Otherwise

Otherwise
opinions about life, work, and spirituality

Massive Recap 1: The Tour

October 10th, 2008

Okay, so I teased you with the last entry, as I was beginning the Winnipeg Fringe. I let you know about the whole process of writing a play, dramaturging and rehearsals, and then failed to give you the lowdown on the product. What can I say? Sorry! You can’t imagine – or quite possibly you can, if you’ve ever been self-employed and busting your butt to make a few nickels – how busy I was. Mostly it was publicity work. From sun-up to sun-down, if I wasn’t performing, I was yacking at people about how fabulous my play is, in an attempt to get bums in seats.

So how to recap? Here are some of the most vivid memories from the Fringe tour:

WINNIPEG

1. It’s my opening night, and I’m praying that more than five people show up. I’ve been passing out postcards to the crowds, confidently telling people about my fabulous play, and I’m ready to open the show! It’s a 10:40pm show on a Thursday night, and as time goose-steps closer to the appropriate time, I begin to falter. There is no-one in the audience. However, I tell myself, it doesn’t matter. I will play to whomever shows up. 7 people show up, and I play my heart out to them. I even manage to ignore the man in the front row who keeps falling asleep. It’s a good performance, and the miniscule audience is appreciative. This kind of thing continues for the next two nights; teeny-tiny audiences that give me standing ovations, cheers and hearty feedback.

2. It’s Saturday of the first week, and my show still has not been reviewed. I am stewing in a brine of frustration. This is my first Fringe, nobody knows me. Why are the papers first reviewing folks who’ve been at this game for six or seven years, who already have a great reputation to fuel their audience numbers? My audience is small again, but Eric, my technician lets me know beforehand that there are 3 critics in the audience. Finally. He tells me one of the critics present is Morley Walker from the Winnipeg Free Press. I’ve been warned about Mr. Walker. He’s the primary critic in Winnipeg, and apparently a very tough guy to please. A colleague tells me, “He doesn’t like ANYTHING.” Great.

I perform, well enough, and wonder how the critics will respond. Normally, I don’t check my reviews, but this is the Fringe. A four or five star-review can make you, anything lower can break you. And you need to be able to tell people all about your reviews, as you yack at them about your play. After my performance, I go to a colleague’s play, in the same venue. Morley sits a few seats from me. He taps me on the shoulder, “Thank you for that. I really enjoyed that. Very nice”, he says. I breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t need the critics to tell me my show is good, but I do need their help in getting greater audience numbers.

3. It’s Sunday morning. I check the newspaper. No review. It’s Monday morning; No review. Tuesday; nothing. I am in the brine of frustration again, pickling away my anger. I’m lonely, I’m all alone. My audiences are tiny. I feel like I can’t do this anymore. I feel ignored, isolated, unknown. All the artists are so busy publicizing, there’s no socializing going on, and I feel so very, very, very alone. Every performance, I go backstage, by myself. There are no friends in the audience, no family members waiting in the lobby and no co-workers in the green room. It’s just me. I tell myself, before each performance, when the seats remain incredibly empty and a great wall of quietness surrounds me as I perform, that numbers don’t matter, I don’t need that wonderful zinging energy a sizable audience brings. I can do this.

There are two things that keep me going at this point: the knowledge that I have an incredible support system back home (people who believe in my artistry and have formally commmited to encourage me), and God’s presence. Seriously. God is there backstage with me, so I am not completely alone. We pace the green room together, we both get an adrenaline rush before walking onstage and have to bounce up and down for a few minutes, and once onstage, he’s up there acting with me. My co-actor.

4. It’s Tuesday afternoon, I’m about to go for some dim-sum, when my cell phone rings. It’s my husband. My review from Mr. Walker is on-line. He reads it out to me, says I need to listen to it. What I hear is this, “Gorgeous brunette, expertly dileneates between characters, strength in writing, poetic, suspenseful, no distractions, holds our attention with our talent alone. Four stars.” I breathe a sigh of relief (and a chuckle about the gorgeous brunette comment). Thank you, thank you God. From here on in, the loneliness remains, but my audiences are sizable and appreciative. I get that wonderful ping-ping energy from my audiences. The other reviews pour in. They’re positive. I start to make some money.

SASKATOON

1. I’m in a Chinese restaurant in Saskatoon with a bunch of artists, and we’re talking. We’re having a real conversation, and not just about ticket sales or promo spiels or performing. The food is pretty bad, it’s mostly all fried, but we talk about all sort of things; childhood, eating patterns, spouses. My loneliness, so apparent in Winnipeg, like a strange taste in the mouth, an ache in the lungs, begins to subside. This is what Saskatoon is about; hanging out with the other artists, seeing their shows, conversing. I do a lot of this in Saskatoon, and soon I forget that I am a solo performer.

