Back when I was an actor and director I had a policy of not reading reviews while the show was running. Everyone else read them so I had some idea if they were good or bad, and the general blame & praise placement. I really tried to avoid them because I knew that those outside opinions would color my thinking and maybe sow doubt.

Most theatre critics are skilled at offering criticism and analysis that helps folks decide if they want to spend their entertainment dollars on a particular play. Which can really go a long way to help playwrights, actors and directors get their name out and build a reputation.

Sometimes the critic is inexperienced or kind or simply disinterested in theatre because they are really the food or music critic. Occasionally a critic is in love with their own writing and their clever turn of phrase. Hence the avoidance.

There was one time when I read a review that I believed 100%.

It was an awful review and the critic hated everything from the acting to the set and lighting design. I had several pointed mentions that gave me great satisfaction because everything they criticized was exactly what the director requested. I remember thinking “Success!”

For better or worse I still think in terms of reviews when it comes to my workshops and training evaluations

I don’t read the evals right away and when I do, the first thing I look for is evidence that what I delivered matched what was requested. So folks who don’t like the content or scold me that “referring to myself as a white woman highlights difference when we are all the same”, all that is just fine.

And even the folks who just don’t like my style or delivery, thats ok too. I personally don’t like Joaquin Phoenix’s acting, but the Academy disagrees apparently.

What is harder to take is the folks who attack my credentials, the research I reference or the need for the kind of work that I do. Sometimes they include words like “identity politics” and “snowflake” and “trigger.” Occasionally thoughts like “we are all human beings”, and “everyone should just be kind” get tossed in.

The most scathing reviews/evals always seem to be from the disgruntled. Evaluations can also be used to highlight what went well as a foundation for more positive work, but again, maybe thats just me.

I recently reviewed a batch of my workshop evaluations and found one golden thread amongst some severe and harsh paragraphs of dissatisfaction.

My critic said that my calling participants Sir and Ma’am was “disrespectful and clueless” given that I had introduced my self as a Cis-gender woman using she/her pronouns. They went on to share a whole lot more about my lack of everything from brains to training to a legitimate right to speak about diversity but thats not important.

What’s important is that they were right. After 2 years of living in Alabama I had exponentially increased the possibility of misgendering someone because I’d conformed to the Sir/Ma’am norm.

From now on I’ll try to refer to participants by something visible like “the person in the yellow shirt”, or “I think the person with the pink go-cup was next”. That may not work in room of participants all wearing white coats or uniforms, but I can figure that out when it happens.

So thank you Squeaky Wheel for giving me some feedback that was necessary, helpful and 100% true. I humbly apologize for making you uncomfortable and I will do better next time.

PS – Always fill out your evaluation surveys! Use that 5 point scale! Everyone needs feedback! 

For the first time since the slaughter of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, hearing news made me cry.

Make no mistake there has been a nonstop parade of horrifying and repugnant behavior since 2012, but for whatever reason, the mass shooting in El Paso brought me to tears.

Later that same day I was having a discussion with a prospective client about how I facilitate discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). They wanted implicit bias training but were worried about “blame and shame” – that I would be “too angry” or make their participants feel bad about racism.

This is a legitimate fear. Most discussions of “isms” will feel risky to somebody in the room.

In this case, talking about bias felt so risky to the client that they put off hiring a DEI consultant for two years following their decision to “offer education on the topic”.

As I explained how I work, I realized that I should probably need to include some description of my values and belief system on my website and in my proposals.

I need to be explicit about the change theories I ascribe to, and the evidence based research I utilize. These are the bits and pieces that help folks see the rigorous underpinnings that support my DEI work.

In the meantime, I told this prospective client that I don’t believe in “blame and shame”. My workshops, facilitation and coaching are always centered on individual growth. People shut down and dig their heels in when they are attacked. I don’t like when it’s done to me so I don’t make a habit of doing it to others.

That said, what I do instead is invite folks to be uncomfortable.

Think of it like when you go to the beach, or to the pool on a cool day. Some folks creep into the water slowly, some dive in and get it over with quickly, and others stop when the water reaches their ankles.

But they are all in the water.

Getting in that water – those discussions of racism, sexism, xenophobia and so on – is a choice for most people. And if you don’t know how to swim it can be scary, even life-threatening.

What I do when I facilitate is invite you to be uncomfortable.

I invite you to be brave and get in the water with me. To be cold, to flail and to tread water. To hold your breath and go all the way under.

To learn to swim.

I never throw anyone in the deep end by themselves. That’s not my style. I am right there with you in the deep or the shallow. You can trust me. I won’t let you drown.

Now more than ever we need to understand our role in shaping the society we live in.

We need to commit to the actions and behaviors that will make our “good intentions” reality.

We can do better.

If you work with me for more than five minutes you’ll know that’s one of my signature phrases. I use it to remind myself to start where people are to help them move forward. It keeps me in a place of hope and out of that cozy place of judgement.

“We can do better. We are all good people doing the best we can, and we can do better.”