Self (Criticism) with Others

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Hannah Waters is a UK-based performer. She studied both BA and MA (Physical Acting) at The University of Kent. Her Masters dissertation explored ‘Applying the systematic principles present in constructivist artwork to a method of physical theatre composition’. As part of her time at Kent Hannah also studied at the University of California.


I came to the DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre this autumn dragging all the traits of a life spent in formal education in the UK with me, traits that I am beginning to address, unpick and challenge as I approach my third week of training at DUENDE.

This is my first foray into vocational training after four years at university: I previously undertook a BA in Drama and Theatre Studies and an MA in Physical Acting, the latter of which I completed a matter of weeks before I made the journey to Athens to begin my work. And so I have made the leap from the world of academia to another, very different world, where my perceptions of myself and my work have suddenly been challenged in ways they never have been before.


As students at DUENDE, one of the main principles we work with is unconditional acceptance and the sharing of exclusively positive feedback. In the introduction of this principle, the fundamental foundations of my academic career were effectively shattered: thus far, every piece of work I had made had depended on self-criticism and gruelling feedback in order to produce higher grades and ‘better’ work. And I enjoyed this! I enjoyed pushing myself to be better, even if that often meant being very hard on myself. It worked well for me within an academic structure and I am very grateful for the rigour, discipline and motivation it provided me.

However, through my experiences at DUENDE over the past two weeks I have come to understand that this attitude simply cannot be transferred to Self-with-Others performer training. Self-criticism and perfectionist ideals have no relevance in the work we do here: if we are working with the principle that we unconditionally accept every other person in the room, then we have to unconditionally accept ourselves. If we are only allowed to give positive feedback to others then this must be a principle we apply to our own work.

I questioned how this could ever be productive, how I would ever improve as a performer if I was not able to pick out where I had gone wrong and strive to change it. This is something that I am still working through as I continue the training, but I am starting to see it from a different perspective. What if, instead, I actually focussed on where I had gone right? On where I had done something that really worked? This touches upon another pedagogical principle of Self-with-Others, the principle of having no real opinion on your work: it is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it either works or it does not work. I am beginning to feel that if I can analyse my work from a truly objective perspective, then my previous need for self-criticism is rendered useless. In very simple terms, I would have all the information I needed in order to better my performance, but none of self-hatred.

However, working within this paradigm does not subsequently mean that we are not pushed as performers. I can see why, to the outside eye, it might look like we’re simply having a nice time and perhaps not working particularly rigorously, but I am seeing something very different start to happen. Unconditional acceptance creates a safe space, and a safe space creates fearless performers. I am seeing my classmates, and myself, push ourselves further and further every day. We become bold, we become confident, we become fearless because, here, we have nothing to lose.

My university career depended on me thinking that I was never good enough; at DUENDE we are continually and unconditionally reminded that we are already good enough. Even in these early stages of a ten-week training programme I think we are all starting to believe it, and I am so excited to see what happens when we do.

DUENDE & The DUENDE School: www.duende-ensemble.com

One thought on “Self (Criticism) with Others

  1. It was great to experience your experience of a shift from negative to positive feedback through your writing. You have expressed yourself very well. It seems that you now understand that seeing the positive aspect of what you do and what you see in a theatrical setting is not the end point of personal development as a practitioner of performance but the beginning of a life long journey.

    Near the end of my teaching in Melbourne I started to use the term perceptive positive feedback. I did this so that students would begin finding the language of their self-teacher and inner director. It is this language, your own words, that will create the scores and exercises you use for continuing the development of self-presentation in the performing space.

    Give John a big hug for me. He is doing beautiful work. Obviously, so are you.
    Al Wunder

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