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- A Story of O’s
Because yes, it really has been almost a year. Fuuuuuck. I just posted my schedule for the Winnipeg Fringe Festival on the A Story of O’s page, and I hope to book a venue for a run of the show in Portland before the end of the year as well. I may start writing here more. I may not. Lots of change in my life over the past couple years, and I do miss this as an outlet. We shall see. In the meantime, you can find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Fetlife as @TonyaJoneMiller. I tend to update social media with much more regularity than this blog.
A week from today, I leave on tour. After only doing one festival last year, it feels good to be gearing up for a four festival run. Of course, I had to switch things up. So for the first time ever, I’m performing two different shows in one season. You can find show time and ticket purchase information for all A Story of O’s and Threads by clicking those links, but here’s a basic itinerary…
A Story of O’s at London (Ontario) Fringe Festival
Threads at Ottawa Fringe Festival
Threads at IndyFringe Festival
A Story of O’s at Vancouver Fringe Festival
(Sits at computer.)
Ok. Time to make a list of all the potential trigger warnings I should post at A Story of O’s.
(Goes through entire script and starts typing.)
(Reads list. Reads it again.)
Mhmm. Yep. That’s pretty much all of them.
(Breathes a little faster.)
It’s not really that bad. I mean, I barely touch on some of these topics. I certainly don’t act them out on stage. Well, not all of them…
(Gets anxious butterflies.)
(Pulse begins to race.)
I can’t get arrested for this, can I?
(Butterflies turn to full-blown nausea.)
Shit. Shit shit shit.
(Hands start to tremble uncontrollably.)
What are people going to think about me after seeing this? What if they think I’m a disgusting, awful person for even talking about these things? What if nobody ever loves me ever again?
Is it too late to cancel all my shows?
(Checks ticket sales.)
Fuck. I’ve sold advance tickets for every performance. I have to do this.
(Gets heart palpitations.)
I wonder how much it would cost to move to Belize and go off the grid.
(Thinks about lush rain forests. And unspoiled coastal waters. And not doing the show.)
Fuuuuuuck. I have to do this, don’t I? I have to do this show. I have to do this fucking show.
(Takes some deep breaths.)
Ok. Am I absolutely 100% sure I have to do this show, and how come?
(Reads the last few lines of the script.)
Oh. Yes. Right. That’s why.
About a year ago, I was approached by some people who were putting together a sex-themed storytelling show. They either found my blog or my Fetlife profile, and contacted me to see if I wanted to perform at one of their shows. It wouldn’t be too hard for you to figure out the name of the event, but I’m not going to mention it here for two reasons.
First, this isn’t meant to be a personal attack against the producers or a diatribe against the event. I run across similar situations repeatedly, and they specifically are merely one of the inspirations for this post. Second, I decline to use what little influence and social media clout I may have to further their “brand awareness.” This actually speaks to the larger issue at hand, so back to the story.
When it comes to erotic storytelling and erotic improvisation, I literally have thousands of hours of experience. I believe you would be hard-pressed to find a single person in the city of Portland with more professional credentials in this particular niche. So it came as no surprise when they approached me.
I have performed at similar events across North America. I have a couple of rehearsed monologues I can do on a whim, but I prefer to improvise an erotic piece based on audience suggestions. (I think my “Peanut Butter” bit from the Toronto cabaret will live in infamy…) When I suggested this to the producers, they informed me they had a process and framework they wanted me to adhere to.
I was to pitch them a story via email. If they were interested, we’d meet in person so I could tell them the entire story. If they were still interested, they’d give me notes (“details, clarifications of story points, or thoughts on structure”) and schedule me to perform.
Let me take a moment to remind you that they were pursuing me. I had no attachment to being in their show and in fact wasn’t sure at that point that I wanted to be. Which I told them. I am asked to do this sort of thing all the time, and I don’t need the exposure. I enjoy erotic storytelling performance, but mostly because I like the way I do it. When my clients are paying me $3/minute, I do it their way. When I do it for my own joy and artistic fulfillment, I prefer having the autonomy to tell/improvise whatever story I want as I see fit.
