I’ve never been a very good dancer. I’m stiff and not very flexible and I’m generally more interested in singing along to a song than dancing to the song so I end up doing this sing-y danc-y thing with a lot of unnecessary clapping.
If I wasn’t keenly aware of my skills as a dancer already, there are plenty of people who are present to remind me. Hell, The Dregs have made a running bit out of my dancing skills. I usually try to dance even worse than I already dance just to help punctuate the joke.
Lots of people are bad dancers and I’m good at a great many other things so my self-esteem doesn’t take too hard a hit when people tease me about my inability to cut an impressive rug.
2014, though, was the year where I agreed to dance in front of everyone. And not as a joke.
During the after part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival in 2013, Windy Bowlsby and I were watching a bunch of our friends on the dance floor. They were actors, comedians, writers and even dancers.
And I said to her that it would be interesting to see a dance show where all the dancers were people who didn’t dance. I specifically talked about writers but the basic thought was that it would be fun to see a good choreographer (Windy) take people who weren’t known as dancers and get them to dance on stage in front of an audience. As a serious dance show.
The moment the suggestion passed my lips, I knew that if she liked the idea, she was going to ask me to be in the show.
My philosophy is to say “yes” to the performance ideas that scare me because I can’t grow if I keep doing the projects that are safe. So of course Windy asked me if I’d be in such and show and of course I said yes.
And such was the birth of “Jumpin’ Jack Kerouac.”
The show was the best kind of success. It didn’t succeed because we all suddenly became great dancers but because Windy found a way to bring out the best in all of us and she made the show about something other than “let’s all laugh at these awkward writers trying to dance.”
It became a celebration of potential and I had a lot of performers telling me how much that show touched them. It touched me too.
The classic phrase is we should learn to dance like no-one is watching. But someone is always watching. Even if we shut out everyone else, there is a little piece of ourselves that is keenly aware of our own body movements. And if you are me, you are aware of how dorky you probably look.
At the Fringe after party the last few years, I’ve watched a whole lot of awkward people dancing enough to know that they don’t care if anyone is watching. When dancing to “Firework,” most people aren’t concerned with dancing like a professional. They just want to dance.
Are people watching me and laughing at how awkward I am on the dance floor? Probably not because there is someone right next to me who is just as awkward. Being a bad dancer isn’t the exception. Most people are bad dancers.
And most people dance anyway because they just feel like dancing.
So what I learned in 2014 is to say “fuck it. I feel like dancing.”
Today, I’m re-starting my Putting it Together blog. I’ve been using this blog series to share thoughts that arise from creative projects, like the Fringe Festival.
For the Minnesota Fringe this year, I wrote a show called “Top Gun: The Musical.” The show was very successful and my writing got an amazing assist from a talented cast, great choreography, and really good music co-written with Chad Dutton. Most of the feedback was positive and I felt like the audience really enjoyed what we put on stage.
When I was writing the show, I spent a lot of time watching the film and as I watched, I was taken with all of the homoerotic subtext. I mean, there are dozens of Youtube videos on the topic but I hadn’t watched any of them. Yet. To me, the romance between Maverick and Charlie was not at all interesting and there seemed to be more chemistry between Maverick and Iceman.
When I wrote the script, I wrote it with those thoughts in mind. I told the actors that as far as I was concerned, every pilot in the show was a closeted gay man.
The serious subtext was the idea that in the 80’s, you couldn’t be an openly gay man in the military. It was hard to be an openly gay man at all. It is remarkable how far we’ve come in such a short time.
Now the show wasn’t at all serious and the idea that these characters were in the closet was played for laughs. That made me nervous.
Because while I wanted to make fun of the fact these characters were in the 80’s closet, I didn’t want it to come off as making fun of the fact that they were gay. I wanted it to be very clear that it was OK they were gay.
I’ve developed a lot of friends at the Fringe over the years. At first, I would try very hard to see all of their shows because that’s what friends do. Over time, I’ve reached the point where watching every show by a friend could mean I’d never see anything by someone I don’t know.
So I reached the point where I realized that everyone I knew was in the same boat as me. Making a choice to miss a friend’s show isn’t personal. You are only going to see so many shows over the course of eleven days.
When you reach that conclusion, it takes a little bit of the pressure off.
So if you are a friend of mine and I missed your show this year, I’m sorry. If you missed mine, that is OK too. I’m sure we can all still be friends.
I’ve been playing a lot of “Fringe Roulette” this year. While there are a lot of shows I want to see, most of them aren’t showing at a time I can see them (this weekend should change that). So instead, I’m just going to a show that is taking place close to where my shows are taking place. Those kinds of choices can result in finding some hidden gems.
So far this year, I haven’t had that kind of luck. I have seen very little that is terrible but I have seen a great deal that is mediocre.
I played Fringe Roulette with my first show yesterday and the result was…well…let’s just say I’m hoping my results are better next time.
I recognize that my choice means there are some shows I won’t get to see this year. That, however, is already to be expected. There are 169 shows in the Fringe and just over 50 potential slots an audience member can fill. I know some people who will Iron man the fringe and try to fill every available slot.
That goal is admirable but I need a night away from the Fringe to recharge my batteries. I’ll miss everyone at Fringe Central this evening. That community of artists is one of my favorite parts of the Fringe experience. But I’ve got to get some sleep!
So no new reviews tomorrow.
I saw three shows last night, though. Here’s my thoughts on those!
I have a lot of friends, old and new, who produce shows at the festival. I’m never sure how to review their shows because I would like them to continue to be my friends even if I didn’t like the show.
I try to remember that most people who write and produce work want to hear honest feedback because it helps them get better. When I wrote “Shroedinger’s Apocalypse” last year, I knew I was working far outside of my comfort zone. While I felt good about a lot of the writing, I also felt that it was an imperfect work and I really wanted my peers to help me explore what I could have done to write a better show.
All this is to say that I saw some shows by friends and I’m going to write reviews. The shows weren’t perfect, but they all had merit.
Fringe is a delightfully random experience at times. Over the weekend, I found myself going to shows simply because they were close to the venue I’d be performing in next. The result was a few gems and a lot of things that were…OK.
Here’s the reality of the Fringe. Most of the shows are neither great nor awful. Most of them are somewhere in the middle.
As a fellow artist, I have great respect for anyone who produces a show at the Fringe. They are all aiming to produce something of merit and with very few exceptions, there is merit in everything that appears on stage. Reviewing a show, for me, should be an act of encouraging them to get better rather than tearing down their efforts.
Trying and failing is something we’ve all done. The best producers at the Fringe have failed. At something. I hope. Otherwise they suck.
So I saw a lot of stuff that didn’t really impress the heck out of me this weekend. And that’s OK. If any of the producers read my reviews, I’m sure that you are happy with your show. If you find something in my review that will help you with your next show, great. If not, keep writing shows (if you want to) and remember that the best reviewers out there aren’t trying to tear you down – they are trying to make you better.
…which implies I think I’m one of the best reviewers and I don’t think that but anyway on to the reviews…