By Tonya Jone Miller | June 10, 2013
I’m halfway through my time at the London Fringe Festival and finally feel like I’m hitting a comfortable groove. It takes a while to get into the fringe swing of things. I thought this last year, and London has proved it to me: I really need to start getting in “fringe shape” a month before my first festival of the season. See, life as a touring fringe festival performer is a singularly unique experience, rife with challenges. So if you want to know how my fellow performers and I live when we’re on the road, just follow this simple conditioning plan and you can play along with us…
Pack one suitcase with everything you could possibly need while performing and traveling for weeks on end. Don’t forget anything.
Go to a city you’ve never been to before or don’t know very well. Don’t bother to check the weather report, because no matter what you packed, it’s wrong. The locals will be talking about the “strangely unseasonal, unpredictable” weather while you’re there.
Pick a complete stranger. Move into their house for 14-17 days. This is your billet. They are likely festival staff and/or volunteers, so be a perfect house guest.
Drop 10 random pins on a map. These are the festival venues. Figure out good walking routes between all venues and your billet. Time the routes so you know how long it takes to get to each venue. Walk for so many hours on brutally hard cement that no pair of shoes is comfortable. Do this until you have blisters and shin splints, then do it some more.
Approach strangers on the street with the flyers you designed, printed before you left, and fit into your luggage. Get them to stop and listen to you. Convince them you have something worth paying $10 for, but that they have to meet you at a later date and/or time for the privilege of finding out why it’s worth money. Hope they show up. With cash.
Pick a different random hour every day to be “show time” and make sure you eat exactly 2.5 hours before curtain. Time it perfectly so you don’t feel gross and bloated on stage, but still have access to the energy/fuel from your meal. (Seriously. This is a conversation I’ve had at least ten times so far this festival with other artists. You wouldn’t believe how big of a challenge simply feeding yourself becomes.) Look for fresh, healthy options on your walking routes, and hope you can afford them on your $30 daily budget. Decide that coffee qualifies as breakfast.
For each “show”, go somewhere public, strip down to your underwear, and demand people pay attention to you for a full hour. Beg them to share their feedback on every social media outlet in the known universe. Your sold-out show will be harshly panned by a critic who doesn’t mention you got a standing ovation that night. Your show with five people in the audience is the one that will be reviewed by the biggest paper in town.
Smoke too many cigarettes late at night, even if you “quit” years ago and never smoke at home. Do not lose your voice. (Fringe tip: it’s good form to buy a pack of smokes for the person(s) you always bum from.)
Drink whatever beer is cheapest at any given bar and learn to like it. You cannot afford wine or hard liquor, especially not in Canada. If you prefer pot, pray that a generous stoner comes to your show and likes it enough to smoke you out afterward. If you have any other vices, give them up. Your wallet and body will thank you.
Spend all your free time with talented, amazing, sexy, creative artists, but do not hook up with anyone until the last couple days of the festival. If it’s awesome, they won’t be at any other festivals you’re doing. If it’s awful, they will be at every other festival you’re doing.
Remember that you are never off work. Every person is a potential audience member, so use every opening you can to start conversations with total strangers and sell yourself. If you are rude, abrasive, or otherwise inappropriate, it reflects on your show and affects your bottom line. If anyone overhears you complaining about your venue, techs, festival staff, volunteers, showtimes, audience sizes, other shows, other performers, the weather, host city, or anything at all, no matter how valid the complaint, it reflects on your show and affects your bottom line. If you cough while trying to pitch your show to someone and don’t cover your mouth, it reflects on your show and affects your bottom line. If you get drunk and make an ass of yourself at the late-night cabaret, it reflects on your show and affects your bottom line.
Everything you do reflects on your show and affects your bottom line.
Pray enough people come to see you that you can pay off the credit card you used to cover the costs of your festival application, production fee, travel expenses and promotional materials. Do not count on breaking even. Given the 24/7 nature of the gig, know that you would probably make a higher hourly wage slinging fast food.
Do things that you don’t do at home, like go to a nightclub filled with kids half your age for retro dance party night. Stay up later than normal. Be exhausted no matter how much sleep you get.
So. Why do we do it?
