Monday, August 25, 2008

Last Dance

Well we're done.  Had our final show this afternoon.  I want to be hugely celebratory and momentous here, but I think I'm just weary and ready to come home!

All the same, this whole trip has indeed been momentous and we have a lot to celebrate.  Our performances this last week were absolutely our best, with great audiences responding in kind, laughing more, in more places, and louder than any audiences before.  That may be a reflection of the general mood of the festival in the last week -- sort of a throw caution to the wind, let's all have a good time vibe -- but I also think it's a reflection of the work we've done honing and crafting the show.  We're more relaxed and more confident than we were a month ago, and we have a much better sense of how to squeeze the most out of what we wrote.

What's more, now that all is said and done, it seems our show was rather a success, relatively speaking.  According to the folks in our venue press office, The Americans was solidly second-tier, behind sure-fire acts from veteran performers and runaway hits, but with better box-office and reviews than many of the other 100 shows at our venue.  After all, this is an environment where, depending on who you talk to, the average show gets between 4 and 9 audience members nightly.  Ours averaged about 30.  And while we felt a bit kicked in the head by some of our reviews, we managed to avoid the horrific assessments unfairly lavished on many other acts.  Nobody called our show "absolutely excruciating," for example, or likened us to "the experience of stabbing one's eyes out" or told us to "go home," as we've seen other performers endure.  Even our worst reviews ("as subtle as a sledge-hammer to the face and slightly less enjoyable") still managed to say something nice ("strong performances... an excellent send-up of Obama-mania").   So I'd say that's pretty huge, especially for first-timers like us.

Okay, so now the big question.  Would I do the Edinburgh Festival Fringe again?  As I said before, the short answer is yes.  I mean, c'mon.  Getting to perform for a whole month in a gorgeous city is a pretty amazing experience no matter how you slice it.  

The long answer?  Well, let me frame it with a couple key take-aways about this whole experience:

1) It's expensive.  Very expensive.  This year, we were incredibly fortunate to have benefitted from the generosity of our friends and family and other donors, so none of us are going home in debt.  That is extremely rare.  Most of our friends here took a hit of between $10,000 and $20,000 to get here and are now crossing all their fingers and toes to break even when the final tallies are in.  Most won't.  So coming back again gives me pause, especially as I don't imagine to benefit from such great fortune more than once.

2) Self-producing is not only expensive, it's also a huge drain on time and energy.  I loved being here, but I wish I could have seen more shows, enjoyed more of the festival, and seen more of the city.  As it was, pre-show flyering and prep time meant I wasn't available to do all that until after 4pm and it made late bed-times a lot more of a problem.  The ideal way to come back is with a producer attached.  If I could come back just as a performer, who only needed to take care of herself well enough to perform every day?  That would be a dream.

3) The whole review culture here is insane.  Reviews are bad enough in any environment.  At best, they are a necessary evil.  A vehicle that can alert a potential audience about your show.  But here it's like this frenzy.  There are dozens of publications that churn out printed and online reviews every day of the festival, all of them are vying for readership and clout, and all of them using a five-star system to rate the shows.  The result is that it's very hard to avoid Star-Obsession.  How many stars did they get?  Did we get?  Did you get?  If you get a four or five star review, it can definitely help your show -- although that's far from a certainty -- but by the end of the festival, the whole place is saturated with posters boasting four star reviews that it hardly means anything at all.  Add to that: 1) a majority of reviewers are non-professionals, i.e. "students, young writers, and aspiring journalists" (according to one eminent Fringe publication) hired as extra help to cover as many shows possible, 2) it's much more entertaining to write (and read) a bad review than a good one, and 3) the editors of many publications assign star-ratings for shows they have never seen based on the first paragraph of their writers' reviews -- and the result is one big hot mess for performers.  It's such a head trip.  Were I to come back, it would have to be with the following -- a greater determination not to care what reviews say, and a PR team that still knows how to do their job in the absence of four and five star reviews.  

So that's it.  I'm exhausted.  It is now 2am and since starting this blog post, I've been to dinner, a sketch show, and a closing party at The Stand.  Now I need to pack, for tomorrow morning at 10am, a taxi comes to take us to the airport.  It's been such a trip.  A wonderful, creative, exhausting, edifying, beautiful trip.  

Thanks for taking the trip with me.

Until we meet again,

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Feeling the Love

Last Saturday of the Festival, the sun is out, High Street is a flooded with people, and everyone is in a good mood.  Gave out tons of flyers quickly and really enjoyed myself in the process -- perched as I always am on a short stone pillar, the better to look the part in my Lady Liberty hat, calling out, "Two great American comedies, featured on the BBC!" and flashing huge smiles at anyone who looks my way.  Hopefully we'll have some large houses for our final three performances....


Obama picked Biden.  Which I think is a good choice.  I like Biden.  

