Embracing Feedback: Strategies for Constructive Rehearsal Sessions

Embracing Feedback: Strategies for Constructive Rehearsal Sessions

Perfection Isn’t the Goal – Progress Is

As a lifelong performer, I’ve come to learn that the pursuit of perfection can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it drives us to constantly improve our craft and strive for excellence. But on the other, it can also lead to crippling self-doubt, burnout, and an unhealthy fixation on flawlessness.

That’s why, over the years, I’ve come to embrace a simple truth: Perfection isn’t the goal – progress is. And a crucial component of that progress is learning to graciously accept and act on feedback, even when it’s difficult to hear.

In my experience, the most successful performers and creative teams are the ones who have mastered the art of the constructive rehearsal session – where feedback is viewed not as a threat, but as a gift. They understand that by opening themselves up to honest, thoughtful critique, they can uncover new avenues for growth and improvement.

So if you’re ready to take your rehearsal process to the next level and foster a culture of continuous learning, read on. I’m about to share some of the key strategies I’ve learned for embracing feedback and creating truly productive, collaborative sessions.

Establish a Feedback-Friendly Environment

The foundation of any great rehearsal process is trust and psychological safety. If your performers don’t feel comfortable being vulnerable and expressing their honest thoughts and feelings, you’ll never unlock their full creative potential.

That’s why it’s so important to deliberately cultivate an environment where feedback is welcomed, not feared. Here are a few ways to do that:

  1. Set Clear Expectations: Start each rehearsal by reiterating the ground rules. Make it clear that feedback is an essential part of the process, and that everyone – from the director to the ensemble – is expected to participate. Emphasize that the goal is to lift each other up, not tear each other down.

  2. Lead by Example: As the leader, you need to model the behavior you want to see. Be the first to offer constructive criticism, and demonstrate how it can be delivered in a thoughtful, empathetic way. When you receive feedback yourself, respond with grace and an openness to learning.

  3. Create a “Safe Space”: Designate a specific time and place for feedback sessions, where distractions are minimized and everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts. Encourage an atmosphere of active listening, where people are fully present and engaged.

  4. Normalize Imperfection: Remind your team that no one is perfect, and that mistakes are an inevitable (and necessary) part of the creative process. Celebrate small wins, and frame feedback as an opportunity to level up, not a referendum on one’s abilities.

By establishing these foundations, you’ll create an environment where feedback is seen as a valuable tool for growth, rather than a source of anxiety or dread.

Focus on Specificity and Actionability

When it comes to giving effective feedback, the key is to make it as specific and action-oriented as possible. Vague, generalized comments like “that wasn’t great” or “you need to be more energetic” aren’t nearly as helpful as targeted, constructive feedback that points the way forward.

Here are some tips for crafting feedback that really lands:

  1. Identify Concrete Behaviors: Instead of making broad judgments, focus on describing the specific behaviors you observed. For example, “I noticed you tended to slouch during the dance break” is more useful than “Your posture needs work.”

  2. Provide Clear, Actionable Suggestions: Don’t just point out problems – offer solutions. What specific steps can the performer take to address the issue? For instance, “Try engaging your core and lifting your chest during that section” is more helpful than “You need to stand up straighter.”

  3. Use “I” Statements: Frame your feedback in a way that takes ownership. Say “I noticed…” or “I felt like…” rather than “You did…” or “You should…” This helps the recipient feel less defensive and more open to hearing your perspective.

  4. Sandwich Critique with Praise: Start and end your feedback with a positive, reinforcing comment. This helps the performer feel valued and motivated to implement your suggestions. For example, “I really loved how you nailed that last high note. One thing I noticed was that you seemed to lose some energy in the bridge – try taking a deeper breath there to support your vocals.”

By staying specific, action-oriented, and empathetic in your feedback delivery, you’ll create a collaborative dynamic where everyone feels empowered to grow.

Foster a Growth Mindset

One of the biggest obstacles to embracing feedback is our natural human tendency to view criticism as a threat to our ego and sense of self-worth. When someone points out an area for improvement, our immediate instinct is often to get defensive, make excuses, or shut down.

But what if we could shift that mindset – to see feedback not as an indictment of our abilities, but as an exciting opportunity for growth and development?

That’s the essence of a growth mindset, a concept pioneered by psychologist Carol Dweck. Individuals with a growth mindset believe that their talents and abilities are not fixed, but can be cultivated through effort, strategy, and persistence. They see challenges not as obstacles, but as chances to stretch and expand their skills.

As a performer and creative team leader, I’ve found that cultivating a growth mindset is essential for making the most of feedback. Here are some strategies I’ve used:

  1. Reframe Feedback as a Gift: Instead of viewing critique as criticism, try to see it as a valuable gift – insight that can help you get better. Approach it with genuine curiosity and a spirit of openness.

  2. Celebrate Mistakes: Reframe “failures” as learning opportunities. Encourage your team to take risks, experiment, and be willing to fall short – because that’s where the real growth happens.

  3. Focus on the Process, Not the Outcome: Shift the conversation away from perfection and towards continuous improvement. Celebrate small wins, acknowledge progress, and help your performers recognize that mastery is a journey, not a destination.

  4. Lean into Discomfort: Growth often requires moving outside our comfort zones. Encourage your team to embrace that discomfort, knowing that it’s a necessary part of the learning process.

By adopting a growth mindset, you’ll create a culture where feedback is seen as a valuable tool for leveling up, rather than a threat to be avoided. Your performers will become more resilient, adaptable, and excited about their potential for growth.

Making Feedback a Habit

Embracing feedback isn’t just a one-time event – it’s a habit that needs to be actively cultivated and reinforced over time. And the best way to do that is to make it a regular, structured part of your rehearsal process.

Here are a few ways to incorporate feedback sessions into your workflow:

  1. Scheduled Check-ins: Set aside dedicated time for feedback at regular intervals – whether that’s daily, weekly, or monthly. These scheduled sessions give people the space and structure to provide meaningful input.

  2. Peer-to-Peer Reviews: Encourage your performers to engage in informal, ongoing feedback exchanges with one another. This builds a culture of mutual support and accountability.

  3. Reflection and Goal-Setting: At the end of each rehearsal or performance, take a few minutes for your team to reflect on what went well, what could be improved, and what they want to focus on moving forward.

  4. Anonymous Surveys: Provide a safe, confidential channel for people to share feedback that they might not feel comfortable voicing out loud. Online survey tools can be great for this.

  5. Feedback Facilitators: Designate certain individuals to serve as dedicated “feedback champions” – people who are skilled at eliciting input, synthesizing it, and helping the team act on it.

The more you can make feedback a consistent, normalized part of your rehearsal process, the more natural and comfortable it will become for your performers. Over time, you’ll see a tangible shift in the way your team approaches growth and improvement.

Putting it All Together

At the end of the day, embracing feedback isn’t just about becoming a better performer or creative team – it’s about cultivating a mindset and a culture that celebrates continuous learning and development.

When you create an environment where feedback is welcomed, specific, and action-oriented; where a growth mindset is the norm; and where feedback sessions are a regular, habitual part of the process – you unlock incredible potential for growth, innovation, and success.

And that’s the kind of transformative experience that I believe every performer and creative team deserves. So why not get started today? Head to the Musical Theater Center’s website to learn more about how we can help you and your team harness the power of feedback and take your rehearsal process to new heights.

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