Tag Archive: London Fringe

Jun 28

39 – Show Diaries – Fringe Day & Show 6

We zipped into London early on June 27th in order to actually get to see some shows. Our priority was to see Dying Hard, not only because Mikaela Dyke had taken such good care of us, but because we agreed it actually seemed like the most interesting show in the Fringe. So we had to book all our other shows around that.

The first show we saw was The Burning Man and the Reverend Nuge, which was a one-man show about this fellow’s actual journey from being a crazy Pentecostal Jesus nut and youth minister to a hedonistic, self-destructive anarchist nut, to finally something that, at least for now, seems to make a little more sense. Great, great show. Not Theatrical at all, more like a motivational seminar that you’d hear at a school, so very low key and natural, but so fascinating that we hung on his every word. I regretted that I couldn’t afford to buy his DVD of the show, with the money being so tight, because I wanted my family and friends to see it too.

Then we headed over to the Wolf Theatre to see Mikaela in Dying Hard. Tour-de-fucking-force. A little about the show: it told the true stories of Newfoundland fluorspar miners, most of whom died horribly from diseases caused by working in said mines: silicosis, cancer, etc. Each piece of the show was a monologue, taken verbatim from interviews with the miners themselves, or their wives(originally done for a book with the same title). Mikaela and her team had had access to the original interview tapes as well, which helped them to build these real-life characters.

It was a great show. Imagine Letters From Wingfield Farm, except with depth and meaning and purpose. No, scratch that: that doesn’t cover it. This is a show that I hope will have a life beyond the London Fringe. Mikaela talked to me about touring it to Newfoundland and also industrial towns around Canada. I think it needs a mainstream audience as well. I think that CanStage or one of the big non-profits really needs to put some development money into this and expand it into a full-length piece.

The only disappointment I had with the show was that the house wasn’t full. Monster was playing down the street and pretty much selling out every show, but Mikaela’s audience was only slightly bigger than our biggest houses. While this makes me feel a little bit better about our small houses, it saddens me that more people in London didn’t get to see this. Nothing wrong with Monster, it’s a good show, the actor was super nice backstage, and by all accounts they nailed it… but when I Fringe, I like to primarily see new stuff, and I suppose I expect others to have that bias as well? To me, that’s the point of having super-cheap tickets and so many shows in one place.

(And maybe I’m just rambling because I’m writing this on the airplane home at 14:15, Toronto time, and I’ve had a total of 90 minutes sleep since yesterday (June 27) at 9:00. So sue me.)

After Dying Hard, we proceeded to the next venue (Fanshaw College) to see FRUITCAKE: The Ten Commandments from the Psych Ward written and featuring an English performance poet named Rob Gee. For fourteen years, he had worked as a psychiatric nurse in what I think he referred to as a “dodgy” psychiatric hospital, and for an hour he regaled us with tales of his and his charges’ exploits. A very enjoyable show, to be sure. My one beef was the voice reciting the ten commandments. I’m not sure why it was necessary to have it as a voiceover and why he couldn’t have done itself. But just an absolutely super performance.

Okay, this is all getting a bit generic.

After FRUITCAKE, we went to do our show.

Which went pear-shaped almost immediately. Another very stressful setup, with our house tech disappearing, as was his wont, just when we needed to ask him for his help. But, with his help, we did get things set up on time.

About four scenes in, I just lost it. I totally lost it. I went dry. I lived the Actor’s Nightmare. I had to call to be prompted… and within minutes, I’d screwed up again, jumping us over nearly half the play. Knowing that I could not hope to recover from this and still keep the play making any sense (especially now that the projections were just totally out of sequence), I stopped the show, humbly begged the audience’s forgiveness, and started from just before I’d screwed up.

It was one of the single most humiliating things I’ve ever had to do. And it was absolutely my fault: for this one night, the tech had actually gone perfectly for once. I then rushed through the rest of the show, terrified that we’d run over (we didn’t). The audience was lovely; they were very understanding (though we did have the usual number of sleepers), and I apologized to them with a very deep bow at the end of the show.

After loading out, Ramona crashed in the car, while I headed to the Fringe office to pick up our final payout before catching (and I do mean catching; Dave and I galloped down the street) the show.

We got there just in time to see The Forest for the Trees, a show which I’ll describe as Fool for Love lite and leave it at that. Without getting into the nitty gritty, it felt clumsy in almost every way, and while I don’t doubt the commitment and talent of the actor/playwrights, it was the only thing I saw in London that was a real disappointment.

