Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Quarter-Life Crisis Plus One Year

I continue to express the same astonishment that I did one year ago today – that the vast, interlocking system of web networks have made the process of my continued aging one of public knowledge. Not that I’d like to devote *too* much space to this kind of angst – beyond noting the fact that, yes, I’m now officially in my late twenties, past the last major milestone of youth, and still nowhere near where I suspect that I need to be.

A couple of people who knew that it was my birthday expressed dismay that I would be on the road, instead of comfortably at home – and, y’know? In spite of how vocally I may complain, I wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, I’d like that to be a goal for the rest of my life – to be performing, somewhere on the road, on my birthday, from now until the day that I either die or reach a state of such drooling incompetence that I’m an utter embarrassment to everyone around me.

A year ago today, I hopped into a car, with nothing but myself, a music stand slung over my shoulder, and a bag full of props. As much as I admire and enjoy the rest of my cast, I can’t help feeling nostalgic for the days when I was only responsible for myself: there’s an incredible amount of time, money, and stress that comes with mobilizing a team of people. Again, not a complaint about the cast that I’m currently working with, who I consider to be pretty much top-of-the-line – but it’s a psychological leap, to suddenly have to be considering the actions of six individuals, rather than simply my own.

But I’m now in the land of ribs, Royals, and rednecks, and there’s nothing like the surge of adrenalin that hits on being part of another Fringe Festival. I won’t romanticize it – at its core, it’s just another drug, and I’m just another junkie. But I’m in a state that I’ve never been before, and there’s a whole community of artists who’s never even heard of me, and I’m right back where I started years ago, and that’s – incredibly exhilarating.

Our piece was fun, I think. Doing the ad-libbed introduction to it for the audience, I was viscerally reminded – in a way that I haven’t been for nearly a year – how dependent I’ve become on my audience already knowing my schtick in advance – the hand-wringing, the anxiety, et cetera. Minnesota audiences respond to it immediately with a knowing laugh when I play to it. But entering a new environment, I have to quickly sketch out the character in a few broad strokes, giving them enough information rapidly and efficiently to enjoy the acrobatics that he’s put through.

We did the same piece that we performed for the Fringe-For-All in Minnesota – but this time, it was to a crowd that I don’t know, and one that doesn’t know us. And one thing I’ve come to love about it – and out of context, I wonder if it isn’t even more effective – one character pronounces the word “nigger,” and you can feel the whole audience pull back. Then, a few moments later in the same sketch, he drops the words “honkey” and “chink” – and, unfailingly, everyone laughs. A-ha – it’s appalling if a white guy says “nigger,” but if he calls me and my family “chinks,” it’s funny. There’s a double-standard at work, and one that could only be so clearly evident in an interactive medium. I have no idea if the audience registers it, but it’s fascinating to play.

(Assuming, of course, that I don’t get the shit beat out of me. I’m not nearly so familiar with exactly how this environment works, and Missouri is a stone’s-throw away from the racial tensions of the deep South.)

Truthfully, I was worried about how our work would be received – I bit my tongue asking our coordinator if profanity was off-limits, because I was afraid he would say “yes” – but where some of the stuff we do is shocking in Minnesota, it’s downright tame down here. There were points where I felt that I was twisting arms to get actors to remove clothing, but at least two of the shows tonight were top-of-the-line burlesque. In fact, since it was my birthday, I think that Courtney probably has several pictures floating around the internet of me, drunk, with naked women hanging all over me. I’ll post them if it becomes possible.

One of the other previews also included a dancing bear in a fez. I don’t remember whose idea it was (Michael’s? I think?) – but I did extend him an invitation: if he shows up before any one of our shows in the bear outfit, we’ll throw him onstage for one of the scenes. I’m amazed that I still remember this in the morning.

After the previews, a couple of the musicians in my cast got together with musicians from other groups and jammed out front in the street while we handed out postcards. Minnesota represent, I suppose. It’s always strange, being in an environment where coming from Minneapolis makes you at least somewhat exotic.

I’m also lucky to have a cast that includes several marketing *machines*. Courtney alone is ridiculously aggressive when it comes to pushing the show onto new people, and that’s a gift of immeasurable value.

Late tonight, we met at the front desk a member of the Libertarian Party of Missouri (who had moved from Texas a few years back). She was very cute, and meeting a “friend” for tonight, and I’ll simply assume that she wasn’t a prostitute. But I had a reasonably interesting (if brief) conversation with her about politics in the area. Fringe audiences are notoriously left-wing, and I’m grateful for any sympathetic face I can find. In any case, I gave her one of our free comps, since I don’t really have any family or friends in town to distribute them to.

We open tomorrow, God help us. He should be keeping an eye on the place – we’re in the Bible belt, after all.

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