Saturday, September 21, 2013

creating a/broad, September 21, 2013

15 Minutes and a Boom Box
by Cameryn Moore

After lugging the entire set of Phone Whore across the UK via train, taxi, and an incredibly clever little collapsible dolly, I like to say “give me 15 minutes and a boom box and I can stage this show anywhere.” 

Which sounds great, in that plucky, boot-strappy, “ah, Showbiz !” sense, and is essentially true, but it’s not entirely true. I need a contained space for my shows. I need venues. And some days, like today—like the next three weeks, like the last 12 years —it feels like all I’m doing is looking for that. Venues.

It’s true that I have done my shows just about everywhere, especially Phone Whore. In addition to the standard Fringe-issue built theatre spaces and black boxes, that show has happened in women’s bookstores, the basement of a pub, the room above a pub, rec rooms, movie theatres, living rooms, and even in a tent at 2am, with no furniture and no boom box, just a couple of sleeping bags and my props and a fellow Fringe artist saying “ring ring” at the right moments.

But just because I can do my shows in those places doesn’t mean that I prefer to. There’s barely do-able and then there’s desire-able, and somewhere in between there’s “totally possible, with a few technical compromises”. Ah, those compromises. I dream about those at night, apparently. My Montréal lover told me this morning that most of my show-related sleep-talk that I’ve been doing ever since coming back from Edinburgh, most of my late-night, clear-as-a-bell, show-obsessed ramblings have actually been about tech issues: lights and ladders and “how big is the stage again? Okay, okay, that should work.” These issues are fundamental to everything I do, and apparently my sleep consciousness knows it and is trying to save me some awake-time effort?

I have the same relationship to my venues as I do to my personal sense of home.

I know what I put down on the tech forms for festivals: “stage at least 14-16 feet wide and 8-10 feet deep, a PA system capable of playing sound effects from a CD or iPod, warm general wash with a dimmer to fade to blackout.” If you ask for my dream space, I would wistfully say something about no larger than 80 seats, with the stage on the floor and raked seats in a 180-surround.

In my experience, I can be as detailed and specific as I want with my tech rider, I can request sheaves of floor plans and light plots, but I still don’t really know what a space feels like until I walk into it. And so, I have gotten really good at walking into any space and seeing my production in it. Narrow room? No worries, let’s move the chairs and run it in the corner, or along the wall.  Uber-elevated stage? Okay, I’ll use the edge of the stage as a chair and set my arts table down on audience level. No separate lights for the performance area vs. the audience? Great, we’ll keep the house lights up the whole time. Makes it more intimate. I’m always going into some space and just… dealing with it. Making it work.

In the common understanding of the performer hierarchy, that indicates that I am fairly low on the ladder. Someone asked me once what I would do if Phone Whore suddenly blew up, if I had a large budget and a large theatre, and space and time and resources to really boost the production value of the show. And I didn’t really know what to say. I don’t currently have the clout or the power to do that, to “own” a space for three weeks, all to myself, or an extended run, Tuesday through Sunday, with two matinees on the weekend. I don’t have that, so I don’t know what it would feel like to just get exactly my space and make it my own. 

In fact, I have the same relationship to my venues as I do to my personal sense of home. Ever since I started touring, I am always a visitor, with greater or lesser degree of control over my space. Sure, it’s where I come back to, if I’m doing more than a one-night stand, but I don’t know where all the light switches are and I always feel like I’m taking up too much room with my clothes.

There are obviously trade-offs to these sorts of situations, and ways that I’ve learned to adapt. Phone Whore was designed with Fringe in mind, with fitting in the trunk of my car, so the production is minimalist by necessity. That sort of compactness, and flexibility, that ability to sketch out a studio apartment with the barest of furniture, independent of however the performance venue is fitted out, that means that I can in fact bounce from theatre to garret to black box with barely a blink. It means that I can go overseas, without having seen even a layout of most of my venues, and be fairly confident that the show will fit in. It means that scouting out a venue actually has less to do with technical needs and space requirements than it does with box-office split and visibility.

It means that my obsessing about tech requirements in my dreams is still about my ongoing drive to make home. I can’t actually have home, not yet, but I’ll jerry-rig some approximation of it, wherever I go.

Cameryn Moore is on tour:

Sept. 27-28 -- St. Louis
Oct. 1 -- Tulsa
Oct. 2-5 -- Houston
Oct. 10-12, 18-19 -- New Orleans
Nov. 14-16 -- Atlanta

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