Scratch Nights Are Dead.

I have just come back from another brilliant Check In Festival – part of In Good Company‘s annual programme, at Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester.

I was asked to present a provocation during an artist/producer discussion on Feedback Culture. This is something we creatives live and breath; we give and we receive it every day. Feedback; it’s such a bugger.

I talked mostly about scratch nights and how odd I think they are. How it seems impossible to get the timing right as a presenting artist; you want the exposure, but could it be to the detriment of your progress. They can be awkward, a bit cold, a bit cliquey or just unhelpful.

As audience you attend, you often pay, you are given minutes to jot something down on a feedback sheet, on your lap, with biro nib punching through the paper. You write a sentence that equates to “this bit needed development”. Go home. Then realise how unhelpful you’ve been.

This seemed to be the consensus in the room.

Some key takeaways:

When is feedback useful? When the person offering it is invested in you and your work.

When is feedback good to hear? When you have asked for it.

What is the right way to give feedback? Something not so short in answer. Louise White, Jack Britton and Tina Hofman were also on the panel, chaired by Ed Boott. Amongst many other brilliant things, one thought that was brought up again and again was consideration for the feedback you give. Louise spoke in a wonderfully crafted manifesto entitled Feedback for Wellbeing, describing the impact of ‘bad feedback’ on the artist’s mental health. Largely though it was highlighting the sheer frequency of receiving this unhelpful, unconstructive and often savage feedback (and what a waste of paper/conversation it is).

As the floor opened it was a real hotbed of discussion; thoughts from other artists, producers, venue programmers, collectives…

Little Earthquake were tremendously interesting on their experience. The company now 14 years old, I absorbed their wise words on this. It was a relief to hear Phil say (something like) “There’s no point serving someone an undercooked chicken and asking, ‘what do you think?’ Wait until you’ve added the sprig of parsley before offering it up. Otherwise you are just asked audiences to poke it with a knife while pink juice spurts out”. It was a pretty perfect analogy. “Stop doing scratch nights if you don’t want to do them.”

Brilliant, I thought. Thank God. Because i’ve never known them to be helpful for the work, i’ve only thought about it in terms of exposure, not wanting to miss out on an opportunity to be seen etc etc.

So if we take the analogy, and the consensus in the room, it feels like this format could be less popular than we think. I’m not sure it’s the end (not like my catchy title suggests), and rightly so if scratches are perfect for artists who find it helpful. But I am going to stop pushing the artists I represent into them quite so eagerly. We’ll show our work on our own terms. We’ll invite in who needs to see it at each stage of the process. We’ll apply for showcases or previews or festivals when it’s right. That suits us.

It was a brilliant room to be in – the East Mids network is something to be bloody proud of. Please check out what else In Good Company do if you haven’t heard of them, they are the glue that hold us together.

Phoebe x

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