So I haven’t had time to write anything yet this month.
But I have an excuse! A good one! I’ve just finished a season of 4 shows at the Brighton Fringe Festival of my show, ‘Operation: Love Story’. Last night, in fact. I’ve barely recovered. In some insane attempt at bringing back some normalcy to my life after the last hectic couple of weeks, I have, this morning (after waking up at 6:15 am to go to work and then finding out I wasn’t needed until 3pm), done three loads of washing, put a new comforter on my bed, cleaned my windows for the first time since I moved in and am about to dye my hair a different colour.
I don’t exactly know how this brings things back to normal.
All I know is I don’t do anything by halves.
Anyway. Last Wednesday night I lugged a massive, too-hastily-packed bag to Clapham Junction to take the train to Brighton (said bag did not include toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo or conditioner. It did, however, include overalls/dungarees, so even if it was a little underprepared for hygiene, it was, in many ways, superior to your average travel bag).
I arrived at Brighton ridiculously early, having wanted to avoid the after-work rush. I was proud of myself for about five minutes, until I realised I had a massive bag, no idea where I was staying, no key to get in to the place I was staying and had about 3 hours to kill before the show I was seeing that night started. I hadn’t even brought reading material. I lugged my bag to the nearest pub, bought a cider and sat down despondently to look at the free advertising material left lying about – and we know its a desperate moment when we start to read free things. The doctor’s surgery. The tube. Awkward date gone wrong. I wasn’t even hungry yet so couldn’t even justify ordering food. Luckily, just as I had decided to hang out in the pub for another 45 minutes until a show upstairs in the pub theatre would start (I didn’t really care what show it was, as long as I could be distracted for a little while), the friend I was staying with messaged me to let me know she was home and I could come to hers. I immediately jumped in a taxi (I WAS wearing heels) and headed over. I had met this lovely friend of mine in Stockholm last year at the Women Playwright’s International Conference and it was great to sit down and catch-up a bit on the last year. We chatted for an hour or two as she got dinner ready and I recovered from having a large cider on an empty stomach. As a side note, playwright’s conferences have been ridiculously successful in terms of making random, lovely friendships that continue over continents and time. I am still waiting for them to be ridiculously successful at making me into a wildly famous and rich playwright (JOKES!)
That night I headed off to see Shit-Faced Shakespeare, which I had been wildly excited about. Basically, one actor in the troupe becomes ‘shit-faced’ each night before the performance and then attempts to perform a serious Shakespeare play with 4 other (sober) actors. I thought the idea was brilliant and had heard excellent things. But, as is often the way with things that you are wildly excited about, I left feeling a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong – I laughed. I laughed A LOT. However, I think what I was really excited about was the potential chaos and spontaneity and interest the drunk could bring to the show. How would the other actors deal with the drunk, how would they keep the show going? What I saw, which was less interesting (though amusing at the time), was a bunch of actors doing Shakespeare and, then, completely separately, a drunk guy doing whatever the hell he liked. Also, it was pretty clear the other actors were very used to working with a drunk actor and it no longer took them by surprise. What I thought would make a show less manufactured and controlled actually ended up being just as controlled and manufactured as your average Shakespeare play. Well, not your AVERAGE Shakespeare play, but you get me…
Thursday morning was tech rehearsal and it went pretty well – my techie, producer and one of the venue staff saw the show for the first time and they all seemed to enjoy it (laughed in the right places, so that was certainly encouraging). We had a brief break for lunch, did some plugging of the show on various internet sites and then headed to a ‘Meet the Media’ event held by the Fringe for the participants. Of course, in the end, it was mainly participants and only a few promotors/industry people around, but it was still really lovely to meet up with other fringe people, compare events, experiences, talk about our shows etc. I even met up again with one of the stage managers I met on ‘You Me Bum Bum Train’ when I first got to London last year. Around 5:45pm, however, I started to get anxious and we all agreed it was time to head back to the theatre to get ready.
We had a tiny audience, but I had expected this and had made my peace with it many days earlier. Actually, I tell a lie. I didn’t even need to ‘make my peace with it’. I had done a performance of the show in my director’s apartment for three of her friends a few days earlier and it had actually worked really well. I didn’t need to ‘make my peace’ with a small audience because I had decided that the piece actually worked perfectly fine with a tiny audience. That said, when people file into your space and there are 40 empty chairs and only 6 audience members, it does look a little sad. It doesn’t necessarily look great to the audience, who don’t necessarily know that you, the performer/writer/producer, has ‘made your peace with it.’ It kind of looks like failure. And we did have a critic in that evening, and ‘MASSIVE FAILURE’ was not really the message I would necessarily have liked them to be picking up on. But I decided not to care. Because, you know what? I actually didn’t care. I was just happy to be doing the show. Because I liked it. Because I thought it was good. Because I liked speaking out loud the words I’d written down in a mad rush at the start of the year. Because I had had fun working with my director on the piece over the last 4 months. Because I thought people might actually like it (those who saw it, of course). I liked all of that.
