Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ready, Aim, Fire. Perspective at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Performing in front of people is an unnatural act. Throughout human history standing in front of large groups of people usually meant you were getting executed. Which is probably why every time I head on stage my last thought is, "Im probably going to die."
Perspective is so hard for performers. If you make it through what your body perceives as a life threatening event, and you do great- you feel like a God. Your ego swells, you believe that you are invincible. This state, if not watched, can lead to drug addiction, requesting only green M and M's and 53 degree Dasani water in your dressing room, or throwing phones at hotel workers. And when it doesn't go well...this can also lead to drug addiction and throwing phones at hotel workers.
I've been very fortunate in my little career to have been a part of many great shows. I've done everything from performing stand up comedy, acting in plays, writing and doing my own solo shows, to singing in choral shows. I have had great reviews, received standing ovations, been on the cover of papers. While I have had drug and alcohol problems, I haven't been famous enough to get the green M and M's or to throw a phone at someone. I did once arrive at an airport for a gig and my ride had a sign with my name in it. It was pretty cool.
I have also been a part of bad shows. Many. Bad. Shows.
I've had people tell me to get off the stage, threaten to beat me up, sleep through my performances, and that was just when I performed stand up comedy at my family reunion. (That's right...I performed stand up comedy at my family reunion.) I've had bad reviews, lost tons of money on shows I produced and had people find me in the lobby after a performance and tell me I'm very brave to do what I do. That one hurts.
Bad shows are something that every performer, in every discipline, experiences. It's part of the deal. But whenever the bad shows happen, we all start to think we are alone in the world. That everyone else is killing, everyone else is sold out. That we are alone, and that everyone, even people who didn't see the show, know just how awful we really are. The good reviews were frauds, they were laughing out of sympathy, and this wretchedness is my proper state. This is of course insane thinking but it is all too real to the performer, alone with his thoughts in the dressing room, wondering how long he has to stay in there before everyone, included the cleaning crew, has left.
What does this have to do with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival? No where is perspective more difficult, or more valuable, then in the biggest performing arts festival in the world.
I'm seven shows into my 20 show run. I've had four that were fantastic, one that was fine, and two that weren't good at all. There are always factors that go into these things: the room was too hot, the crowd was too old, too drunk, didn't get my American references, people came in late and that threw things off. Whatever the reason, afterwards all I wanted was to go back to my apartment and sleep for the rest of the month. You try to shake it off but the residue stays with you and all night at the bar you look at everyone's face and you're pretty sure that they too are thinking about how awful you were. I've been doing this long enough to know that this too shall pass, that tomorrow is another day, but I've talked to lots of younger performers since I've been here who don't have that perspective. It's a scary place to be.
That's where other performers can be so valuable. We are the only ones who can get each other out of it, because we've all been there. So thank you so much to all the people brave enough to admit when a show didn't go well. To talk about their show that had 40 people who spoke no English, or their show that had 3 people in the crowd, or the show that people kept walking out of. Thank you for getting up tomorrow and doing it again, when every bone in your body wants to stay in the safety and comfort of the green room. Because you know deep down that no matter how it goes, good or bad, there's no place you feel more alive than out there, on stage, in front of the firing squad.

1 comment:

Peter C said...

I saw the show on Thursday and really enjoyed it. Favourite lines were vague toilet gender signs/apple mango, and dont say "I do" say "We'll see"

I agree it must be so off-putting when people for example walk out during a performance. But I think you are right in your "Star Trek" post above - with so many people in Edinburgh, you can't please all the people all the time, and shouldn't try to.

Thanks for making my day in Edinburgh fun!

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