They were very persistent, to the tune of multiple emails over the course of six months. During this time I pitched a potential story but was told it wasn’t sexual enough. (I know, I know, the mind boggles…) I tried to clarify that it was actually a sex story and that I thought my mistake in the pitch was a phone sex operator’s mistake- we all talk dirty and vulgar, so it’s the non-sexual details and descriptions that make a fantasy seem more real and fleshed-out.
The impression I got from the response was that I was mistaken, and that the story in my head (that they hadn’t even heard yet) wasn’t sexual enough. At which point, I attempted to politely decline working with them because I didn’t think my style was a good fit with theirs.
They asked me to reconsider and offered to put me on the guest list for the next show so I could see what they are doing and hopefully be inspired to operate within their framework. I wasn’t particularly optimistic, but I agreed. Due to that pesky blizzard earlier this year, I wasn’t able to make it to the show I was supposed to see. I emailed my regrets and promised to attend the next one. I was told they’d love to have me but wouldn’t be able to give me a comp as their guest list was already full. However, I was welcome to buy a ticket and see the show if I wanted to.
Um, what? I didn’t particularly want to see the show. How often do you think, “gee it’s my night off, so just for fun, why don’t I go watch someone do what I do for work?” I was taking time out of my life to do this for them, to assess whether I felt comfortable compromising my personal artistic vision and process to work within theirs. But hey, I was a concert and special event producer for a decade, so I know about budgets and capacity issues and the like. Guest list full? No problem, I thought, I’ll go to the next one.
A month later, they again contact me. Did I see the last show? Nope, but I could attend this month if they can find room for me on the guest list. I was informed that wouldn’t be possible, as they’ve had to limit their guest list to staff and storytellers. *blinks* Isn’t that what I am? A potential storyteller? One who they have been pursuing for months, who is still obviously on the fence about working with them? As politely as I could, I informed them that meant I would not be attending the show in that case. Obviously it also means I won’t be performing in it anytime in the near future.
Lest you think this is about my own sense of entitlement, please allow me to share the reasons for my strong reactions to situations like this…
First, I don’t think I should have to pay for the privilege of possibly compromising my own artistic process in order to lend my cache and experience to someone else’s show. I make a living directly off phone sex and the original writings I perform in my one-person plays. They’re essentially asking me to gift them a story I could sell myself, which I may actually be willing to do, whether for fun, charitable donation, or creative fulfillment. But I shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket to do them that favor.
Simply put, I know my worth. I’ve spent the last decade honing my craft and building a reputation, and I know what kind of crowd I can draw to an event of that nature. Years of touring the fringe festival circuit has taught me there is no pride in playing to an empty house, so if I sign on for something, I will be shameless in promoting it via social media, personal email lists, and face-to-face. I understand why they want me to perform at their event, but what I want to know is, what do I get out of it?
Or am I not supposed to ask that question if I want to be a Twue Artiste? Should I just roll over and be glad that someone, anyone, is going to “let me do my art”? As if just getting to perform should be reward enough?
Let me clue everybody in to a little secret…The opportunity for artistic expression? I have that already. I regularly perform for crowds of 40 to 400, doing shows of my own creation, with complete autonomy and artistic control. And I make money off it. This doesn’t lessen the quality of my art. I need to be able to support myself, just like you. I have trained and spent years at my chosen career. I am good at it because I have practiced and practiced and practiced. I’ve poured more money, time, and energy than I could possibly quantify into becoming a better actor, performer, playwright, artist.
Ask any artist you know how often they get asked to donate works or perform for free in exchange for “the exposure.” I guarantee you it is more often than not. Think about that. More than half of the “opportunities” I am given to share my creative work come with no compensation. How would you feel if you were asked to do your job for free half of the time? And suggesting that exposure is an artist’s compensation in these situations is insulting and ignorant. How do I benefit from exposure if it is to people who don’t want to pay for art in the first place?
