Saturday, May 24, 2014

creating a/broad, May 24, 2014

Can I stay flexible?
by Cameryn Moore

Over here I have caught myself, with embarrassing frequency, describing the Canadian Fringe circuit, with the intent of favourably contrasting it to the ways in which UK Fringes are run. This is called 'making an invidious comparison' and, I decided early on in my stay here, doing this is no way to endear myself to my producers or the local populace—it makes me sound like a whiney little baby—so I’m trying to keep from doing it.

But it’s really haaaaarrrrrrd!

Because, except for Edinburgh, the venues at these Fringes usually offer artists short runs of shows—I mean, like, one show, maybe as many as four, WHOA—over three weeks or a month of the festival, so there is not built-in proximity to foster community among the artists. And the Fringes, as a whole, are not as strongly invested in bringing potential audiences together at things like, say, a public-access beer tent. And these Fringes are happening in places where there’s really not a whole lot of street action, again, except for Edinburgh, so… 

'Community standards,' in most communities, are inevitably a little too narrow

… so once again I am struggling to keep up, and to not get down on myself for having to learn how to get through Fringe, over and over and over again I have to learn, because each one here is so, so different! Yes, yes, Canadian Fringes are different from each other too, but only in flavor, not in general approach. If you do a Canadian Fringe, you know to look for queues and you know to check out the late-night events, and you look for the beer tent and the timetable board, and that’s where you make friends and influence people to come to your show. I figured that shit out during my first year on the CAFF circuit. It’s hard work, but it’s easily sorted.

Here, well, there’s something about the open-access model, or maybe about the people who run it, that throws the Fringe totally open to the winds of local culture. Which, you know, local culture and mores, that’s great! But unless you have a certain fraction of local arts and culture people deliberately trying to keep a place open for the experimental and the edgy and the weird and the bleak, the Fringe program will tend to end up featuring mostly crowd-pleasing music nights, or 'classic' plays, not even adaptations, just straight-up Shakespeare and maybe a bit of Beckett, or a bunch of cabaret nights, or a rather bland, that is, popular mix of all of it. 'Community standards,' in most communities, are inevitably a little too narrow for my comfort, and certainly rather narrow for my plays.

Or you have the maddening throng of Edinburgh, where there is impossibly too much of everything happening at any given moment, and how do you stand out there? 

So, that’s what it is. I can’t rail against it anymore. I can think about it for next year, which Fringe circuit appeals to me most—a known-quantity sure thing where I may not win the lottery for it anyway, or an up-and-down roller-coaster ride which brings my work to much smaller towns than I’m used to playing and costs actually a shit-ton of money? I can think about it for next year, but right now I just have to accept it.

No, not just accept it. Work with it.

I have to get flexible, get more flexible. I already thought I was a reasonably go-with-the-flow fringer, but I am challenged here, constantly, to try other things, to think about  new ways and means. 

I have to be willing to pack up the Smut Stand and go somewhere else if the spot I picked isn’t working. (I’ve tried two places so far here in Bath, and it’s, wow, no.)

I reserve my opinion about the Bath Fringe

I am sitting with my current philosophy of careful, targeted flyering for Phone Whore and wondering if it’s time to throw all that to the wind and just stand on a busy corner holding out cards and yelling “PHONE WHORE!” I don’t think I will, but I’m contemplating it, which is a healthful mental process, I think. Make sure I’m not missing anything crucial, ya know.

I am thinking about how far afield, geographically and otherwise, do I want to go to promote? People have been telling me that Bristol is a happening town, I should get out there with my Smut Stand. I’m leaning away from doing that, because it is a 35-minute train ride or a 55-minute bus ride, and I don’t think enough people will make the drive to Bath to justify my trip out there to promote, and I’ll be honest, I’m running low on funds already. But I’m considering this out-of-town promotion, both physically and online, because hey, when no individual village sustains enough audience for a Fringe, and if the Fringe itself isn’t doing that work—I reserve my opinion about the Bath Fringe—where will those people come from? How do I encourage them to get here? How do I encourage them to get here to me?

How do I find the journalists who should want to write my story? Before I would just send out a press release and consider myself lucky if one followed up. But now I’m following up a little better, and cold-tweeting journalists on twitter, and asking FB friends for introductions. This feels pushy, even for me. But I can’t wait anymore. The media over here gets flooded during Fringe time, and I’m too good of a story to let myself slip through the cracks.

I really don’t know yet if I’ll be coming back to the UK, but jeezus, I’m learning a lot out here.

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