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.


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