Fringe Benefits

08/11/2015

Buck Rogers Poster

The Fringe Festival has officially been over for a day now. I’m still sort of reeling. My apartment is a mess, my car is a mess, I have calls from phone numbers I don’t recognize and I may or may not have left my voicemail full so I wouldn’t know what they were talking about. Right after our show wrapped I returned around a dozen emails in short order. I returned to work and business as usual. I started reading a book. I jumped onto the next project. I wrote a movie review. I messaged some friends I hadn’t talked to in a while.

For almost two months every thought in my life was subordinate to this: get a show done and on stage. In the movie Day for Night, Francois Truffaut says, “Making a film is like a stagecoach ride in the old west. When you start, you are hoping for a pleasant trip. By the halfway point, you just hope to survive.” I think that applies to Fringe shows too.

It was a modest hit. We didn’t get reviewed in a single paper, even though I’m pretty sure some critics came to the show. Our pictures never made it to the Fringe website even though I know a Fringe photographer was at the show. Buzz was mixed. A lot of people I didn’t know gave us four and five star reviews. Quite a few also gave us two star reviews. Our opening night audience, near 100, was our largest. We only dipped below fifty once even though if you looked at all the promotional material and press across the board, you would not have known we existed. 174 shows is a lot. I’ve decided I should be happy we did as well as we did.

It was a quirky show. I feel the need to defend it and also to apologize for it in equal measure. I couldn’t do either during the run for promotional reasons, but the show is over and this is my blog. Some people came to our show and absolutely hated it. We were unpolished. We were uneven. Our jokes didn’t always land. Some of our dialog was clunky. Some of our transitions were abysmal. And when a couple two star reviews would drop, those are the only parts of the show I would think of.

We were also a very clever show. I saw fifteen other shows at the Fringe. Ours was as clever as most. We had an offbeat, smaller sense of humor. One of my favorite jokes involved a game of Apples to Apples being placed on stage during a transition. Four of our five audiences laughed at that. Sunday night at 10PM they were too tired. My other favorite joke involved a weirdly lilting weather radio voice. Nobody ever laughed at that, except me backstage every time.

But there are two temptations in art: to believe all the bad and to believe all the good. Neither is true, even a little bit. I sincerely think that for a group of people with a certain sense of humor, and not just our friends and relatives, our show was a solid effort. There are those of us who would prefer a handful of original moments, crafted in strange, backwards ways, to a show full of predictably polished punchlines. There are also people who will see the same effort and be offended we thought we could charge money for that. I have to learn not to ignore the latter group, but also not to assume they’re the only ones in the audience.

I fell in love with the Fringe four years ago; with seeing everyone abandon everything for the sake of creation for a couple weeks a year. It seemed like a kind of distilled terrarium of idealism where something beautiful was allowed to grow in a big, messy city. It’s hard, if not impossible, to maintain that idealism while actually making something. And when you leave that world in its isolation, you realize the mess never went away. It was just waiting for you to return. And that makes the experience a little disappointing. I didn’t meet up with 20 show creators and form lasting friendships. I didn’t make a name for myself. I didn’t make a lot of money. I didn’t fundamentally change my relationship with the people I worked with. I made something. Some good happened. Some bad happened. And like every day of every life, there were times in the process where I felt a little lonely, a little disconnected, a little overwhelmed. But I’m starting to think anything that blocks those feelings out entirely is just a cult.

I honestly do think creation, whether it’s the Great American Novel or a silly little scifi Fringe show, is the purest spiritual act. There’s no pragmatic reason to create. We do it because we’re alive. And yet we also have to live while creating, which is hard to do and even harder to do in a meaningful, balanced way. I freaking love the people I made this show with. Most of them have been in my life for almost a decade, and I have been happier as a result. The older I get, the more I realize things might not change overnight. But also, the older I get the more at peace I am with the way things are. That doesn’t mean I stop fighting, stop creating, stop working to improve. It doesn’t mean I ignore the love I have right now, or stop forming new bonds as I move along. Honestly, it’s just a feeling. I’m not really sure how to justify it yet. Maybe it just means I’ve learned to see the beauty around me, so I’m not quite so shattered when I can’t create paradise on earth in two months.

A less narcissistic sidenote: I really,  really loved my cast and crew.

Seth, may you forever be the recipient of my meaty male lead parts.

Shannon, you are a saint, a scholar, and a legitimate badass.

Amelia, becoming actual friends with you was the highlight of the run. We will be working together again soon, but also we should hang out and watch those two movies we swapped.

Andy, I am already in line for that remount of As I Lay Dying. I won’t say a word about the script. Just tell me where to go and what to do.

Dan, I would hate your disgusting talent if you weren’t the nicest person living.

Chris, I broke on stage almost exclusively because of you.

Kelsey, you’re so frigging cool! Seriously. It’s like a shot of life in the arm every time you walk into the room.

Holly, I would talk about how you rocked the costumes but you already know that. You’ve inspired me to make the next production even more elaborate and ridiculous.

Chelsea, I’m so glad I conned you into being on the team. Let’s make art together forever. Also sorry about your SD Card.

And everyone who came out and supported Buck, I love you all too.

Goodbye Fringe. Goodbye Buck.

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