Sarah Paulson Recalls “Outrageous” Post-Show Notes From Fellow Actor


Award-winning actress Sarah Paulson isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and a recent anecdote on the “Smartless” podcast proves just that. Paulson recounted a bizarre encounter with a fellow actress who, after watching her performance in a play, sent her a whopping six pages of unsolicited notes. Let’s delve deeper into this unconventional post-show interaction and explore the etiquette of offering feedback in the theatrical world.

Sarah Paulson Recalls
Sarah Paulson Recalls

Paulson Details the “Outrageous” Experience

On the “Smartless” podcast hosted by Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett, the conversation turned to the topic of backstage interactions after theater performances. When asked if she would accept feedback from celebrities who came to greet the cast, Paulson launched into a story that left the hosts and listeners in disbelief.

Paulson, known for her captivating performances in “American Horror Story” and numerous other films and TV shows, revealed the incident occurred during her time in the off-Broadway revival of “Talley’s Folly.” She identified the actress who sent the unsolicited notes as Trish Hawkins, the original star of the play.

A Backstage Blunder: From “Dress Color” Critique to Six Pages of Notes

Paulson’s initial encounter with Hawkins wasn’t exactly a warm welcome. According to her account, Hawkins, introduced by Paulson’s mother (who knew Hawkins from a writing group), arrived backstage and bluntly critiqued Paulson’s costume choice. The comment, centered on the color of the dress, left Paulson bewildered.

However, the real shocker came two days later. Paulson received a lengthy email from Hawkins containing a staggering six pages of notes on her performance. These notes detailed Hawkins’ own experience playing the character and offered suggestions for Paulson’s portrayal. The sheer volume and unsolicited nature of the feedback left Paulson feeling disrespected and downright “outraged.”

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Unpacking the Etiquette Breach: When is Feedback Welcome?

Paulson’s experience raises a crucial question: when is it appropriate to offer feedback on a theatrical performance, especially to a fellow actor? Here are some key points to consider:

  • The Relationship Matters: Unsolicited advice is generally unwelcome, particularly from someone with whom you have no professional working relationship. In this case, Paulson had never collaborated with Hawkins and likely didn’t solicit her opinion.
  • Delivery is Key: Even if a close friend or colleague offers feedback, constructive criticism is most effective when delivered tactfully and privately. Sending a six-page email dissecting someone’s performance is not only excessive but lacks sensitivity.
  • Respect the Artist’s Interpretation: Every actor brings a unique perspective to a role. Hawkins’ interpretation of the character in “Talley’s Folly” may have differed from Paulson’s, but that doesn’t make either one wrong.

The Art of Constructive Criticism: When Done Right

While Paulson’s experience highlights the pitfalls of unsolicited feedback, constructive criticism can be valuable if offered in the right context. Here are some scenarios where feedback might be appropriate:

  • A Director’s Guidance: Directors are responsible for guiding the overall performance and often provide actors with feedback throughout the rehearsal process. This feedback is crucial for ensuring the actors deliver a cohesive and impactful performance.
  • Workshops and Training Programs: Acting workshops and training programs often involve peer feedback as a learning tool. In these settings, actors are prepared to receive constructive criticism and use it to improve their craft.
  • A Collaborative Spirit: Actors sometimes seek feedback from trusted colleagues or mentors. However, this exchange should be a collaborative one, with clear communication and respect for the actor’s choices.
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The Fallout: A Lesson Learned (the Hard Way)

Paulson’s story serves as a cautionary tale about the importance of respecting boundaries, especially in the world of theater. While Hawkins’ intentions might not have been malicious, her approach backfired spectacularly. Paulson found the experience disrespectful and intrusive, and her feelings were entirely justified.

The Power of “No”

Actors may not always feel comfortable shutting down unsolicited feedback, particularly from established figures in the industry. However, Paulson’s experience emphasizes the importance of setting boundaries. It’s perfectly acceptable to politely decline unwanted advice, especially when it comes in the form of a six-page email!

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