Which brings me back around to my original story. After thinking about it for a while, I decided to seek out some folks who have performed at the event, just to get a different take on it. Maybe my knee-jerk reaction was too harsh. After all, the producers obviously have a strong vision, and I really do believe in supporting sex-positive events with crossover appeal to the mainstream. They have the potential to open hearts and minds.
But what I gleaned was that I am definitely not a good fit with the show. I’d have to create a custom story, be willing to edit it per their suggestions, and take direction on the telling of it. Which would mean at least one live telling to the producers, edits and reworking, and (I’m assuming) another rehearsal/telling with the producers, and then performance. It starts to depart from what I consider unscripted storytelling (which is more how they sell the event) and veer toward rehearsed performance. That requires time and multiple rehearsals to do successfully. For which I would be paid…wait for it…Nothing.
Essentially, I’d provide them with content and talent as a hired hand. Except I wouldn’t be compensated. Here, playwright, write what we tell you. Here, actor, perform this script the way we want you to. Since I create, perform, and make a living off doing these things for myself, I need a good reason to do it for someone else, especially for free.
As I mentioned before, I have produced similar events before, and I know the producers aren’t getting rich off this. But they are charging a ticket price. The advertisements get paid for. The venue gets a rental fee. The security guards at the club get paid. The bartenders get paid. The box office person gets paid. The venue sound and light technicians get paid. The producers make whatever money is leftover, if any (that’s the risk of being a producer). Why are the storytellers themselves, the entertainers, the artists not worthy of the same consideration? I’m the one getting on stage, sharing my story, being vulnerable in front of an audience, and that doesn’t deserve any monetary compensation?
I don’t harbor ill will toward the event or the producers; I am simply declining to participate in their show with these given circumstances. This really speaks to a larger problem in our society: the generally accepted idea that art isn’t worth paying for, or that being an artist isn’t a valid profession. That I’m lucky anyone is paying attention to me, much less money, and I should just be satisfied having my ego stroked by applause once in a while. Yes, I take it personally. No, I’m not sorry.
Do me a favor. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine your life without art. No paintings, films, poetry, literature, theatre, or music…No art of any kind. It’s actually almost impossible to do. But please try. Because if you refuse to actively value art and artists, there will be fewer and fewer of us able to continue creating. There will be less art. And that would make the world an ugly, uninhabitable place.
Three and a half weeks ago…
I am sitting in a theatre in Winnipeg. It’s the last show of the night. I’m exhausted and emotionally spent, and I’d kind of rather be asleep. But I took an actual printed comp from my friend and promised to come support her. These 10:45pm-or-later shows are brutal, and we performers do try to help each other out where we can. It’s just good fringe karma. The show is hilarious and original, and soon I am watching with the joy and appreciation that makes me so proud to be a fringe artist.
I’m not thinking of the phone sex business back home that is merely treading water in my absence. I don’t think about the relationships that feel in danger of coming apart at the seams because I am not there to tend- or end- them properly. I am, for the first time in days, not bowed by the pressure of remounting Threads for the second year in a row at the same festival. I am just letting myself be entertained, allowing myself a rare moment to relax.
The performer begins a new story, one about going sky-diving for the first time with her deceased husband. She is describing standing on the wing, holding onto the bar, being paralyzed with fear. Her arms begin to ache under the strain of holding her to the plane. All that wind force and air pressure meeting her resistance hurts. It is the line she speaks next that hits me square in the gut:
“It’s not the letting go that’s painful, it’s the hanging on.”
I feel like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me, like I’m the one who let go of the bar, that my parachute didn’t open and I’ve smashed against the ground. I realize I’m crying.
Home to me is more a feeling than a place. Being back for a couple weeks, I can’t ignore that something feels wrong. I know I need to make some big, big changes.
