Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Feature: Jessica Moss of Polly Polly (Fringe: Toronto)

Everything is Something.
by Jessica Moss

It’s that feeling. Panic coupled with exhilaration. Like a small, hefty weight directly on the sternum, it doesn’t stop your forward momentum but it does make you feel each breath expanding against your chest and the increasingly rapid ‘thump thump’ of your heart. It feels like living, but it also feels suspiciously like dying. 

Ah, the Fringe.

I’m deeply in love with the Toronto Fringe Festival, and the Fringe movement as a whole. It makes me feel something I can’t get anywhere else, and makes me proud and happy to have spent so much of my life hiding in theatres, trying to be a part of this world. It’s so much fun, so frantic, it all seems perfectly natural and recklessly fun to have a beer at noon and see a play at midnight. In an alley. Starring puppets made of garbage. There’s a madness to Fringe, and I think that madness allows for some really great theatre to happen.

The thing about ‘putting up a show’, is you have to ‘put up a show’.

But before that wonderful madness, there’s the madness of getting the damn show together. I’m doing a one-person show that I wrote this year. While it’s my sixth year performing, and I had been involved as a volunteer before that, it’s my first year producing: I was a multi-year reject, never drawn in the many, many times I submitted, and got in this year off the waitlist. ‘Calloo Callay!’, I said. ‘I shall put up a show! What fun it shall be!’ 

The thing about ‘putting up a show’, is you have to ‘put up a show’. The phrase ‘put up a show’ implies one step: as if the play pops out uniformly, like punching out a stencil, and is mounted in one swift motion, ‘all right, boys, heave ho!’, and then is done. How civilized! 

In reality of course, ‘putting up a show’ is comprised of approximately 400 steps, each of which is comprised of no less than three steps. Some of these steps will be multiplied by things that we call ‘problems’. ‘Problems’ breed in between steps, with ferocious vigour and astounding fecundity: given the opportunity, they will swarm all over you and quickly mount their own production (it will be called ‘Problems!: The Musical’ and will get overall positive reviews). (cont'd)

And the nature of  ‘do it yourself’ theatre means that these steps, and the steps required to take those steps, and their subsequent problems, will be done by you. Many of them at 3 in the morning, while you are kept company by NetFlix and the sound of your own sobbing. Before all that wonderful Fringe madness, you get to enjoy the madness of trying to hem curtains with a hot-glue gun, building your set out of slightly-damaged IKEA furniture, and trying to source a battery-operated light from an eBay seller in China, who doesn’t know when it’s going to arrive, sorry, would you mind giving me a good rating anyway? With it being a one-person show, sometimes that can feel a lot of pressure on my slouchy, overly-broad shoulders. 

Ah, the Fringe.

And all that pressure, all those things to do, that’s pretty scary. It’s scary to try and it’s scary to go out and show something that comes from you, something you excavate from the recesses of your soul or imagination or memory. Something you build, through all those steps, yourself. For me in my show ‘Polly Polly’, I’m wading into something that makes emotional sense, but maybe not literal sense. I’m offering what I hope are moments of recognition through a very weird and personal world. All I can do is go ‘this is what I have right now….this is what I’m thinking about. Watch it and judge it’, and not get burned by what comes back. That’s scary. That’s scary. 

Courage is my favourite virtue, but that’s probably because I’m so deeply lacking in it. But I think exciting theatre, and truth, take tremendous courage. Being yourself takes courage. Changing yourself, remaining yourself, being kind to yourself….yup. 

And the Fringe is effing full of courage. 

All these people, doing their shows. For no guaranteed money, or audience. With an incredibly short tech-time and lots of limitations. After all the madness. There’s something beautiful about the striving of theatre, how earnest it is as an art form, how it tries and struggles, and things can all go shatteringly wrong one day. There’s something incredible about watching a play and knowing that everyone is wearing clothes that they already owned, or could beg, borrow, or steal; that someone built that prop, likely while sobbing at 3 a.m.; that having that bed onstage means a stage manager is sleeping on the floor until the end of the festival; that everything we see is something, that every piece of this puzzle was tremendous effort, required the giving of something within someone, some amount of energy, or generosity, or ingenuity. That to give us this 60 minutes of one story, there were several hundred stories. 

And as an audience, I don’t see it, necessarily. But it’s a feeling. That I’m seeing something special because I’m seeing people who dared to try. That I’m witnessing a real act of courage. 

To me, it’s akin to being loved.

And then you get to have a beer? What could ever be better than that? 

Polly Polly, written and performed by Jessica Moss, runs July 4-14 at the Passe Muraille backspace as part of the Toronto Fringe. For more information and tickets, please visit

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