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- A Story of O’s
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
It would be difficult for me to think of any two-week span in my lifetime that was more incredible and mind-blowing than my experience at the 2012 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. It really was like getting to be the star of my very own fairy tale.
Unless you want to make yourself crazy, you have to understand that once you present your art to the world, you have no control over how it is received and interpreted. I won’t lie; validation from audiences, critics, and (most importantly to me) one’s peers feels good. But if you depend on that for motivation, your creativity is subject to the whims of everyone save yourself. I tell stories because I have something to say that I believe needs to be heard. I don’t tell stories so people will pat me on the back and tell me how wonderful and talented I am. Sure, it’s nice to hear, and I appreciate positive feedback as much as anyone. But I tell stories to remind people that we are all connected.
More important to me than critical and financial success, those two weeks in Winnipeg gave me a sense of connectedness with my fellow human beings that I don’t think I’d ever felt before. Me telling my (mother’s) story gave people permission to tell theirs. Complete strangers walked up to me on the street to thank me, and to share their own similar experiences. Gratitude, appreciation, respect. Smiles, hugs, tears. It was simultaneously flattering and humbling.
Hands down, the most memorable of these interactions involved Walt and Jody. They were a charming couple who flagged me down at the King’s Head Pub one afternoon and insisted on buying me a drink. We chatted for a bit, and I was just struck by what delightful people they were. Threads really resonated with Walt, for personal reasons I don’t feel it’s my place to share. We crossed paths a couple of times over the course of the festival and ended up befriending each other on Facebook.
When I returned to Winnipeg in 2013, we made plans to catch up over a lovely dinner, which Jody and Walt, ever generous, insisted on treating me to. They talked up the show to tons of people, and it really kind of felt like they were my champions. They had become an integral part of my Winnipeg experience. They weren’t just a couple who had seen my show; they were my friends. When I didn’t get drawn in the Winnipeg lottery this year, I think they were as bummed out as I was. We were already looking forward to the possibility of 2015.
Last night, I logged into Facebook and was shocked and heart-broken to read the following post on Walt’s wall:
“Dear friends of Walt: Most of you don’t know me, and I don’t know you. I am his girlfriend and life partner of the past 6 years. Rather than have you wonder what happened to his online presence, I wanted to let you know that he passed away very suddenly sometime last night. He was not ill; in fact he was happily looking forward to breakfast with his son. I will keep his facebook page active for a while and check it from time to time in case anyone wishes to post a farewell message here. I hope that all of his family members have heard the news by now and that this is not a shock for you. For those of you who were personal friends and former co-workers, I know that Walt did not really keep in touch very much, but I believe that he valued each and every one of you in his understated way. I will check this page for the next little while. Peace and blessings to all. -Jody”
Sweet, wonderful Jody, my heart goes out to you. Words are not adequate at a time like this, but I am sending my love and sympathy to you across the miles.
And to Walt…Your smile and words of encouragement live on in some of my fondest memories. You are profoundly missed. Winnipeg will not be the same without you.
Oh holy jesus fuck. This is happening…
100: A Story of O’s
written & performed by Tonya Jone Miller
8:30pm Friday 23 May 2014
10:00pm Saturday 31 May 2014
Minion Solo Festival (May 23 – May 31, 2014)
Seattle Creative Arts Center
2601 NW Market Street
Seattle, WA 98107
When Tonya takes a job as a phone sex operator, she has no idea how much it will change her life. Play voyeur as she learns the ups and downs of an in-and-out industry. Meet some of her more memorable clients and be possibly aroused (and likely disturbed too) by their unique fetishes. It isn’t long before Tonya discovers there’s a lot more to phone sex than just talking dirty, and some of her callers’ fantasies have become her own. Ride along on her hilarious, hot, and heart-warming journey to find out there might just be a little pervert in all of us.
Tonya Jone Miller is a lifelong lover, performer, and creator of theatre from Portland, Oregon. She is best known for her work on Dance Naked Productions’ Inviting Desire with Eleanor O’Brien, and for her award-winning solo show, Threads, about her American mother’s experiences in Vietnam during the war. Tonya is a renowned phone sex operator and the owner of BayCityBlues.com, as well as being an openly kinky, sex-positive educator who teaches workshops on how to talk dirty and role-play. She has been featured in BUST Magazine, the upcoming full-length feature documentary Hotline, HBO’s Real Sex, Thrillist, Tits and Sass, and Forbes. Tonya is the proud owner of a dirty mind, a filthy mouth, and a clean conscience.
**Awards and Accolades for TJM’s previous work, Threads**
Best of Fest (Patron’s Pick)
2012 Winnipeg Fringe Festival
2013 London Fringe Festival
2013 Toronto Fringe Festival
2013 Winnipeg Fringe Festival
Outstanding Performance of 2013 – NOW Magazine Toronto
Outstanding Female Performance of 2012 – CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)
#1, Top Ten Shows of 2012 – UMFM
“Subtle, smooth, sad and emotionally engrossing.” ~The Boston Globe
“Leaps off the stage with life…A consistently thrilling celebration of the places we go and the people we meet.” ~CBC
“A quietly engaging, understated performer with a thoroughly trustworthy air.” ~Edmonton Sun
“A true object of beauty – don’t miss….the best one-woman show of the fringe.” ~Winnipeg Free Press
“A wondrous ride…Miller is a charismatic, engaging storyteller.” ~Vue Weekly
“Miller’s understated performance is the perfect vehicle to tell this story.” ~London Free Press
“Quietly and effectively builds to a truly emotional conclusion.” ~Orlando Sentinel
Sometimes, when I need it most, the Universe gives me a little hug. I recently received this email from a client who wishes to remain anonymous but gave me permission to post his words here.
Welcome home and my most sincere congratulations!
It appears you were covered in accolades for the last few months with your Threads tour. That must be extremely satisfying for you considering the anxiety you expressed before leaving.
Letting go, as you referenced in your blog post, is something that holds quite a few of us back. Time goes on and we cling to the routine, unwilling to change, and so life and opportunities pass us by.
The universe doesn’t care about our dreams, and will let us die an empty, unfulfilled lump of unused potential if we just hold on to thestatus quo. But…it has no choice but to respond to the plans and actions of someone who is obsessed with a vision.
You have a vision, to combine a mere 26 letters, over and over again, in many different combinations, in such a way as to open the hearts and minds of all who you meet.
Keep doing it. The strong may survive, but the obsessed leave a mark that echoes down the hallway of literature and theater.
Best wishes and I hope to speak to you again soon.
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.
So yeahhhhh…I think I just got favorably compared to Spalding Gray. That happened. *speechless*
The Beat Magazine review of Threads
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.
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?