished work to scrutiny. However, I could see how the process was generative for all the artists I witnessed go through it. I was emotionally exhausted from the process myself, but it made me want to work again. It gave me new direction for my specific choreography and affirmation as a dance maker. I witnessed others overcoming doubts connected to whether or not they should continue with something, and others finding direction for their processes.
There was also the opportunity to learn how to facilitate, and move fluidly between the stages where necessary. There were other practical uses of CRP in co-coaching techniques between artists. In this I could see so much scope for use in teaching and directing.
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting artists of different disciplines in the workshop and I was intrigued to hear form Liz how it is being applied among musicians and even medical professionals. It is hard to imagine an area of life where CRP wouldn’t be helpful. I have many ideas where I can apply this in my life, from teaching to parenting and beyond.
It was good to be led by someone who has truly gone on a journey of research and discovery and is happy to share generously the wisdom she has uncovered, whilst respecting the level of professionalism in the room.
It was refreshing on so many levels to have a workshop environment that gave more than a few tips here and there. There was something very thorough and developed about CRP and my own experience was somewhere between an artistic overhaul and personal therapy. This will go down as one of the more memorable experiences in my career development, I’m so glad I did it.
By Rory McCadden – Writer, Glass Eye Cine
In Liz Lerman’s workshop delivering her teachings on CRP, I got to witness how the genesis of a body of work benefits from ‘collective consciousness’.
For the artist delivering a work in progress, ‘it’s worthwhile discussing with the facilitator the questions you want to ask. In order to identify what specifics, you may have, and in order to best appeal for notions that may deviate the making of the piece’ – ‘the artist, irrespective of where they are in their career, must intuitively navigate the stream, the various clouds, the crystal matrix.’
As a group, we recognised that the presented work in progress has its place in things too: ‘independent of the final piece, when a tree decides to grow a branch, that branch becomes part of the tree…, in this way, in the journey of a tree becoming a mature tree – even though all the parts may not be visible from a distance – the substance is still evident.’
‘I believe similar workshops will improve my practice and the overall development of my work, insofar as being open to critical response helps me to understand how the work may be received, and helps me to know what types of response I would like an audience to feel. ‘