Most importantly to the majority of you, my professional focus is shifting from phone sex, to writing and performing. I’m not retiring altogether or anything drastic like that, but I am no longer going to be putting the majority of my “work” time into BayCityBlues.com. I’ll still be available for calls when I am home, and the website will remain intact for myself and the few operators I’ve chosen to keep on. I will not be putting anyone new on BCB unless they pass a rigorous screening and application process. I may try new ops on the fantasy sites from time to time, but they’ll have to pursue the position heavily and meet strict minimums if they’re hired.
Being the head of a giant phone sex company is not my future. I have tried for nearly a decade; building the company up, burning it down, starting it over. It doesn’t work, not the way I want to do it. Sad to say, having ethics and respect for my clients and operators makes me infinitely less competitive in this industry. I’m great on the phone, decent at writing when I put my mind to it, and reasonably web- and social media-savvy. But the rest of it? The administrative and managerial nightmares that never seem to end? It’s exhausting, and it puts me in a sour mood that is directly contrary to being able to provide quality, authentic phone sex. I can’t and won’t do it anymore. The company will continue, but with only the core group of women we’ve pretty much had since the beginning and the few amazing ones we managed to find along the way.
I’ve started streamlining the sites, and I’ll continue to over the coming weeks and months. I’m surprised at the emotions this decision is bringing up. Part of me can’t help but look at this as epic failure almost a decade in the making: after ten years, I still can’t get it right. And another part of me remembers that phone sex was the job I took to get me through acting school, so turning my attention from phone sex to acting could be viewed as the natural, even overdue, progression. In 2012, for the first time ever I earned more from my writing/acting than I did from phone sex. So when the anxiety hits, I try to focus on gratitude for the blessings I have and the wonderful possibilities my new career endeavors will present. It’s exciting, and terrifying.
In addition to all this professional upheaval, I’m also dealing with the evolution of one of my personal poly relationships. Suffice it to say that this period of adjustment is difficult, awkward, painful, sad…and necessary. My heart is broken. It isn’t anybody’s fault, it’s just what happens when things don’t work out the way we hope they will with the people we love.
For some reason, this is the hardest and roughest break-up-type-thing I’ve ever gone through, including my divorce. Why do two people who deeply love each other find themselves growing apart? What do you do when clinging to what was threatens to render unrecognizable the love that does remain? Where does one find the strength to step out on that airplane wing and dive into the no-guarantee-there’s-even-a-parachute-strapped-to-your-back future?
RE: How to jump out of a plane
Take one step and hope the next one comes easier. Breathe. Be grateful for the air. Take another step. Feel your grip loosening against the wind. Stumble. Right yourself. Open your eyes. See the world in front of you. Breathe. Let go. Fly.
It’s not the letting go that’s painful, it’s the hanging on.
**Many thanks to Christine Lesiak. If you are anywhere near the Edmonton Fringe, go see her in Ask Aggie.**
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.
Ok this time I mean it. I’m back. Really. 🙂
It took a couple weeks for me to “come down” off of the Threads tour. Part of it is after two weeks in a new city, two weeks in a new city, two weeks in a new city, I had to be home for more than two weeks before my brain realized I wasn’t just doing another fringe and wouldn’t be moving on in 14 days. And then to try and process the whole experience, it’s…indescribable.
But because I’m me, I’m going to try to describe it. Lol!
A fringe festival is a unique beast. Each one has its own distinct personality, quirks, benefits, and drawbacks. Each city poses different challenges, which require resourcefulness and resiliency to overcome. Each festival is a potential goldmine of audience members and five-star reviews with accolades galore. Or a heart-wrenching, soul-sucking, 24/7, bang-your-head-against-a-wall of jaded apathy, play-to-7-people-a-night test of your artistic intention. Because if you’re doing it for the money, for the fame, for standing ovations and sell-out crowds, the fringe festival circuit will destroy you.
