Have you ever tasted “Note Stew?”


Well, let me tell you . . . it tastes like the bottom of a dog’s paw.

Wait, you don’t know what Note Stew is?  Allow me to explain.

I read a script for a client recently and was asked to give a set of notes, which I did.

Two weeks later, I was asked to read the next draft.  In the new draft, there were some changes based on the notes that I had given.  There were also at least four other major plot and character changes that had the play going in four different directions.  It was one of those rare occasions when the second draft was not only worse than the first, it was longer than the first (by a whopping 18 pages).  Wrong direction, right?

In my meeting with the client to discuss the second draft, the first thing she said was, “Did you see how I took your notes?”  “Yep,” I answered . . . “now, who else did you get notes from?”  “Well, my agent, my mom, the actor who did the last reading, the director, the dramaturg at the non-profit theater back home, my boyfriend, and, you know, a few others.”

Now, before I comment, let me say, I love me some feedback.  I did a reading for Somewhere in Time yesterday, and the surveys for anonymous feedback went out before people could even get out of the studio!  (Every reading I do comes with a post-performance survey now – and yours should too – they are quick and easy and always helpful.)

Everyone who gets into any business, should be constantly asking for feedback, from oodles of people.  The problem that this writer ran into was that . . . she was simply too nice . . . and tried to be too accommodating.  She listened to everyone’s comments, and tried to accomplish everyone’s notes.  It was like she put all the notes in a pot with her original draft and stirred it up.

And what she got wasn’t a better play.

It was thick and dull, Note Stew.

Get feedback.  But then filter that feedback through your own instincts.  Notes are suggestions.  They are not edicts.  And the more people you try and satisfy, the less you’ll actually end up satisfying.  (Here’s a tip that I use when evaluating notes and feedback:  whenever I see the same comment said three times by three different people, I know I’ve got a problem.)

Always remember that you are the chef of your own show, and at the end of the day, its ingredients are up to you.


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below!  Click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)



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  • Tom G. says:

    You can’t please everybody ….. Too many cooks ….. they all apply here, but the whole time I’m reading this post my mind couldn’t stop thinking – Who would ever taste the bottom of a dog’s paw?

    Sometimes the appetizer repeats on you thru the stew.

  • It’s been the ruin of many a poor playwright, and Lord, I know . . . I’m not one.

    Haven’t gotten that far yet.

    Ken, I attend the New Works Festival and Theaterworks in Palo Alto, and hundreds of people fill out these forms. Could you do a post, or answer here, the questions you ask? Even if you redact them with the words “this plot point” it would be interesting to see.

  • LA Producer says:

    My “notes filter” always gives more weight to the actors who really prepared for the reading. Unprepared thespians are generally talking out of their asses. (Or are they tasting the bottom of dog paws?)

  • Paul Mendenhall says:

    So true. When something is wrong with a script, everyone gives you a different way to fix it. The truth is, you have to stick to your own vision, or you end-up with a complete mess that pleases no one; not even you.

  • Donald Sanborn III says:

    “Wicked” librettist Winnie Holzman said it best: “feedback is information, not a gun to your head.”

  • janis says:

    Somebody famous said, “Sharing an unfinished play is like showing off an unborn baby.”

    I try to bear that in mind, but I need, appreciate and use the best feedback.

  • alex De Witt says:

    I once had a reading in a friend’s living room with 15 invited guests. The host invited his clearly nutso cousin. 90% of what she gave me as feedback was crazy, but I’ve trained myself to listen and smile — then out of the blue she said something coherent and it was the most useful thing I got as feedback and I did as she suggested and it worked in the piece. So moral of the story, is never argue with people giving you feedback, listen to them talk (unless they’re the type that just like to hear themselves talk, those exist too) but you never know where a good idea will come from. And don’t dismiss the wacky people out of hand.

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