Dave and I were supposed to meet up with Ramona for the last show of the evening, a mentalist/magic show. She didn’t make it, and it’s a shame, because it was the best ‘magic’ show I’ve ever seen, partly because it had a solid core at the centre: no fluffiness in sight.

After that, we met Ramona, grabbed some Pizza Pizza, and then headed back to the Lounge (same venue as the NO SHOW from the night before) for the Fringe awards. Needless to say, we didn’t win: most of the categories were based on patron votes, so even if we had deserved any of those awards, we wouldn’t have had the numbers to win. I was happy to see Mikaela win one (can’t remember which category, offhand, but it actually wasn’t the ‘most daring’ or ‘best solo show’, I don’t think, the two categories I thought the most probably).

And then we went into the party proper. I had a few good chats with people, mostly Fringe volunteers (Ximena, Melissa, and what-his-name, primarily), and then, just before 1:00 am, we said out goodbyes and shoved off, heading back to Toronto.

What a great experience. Great town full of nice people (the ones who weren’t “doin’ a needle” anyway), and a great place to test out a new show. I wish we’d had bigger houses, of course, and not just for the money: I really wanted to show 39 off more. I know it needs much more spit and polish, but it’s an idea show, and that’s why I’m in this whole arts business: I want to share my ideas. When it comes down to it, that’s what fulfils me.

Jun 26

39 – Show Diaries – Show 4

Only one sound cue glitch in this show.  This was also the show my family (mother, father, aunt, uncle, cousin, cousin’s wife) came to.  My good friend and scholar-about-town Jeff Orchard also managed to bus himself in to see me perform.

 

It was our biggest house so far tonight at 25 people.  Two more shows like this, and we’ll crack 100—30% of what we needed to break even on this leg of the tour (and that was before the extra-budgetal began to add up).  Yippee!

 

I’ve been paying attention to my reviews, which I felt were overwhelming positive and constructive.  London really earns its reputation as a friendly place to try new shows out in.  I’ve taken some of the criticisms on board, and played with how I do the show.  I think the show I performed tonight was the better for it: more nuanced.

 

I had three sleepers though, which seems to be about par.  I wonder if the other one-person shows have this problem or if it’s something specific about mine?  This is the kind of thing that makes one worry that one is not a compelling performer.  (Yes, I’m insecure: I think it goes with the territory.)

 

After the performance, we all proceeded to dinner at a nearby restaurant: cast, crew, family, and scholar-about-town.

 

We said goodbye in the parking lot behind The Grand Theatre, and hopped into our cars.  Fatefully, I decided to go back to the Farm with my parents rather than return to Toronto for the night with Ramona and Jordan.

 

My family was about ten kilometers out from Woodstock, Ontario, when my phone rang.  It was Ramona.  The touring van (dubbed ‘Van’essa) had broken down just outside of Woodstock.  The engine had just stopped and the electrical system shut off.

 

Long story short: Ramona’s brother-in-law will drive in from Toronto to pick them up and use his CAA card to get them a tow.  Another family member says that it sounds like the battery has just bitten the dust and it should just be a replacement, which should be able to be done in the morning.  I really hope so.  We’d just found a stagehand to fill in for Jordon on the Saturday and Sunday shows, and losing our transportation now would really just be kicking as we’re starting to get up.

 

We need to rehearse the new technician in, but luckily tomorrow (June 26) is a late show.  So we won’t get to see anyone else’s shows tomorrow, but we should at least be able to rehearse and then make it in to perform… provided that Vanessa isn’t terminally stricken.

 

What a night.  I will sleep now… because ONE of us needs to be awake tomorrow.

Jun 26

39 – Show Diaries – Show 5 & NO SHOW

For show five, we were back to the usual audience numbers hovering just over ten people.  This was Dangerous Dave’s first show with us, and things went a little less than smoothly.  Jordan, our previous stagehand, actually had a lot of experience backstage (although he didn’t know how to whisper instead of talk into the headset, probably because the shows he techs have loud music throughout), and got the hang of things very quickly.

 

Dave is a York student, going into his second year, and it’s apparent that he’s had a little less experience backstage, which meant that I had to be a little more present than I was used to during setup, not just to help him, but to wrangle our sometimes elusive venue tech, Keith.  Keith, like me, had become used to Jordan’s ability to get things sorted on his own, and so needed a little coaxing from me to help Dave get things set up.

 

Don’t get me wrong: Dave’s not a bad kid: he just needs to be backstage on some more shows to build his confidence so that he knows when to ask for help and when to just get on with things himself.  He’ll probably be there by the end of second year.  He joined York with the intent of going into the acting stream originally, so he’s about exactly where I would expect a second year Yorkie to be.

