Saturday, February 8, 2014

creating a/broad, February 8, 2014

Sharing the Springboard
by Cameryn Moore

I read with some interest TJ’s piece last week about the death of Fringe touring, but I wasn’t particularly disturbed. Yes, of course, the Fringe touring market is getting oversaturated. That is old news. 

My first year of touring, in 2010, I heard other artists talking about it already, in a way that made clear this was an ongoing discussion that didn’t seem to have a resolution. Back then I was so new that I flushed when I heard people talking about their problems assembling a tour, like I felt personally responsible, like I had stolen their hard-won crusts of bread right out of their mouths. How dare I, a newcomer, win a spot in the CAFF touring lottery? When the conversation took that turn, I usually sat a little lower in my chair. I had been feeling lucky, before the tour. Out there I had moments of something like guilt.

Ah, but in 2011 I caught myself saying the same things about that fucking lottery. A few times, and then I checked myself. I can’t knock it, now that I’ve gotten my launch from it. From the standpoint of a relatively new artist with some controversial works, the lottery system was the only thing that made it possible for me to launch in the first place. It’s the fairest system—aside from the fees—and advocating its dismantling feels like using a springboard and then not wanting anyone else to use it. 

wow, that looks like it could be fun and MONEY MONEY MONEY

And complaining about how crowded the Fringe tour has become is like driving and complaining about traffic. We are part of the problem. We have benefited from it, we cross our fingers and hope we will benefit from it again. Certainly we have bought into a problematic situation, completely and thoroughly. We gamble a lot of time and energy and money every year on the increasingly smaller chance that we will be one of the lucky few. When something that good starts to get known, when the possibility of touring for the summer, making decent money if your show is good, when that secret gets out, then yeah, statistically individuals are fucked. 

The same thing happens in all the fringes, the successful ones, at least. Hell, it happens with any creative/artistic endeavour that looks like it could be fun. You’re skipping along, doing this fun thing, and then someone comes along and says, “wow, that looks like it could be fun.” Double trouble if it is something that involves money changing hands. Because then people come along and say, “wow, that looks like it could be fun and MONEY MONEY MONEY.” 

hah, maybe I should get into erotica after you go!

At the very least your field, the one you thought was yours, is more crowded. The lottery odds get worse, you can’t make the same claims about how unique your project is anymore. Maybe the newcomer’s similar event or book or dance party or poetry reading will take off as well as yours did. Maybe better, for reasons you will never know.

This really does happen everywhere, and as philosophical and generous I try to be, I’ll admit I can’t always manage it. For example, last fall in New Orleans I nearly tore a fellow sidewalk typist a new one, when he commented enviously on my decent business that night and said, “hah, maybe I should get into erotica after you go!” I took a deep breath, said “it’s a free country”, finished packing up my stand for the night and left. I don’t know if he did it after I was gone—even New Orleans has winter, maybe he hasn’t had a chance to try it yet—but if he has, oh well. I don’t think he’ll be as good at it as I am, but OH WELL. It is a free country.

Or a more recent example… I was all ready to put together a smut slam for Toronto, but then the potential co-producer said, “Oh yeah, this just happened last night,” and sent me a link to a Facebook event page. This new event had the same format as a smut slam, which is the same format as any number of PG-rated story slams, which is… which is kinda the point. I don’t own the idea of a smut slam, just the name. I should be glad that there are other sexy sex-positive people putting together honest, real sex events out there. I mean, I don’t have time to do everything.

even assuming everyone agrees that there is a problem, change happens slowly

But still I struggle with how to feel and how to move forward. I’m still working different avenues for the Smut Slam and the Sidewalk Smut concepts, hell, for all the other sexyfuntime events I want to do. I can’t always be sure how I stumbled across these ideas, and only time will tell how those get picked up and pushed on from the creative ether. I have no control over that. I just gotta keep on my own grind. And regarding the anticipated death of Fringe touring, well… I did follow TJ’s Facebook thread that spun off in response to his article. Some interesting ideas got pitched, about increasing the number of lottery slots for national and international companies, and so on. Maybe. I’d benefit from such changes, but even assuming everyone agrees that there is a problem, change happens slowly. I can’t wait.

In the meantime, I’m inclined to take advice TJ gave women artists a couple of months back in his column, to go out and create our own spaces. That actually applies to all of us creatives: in a system that repeatedly demonstrates that it owes us nothing, it is on us to make our own space, to carve it out, to be the change we want.

In other words, yes, I’ll enter the CAFF lottery again, but I am never going to count on any damn thing that I haven’t put into place myself.

1 comment:

  1. What's happened with the Fringe Circuit is just like what happens with animals in the natural world. If a food source is abundant, it'll attract more animals who'll consume from its riches.

    It's also easy to romanticize what the fringe circuit was like five or ten or fifteen years ago. It's true that it was easier to get into more festivals on a tour then, but not always. An established sketch company (friends of mine) toured from Montreal to Vancouver every year for three years in the early 90s, and in 94 they were accepted into Minneapolis (which debuted as a festival that year), Winnipeg, Victoria and Vancouver. They self-produced in Montreal and Saskatoon, and skipped Edmonton altogether.

    Another group I know toured that same year, and wound up deep in the hole.

    And there were companies that bailed partway through the tour, some of them getting good reviews but tiny houses.

    The arts are a hard way to make a living - apart from the precious few who make it big. And the shitty projects famous actors commonly do just for the money, I doubt many of them are secure in their position and finances.

    It's a tough go. Probably always will be. So what can you do? You do what you can. You keep creating. Whether the money's coming in or not. Whether the market's saturated or not. Because the foremost reason to practice any art is to save your soul.


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