Take a Note

Celebrated Canadian playwright Michael Healey led a webinar through Citadel Theatre recently. Many things stood out to me but one thing I thought I’d share is his note on taking notes.

In the writing process, we have to be able to take notes from others. You create a play in order for an audience to experience it, not just for your own entertainment. So you have to develop skills in taking notes.

My knee jerk reaction when receiving a note is to launch into a never ending explanation. “Well yes, I did think of that, and here’s how I see it implemented…” When more often than not it’s best to say “Aha. That’s a great note. Thank you.” Someone is interpreting something you wrote in a certain way, and it could breed distrust when you minimize their courage and invalidate their opinion. Just take the note, thank them, and move on.

And, even more importantly, look for the note within the note. Sometimes people can’t explain themselves in a way that works for you. Try to dig deep and understand what they’re getting at.

One thing that was missing from Michael Healey’s advice was to recognize who is in the arena with you and who isn’t. Often people are sitting in the cheap seats and don’t actually understand the process you’re going through. They just like shouting from the rafters without actually fighting on the ground. Notes from those people can be politely ignored.

Being an artist doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We are constantly opening ourselves up to criticism. But there’s a way we can be open and learn from each other without throwing ourselves into the fire. The skill of taking notes, like all skills, needs practice.

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