Facilitating Feedback

Facilitating Feedback:

Reflections on Join the Dots
By Orit Azaz

Two people are in a dark room. One person lays back on a chair, the other dangles between ropes in the background.

There are few opportunities for robust critical debate about our work, especially in the area of contemporary circus. Upswing took a bold and refreshing approach with Join the Dots, by inviting a group of peers, collaborators, partners and critical friends to reflect on ‘What Happens in the Winter’, approximately 9 months after the original production.

I was surprised to be invited to facilitate this conversation, as I had, regretfully, not seen the show. I understood that this was part of Upswing’s intention, that the facilitator should have an informed perspective on the issues being discussed but an open mind and no agenda in relation to the work.

We discussed a few questions in advance:
– How to structure the session and make the most of the diverse experiences and perspectives of those attending?
– Should Vicki attend / participate in the conversation?
– How much information did I require in order to competently steer the conversation, whilst remaining as objective as possible in relation to the work?

An aerialist dangles in lots of ropes in a dark room.

We agreed to focus the discussion around 2 questions/themes: firstly, to share perspectives on how the piece relates to the wider national and international circus, physical theatre and live art ecologies and then, to explore feedback and ideas about future creative development for the piece. We also agreed that it was essential for Vicki to attend and be part of the conversation, for her own professional development as well as Upswing’s.

Vicki gave me an overview of the piece and the creative impulses behind it. In advance of the session, I read some sections of text from the piece and watched a short promo video. These were sufficient to give me an understanding of the vision and aspiration for the piece and also, the nature of the challenges that might have been faced in realising these aspirations.

An aerialist holds themself up between ropes on a circular stage.

It was a great idea to bring together peers, producers, programmers, venue representatives and artform specialists, as each person offered a different insight into, and perspective on, how the piece relates to the wider circus and physical theatre ecology and ideas for new contexts in which the piece might be further developed. The subsequent discussion about the piece itself – what was successful and what could be improved with more development – was honest, mature and constructive.

The feedback from the people who took part suggested that they got a lot from the experience too:
“It’s so rare to just talk about the work, to have an honest discussion..”
“It was helpful to have questions and a context: a framework for giving feedback.”
“It’s a nice mix of people, different people with different perspectives. I was surprised by how much we disagreed.”
“I have lots of big questions I’d like to discuss with you all – can we meet again?”

I too found it a wholly positive experience. Upswing has shown great leadership in taking this courageous step. It would be great if their approach can inspire and encourage others to be similarly active in soliciting feedback and stimulating debate, both about individual pieces of work and about the wider contemporary circus ecology. The more opportunities we have for open critical debate, the more confident and competent we will all become in giving and receiving feedback.

The people who attended the session all felt broadly positive about “What Happens in the Winter”– “I feel happier doing this because I thought it was a good work” – and acknowledged that they might not have chosen to attend had they disliked the piece. Perhaps this is the next step for Upswing and us all – to create the conditions for all perspectives to be expressed in a way that they can be heard and considered.

Photo Credits: All Images by David Pickens