Friday marked my return to Tony Award winning Signature Theatre. I hadn’t performed on stage there since Sunset Boulevard a few years ago, so after an encore and a standing ovation for Einstein’s Girl, I felt pretty darn good. Then I awoke to this email:
Subject: @signature last night
Message Body: Loved your voice, hated the show. The moments when you were honest and true and not on script were the most connected you were with the audience and the songs that were unaltered lyricwise were the most touching and amazing. The concept is funny but the dialogue too long. Given the hit big bang theory, take their advice and keep it short. There are plenty of songs that could prove your point without changing all the lyrics.
My first instinct was to respond immediately by saying, “Thanks so much for taking the time to write me. You must work, in some fashion, for The Big Bang Theory and are now willing to share with another artist working in the newfangled realm of science and entertainment the secrets of success. Had I only known this in February when I debut the show, all the trouble that you witnessed probably would have been ameliorated as the show would work in three acts, each one being seven minutes long. There’d be time for at least two songs–certainly enough time for one parody–and I could garner $25 a ticket for one-third of the stage time. This is so brilliant!”
The next thing I realized was that I had been compared to the likes of Carmichael & Parish and Kander & Ebb because, much to my delight, I had not rewritten any of their lyrics. I am, however, completely responsible for the lyrics I wrote in the three songs… that I wrote (with all due credit to Brad Brown’s lyrical and musical collaboration in E=mc2).
And then finally I thought, “Gee, I wish I had his last name so I could find out what he does in his work and provide a little constructive feedback from my totally unprofessional understanding of what he does.” I imagined him being a life insurance agent, huddled over his desk, in which case I’d probably drop a line saying, “Loved the small talk and the free coffee, hated the small print that denied me the annuity after my father died.”
In short, criticism only works in a feedback loop where the receiver trusts that the giver is interested in their growth and professional improvement. So, for instance, when a co-worker comes up and says to you, “You’re not really going to wear that dress to the meeting this afternoon, are you?”, you’re probably not going to take that as constructive criticism, even if it is capped off with, “Love the haircut.”
Finally, it was Louie C.K. who said in his last HBO special that all of the suffering caused by sweatshops in China–where the workers are so miserable that they jump off buildings–is all worthwhile so that we can sit on the toilet and make a mean comment on a YouTube video. Thanks, jack, for reminding me he was right.
And since prematurely intimate advice is what this blog post is all about, don’t forget to wipe and flush.