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,

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