Don’t get me wrong. Fringe theatre festivals are one of the few venues where an independent performer can earn a (usually meager) living directly from their art. If you are lucky enough to have a good show that gets good reviews/word-of-mouth and catches on, you can definitely expect sell-outs and standing ovations. There is also notoriety and a certain kind of “celebrity” on the international fringe circuit. But let me put it into perspective…
TJ Dawe. Martin Dockery. Jem Rolls. Chris Craddock. Do any of those names ring a bell? Probably not. They’re very well-known fringe artists on the circuit, but if you’re not a “fringer” (either audience or performer), you’ve likely never heard of them. Basically, the biggest fish in the fringe pond are still just tiny sardines in the world ocean. Yet they are some of the most amazing artists you’ve never seen. When I think of the incredibly diverse shows I saw over the course of this summer, I am truly blown away. They continually change my concepts of what “performance” and “art” and “theatre” are.
So there I was…Winnipeg. First show in a couple months, first time on this tour so far that I was in a city I had done in 2009. Lots of familiar faces, including most of the performers I mentioned above. Would people remember me? Was my program blurb interesting enough? Would anyone come see the show? Did my posters stand out compared to the hundreds of others? My first show in Winnipeg was prime time on a Friday night, but still I was pretty shocked to have an over 3/4 full house, around 80 audience members in my 100-capacity venue. It had to bode well, right? Then the reviews came out.
Remember what I was saying earlier about how each festival has its own personality? Here’s the thing about Winnipeg: reviews REALLY matter there. The two major press outlets for coverage are the CBC and the Winnipeg Free Press, and both of them use a star rating system, with 0 as the worst and 5 as the best. Get zero- and one-star reviews, and you can kill yourself flyering all day long, won’t matter. You’ll be lucky to have 10 people in your audience per show. On the other hand, a five-star review can make you. Get a five-star review in Winnipeg, and suddenly when you start to flyer a line-up, people know about your show already. Believe me, it’s difficult to stand out in a field of nearly 200.
But it’s a total crap shoot. There are so many shows that the press employ non-theatre-critic reviewers just to get every show covered. If the CBC sent five of their reviewers to one show, they’d probably come back with five different star ratings. It’s completely a matter of random chance whether the critic who is assigned to your performance will “get” it 100%. So I was pretty floored when the first review came out…
* * * * *
“…practically leaps off the stage with life…a consistently thrilling celebration of the places we go and the people we meet.”
~ CBC Manitoba
I was in shock. And I definitely felt…weird about it. Did I deserve 5 stars? I love this story, and I believe in my show, yet all it has ever gotten is fantastic audience response but bad-to-ok reviews. I guess I was expecting more of the same, even though I had high hopes going into Winnipeg because it was my favorite city on the 2009 tour. My next show sold out. The first time ever I have completely sold out a show, by myself, not in my hometown, without a bunch of friends and family to paper the house. And then the second review came out…
* * * * *
“Miller is a revelation. She couldn’t possibly make up a better story and brings it to life with such heart-wrenching care and breathtaking yet understated style. The audience is transfixed…Rarely does a bare stage transform so elegantly into its tale’s setting, bringing us hand-in-hand with Miller’s mother, experiencing her heartache and jubilation. Miller has created a true object of beauty — don’t miss the chance to witness it.”
~ Winnipeg Free Press
Suddenly, everybody was talking about Threads. I sold out five more of my remaining six shows and was informed that Threads had been picked as “Best of Fest” and would be given an extra performance. UMFM named it one of their Top 10 shows of the 2012 festival, and the CBC review crew named me as Outstanding Female Performance, a tie with the lovely and talented Yana Kesala of Seattle.
I kid you not, it was like being a rock star. Everybody knew who I was, all the other performers wanted me to come see their shows, strangers insisted on buying me drinks, and in one case, dinner. It was the experience of a lifetime. It was like winning the lottery. I got to be a princess. As an artist, you hope and pray for your work to be received like Threads was in Winnipeg. Through it all, you try to take it with gratitude, humility, and grace. Because you know that two weeks later, you’ll be in a brand new city, at a completely different festival, and nobody will give a damn what they thought about you and your show in Winnipeg.
