Nothing, not even writing, makes a monkey more scaredy-cat vulnerable than going On Stage. At least with writing, one can remain more or less anonymous, identities easily changed with a name, from the relative safety of one’s own writing nook. On Stage, though—you’re out there. Really out there, swaying in the proverbial breeze while being tortured to melty death by the stage lights quite literally referred to as “The Tormentors”. (They’re like Dahleks, but hotter and less shrieky. Also the Doctor as played by David Tennant does not rescue you from them in the nick of time. You just melt. Ew.)
There is NO escape from a live audience. NONE.
This is why it’s so important for the cast to build a rapport of trust. Live performers (as opposed to dead ones, I suppose) may not like each other very much, depending on the dynamics of the group, but you still have to tap into one another’s energy and learn to trust someone’s gonna have your back the way they gotta trust you’re gonna have theirs.
Mistakes happen—just like those hilarious blooper reels on your DVD Extra Features. Bloopers in TV and movies get edited out, but not on stage. But mistakes can be recovered with the help of the right training and a fellow performer quick on the uptake. After all, it’s best for the performance on a whole—and everyone involved—if that trust exists.
Writing is largely a solitary endeavor—unless you’re collaborating with another writer, of course—so the entire production is on the shoulders of said writer until they’re contracted to be published or agented. But it’s still just as important to have a circle of fellow performers you trust to offer honest feedback, feed your energy, and pick you up when you fall down.
Critique Partners, for me, are my fellow cast mates and workshop buddies. They’re fellow performers of varying skill levels and strengths I trade critiques with. They tell me if my voice is sharp or flat, if the direction I’m going isn’t clear or so over the top their hair is blowing back in the wind like that Maxwell commercial guy. In return, I offer critiques of their work.
Critiques exchanged between writers encompasses overall opinions of what works or doesn’t work, if there are plot holes or inconsistent characterization, whether dialogue is natural and a setting presents clear picture without sensory overload. Me, I like a full range of opinions so I can pick up consistent patterns among all the subjectivity, so I go the full Workshop option rather than work with the same critique partners every time. I’m a fan of the Online Writers Workshop For Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror and Critique Circle.
BETA readers do what critique partners and workshops do, only they tend to not be fellow “performers” but what equates to a “preview audience”. A lot of stage performances offer passionate theatre goers a chance to a see a nearly-there but not fully polished performance or sampling of a show with just the actors, not any sets or orchestra or costumes to get feedback from a show’s target audience.
This is what BETA readers do. When I know I’m close to final draft, but I’m too close to it for objectivity, I call these guys in to find the “bugs”. My readers, who I know personally from other avenues of my life, LOVE to read. I give them a word doc and a list of concerns—plus, they know my biggest offenses, because they know me. Often the list of concerns comes from my editorial letters from a previous project, because I don’t want Editor Awesome to feel like she’s repeating herself. Which brings me to:
Editors. My editor, who, as you may have noticed, is verily awesome, and she is my director. She’s seen a full range of productions through every teething trouble known to man, a tried and true veteran of the boards. She sees EVERYTHING: costumes, lights, setting, dialogue, cast drama, sound, marketing—it is her job to polish the chaotic whole into something that gleams and sparkles and holds up when competing against Wicked.
I love my editor. She sees what I don’t see, anticipates what I don’t. She is a Jedi Master to my wimpy but dripping with potential (and stage sweat) Padawan. And she makes sure as hell we sell tickets. She doesn’t curb my voice; she refines it, nudges me in the right direction, suggests performance choices when I’m stuck, or smoothes anything awry. She knows me. As an author, as a story teller—as a performer. She’s been there, done that, AND paid the light bill.
I trust her, because when I’m uncertain about my own judgment, her experience paves the way. Sometimes a simple arm movement, or stillness versus a burst of energy across the stage, can change everything. But it takes an experienced, outside observer who can take the entire production into consideration to point it out.
Critique partners have the courage to tell you something you may not want to hear, but you need to know anyway, BETA readers have all the heart behind expressing their emotional response to your story, and Editors have all the brains to adjust the course as needed.
How about you guys? Who’s in your trusted circle of companions in your writing journey to Oz?