Good luck to all you! No really!

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

         In 2001, my first full year of working in UK

, my agent and I conferred on a variety of “things I could/should be doing now that I’m here.” One of my suggestions was Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which I’d heard about some 20 years before, though the festival itself dates back to the early 1950s. My agent had co-produced shows by some of his other clients, though in his case, “co-producing” really meant finding the best deals on necessary expenses in order to do a month there. To my suggestion, he said “If you want to do it, fine, and I’ll do whatever I can for you. Ultimately, you could do Edinburgh, maybe lose £4-5 thousand, (and now, losing 10-15K is not that unusual) or work during the month of August, and MAKE £3-4 thousand.” Hmm I thought for all of three seconds, being at that time still many thousands of dollars in debt. 

            To do a month there requires the usual expenses that you’d encounter producing any one-person show, tacked on to finding your own lodging, hiring your own technical staff, paying for your own publicity, and renting the venue, which for first-timers the latter has pretty slim pickings. So my feeling was “Do I have the type of show in mind that’s going to have the right amount of pathos, heart, humor, and overall lovability that first time out, everyone’s going to be talking about it, I have rave reviews, am a Perrier Award finalist, will generate enough buzz to more than compensate for the financial outlay that I would have had to make?” Did I have to answer myself? That’s probably a defeatist attitude. 

              But is it, really? It’s coming to grips with the fact that what I do to make a living is not unique enough where The Fringe Festival is concerned, to attract that kind of buzz. I spent time at the festival in 2001 and 2003. In 2001, I was there as part of a benefit comedy show at the Edinburgh Playhouse, one of the larger venues. I saw a few shows in the three days I was there, had a great time since the whole UK experience was still new. One of the shows I saw was a comic I’d worked with and truly liked, who by the time I was there, had already determined that he’d be working for the next year to pay off his losses, so right now he was just getting ridiculously pissed each night to ease that pain. His show reflected his give-less-than-a-fuck attitude. There were others for whom the festival was an epiphany.

                I saw the same in 2003, when I was working a weekend at Jongleurs in Glasgow, and decided to spend the next 3-4 days I had off just hanging out there. I loved the experience, and in the four days there I probably saw 10 shows, only paid to see one, and it was the only show in my LIFE that I’ve ever walked out on! I also managed to get paid gigs while I was there. But as in 2001, I saw long faces and drinking to excess as many were trying to avoid thinking about how much money they were losing.

                  For me, just as bad as the financial situation is the prospect of reviews. If I do a show that’s throwing my heart, soul, and guts out there for public consumption, and the capsuled review that shows up on Chortle or any of the local papers is “Don’t see this show! EVER!” (An actual review I read in one of the freebie papers) then yeah, climbing to the top of the Edinburgh Castle and taking a flying leap doesn’t seem that outrageous. I have quite a few stories of my near 40 years of always making a living doing some form of entertaining, but do I have any specific one that could really sustain an hour of attention and have the audience laughing AND crying? Ahhh, get back to you on that. 

                 The last few years I lived in LA, I had a free-lance gig as a stage manager at a theatre on Melrose Avenue where frequently the shows that came in were these self-indulgent, “I-had-a-crisis-but-I’d-rather-tell-it-to-a-paying-audience-than-pay-a-therapist” shows, that while I could praise the artist for his/her commitment and considerable hard work, I only really liked about a fourth of the shows I worked on. The one stand-out for me was a working actor who wound up going to state prison for 14 months on trumped-up drug charges. But too many of the others were boring, depressing recountings of living with a brother dying of AIDS, or medical crises compounded by the System’s failure to recognize their errors, or dysfunctional family nightmares. Yes, you got fucked, but hell, no one said life was easy. I also remember a conversation I had with someone who admired what I did for a living. I told this person how I’d worked with comics, actors and musicians, and couldn’t determine which of those groups was most neurotic. His response was, “Well obviously you’ve never worked with DANCERS!” Touché!!

                 OK, Final words on Edinburgh to the countless Facebook friends who persistently invited me to their previews, and I went to exactly ONE: Props to you, mates, you’ve made the commitment! I wish you all the best, you’re doing something that I couldn’t feel comfortable doing. While some of you will come back totally disheartened, there are others for whom this month will be pivotal. I have nothing but praise for all of you, since you’re willing to throw your heart out to total strangers and your finances to a hopefully merciful god, or whatever you want to call it, for 28 days, and since I put that number out there, I don’t blame anyone for being continually on the rag during that time. As the 60s song went, See You In September.


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