Minnesota? Eh, it happened. It was no Winnipeg, but then I knew my chances of winning the lottery twice were pretty slim. The show averaged 4.5 stars and glowing reviews from audience members on the fringe website, which is the single most important buzz-builder at that festival. But I didn’t get any mainstream press, and by the time I’d built some momentum from positive word-of-mouth, the festival was almost over. It doesn’t help that you only get 5 performances in Minnesota, unlike other festivals where you get 6-8.
I also lost my Minneapolis billet (volunteer host) because she objected to my line of work. Her prerogative if she doesn’t want a dirty dirty phone sex whore staying with her, but I can’t help wondering if she really thought she’d be hosting a virginal, tee-totaling, prayer-meeting-holding fringe artist. Not a ton of those, in my experience, but whatever. Better to know before I got there and was uncomfortable or kicked out. I considered canceling, but friends and fellow artists found me various places to stay. Still, it sucked having to move every two or three days. I never felt settled, and as soon as I got my bearings in the city, I had to change to a new place. I also ate like crap, since it was such a hassle to keep carting groceries from crashpad to crashpad, and it was of course more expensive to eat out almost every meal.
Minneapolis seems like such a hip, artsy city on the surface, but after two weeks there, I found it to be a conservative, repressed, religious hotbed of passive-aggressiveness. Trying to flyer the line-ups, which is every touring artist I know’s mainstay promotional tool, was damn near impossible. Few people would even take the flyers, and nobody would engage enough to give me an opening to pitch them. It was exhausting, and after a few days of banging my head against the wall and realizing none of the locals did it, I pretty much gave up. You don’t go into a festival thinking you’re going to make a ton of money, but you at least hope/expect to make back your production fee and cover the cost of your food while you’re there. Minnesota cost me a pretty penny. I met some cool folks, but I wouldn’t go back to that festival, and I’m not particularly fond of the city itself, either. Thankfully, the downside of knowing while it was going on that Winnipeg would only last two weeks has an upside: knowing the slog of Minnesota would only last two weeks too.
And then Edmonton. Oh, Edmonton. Edmonton is the biggest festival in North America, which isn’t necessarily always a good thing. It’s even harder to stand out there. But unlike Winnipeg, the reviews are not the end-all, be-all in Edmonton. I remember getting the worst reviews of the Inviting Desire tour in Edmonton but still selling out a bunch of shows. And it happened to me again, worst review of the tour (2.5 stars). Also a great four-star review, but boy do you remember the bad ones easiest. So I flyered my ass off and earned every audience member, and had some of the best audience responses and feedback of the whole tour. It wasn’t anywhere near as satisfying as Winnipeg, but I made a comparative amount of money, given that I did two fewer shows in Edmonton.
A lot of the touring artists end their season in Edmonton, so there’s always a rash of indulgence and crazy parties. Plus, I had the 4F’s with me- Alexa Fitzpatrick, Christel Bartelse, and my hometown pal (and person responsible for introducing me to the fringe circuit) Eleanor O’Brien. The four of us met up at the Orlando festival and decided to pool our resources to cross-promote and help market each other in Edmonton. We called ourselves the Four Fabulous Fringe Females, or 4F’s. It was nice to have a support network- touring as a solo artist is completely different that touring as part of an ensemble like I did in 2009. By the time I hit Edmonton this year, I needed some girl time! And I could definitely feel the nostalgia starting to creep in the last week there, but when it was finally over, I was ready to be home. Two months is a long time to live out of a suitcase.
All in all, a remarkable summer. My “new” beetle held up great over the 5K (!) miles I put on her, and my cats didn’t ignore me for too long before relenting and allowing me to worship them with tuna fish and tummy rubs. I’m still processing the whole tour, and it’s already time to start thinking about festival applications for next year. Yes, there’s going to be a next year. And a year after that, and a year after that. In fact, I can’t really imagine NOT doing at least one or two festivals a year for the foreseeable future. Once a person finds the fringe festival circuit, it changes their life. It’s like coming home.
Coming home from coming home. Now there’s a conundrum.
