I attended a play reading last night at Playwrights Center of San Francisco, of which I am a member. It’s a wonderful service for playwrights: actors read the play, and a facilitator leads a talkback with the audience, gatherind feedback to help the playwright with his or her next rewrite.
Problems arise when the feedback isn’t helpful.
Comments on what was “liked” or “what worked and didn’t work” aren’t helpful. Any playwright worth her salt doesn’t care that much what people “like.” In fact, a provocative playwright may be going for an entirely different effect on her audience.
It is much more useful, in my experience, to surface areas of confusion or misunderstanding. I have come to phrase almost all of my talkback questions in terms of “Describe:” describe the characters, their relationships, what happens, and how you felt.
Here is a wonderful article from David Rush with spot-on advice about feedback sessions for plays-in-progress. Read the whole thing here.