 

But yeah, super guy.  Total trooper.  Throughout his two shows, he kept his cool when things went to shit (usually my fault, or the fault of weird tech issues like someone having turned the volume on the headset WAY down), and while he might not have had the instincts (or experience on this show) to do exactly the right thing (although he did in a bunch of cases), he DIDN’T PANIC, which is so incredibly important.

 

So, fifth show, not bad.  A few wonky tech bits.

 

After the show (we were 22:15 – 23:15, the last show of the evening), we went to the No Show—a sort of cabaret affair that had been going on every or almost every evening throughout the Fringe.  Since we’d been driving in and out, and rehearsing the show during the days (Saturday afternoon was like that), we hadn’t been able to participate much in the Fringe culture, so we were pretty stoked to finally get to an event (despite the fact that Ramona was extremely tired due to the car nonsense the night before).

 

Unfortunately, by this point in the festival, the atmosphere had already condensed, and we were at a disadvantage, only knowing a few of the other performers.  M.K. had introduced us to Martin Dockery earlier in the festival, so I made a point of saying hello to him, although he was almost always wading through an entourage.

 

Neither Ramona nor I are good schmoozing people, and Dave isn’t either, so we kind of hung out alone for a bit, until Mikaela Dyke came along and rescued us by introducing us to several people.  I managed to introduce myself to Rob Gee, who was doing a piece about being a psychiatric nurse, and got the show password from him (which would get us in for free).

 

Once the show started, we all just watched the show.  During the short breaks, there was always somewhat loud music on, which I found interesting, considering that a high percentage of people in the room were performers, many of whom had shows on the morrow, and therefore should probably not be yelling at the top of their lungs just to carry on conversations.

 

The show itself was pretty fun.  It was great to get to see Martin in action, since we weren’t going to be able to catch his show in London (we’ll see another one of his pieces when we meet up again in Victoria).  Wow.  I can’t wait to see that show.  This guy is, as M.K. promised, an amazing storyteller.

 

The other highlight of the evening was a series of verbatim bits, collected from Craigslist “Missed Connections” postings by Mikaela, and read out by various performers (the entries chosen were local to the performers’ hometowns).  Again, I think Dockery stole the show with his.  Ramona and I will probably repeat on of the lines from his forever: “I wondered what would happen if I tickled you!”  (Read as a four-foot tall Yoda-like Velma-the-cafeteria-like woman).  I guess you had to be there.

 

There was some weak sketch comedy as well, although there were also two incredibly strong funny pieces, so it balanced out.  (One of the weaker pieces did have a great character, though: Candy McFeelie and his Magical Bag.  Don’t ask.)

 

We ended up having to leave before the end because Ramona was fading fast, and we wanted to be sure to get back to the Farm in one piece.  We were in bed by 3:00.  And up the next morning at 9:00 to go back and do our only day of Fringeing.

Jun 24

39 – Show Diaries – Papering

So, on Tuesday, we finally had a chance to do some walking around to spread the word about our show before heading back to Toronto.

 

I’m very bad at this sort of thing.  So I just told people that they should come see my show.  It’s about space.  I wear fantastic boots in it.   That sort of thing.

 

 

Good news: I actually bumped into the woman with the skinned knees from my Monday show and was able to thank her in person!  It was Mikaela Dyke, another performer who is doing a show called Dying Hard, which we will be doing our best to see on Sunday.  That unfortunately will mean I won’t be able to keep my (non)commitment to the The Plank team, but those performers will be in Edmonton with us, so we’ll be able to see them there.

 

We also got to meet several other Fringe performers, including Jem Rolls, who we will also unfortunately be missing in London, but may be able to catch at one of the other Fringes.

 

Good friend Albert Lee came all the way from Toronto to see the show, so he snapped a few pictures (above) of us pressing the flesh, so to speak.  On the way home, while we patronized a roadside McDonalds (barf), I returned the favour:

 

Jun 23

39 – Show Diaries – Third Show

We’d originally planned to go into London early on Tuesday in order to see some other shows, but given our continuing tech issues, we decided to tech the show in my parents’ living room in Kitchener before going in.

IMG_0216

When we arrived at the McManus Theatre, we were a bit puzzled when the show before us seemed to be running late.