Hahahahaha. Let that be a lesson to me: ask, and ye shall receive. I shouldn’t have titled my last post “Try Again” because they did. I apologize if you couldn’t get to Bay City Blues, this blog, or any of my other sites this week. It seems I’ve been the victim of some kind of malicious script geared to overload my CPU. Dealt with for now, but I apparently needed a reminder that poking at wounded animals isn’t necessarily a wise decision. Dear Universe, note taken.
I’ve been freaking out about getting everything I need done before I leave for tour again on July 13th. (Yes, I embark on Friday the 13th. Don’t even start.) It seemed premature when I was doing it a week ago, and people kept saying, “you have a whole month!” But now it feels like July is right around the corner, and there are still so many things left on my To-Do List.
I finally got venue assignments and performance schedules for all my upcoming Threads performances and spent all day yesterday designing my posters and flyers for each festival. Here’s just one of about 9 different items I’m having printed…
I know it doesn’t seem very fancy, but I’m completely self-taught when it comes to graphic design. Also, the fringe festival audiences I’ve encountered need specific info that’s easy to read. If promotional materials are too busy, I feel like people just tune out or skip over them. Graphic design is very time consuming, and it’s easy for me to get lost/distracted if I’m not focused. So I’ve basically been ignoring my IM and email for a few days- I apologize if you’ve been trying to reach me.
It took me a while, but I was finally able to compile the right elements to fix one of my sound cues and am waiting for a friend to edit them together so I can hear it. It’s part of a scene that I feel has never quite reached its potential, and the moment could be a huge one. I have a short list of places in the show I want to fine-tune, but I’m really proud of where Threads is at right now. It’s funny, but a show like this is almost alive: it evolves and changes over time. It grows up. And I, like any proud mama, am kind of in awe of what I created.
Of course, I’m already thinking about my next show. It’s going to be worlds away from Threads, that’s for sure. It’s still only in the nebulous stage in my head, but I know it’s going to be about sex, bdsm, and/or phone sex. I just have too many stories! (Please don’t worry. Your secrets are safe with me. I won’t use any details which could be used to identify you, and any names will be changed to protect the guilty.)
As a first-time solo performer, it has been weird having my show not be about sex. Knowing me, I think everyone just kind of assumed it would be, and I did too. But honestly it has been interesting relating to people on a completely non-sexual level. I don’t think I realized how much of my identity is inextricably entangled with my sexuality. It’s weird for me when I feel disconnected from it, or like I cannot/should not express that part of myself. Having to be “professional” in the vanilla world is something I have ample experience with and can do well when the situation calls for it. I’ve just managed to build a life that doesn’t often require me to be anyone other than myself. I realize that sounds hilarious coming from someone who plays other people for a living, but I’m sure you get my point.
Part of promoting a solo show on the fringe festival circuit is getting the audience to buy YOU as a person, as a *shudder* brand. You get butts in seats by going out and socializing with patrons, volunteers, staff, and fellow performers. In a way, it’s a popularity contest. You have to show your personality and get people to like you. I know for me, when faced with a choice between two shows, I’m going to go see the one by the guy I had a beer with last night.
It was easy when we did Inviting Desire, since it was a show about women’s sexual fantasies. I turned on the sex appeal and went to town. But Threads has nothing to do with sex other than that it’s a human story and human beings have sex. It has felt inappropriate of me to use most of my flirty tactics to win people over, and yet…That’s me, that’s who I am. Authenticity is seductive in and of itself. I found myself feeling awkward at times in Atlanta and Orlando, and that is highly unusual for me in social situations.
But upon much consideration, I’ve decided that censoring myself isn’t serving my goals, the main one of which is to tell this incredible story to as many people as possible. So what if Threads is a decidedly UNsexy show? I’m fucking sexy dammit, and that should make it even all the more impressive that when someone watches me onstage for an hour, they aren’t thinking about sex. If being a sex-positive babe conflicts with their notions about talent or storytelling ability, then it’s obvious they need to see flesh-and-blood examples like myself.
So I’m going to stop being frustrated and start just being me. Those fringe audiences better watch out…