How does audience feedback help you create your new musical?
“Why would I want to ask the audience what they thought of my new musical?” I heard this at an event featuring songs from new musicals. The composer saying this heard that I was doing an audience feedback session after my workshop production of NUMBERS NERDS. And he couldn’t imagine why I’d do it.
Commercial producers have been monitoring audience feedback for decades. There is the story of how Sondheim had to write several opening numbers to FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. The audience was not immediately realizing that the show was a farce! Or that Marvin Hamlisch changed the title to “Dance Ten, Looks Three” in A CHORUS LINE because the original title (“Txxx and Axx”) gave away the comedy of the song too quickly!
So I’m a great believer is seeking audience feedback. And in doing so, here’s what I’ve learned:
- Give the audience multiple ways to communicate to you. People process information in different ways and in their own time, so give them several ways to give you feedback. For example, a group talk back, one on one with an “ambassador”, written comments after the show and an email address for those of us who need a few hours to process our thoughts.
- Look for patterns. If you start to see multiple people in multiple sessions give you the same feedback, pay close attention – there might be something important in what they are saying.
- You cannot please everyone – that means you probably don’t want to use all the suggestions. There are many, many ways to change a show, and people will offer you a vast variety of ideas. But you must choose the ideas that ring “true” to you.
- Picky details – Every once and a while you will get someone who gives you some very small details that are very important – the script says one time frame and the lyrics indicate another – there are conflicts in the text about places – those little things are very easy to change and can save you embarrassment later.
- Make sure the creative people involved sit separately in the audience watching the audience and the show at the same time. Have the composer, lyricist, librettist and director sit in scattered locations throughout the audience for added perspective.
- If you are doing a reading or a workshop, fill the audience with your “targeted audience”. These are the people you want to give you feedback. The average paying audience member is female 40-55 years old but that may not be your targeted audience.
Record the feedback, discuss it openly with the creative team and then create a list of things to adjust in the next version of your show. And, remember……it takes time….lots of time……..
Any other thoughts about audience feedback? What worked for you? What has not worked? Love to hear your ideas.