What To Ask At An Artist Q&A

I absolutely love how the arts community embraces “Talkback Sessions” and “Q&As.” Instead of keeping their process shrouded in mystery, many artists of all disciplines open the floor to questions from their patrons. And while this can be a great opportunity to get new insight into the work you just witnessed, as an audience member, asking questions can be daunting! It can be difficult to know where to begin, especially with regard to a work you’ve only just seen for the first time. In preparation for Dance Waterloo’s upcoming performance “THEREFORE,” in which there will be a Q & A after each performance, I am here to arm you with four different types of questions you can ask at any Q&A to sound like a pro and engage with the work in a deeper way!

Artistic background

This is your chance to learn a little bit more about the choreographer, artist, director, dancer, designer, musician, etc. You can very simply ask each of the artists present to talk about their background and how they got into this artistic field. In some cases, it can offer some insight into the work, but most importantly it helps you, the audience member, connect to the creators of the work you love so much!

Artistic Inspiration

Another simple question you can ask is in regards to the artist’s inspiration. When you see a piece of choreography, theater or another type of art, there is always some impetus that inspired its creation. Sometimes this will be briefly mentioned in the program, but more often than not, there is more there than meets the eye. Ask an artist what inspired the piece as a whole, or maybe even just one small part of it that you found particularly intriguing.

You could also ask what other artists past/present inspire them. Their answer may turn you onto new artists you hadn’t discovered on your own yet!

Artistic Process

Some of the most interesting questions you can ask pertain to the artistic process. If you are reading this and feel totally lost by the phrase “artistic process,” don’t worry – you’re not alone! It’s easy to imagine that, for example, a choreographer just thinks up a piece in their heads and then tells the dancers what to do. And in some cases, that’s exactly what happens. But more often than not, developing choreography is a much more intricate process involving various choreographic tools and games. And that’s not just true for dance, but for all art forms. Everyone artist’s process is different and knowing how they got to the final product is enlightening to say the least. Below, I’ve listed some basic questions to get you started.

    • [To the creator (choreographer, writer, director, composer, etc.)] What was your process for developing this work? Is this how you always develop your work or was this a new process for you?
    • [To the performers] What was it like for you to be a part of that process? Have you done that before or was this a new experience?
  • [In regards to collaborations] Did one element of the show (lighting, music, movement, prose, etc.) come first or were they created simultaneously? How did that work?
  • How do you know when your work is finished?
  • What types of challenges did you encounter during your creative process? How did you handle those?
  • Are there specific challenges you face in live performance? How do you respond to those?
  • How long did it take to create this work? How does that compare to timelines for previous work?
  • [In regards to work that gets shown over and over again] How do the performers keep the work from feeling stale?
  • What is the most rewarding part of the process for you?
  • What do you do if you feel creatively blocked?

What’s next?

Nothing is more flattering to an artist than your interest in seeing more of their work! If you really loved what you saw, make sure you know where to catch them again. Ask the artist what upcoming projects they are working on. And then make sure to follow your favorite artists on social media/sign up for their newsletters so you can stay up-to-date on ticket sales, etc.

Keep in mind, these are all suggestions to get your started, not strict guidelines to follow without deviation. Just like any type of dialogue, an artist’s answer to one question may bring to mind a new question you couldn’t have anticipated! Just know that if an artist is hosting a Q&A, they WANT to talk about their work. THEREFORE (no pun intended – HA!), the only bad questions are the ones that go unasked!

I hope this gives you confidence to participate in the next Q&A you encounter, whether it’s with Dance Waterloo or another artist. Stay forever curious! 🙂

Laura Merkel

Communications Coordinator

Dance Waterloo

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