I have to say though that I'm a little hurt that Obama didn't email me first before announcing his decision.  I know I didn't sign up to receive the text message he sent his supporters, but -- and I don't mean to brag -- Barack has been emailing me on a regular basis.  It's true.  For many months now the Senator and his friend David Ploufe have been contacting me regularly about very insider campaign decisions.  They always close the email with this little running joke we have about me giving them another $25.  It's very funny stuff.  So needless to say I was a little surprised they didn't email me about this very important decision first.  That's all I'm saying.

Regardless, this is me on the first morning of the Obama-Biden ticket:

And speaking of choices, I do have stuff to say about whether or not I would choose to come back to the Fringe.  The short answer is yes but the long answer will have to wait.  Flyering calls.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Winding Down

So we're in the home stretch here at the Fringe, Ladies and Gentlemen, and I think I'm feeling ready for a little reflection.  At the same time, I find it hard to distill what I've been learning here into a cohesive statement.  I'm tempted to list off a few pithy one-liner lessons as a means to an end, but I don't think that would do justice to this experience.  So allow me to think aloud...

Well let's start with the creative stuff.  Wow.  "Comedy Master Class: Learn on Your Feet." That's what I could call my time at the Fringe.  Prior to working on this show, I had very little comedy experience.  I'd never done sketch, nor much improv, and had only supporting roles in the few comedic plays we did in grad school.  During the past year, while writing The Americans with Anne and Jeff, I was delighted to find that I really enjoy writing comedy, and even have some talent for it.  While I am still quite green, I find that if I can just throw caution to the wind and stop censoring myself, my comedic instincts are actually quite good.

But that's writing comedy.  Performing it is a whole 'nother matter.  

Or maybe it's overstating the case to say it's a whole different thing to perform comedy than to write it.  After all, I am an actor and a trained one at that, so on a basic level I absolutely know what I'm doing.  Plus, the comedic instinct I learned to rely on in writing is also there for me in performance.  I typically have a good sense for what needs to happen to make a joke or scenario pop.  However, honing that instinct?  Perfecting the execution of what's on the page?  Learning how to get the laugh every time?  That's hard.  It takes a lifetime and I'm just beginning.  

I'm making inroads though.  Listening, of course, is huge.  To your fellow performers and to the audience, to the rhythm of the piece as a whole.  Commitment is another big one.  Making a big choice and playing it fully.  Being unafraid to look like a fool.  Trusting the audience to stay with you, so you don't overplay your hand.  Learning to seduce the audience, to get them to come to you.  

I find there are some moments in the show where the comedy is easy to play.  Usually these are our better written bits.  The harder stuff has more to do with character development.  My character in the show is spoiled and materialistic, and if I'm not careful she can come across as kind of a brat and, in some scenes, cruel.  But on nights when I succeed at making her really specific and three-dimensional, when I can make her point of view and motivations really clear and human, those are the nights when the comedy really sings.  It makes me appreciate how good Ricky Gervais is in BBC's The Office, for example.  His character is an absolute ass, yet he's so awfully, beautifully human, that you can't help but laugh (while you cringe) at his mistakes.

Anyway, my point in all this is that I'm learning all these lessons in a very Sink or Swim environment.  Some days are better than others, some lessons stick, some I must learn again and again.  But I'm pretty sure I'm learning it at a faster pace than I would have had I never come to the Fringe.  So there's that.

This is already turning out to be a very long post and I haven't even gotten to what I've learned from a business perspective, or a human perspective.  Nor to my answer to the ubiquitous question in Edinburgh these days, "So, would you do the Fringe again?"

Guess that means you'll have something to look forward to reading tomorrow.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Go Figure

This morning we had zero pre-sale tickets.  At 1:30pm we had sold only a total of 12.  We were prepared for a small quiet crowd.  Instead, we got a decent sized crowd 27 who laughed the most and loudest of any audience we've ever had.  

It just goes to show you that you never know what'll happen here at the Fringe.

However, it should be noted that even a crowd of 12 is a huge success here, where the average audience is supposedly 4 people.  Or 6, or 9.  Reports vary, but the point is we're doing very well here audience-wise.  I don't know if that's a reflection of our venue, our marketing, our flyering, the novelty of our concept, or just plain luck.  Probably a bit of everything.

Oh and you know what helps?  What definitely contributes to getting flyers in hands, and presumably butts in seats?  This:

The Lady Liberty hat.  That's right.  That cheesy, green foam Statue of Liberty hat you usually see perched on some unfortunately spherical tourist in Times Square.  People love that hat here.  They LOVE it.  Never seen it before and can't get enough.  They snap pictures and call out, "Lady Liberty!"  Their kids stare in awe.  Offers are made to purchase it.    Unbelievable. 

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Morning Has Broken

Blackbird has spoken.  And the blackbird said, "BOMB-DIGGITY!"  

