What do you say?

As previously mentioned, this is "final product" season - a time for students of all stripes to demonstrate what they've learned/done/accomplished over the past year or so. Many times, I'm expected to go because of my affiliation with one of the performers/artists or the place in which it was produced. So then, after I've seen/experienced the thing, I'm expected to have some sort of comment.

I'm not a professional critic, nor am I particularly tutored in the various arts. I know what I like, I know what I don't like: that's about it. And sometimes I can even articulate what it is that I like (or don't like). Not always, because sometimes it's just one of those gut reactions that you can't explain. Sometimes I wonder if professional critics feel the same, but aren't able to say "this stinks - can't tell you why, but it does".

The problem for me is what you say when it's really bad. One of my friends and mentors (who has to go to even more of these things) uses "you must be so proud" or "congratulations" or "thank you for inviting me". Now, if I were on the receiving end, I'd feel a little slighted. I mean, what did he think about it? How did it make him feel? I've poured hours of preparation and sweat and love into this and all I get is a "congratulations"????? But being on the giving end, the one who has to say something to this fresh, hopeful face in front of me, those work. It's a toss-up, isn't it?

Even worse is when there's more than one - like a flock of dancers or a clutch of artists. One is incredible, several are mediocre, and then there's the really bad. You can't gush over the incredible one, because the others will notice. But... you do want to let that one, the one that touched you most, know that they did something important. Tact is difficult at times like that, isn't it?

I also hate being in the position of being known as articulate, so the person is expected something semi-profound and thoughtful, and all I can say is "thanks for inviting me." Again, that's a huge tip-off that there's something not quite right.

Even after eight years at mopow, I'm at a loss. What do you say?

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Alice said...

"Welllllll, now..." is my all-purpose alternative for "Yikes."

Aravis said...

I've found that there's always something positive you can say to a person, even if you didn't really enjoy their work. For example-

"All of your hard work was visible up there tonight; you really poured your heart into it."

Something like this often works. You've acknowledged their effort and this pleases them. If they say "Did you like it?" You can respond with "You were wonderful!" You're not saying you liked the performance, you liked the performer, but this usually goes unnoticed.

As for that one student in a crowd who really touched you, catch them alone later and let them know how much you enjoyed their performance.