Let’s be honest. We’re all dummies.
We spend our Summers travelling to strange towns on our own dime, only to plaster the city with images of our desperate, pandering smiles, and then beg strangers to come and see our new work.
All because our families didn’t adequately love us and we can’t afford therapy. Right, every single Fringe artist? Just me?
It’s almost that time again. As the temperatures rise this Spring, so too does our collective excitement, anxiety and dread.
But before we set out Fringing this summer and pack our overweight suitcases with our packing tape, handbills and curl-defining shampoos and conditioners, here are some helpful tips for how to survive out there:
- Bring good shoes. No. Bring GREAT shoes. I’m talking arch support. I’m talking shoes that have ventilation. You’re going to be on your feet all day every day. You’re going to walk to the Fringe Office to check your sales. Then wander over to the tent to handbill patrons for a few hours. Then you’re going to hike over to the vegan burger place. Then, unless you’re Spalding Grey, you’re going to do your show on your feet. After that, you’re going to go see the clown show at the venue that’s in the middle of Goddamn nowhere. Then you’re going to dance the night away. It’s going to be fucking hot. You don’t want to be walking around with damp socks all the time. Remember what Lieutenant Dan told Forrest Gump. “There is one item of G.I. gear that can be the difference between a live grunt and a dead grunt. Socks. I want you boys to remember to change your socks whenever we stop.” There exists a photo on my iPhone of a Fringer’s feet after a summer of walking around in damp socks, and it’s not for the faint of heart.
- Fuck reviews. Don’t talk about them to other artists. Don’t worry about them in general. Some of the best shows I’ve seen in my life got 1-star reviews, and I’ve seen complete bags-o-dicks get 5-stars across the board. Even myself, by saying the same words in the same order with the same cadence in the same costume, I’ve received 1-star reviews and 5-star reviews for the exact same show – sometimes on the same night. Don’t get me wrong, good reviews are tremendously helpful. Bad reviews are tremendously detrimental. But it’s a crap shoot. Some of the most talented theatrical reviewers in the country will see your work, and some of the biggest troll hack douchebags alive will see your work. They’ll even sometimes work for the same publication. Some reviewers will worship you. Some simply won’t “get” what you’re doing. But don’t let the star-giving system be the currency by which you measure your art.
- Don’t talk about money. If you like making money and talking about money, you’re in the EXACT WRONG line of work. No one is buying houses or cars or retiring off of their Fringe dollars. We can do okay – as in we can afford to buy name-brand cereal during certain months of the year. But we certainly aren’t making enough where we should be flaunting it. Making money by performing our art is an incredible feeling. A rare feeling in this field of work, to be honest. But don’t fool yourself. We’re poor and we have been given the opportunity to do what we love. That’s enough.
- Take care of yourself out there. Good Lord, take care of yourselves out there. We eat takeout three times a day. We drink every night. We stay up late and are nudged awake by our billet’s dog at the crack of dawn. But I’m tellin’ ya. You got to take care of yourself out there. Eat salads. Buy fresh fruit and snacks. Stay hydrated. Get your eight hours of sleep. Go drop in at the YMCA on your dark day. Keep an eye on your caffeine intake. Drink some tea and take a vow of silence to let your vocal chords regenerate. It’s so important to check in with your body and to give it what it needs. Take care of yourself, and your shows will be better, I promise.
- Help a brother out. Sometimes you’ll be handbilling and someone will already have a ticket to a show at the same time as yours later that night. Lost cause. Time to move on, right? Wrong! Because they have time to see a show RIGHT NOW. You snatch that program from their hands, and you see who’s got a show right now. Find out what they’re looking for. Recommend other shows to them. Find something that they’d like. Because if you send them off to have a positive experience, they’ll regard you as the Guru of Positive Experiences. Another scenario: One of your friends has a shit time slot in a shit venue and is trying to get bums in seats in the hour leading up to their show? Help a brother out. Take a stack of handbills from them and distribute those things. Because y’know why? Next week, you could be the one up against the bad review and bad timeslot and you’re going to need to get by with a little help from your friends. As the great Red Green once said, “We’re all in this together.”
- Get away from it all. Get away from the Festival. You’re a tourist, for God’s sakes! Go see things that have nothing whatsoever to do with independent theatre. Go watch a baseball game. Go get sunburned at a water park. Go figure out what the hell a Tam Tams is. Take pictures. Read books under trees. Go watch a 3-D movie or drink a pitcher in a sports bar. Theatre Festivals might be the closest thing we have to heaven on earth, but there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Go recharge.