And so, I just tried to enjoy it. I enjoyed the laughs I got. I squashed the little voice that said, ‘They’re only laughing because they’re you’re friends.’ I ignored the voice that said, ‘Look how stony faced that critic is – she’s clearly not enjoying herself.’ I amped up the voice that said, ‘They’re clearly all listening to you, clearly paying attention – look how their heads all moved at the same time when you moved to a different side of the stage.’ And I graciously accepted as real and heartfelt (not forced or expected by the rules of politeness) the clapping at the end of the show.
This is all kind of a new experience for me. I’m used to caring. I’m used to caring about what other people think. I’m not used to considering what I personally think in spite of other people’s opinions. I lack the conviction of my own convictions. Which is why I could never be a politician. And why I sometimes find it very difficult to be a playwright or theatre-maker. I can always see the other side of an argument, which might sound like a nicely pleasant trait to have in a friend, but isn’t particularly useful when you’re in the business of arguing ideas, creating stories and convincing people that you, and you alone, are going to entertain them for an hour.
You gotta have conviction. You gotta have ideas. You gotta believe ’em, in case no one ese does. And if they don’t believe ’em, you gotta believe ’em more. You gotta believe ’em ’til someone else does. That’s what you gotta do. I don’t know why I’m typing in some weird accent, but it somehow feels more convincing than my normal tone.
And that’s what I continued to do for the rest of the four days. Apart from a couple of low points, I continued to believe in the show and I continued to believe in what we had created and I continued to believe in people’s good reactions to the piece. Jenny from several years ago (hell, Jenny of just a few months ago) wasn’t able to do this. That Jenny would have damned my current state of being as ‘delusional’. But I actually feel more clear-headed about everything that occurred over the past few months than Jenny of several years ago. I went into Brighton not expecting to suddenly become a star. I want into Brighton not expecting to make money. I went into Brighton wanting to perform a piece that I have been thinking about for 3 or so years. I wanted to get a couple of reviews and have it filmed. And that’s what I did. Anything else that comes out of it is a bonus.
I think probably my biggest problem up until this point has been caring too much. I know this might sound strange, but I think I have always wanted to be an actress and to be involved in the theatre too badly. Its been too emotional for me. The current school of thought in movies and TV and chat shows on becoming an actor goes, ‘You have to want it so badly or you’ll never make it – you’ll give up because its too hard. You have to want it more than anybody else or anything else, so you can sacrifice everything else to make it happen.’ But that is bullshit. That is unhealthy. Because the fact of the matter is that only a very few people ‘make it’ in the way that is portrayed in those movies and novels and chat shows etc. And wanting it badly enough doesn’t necessarily mean its going to happen. Wanting is just another word for wishing in this instance – and wishing ain’t gonna do anything (here comes that voice again – the wizened ol’ baseball coach voice). People ‘make it’ for all sorts of reasons – hard work, talent, the right opportunity, luck – but just sitting around and wanting it ain’t one of them. You gotta love performing to do it, sure (because otherwise there’s no other reason to do it – certainly not fame or money), but if you’re wanting it for the sake of wanting it, you’re always going to end up miserable. Because its never going to be enough. My advice would be to care less. Enjoy your life. Enjoy the opportunities you get and the opportunities you make. Don’t spend them worried about what you’re missing out on.
So, despite doing 3 out of 4 shows for an audience of less than 10 people, I had a fabulous 4 days in Brighton. Of course, I was helped along by wonderful friends (who also happened to be my creative team and/or audience). There was a drunken night at the Spiegeltent, which can only make things better; cuddling with the tiny kittens of my producer (so tiny! SO FLUFFY!); seeing friends’ shows and friends of friends’ shows and random shows as well as cheese, cheese and more cheese (There was a delicatessen near were I was staying. There were many different types of cheese). There was also sleeping in a gorgeous bedroom in a beautiful house (I want to move to Brighton! Where the rents are so much cheaper!) shopping in vintage stores (I was very restrained – no clothes were bought) and going to the Brighton Pier and watching a friend try to stay on an electric bull for 30 seconds (he lasted 4. Which was still the best that I saw out of all the other people there).
One of the best things about the whole experience though, was being able to put something in front of an audience and not to freak out so entirely that I couldn’t figure out where things were going well and where they were going badly. To be aware enough of myself and my performance to know when I was yelling hysterically at them because that was needed for the character and when I was yelling hysterically at them because I was panicing about the fact that they weren’t laughing. When things didn’t go quite right or according to plan, I was able to consider why the things hadn’t gone quite right, talk them over with my director and consider what could be altered; instead of dissolving into tears and cursing myself for not being perfect and/or Judi Dench (who incidentally hasn’t ever done a one-person show, I don’t think – don’t quote me though – so, really, that’s one point to me).
We have many plans for the show after Edinburgh. One of the most exciting would be to potentially find an apartment to do it in, so that it could be site-specific. But, who knows? At the moment I am just delighted that I did it, that I was happy with it and that I get to do it again.
Thank you Brighton. Thank you Brighton Fringe. Thank you to all the wonderful people who have been instrumental to this show and this character having its moment on stage.