I wouldn’t presume to speak for my fellow fringe performers, but my answer is simple: it’s worth it. Getting to tell my story, to entertain, to touch people and leave them somehow changed, to get them talking…Being able to call some of the most talented people I have ever known my friends and colleagues…Seeing the world, one theatre-loving city at a time…Meeting people- performers, audience members, volunteers- whose passion for live performance is on par with my own…Being reminded that one-on-one, face-to-face human connection is still the most powerful kind of communication…There is no more gratifying feeling in my world.
Also, it’s summer camp for grown ups who still haven’t grown up. You must hold onto a bit of childlike wonder and appreciation for the surreal insanity of it all, or the fringe circuit will chew you up and vomit you back out in a spray of Lofty-But-Misguided Artistic Intention. It’s work. Hard work. Oh my god, sometimes it’s such hard work. But if just one person leaves my show feeling more informed, invigorated, or inspired than they did when they sat down, I’ve done my job.
No, the fringe life is not for everyone. But some of us find the festival circuit and know we are home. This one’s for you, fringe family.
By Tonya Jone Miller | June 9, 2013
So yeahhhhh…I think I just got favorably compared to Spalding Gray. That happened. *speechless*
By Tonya Jone Miller | June 6, 2013
By Tonya Jone Miller | June 3, 2013
I’m flying to London, Ontario at 6am for the fringe festival there and should really be getting my beauty sleep right now. I had wanted to write a better post before I left, but well, you know me, sometimes I run out of time… I’ll do my best keep you updated on Facebook and Twitter while I’m gone.
By Tonya Jone Miller | May 19, 2013
I used to play this game when I was a kid. Well not a game exactly, but it was something I did, a parlor trick. I believed I had the power to heal headaches, and I guess my childish exuberance seduced adults into playing along. Whenever anyone would mention having some kind of migraine-like pain, I’d beg them to let me try and “fix” it for them. Looking back, I can see what I was doing was a light hypnotic trance/visualization exercise, which might explain why it was actually successful about 90% of the time.
I’d tell them to close their eyes and describe their pain in detail. I’d make them put a shape and size to it, ascribe color(s), texture, movement. Rate its intensity on a scale of 1 to 10. I’d repeat the questions over and over until their pain was as real and concrete to me as they themselves were, until it was a living, breathing entity in the room with us.
And then I’d make them talk to their pain. Say hello, ask it what it wanted. Touch it. Reach out and feel its surface. I’d tell them to will it into a size that would fit in their palms, to hold it out in front of them, gently and kindly. I’d tell them to see it and kiss it and caress it. I’d tell them that love was the only weapon that would vanquish it. (Don’t ask me where this came from at 8 years old, it was just this knowledge inside me.)
Then I’d tell them to shrink it even further until it was as small as possible, and repeat my original questions. How big is it? What shape is it? What texture does it have? What color is it? Does it move? The answers were always different than they had been initially, even if the intensity of pain didn’t change significantly. Then I’d tell them to banish the pain. To fling it or shoot it or dropkick it as far away from them as possible.
And after a few breaths, I’d have them open their eyes. I couldn’t tell you whether their declarations of relief were genuine, but in my memory, there was true gratitude and surprise in many of them.
And I suppose therein lies the lesson I learned: acknowledging and taking control of your pain is the quickest, surest way to relief. Funny that it has been nearly 30 years, and I’m still having to learn and re-learn that one.
I’m raw today. My nerves are exposed. Part of me is already gone, already in “show mode” and steeling myself for the sweet Hell that is touring. You have to…believe in yourself so much. I don’t know how else to say it. I have to sell myself to get butts in seats, and I have to sell my story once I’m onstage. I have to seduce everyone I meet, and I’m never off duty. I have to believe I’m worthy of all that attention.
That’s what it boils down to. I have to believe I’m worthy and capable and enough to do the story justice. Somewhere, deep deep down I know it. I know I can do this. I have done it, and I’ll do it again. But right now my pain comes from fear, and I’d give anything to be able to will it away.
How big is it? What color is it? What shape is it? What texture is it? Does it move? How bad is it on a scale of 1 to 10?
Hello, pain, what do you want?
By Tonya Jone Miller | May 16, 2013
Just a note to say I now have venue assignments and show schedules for all my upcoming Threads festival performances except Vancouver, BC. If you are anywhere nearby, I hope you’ll come out to see the show!