2. It’s Sunday night of the first week, and I am hanging out in the performer’s lounge, once again, conversing. My friend Julia is on the internet, and has found her review for her most amazing show, JAKE’S GIFT. It’s a perfect review; well written, overwhelmingly positive. She deserves it – the lady is one of my favorite actors and her show is beautiful, funny and tender. The performers congratulate her, and they really mean it. There isn’t any competition in Saskatoon. It’s a small city with a tiny audience base, and all the artists support each other. There’s a lot of postivity and love going around in Saskatoon. It’s really, really wonderful.

Julia suggests I check to see if my review is on-line, and I think, sure, why not? We open the review, and Julia gasps. The first thing we see is the posting of “2 stars”. Eeek, what the heck? We read on, and I feel strangely tinny. There is not a single positive statement. I think it’s possibly the most horrible review I’ve ever read, and I can’t believe the reviewer saw the same show my very appreciative audiences did. The reviewer likes nothing about my show – the acting, directing, writing, props, set. Nothing. It’s all shit to her. And, if I may say, her review is incredibly poorly written.

I walk home through tree-lined streets, a little numb. My audiences in Saskatoon have been small so far. And now, they will continue to be so. I know my play is poetic and touching. What was that critic thinking?

I wake up the next morning, ready myself to perform with the knowledge that the on-line review will now be in print in the city’s only newspaper. I go backstage, get into my costume, do all the normal warm-ups. I wait backstage at 15 minutes to performance.

It’s five minutes to performance. My tech approaches me cautiously, an apologetic look on his face. His voice is unusually quiet. “Um, uh, Tina, so it’s five minutes to performance, and uh, not a single ticket has been sold.” My heart drops in a rapid elevator dive, right into my shoes. I say, “Okay, well, if even one person shows up, I’ll perform the show if they’re comfortable with that.” He tip-toes away, a worried look on his face. Shit. “I can do this. I can do this.” What if only one person shows up? I feel completely humiliated. Like I’ve been stipped naked, and someone is pointing at my exposed body and laughing uproariously. Metaphorically, I look at my body and think, “It’s a great body; it runs and cycles, and hikes up mountains, laughs, cries, and experiences enormous sensations.” Nevertheless, it is disconcerting to be naked and laughed at. The thought of performing for one or two people, the words of that critic hanging between us, is too much for me. My courage fails. I phone my husband, tell him what’s going on. He prays. I pray. About 7 people show up, and I gulp, walk onstage. The acting is when I am NOT crying today. I make it to the end of the play, walk backstage, and begin to howl.

A performer calls me back onstage, and gives me a hug. He tells me I have nothing to cry about; that it was a great performance. He tells me some ladies were in tears as they left the theatre. Oh, he adds, there’s a guy from the local radio station who wants to interview you. I quickly change out of my costume, wipe away my tears and blow my nose. I did it. That reviewer can point and laugh all she wants at my naked body; I have nothing to be ashamed of!

3. Performer support. The next few days are awash with performers communicating their support and their disappointment at my shoddy review. One performer actually writes in to the newspaper, expressing his regret at the mean natured reviews lately, of which mine is included. Another performer tells me she is going to e-mail the paper because she’s seen my show, and really can’t understand how it deserved such a poor review. One performer notes, “But yours isn’t even a show you CAN give a bad review to. I mean, some shows, they can go either way, but not yours!” It is such an unexpected gift to be so generously given this type of support and understanding. I fully expected that I would simply have to tough it out alone. I am suprised, shocked and delighted. I’m pretty honest with people about how things are going – I’m losing money, my audiences are small, but, strangely, I am not unhappy. Most of my contentedness comes from the fact that every day I make a new friend, and in spite of the low numbers, I am performing my play, and it’s a priveledge.

On the last night of Saskatoon, there is a funny awards show. I recieve the award, “Performer with the Most Idiotic Review.” When asked what I would like to say to the critic who reviewed my show, I say, “Thank you for helping me out. You know, I wasn’t really The Saddest Girl in the World before.” It’s meant to be funny, but people think I’m serious, and a big sad sigh fills the room. Oh vey! It’s a joke, people! But thanks, anyways, thank you very much for your wonderful empathy and understanding. Adios, Saskatoon!

4. I guess, for publicity’s sake, I shouldn’t tell you about that bad review, but I wanted to be honest about the reality of being a solo performer on tour. The really exciting thing is that, from that bad review, I received a whole lot of kindness and care from my fellow artists. I was suprised, because my basic assumption was that this “biz” is cut-throat and competitive and full of egoists. My experience in Saskatoon proved me wrong. (I have reasons for that former assumption, none of which have to do with my experience at Pacific Theatre, but I thought PT was the exception, not the norm.)

So, there you go, my most vivid memories of the tour. A lot of hard stuff, but some really wonderful stuff too. Stay tuned for the recap of the Vancouver production!