This…was a hard Fringe.
Picking up the pieces now in those oddly quiet days after, and finally getting some reliably decent sleeps again, it’s odd to look back on this one, my ninth Ottawa Fringe Festival, and the third in which I performed. I think I saw fewer shows than ever before…a paltry 27, tho of course they were all fantastic. In fact, before I get to my own post-show report, let’s deal with those amazing shows I was lucky enough to lay eyes and feels on:
the Exclusion Zone
Love is a Battlefield
Everybody Dies in December
How to be a Gentleman
Rideshares and Rope Swings
Magic Unicorn Island
2 For Tea
Angels and Aliens
A Tension to Detail
Alpha Delta 86
In Waking Life
GET LOST Jem Rolls
Lovely Lady Lump
Okay, so that’s a pretty swell list, yeah? And I’m sorry I missed some great hometown heroes like Fireflood and Dead Unicorn Ink, but here’s hoping they consider a double-bill remount (you know you want to!). Also missed the local Improv gangs at Fringe…will try and make up for that with a few visits to their regularly scheduled shows coming soon. Some shows I missed because they conflicted with my own, or out of sheer exhaustion. Of the ones I did catch, I loved a lot. Jem Rolls was as good as I’ve ever seen him in GET LOST, the Two Kind Boys made a wonderful Fringe debut with the terrific RIDESHARES AND ROPE SWINGS, Martin Dockery impressed as ever in THE EXCLUSION ZONE, Nancy Kenny gave what I think is her most beautiful performance ever in EVERYBODY DIES IN DECEMBER. In the end though, I had two top picks that immediately made me want to come back in the theatre and see them again
MAGIC UNICORN ISLAND from Jayson McDonald. The dude what inspired me to become a solo performer continues to inspire with maybe his best show yet (and that’s saying something). Hilarious, imaginative, poignant and devastating.
…And CARDINAL from Aplombusrhombus. I had the privilege of performing with Madeleine Hall in last year’s Fringe, and after Cardinal it’s pretty obvious who had the talent in THAT team-up. Joining forces with Mitchel Rose, they created a wordless, colourful and vibrant visual landscape as two opposing clowns act out the disintegration of a man’s mind to alzheimers. Utterly unforgettable.
Plenty more shout-outs deserved…The Synsk sisters charmed mightily in IN WAKING LIFE, Gerard Harris hit storytelling highs in A TENSION TO DETAIL, James and Jamesy continue to be brilliant in 2 FOR TEA…I really could go on and on and ON, but I think I’m just stalling now.
This year I hit the Fringe in my first ever solo show, a comedy/drama called NORMAN BISBEE GOES TO WAR, the story of an elderly WWII vet who is robbed of a precious locket and sets out to nab the punk who took it. Along thee way he meets a young runaway, is haunted by visions of his old squadmate Peppini, yadda yadda yadda. A little late for the elevator pitch now, I know. This show was a definite labour of love, and I can’t thank my stage manager Erin McDonald enough (fighting illness the entire Fringe, but still made every show and nary a tech bobble to be found. If anyone deserves an award this time out, it’s her). Likewise her partner Pierre, who jumped in by her side and was ready to take over if need arose, plus stalwart venue tech Fraser, sound guru Leslie Cserepy, and superstar Jodi Morden who helped out so much in the creation of the show. And of course my OWN Partner Caitlin, who helped keep me sane and standing throughout. All the love forever, gang.
I don’t know what I was expecting from my first solo outing…I mean, I know what i was HOPING for, or dreaming about…best of fest! Sellout crowds! Rave reviews! Outstanding solo performer! Cries for a remount! On to Winnipeg..!!!! Ha. 🙂
The reality was much more, well, real than all that. Small to middling houses (I will NOT make my money back, tho I won’t take such a hit that I have to sell organs or anything), a couple of relatively pleasant reviews, no word of mouth to speak of, no awards or accolades…none of which sounds particularly strange when I put it on paper. But at the time…well, let’s just say that playing to 8 people at 11pm on closing weekend was not a personal high for me (but I gave those 8 good folk a terrific show, dagnabbit!). I got disappointed, I felt distant from my beloved Fringe family…gone from being that reviewer guy everyone knew and liked to just some untested solo performer whose show wasn’t doing very well and who didn’t know how to open his mouth without whining about that fact. I found myself feeling very un-Fringey pangs of envy towards friends and colleagues whose shows WERE packing houses and WERE getting rave reviews and great word of mouth while I stagnated…believe me, I ain’t proud of those pangs. Add to that working overtime hours at my day job all the while I was opening a physical theatre piece, and my visits to Chapel Perilous were becoming more and more frequent. And I know, I know that others at Fringe had even less material success than me, and those people have my eternal sympathy. Fringe can be a brutally tough racket, and this one has been a big learning experience for me.
But…but that isn’t what I wanted! A LEARNING experience?? My first solo show? Are you kidding me? This was supposed to be my breakthrough, guys! Didn’t anyone read the script in my head? AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO DID THE READING???
“…and then I won a Dora Award.” It’s right there in my diary, you guys!!
Sigh. But in the end, and after some sober (and sometimes drunken) self-reflection, I know exactly why my show never sold out, and why the reviews were just okay, and why nobody talked about it on twitter and all that jazz. And that’s because…it just wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t TERRIBLE, don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of what I put up there on that stage. It IS a good show. But not only is there room for improvement, there’s need. If this show is to ever see the light of day again…and trust me, after this Fringe my dreams of touring it have taken a serious body blow…it needs some work. And I’ve already taken a few moments to sit down and think about where those tweaks and twists might come. And I’ll be talking with others about exactly that in the months to come. Fringe may be only 11 days a year, but it also never ends. That’s my new reality. And that reality…well, that’s a rather welcome one.
Take a break, Norman…you did good.
In fact, I have to delay workshopping on Norman Bisbee because now that Ottawa Fringe is over for 2016, it’s time to get back into the rehearsal hall with Madeleine Hall (the talented one, remember?) and Jodi Morden (the belle with the bell) as we start prepping FASTER THAN THE SPEED OF DATING to hit Vancouver Fringe in September. See? Fringe never ends, gang. Fringe is a beginning that never ends. Peace, love and soul,