 

We were supposed to go up at 18:45, with a 15 minute load-in time.  The show before us, as per Fringe rules, was supposed to have a 15 minute load-out time.  The show before us, ‘The Goodtimes’, another tech heavy show (they let us use their smoke machine: huzzah!) finished at around 18:25, and our Theatre T.D., Keith, remarked to us that we would probably get in early.

 

As ‘The Goodtimes’ loaded out, and the minutes ticked by, we realized that there had been a mistake.  They had been booked to start from 17:30, and like most Fringe shows, run 60 minutes.  Fifteen minutes load-out would leave us 0 minutes to set up for our show!

 

Keith had expected, logically, that because there was always a half-hour between each show, we weren’t on until 19:00.  Once we figured out what was going on, everybody leapt to it.  ‘The Goodtimes’ rushed their loadout, Ramona went ballistic getting the set pieces up with Keith lending a hand.  I think I just ran around and sweated and was generally useless.

 

But the Fringe staff held the house until the last possible moment, and we (meaning the kickass 39 crew) got everything ready.

 

Even after the hectic start, the show went mostly smoothly.  The reviewer was in the audience, and I spotted him immediately: sitting on his own, off to the side in a white shirt. 

 

There was no skinned-knees girl in this audience, but there was a lovely couple in the middle who were open and receptive.  I flubbed a couple of moments, and we ALMOST skipped the third scene again, but we recovered from everything.

 

We’re halfway through the run now, and I’m starting to feel a lot better about the show.

Jun 23

39 – Show Diaries – Monday Show

Wow.  Monday nights are soft.  5 people in the audience.

 

But it was a good audience, especially the girl with what appeared to be skinned knees sitting in the centre.  She laughed at all my jokes.  If I could figure out who she was, I would comp her in to every show.  I had to fight to not play the whole show to her: audience members aren’t usually so generous and open (and that includes me, when I watch a show).

 

39 in London

We continued to have some technical problems.  The club sound cue came in too early and so we ended up skipping the first courtroom scene: interestingly, it didn’t matter that much.  I will have to take a look at that when I tweak the show for Edmonton.  We repeatedly had problems with all the tech again, not just sound, but tonight’s show was more cohesive.

 

I also blanked at one point.  It was so bad that I prepared to start improvising: I was getting ready to create a new scene, so I said “I screwed up, your honours” and realized that was exactly the line I had forgotten, and ploughed on.

 

We’re getting better at load-in.  It helps that the shows before us so far have cleared out quickly.  it also helps that the Theatre techs (particularly the man we see the most of, Keith) in the McManus studio are super helpful and friendly.

 

Audience was tiny (5), but that woman in the second row saved my ass.

Jun 22

39 – Show Diaries – The Team

A brief rundown of the YTG London Tour Team for 39.

 

Ramona Katigbak – Stage manager, production manager, driver, cook

Jordan Logronio – Stagehand, projections runner, live camera

Andrew Woolner – Performer, complainer, worry-wart

Jun 22

39 – Show Diaries – LONDON OPENING

So we opened the show (June 20, 17:30).39 in London

 

As you may recall, my biggest fear was dropping a line and fucking up the show.

 

That didn’t happen.

 

Pretty much everything else that could have gone wrong happened, short of the set breaking and falling on my head.

 

Something went haywire with the computer running the sound cues.  The projections were mostly fine, but no one told Jordan that he needed to whisper when he responded to Ramona on the headset.  And something went really off with the lighting cues.

 

I spent the show in a flop-sweat trying not to lose it.

 

I made it through, and the audience applauded politely, because they were lovely and polite and only two of the thirteen fell asleep.

 

Is there an upside?  Yes, of course.  While I’m typing this, Ramona is sitting behind me, going through all the sound cues to make sure they’re all there (somehow, they didn’t end up in the playlist properly for last night’s show).

 

Other highlights:

 

  • Good friend M.K. Piatkowski was in the audience, and managed to stay awake.  The team and I had food/drinks with her after the show.  I will be asking her for some feedback on what she saw after I finish London and have less ego tied up in this.  (She did say that she was glad she read the program notes, or she wouldn’t have understood what was going on.)
  • I shared a dressing room with two mostly-naked ladies (arial acrobaticists doing a show called Plank which, if you are in London, YOU NEED TO SEE), which was awesome because it made me feel like I was doing real Theatre again… the first time since my last Driftwood tour twelve years ago, with everybody stripping in the costume tent and not giving a damn.

So, to sum up: a disappointing opening, but a promising start.

 

Oh, and we’re still short-handed, so if you know anyone who wants to help backstage (they can be based in Toronto, Kitchener, or London), PUT THEM IN TOUCH WITH US.