By Tonya Jone Miller | May 3, 2013
My friend, Nadia, posted this on Facebook today. They are not my words, but I feel as though I could have written them. She gave me permission to share…
“I was a music major for five years, three spent planning to go on and get my masters and PhD in performance, to eventually teach my instrument at university.
I was miserable.
I couldn’t understand how something you were supposed to do simply for the love of it could make me want to cry and hide. That I would have done anything to avoid going onstage, and sadly accepted it as the price for playing my instrument. I tried to understand what music was, thinking about the ideals of emotions, communications and art… And what that could or should mean to an audience, or a performer. I felt like I was missing very fundamental pieces of a simple puzzle.
I tried harder to find the pieces; tried harder to do it “right”. Eventually I got so I could dope myself into a state of self hypnosis and play the prescripted notes with precision and accuracy; but I felt nothing as I did, and none of the joy that I had expected to feel when I had finally performed “well”. I decided that the notes I was playing was not music, and was not art… And in a way was an abomination.
I went to an Amanda Palmer concert a week ago; I was reminded again that music should be a way of bringing people together, of sharing moments and thoughts better left half veiled. And I was reminded, to stop acting like art is hard… To stop thinking that art isn’t pouring from your soul, breaking from your chest to be released and propelled into the world. That we are created from the expression of love and passion, and there is little in our lives that does not revolve around both.
Get out of your skin. Dance. Sing. Forget that you have a body; remember that you are alive.”
By Tonya Jone Miller | April 28, 2013
Ok, some posts back I was talking about how I watched For a Good Time, Call… and was going to write a review of it for Tits and Sass. Well, I suck, but I have to renege. I can’t do it. I just…Can’t. See, it was such a goddamn awful movie, I think I managed to block it out of my brain. I’ve actually sat down no less than four times to write my review, looked at my notes, and had no idea what to write. Finally today I realized that if I wanted to make any sense, I was going to have to watch the movie again. And I simply cannot bring myself to do it. I refuse. The damn flick doesn’t deserve another hour and a half of my life. So, I’m sorry if you were looking forward to my take on it, but I have to disappoint you. Trust me, it is no loss. You didn’t want to see the movie anyway, and nothing I said would have changed that. Jesus that movie rankled me more than I realized.
By Tonya Jone Miller | April 25, 2013
I hid her away. Buried her deep in my gut, covered with layers of muscle and fat and fear. Every day, I felt her roiling and screaming, battering me from the inside, desperately trying to break through the tightly-knit sinews protecting me from her. I began to hate her.
Why won’t you just go away? I would stare at my belly, dig my fingers in and imagine ripping her from my flesh. If I were pregnant, it could be done. But the deeper I pressed my searching hands into the softness, the more wily and evasive she became until finally I believed I had succeeded in folding her in upon herself completely. And so I was alone. Me, in this body.
My lovers tried. They accepted that I had driven her away, that I needed to. They let me know, gently, that she was welcome to return if I ever wanted to invite her back. They learned to love me, divorced from her. They took care of me, and let me take care of them. They tried not to be too concerned, but they knew: I was not whole.
Days. Weeks. Months. Years. Sometimes I missed her, but more often I was relieved to be free of the emotion that was so inherent in her. The god-damn need. It can be dangerous and self-destructive to go on a bender because you just don’t want to feel anything anymore; it’s so much worse when you realize you’re already numb. When no amount of poking or prodding can elicit a response. When the thing that once sustained you has devoured you from the inside out until there is nothing left. When you are hollow.
Yet if I was empty, she had to be gone. Right? It was safe. I took a breath. I relaxed my stomach muscles and let my tummy hang defeated. My carefully knit pattern kept its shape. I had survived. But somewhere, in the tiny, tucked-away corner of an errant cell, fiber, or membrane, so had she. And now…
Tug. Tug tug tug. She is pulling on a loose string somewhere. She has woken, starving, and she intends to feast. Every slap, every spank, every welt, every bruise, every jolt to my cunt, every loaded glance, every naughty text…Nourishment. Yes, she is a hungry girl, and I will no longer deny her.
Submission. Me, to her. Submission. Mine.
By Tonya Jone Miller | April 24, 2013
Thank you thank you thank you! Hotline made their Kickstarter goal!