Ha.  I'm such a dork.  But we had a great day today.  Our show had a huge audience who really seemed to enjoy it, and boy did we need that.  We also got some really lovely, genuine comments from a performer friends of ours, Quincy, who came to see the show and that felt really great to hear after the week we've had.  It's nice to feel back in the saddle again.

And it wasn't magic either.  It was because after two crappy shows and one okay show, we put our heads together yesterday and tried to figure out what we could do with it.  We debated a couple differing approaches -- do we tighten things up and quicken the pace?  do we loosen up even further and allow room for laughter?  and how to do it all organically? -- and ended up with a good compromise.  Namely, to raise the stakes, which ratchets up the conflict between the characters, which feeds a quick pace in the dialogue and keeps things moving.  Then when we come to a punch line, we hit it hard, and make sure we have a non-verbal reaction to the punch line ready, so we can leave room for laughter but not have dead time on stage.

There's probably some comedy expert among you thinking, "DUH."  But for us it's been a winding path, a swinging pendulum, for all of us to arrive at this place at the same time.  Hopefully we can keep it up.

After the show Anne and I had more QT (that's Quality Time), once again over burgers and beers, this time at the Pear Tree beer garden.  Once again lovely to feel human and non-Fringey.  Very important I'm finding.

Tonight we're seeing Quincy's show and then putting in some face time at the Loft Bar.  Should be a good night!

Hope you're all having great mornings and nights where you are too!

Good Night

Had a great night tonight.  Just got home from a Free Fringe comedy show that some new friends of ours are in.  Before that, Anne and I had the Beer & Burger for £3.75 deal at the Tron and chatted about non-Fringe things.  Our lives, our friends, what's in store for us in the coming months.  Felt great to connect on that level.  To just take a moment and be human together.  And I love that place, the Tron.  It's got comfy chairs, a good juke box, pool, and it's right across the street from our flat.  What more can you ask for? 

Now I'm sipping some hot water and orange (didn't have lemon) trying to soothe my very tired voice.  Our typically hectic morning schedule of flyering and taking care of business leaves me with no time to warm up, and my character speaks in a very high, teenage-girl voice, which strains my chords.  Plus I'm talking all day and all night, sometimes in very loud venues, and the occassional beer means I'm tending towards dehydration.  Also not good for chords.  I'm trying to do better, but at worst, it's only 10 more days.

Wow, 10 more days and all this is over.  Unbelievable.  I don't think I'm quite ready for reflection yet, but I can say that I'm incredibly proud of our achievements.  The fact that we wrote, rehearsed, produced, fundraised, costumed, prop-mastered, coordinated, marketed, and now perform this show all by ourselves is pretty remarkable.  

It kinda goes without saying, but I could not have done it without Anne and Jeff.  I would never have had the guts to do this myself.  To even think I could do it myself.  I'm really grateful that they asked me to join them on this adventure.

Alright that's it for now.  I'm sleepy and I'm not sure there's a clear direction to this yarn I'm writing.  So good night for now.  Love to all.

P.S. - How many of these Macbook Photo Booth pictures do you think I can post here before it gets really annoying?

Friday, August 15, 2008


I think that's a lovely way to put it.

So you regular readers may have noticed that my quote-unquote review section has undergone some changes.  After the incident described in my post "Instant Karma" below, I made changes to the column to reflect what I would actually say to a performer in person.  Because anything I wouldn't say to someone's face must surely be born of my own ego desiring to be clever.

But today I had an encounter with another lovely young performer who'd I previously noted eyeing me on the streets, and whom I therefore suspected of also having read my column.  I was grateful to speak to her, to apologize, and to tell her I hadn't been acting out of my best self.  And in that conversation, she put it perfectly -- it's unsportsmanlike.  And I agree.

So it's come down, the column.   And my apologies to anyone else who Googled themselves and found me on the other end behaving poorly.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I had been wanting to share mine.  But it was a poor choice all things considered, even if I only thought the blog was being read by my parents and friends

It's been an interesting week.  Especially for someone who absolutely cannot stand to have people dislike me!  But I'm grateful for the lesson. 

I can hear my brother smiling with a gentle " I told you so."  Love you, too.


PS - And now I have to dash out and flyer some more!  I only came back to grab some more buttons to give out, but couldn't resist taking down the column immediately and writing this!  Again -- can't stand people disliking me!  Must correct immediately!  Ahhh, Anna.  Ain't it fun being human?

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Been a rough pair of days these last 48 hours.  Two tough audiences, two not so great reviews, no sleep -- not a great combination.

But you know what?

I'm in Scotland, yo!  And it's beautiful here.  And I get to do what I love -- perform -- every day.  And the very first comedy show I've ever written has gotten some good props.  And these past two days aside, we've had great audiences.  And thanks to the generosity of many supporters, I am one of very few performers who will not leave here in debt.  Life is good!

So thank you supporters, thank you friends, thank you universe.  I'm a lucky girl.

Lucky girls.

This kitty apparently sits on this step every day, all day, according to a local passerby.

View from South Bridge near our house.