- Put on the green eyeshade (those visors accountants wore in the 19th Century) As I’m sure most of you are well aware this month, tax season is a son of a bitch. Do yourselves a favour and be vigilant while you’re out there. When you’re packing your bags for your tour DO NOT forget to bring a folder for your receipts and a ledger to help you stay on top of your accounting. You’re ultimately a business person on a business trip. Get a receipt for every single purchase you make. It’s free money, guys. We NEED free money.
- Don’t get your ass unfollowed. Twitter has become such a useful tool for the travelling artist. You are going to gain a lot of followers on your tour. But! Don’t be the worst. In other words, don’t have 20 tweets a day plugging your PWYC show in the seniors’ centre in Saskatoon. Because it will annoy the hell out of the followers you just worked so hard to obtain in Winnipeg and they’ll unfollow you. Don’t ONLY plug your show. Keep sharing all your hilarious little witticisms. Keep sharing your Instagram pictures of waffles and your selfies with reluctant Kids in the Hall members. Keep your feed diverse, and you’ll get to keep all your new fans in Winnipeg for next year’s tour.
- Hootsuite. In the same social networky vein: Download the Hootsuite app. Start an account. Watch a YouTube tutorial on how to use Hootsuite. Thank me later.
- Take care of those who take care of you. Write cards and buy gifts for your billets and tech people. Every time. Even if they were the worst people you’ve ever met. They helped you realize your vision, and they asked for nothing in return. You’re lucky that they exist, and you need to tell them that.
- Accept compliments. This is very difficult. Some nights, you’re going to walk offstage and hate what you just did. You had an off night, and you just want to beeline for the beer tent. Then you’re going to come into the lobby and someone is going to corner you and tell you how brilliant you were – even though you’re positive that you weren’t. Look them in the eyes, and take in what they’re saying to you. Really be open to it. Store it away like you’re a squirrel and the compliment is a nut, because before you know it, you’re going to be sitting in your sad-ass apartment during a blizzard in February – and you’re going to need that nut.
- Be visible. Go to the cabaret when you’d rather not. Go see the show that you heard was a trainwreck. Go take the workshop offered by a fellow Fringe performer. Volunteer in the Fringe tent and ask if the administrators need help with anything. Be the artist that you want to see in the world.
- Don’t shit on anything ever. Saw the worst show ever? Hate someone’s poster? Think one of the reviewers is the spawn of Satan? Think that show is overrated? Think your tech person isn’t the sharpest sandwich in the tree? Shhh. It’s a secret. Shut up. Shutting up is the best. Keep it positive.
- Make a new playlist every city. I think it was the great TJ Dawe who told me to do this: Listen to new albums at each Festival you do. This is a great way of journalling your experiences. When I listen to Fun, I think of Montreal 2012. When I listen to Wu Tang, I think of Winnipeg 2013. Edward Sharpe was Calgary 2012. When I put on these albums now, I smell the smells, I see the people, I remember the things I did and the places I went. Feed that nostalgia train.
- Have a routine. It’s difficult to remain disciplined out there. To approach show 26 with the same professionalism as show number 3. You need to prepare for every show like it matters because you know what? It does matter. Be focussed and professional every single time because you never know who might be in the audience that night.
- Make your work better. Challenge yourself to make your work better every show. Is that joke not landing most of the time? Punch it up. Do you dread that awkward transition every night? Fix it. All the strongest performers I know are those who never treat their work as a finished product. The best writers and performers are always striving to improve their shows.
- Feel lucky and alive. There’s a guy who plays for the LA Kings named Willie Mitchell. He’s a BC boy from Port McNeill, and he has this really interesting component to his pre-game preparation. During the final three minutes of his team’s pre-game warm-up, Willie will sit on the bench, set his hockey stick by his side and he will simply look around. He looks around at the people who came to watch him play. He looks at his fellow teammates who share his immense privilege. He looks at the little kids who stare at the ice in wonder. And he thinks about how lucky he is. To be healthy. To be alive. To be able to do the thing that he loves. Theatre festivals are a special time and place in the world. Don’t let it pass you by.
The countdown is on, Fringe-heads.
I’ll see you out there.