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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.
When I was writing A Story of O’s, I was extremely mindful of honoring my clients and respecting their privacy. First, I used no identifying details about specific callers without asking their permission. Also, I wanted any of my phone sex clients to be able to come to the show and, if they recognized themselves in any way, feel celebrated as opposed to ridiculed. So I am absolutely overjoyed at this rave review from the Willamette Week and particularly proud of the following:
“But the show’s momentum relies not on mere erotic absurdity. Rather than reducing her clients to caricatures, Miller humanizes them.”
*deep sigh of relief* I hoped that’s what I was doing, but you just never know how people are going to interpret things. I have one more Portland performance left, this Friday, and it’s already almost sold out. Then I have a couple weeks off before heading to Edmonton. It’s going to be very interesting (read: terrifying), presenting A Story of O’s to an audience that isn’t comprised primarily of my friends, family, and the kink/poly/swinger/sex-positive communities. I mean, if people think she is a blasphemous slut, what are they going to say about me? Guess I’m going to find out. Heh.
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.
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…
Oh Alanta, I hardly knew you. My shows at the Atlanta fringe went very well, although the festival as a whole was lightly attended, being the first year and all. If I’d been expecting to make a lot of money, I’d be depressed and disappointed. But I only applied after I got accepted to Orlando, because I figured it would be a good warm up. Orlando Fringe is the oldest in the States, and when I did the CAFF tour with Inviting Desire, I remember all the touring artists waxing ecstatic about what a killer festival it is. Anyway, I am actually quite happy I did Atlanta and am feeling really confident about this new version of the show.
Touring as a solo artist is a whole different beast than touring an ensemble show. Each has it’s pros and cons, as I’m learning.
So last night I arrive at the home where I’m staying in Orlando, and it’s just lovely. My hosts are longtime fringe supporters and one of them is even in a different fringe show this year. They have an adorable black lab puppy, two affectionate lap cats, a cockatiel, and a macaw! Honestly, missing my kitties is one of the hardest things about touring. You talk to the people you miss, but you can’t pet a furry friend over Skype.
Anyway, my room is the library. They have a huge book collection, and piles of National Geographics on their bookcases. I reach for the magazine on top of the pile closest to me. It’s a cover story on Vietnam, dated December 1968. The year my mom was there. The year that figures most prominently in my play.
I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. Synchronicity is awesome.
I leave for Atlanta in 9 days. It’s funny, because I knew when I sat down to write Threads that I was writing the show for the express purpose of touring it on the fringe festival circuit, but I still can’t believe it’s really happening. I’ve been freaking out on a constant basis for the last month, and then a couple of days ago I saw this phrase in an email newsletter I rarely do more than glance at…
Worry is negative prayer.
It just hit me that I don’t want to practice negative prayer. I don’t like what I put myself through when I do it. This strange calm came over me. It’s going to be okay. I’m going to be okay. I know my show, I know the story, and I am about to have the chance to share it with complete strangers across the continent. This is everything I am. This is what I work for and what I live for: wonderful adventures and fleeting encounters with random people. Little joys and huge discoveries. In fact, in a larger sense this is what the play is about.
I think I’m having an artgasm in anticipation. 🙂
I finally have all my fringe festival lottery results, and Threads: The True Story of an Indiana Farm Girl in Vietnam is going to appear in five (holyfuckingshitfive!) festivals this year…Atlanta, Orlando, Winnipeg, Minnesota, and Edmonton. There is minimal info on my Events Page, and if you visit my Threads Page, you’ll see there isn’t much there either. Because…I’ve finally gotten around to building a proper website for the play! I figured it wasn’t kosher to send unsuspecting audience members to this here sometimes-pornorific blog, and you have to work the social media these days if you’re an artist, or you starve. There’s no shame in either, but I’d rather play to packed houses than empty ones. Anyway, I have a shiny new official site for Threads now, and that’s where you can find dates, times, and ticket purchase information for all upcoming festivals and shows. Also, I have a wee favor to ask- if you happened to see the show last year, please visit the Audience Guestbook and leave a review? Much obliged! Now I just have to finish my script revisions, start rehearsing, compile sound cues, make tech notes in scripts for fringe technicians, gather new props/costumes, send press releases, make travel arrangements, design a poster and flyers, get them printed, etc. etc. etc. Lol! Get the picture?
Moving on…I haven’t written in a while, because I knew what I needed/wanted to write about, and it makes for a sizable post (which now that I’m writing I’ve decided to split into two different ones). There was also some heartbreak in my world. A potentially huge deal I stumbled across at AVN/AEE and put a whole lot of time and energy into fell through. In a crappy way. In a way that reminded me that though I do a good job of surrounding myself with the kind of people who appreciate me for who I am and don’t judge me for my kinkiness or my sex work, as far as the rest of the world is concerned I’m still dirty and perverted. And yes, I am talking about people I met at the PORN convention. Sigh. Fuck ’em. But not before they managed to fuck me a little on this deal. *shrug* It sent me into a bit of a depression actually (couple with the next paragraph), but in the end it’s just motivation. Idiots pissed off the wrong woman. Heh.
There’s another, more personal heartbreak I’m dealing with too. The downfall of being so open with my life is that I don’t really feel comfortable talking about it in too much detail here, out of respect for those involved. And sometimes I have to wait until I’m out of the hole before I can write about being stuck in it. What it boils down to is that I am losing one of my soul mates, dearest friends, greatest champions…Not a permanent situation like my other recent loss, but a very real separation of distance and lack of time together, and the natural ebbing of intimacy that will surely ensue. It feels worse than a death, and I have been grieving for a few weeks in an intensely emotional way that verges on visceral. (You ever feel sick to your stomach when you get upset? That. For weeks.) I love this person profoundly, but for now at least, we don’t get to be in each other’s lives on a daily basis. It brings to mind the first line from one of my favorite books, Written on the Body, by Jeanette Winterson:
“Why is the measure of love loss?”
I guess the good news is that fringe deadlines (promo materials, tech info, etc.) are fast approaching, and I don’t have time to wallow in nostalgia. There is work to be done…
Slowly crawling out of the hole I’ve been in for the past month or so. Maybe I was just in resistance to dealing with all the things I knew were piling up on my plate…
Got my first round of applications in for the Fringe Festival circuit next year. I didn’t win the touring lottery (which guarantees you at least five festivals) but there were 46 applicants for 5 international spots, so I wasn’t really expecting to. So far, I’ve applied to Orlando, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton. Depending on which, if any, of those I get into, I may apply for Atlanta, DC, Minneapolis, Boulder, Indianapolis, Chicago, San Francisco, and/or Vancouver as well. It feels good to get the applications in- now it’s just a waiting game.
I need to do a re-write of Threads. I made a ton of discoveries during my two runs so far, and there are a number of small changes that have been percolating in my brain. Nothing too major- I don’t think- but who knows? Once I get started…
I am also thinking about finding a director. My last one did a bang-up job, and I couldn’t have created the show I did without him, but I feel like I could benefit from a new perspective.
And that statement is true on so many levels. (More to come…)