Fringe Festival – Day 6
As I wrote earlier, I always take a day off of the Fringe Festival. I didn’t see any shows on Tuesday night.
Let me write instead about the crucible of criticism that is the Fringe Festival. Because there is nothing like it. Artists love to hate it. Or hate to love it. Amongst a group of people who thrive on validation, however, the Fringe can be an emotional roller coaster.
Or maybe that’s just me.
I always tell people don’t write five-star shows. Because I don’t. It isn’t false modesty to say that I didn’t set out to create a brilliant piece of theater with the title “The Sound of Footloose: The Not Musical.”
I wrote a show that mashes up Footloose and The Sound of Music but nobody sings. It’s right there in the title, my friends. There are no lofty themes or deeply personal reflections.
What I set out to do is write something that will make people laugh. To me, something that is funny and a bit of a trifle is worth four stars. That’s all I’m writing. I don’t have any fantasies that I will eventually churn out the next Death of a Salesman.
So a four star review is fine. It’s expected. Heck, it’s a success.
The problem, however, is the math.
Whether you are producing great theater or something that is notable primarily for its Nazi jokes, Fringe producers need reviews to drive attendance. The more reviews the better.
Because all those reviews are averaged, a couple of two or one star reviews can really mess with your overall rating. And the more reviews you get, the more likely you are going to get a two or one star review. Unless you are Transatlantic Love Affair. Lucky, talented bastards.
Fringe Festival – Days 3, 4 & 5
I only saw a few shows over the last three days so I waited to combine them into one longer post.
Shelly Bachberg Presents: How Helen Keller and Anne Frank Freed the Slaves: The Musical
This is one of the most polished and professional shows you will see at the Fringe. The performers are uniformly great. The singing is sharp and precise. The show satirizes Michele Bachmann with wit and skill.
So why wasn’t I completely satisfied? I mean, it doesn’t matter really. Everyone else in the audience loved the show. It has already sold out one show and will probably sell out two more. My lingering sense of dissatisfaction is not going to hurt them any.
The reasons the show didn’t rate quite so highly for me were pretty nitpicky. I felt the music was too repetitive. In a fifty minute show, I don’t think you need quite so many reprisals. I thought the final medley went on too long. I thought the satire of Bachmann didn’t go far enough. It was like they only scratched the surface of her craziness.
As I said, this is a highly successful show. My lingering desire to have it be better than it already is will not cost them one ticket.
I’ve seen a lot of good shows at the Fringe Festival but right now, this show is my favorite.
Powered by Joshua Bjoerte’s terrific performance in the central role of Nathan, this comedy about finding love when you have crippling social anxiety is sweet, awkward and very funny. It finds humor in Nathan’s plight without turning him into a punchline. That is a tricky balancing act.
I would expect this show is going to start selling out. I hope it does. Everyone I talked to who has seen the show has been impressed. They should be.
Fringe can often be about finding unexpected gems like these. I expect Four Humors to put on a great show and they don’t disappoint. When you walk into a theatre thinking “well, I’m going to give this one a try” and you walk out ready to sing the praises of the show to everyone you meet, that is a great feeling.
I chose this show because if it’s proximity to where I needed to be at 10:00. I knew nearly nothing about what I was going to see. That can be risky. In this case, it didn’t pay off.
The show was written by a sixteen year old which does not have to be an indication of poor quality. In fact, Abilene Olson shows a lot of promise. But she’s not there yet.
The dialogue in this show was awkward and unnatural. At one point, a character launches into a monologue that lacks any connection to what people would actually say out loud.
Awkward dialogue choices aside, what really sank this show was the conceit of the character being attached by a rope. Instead of being interesting, this conceit was distracting. I spent more time paying attention to the rope than I did to the characters. It was an obvious and clunky metaphor to begin with but at times it became the sole focus of the show, requiring long scene breaks while characters attached themselves to the rope. It just didn’t work.
My final point is nitpicky but it is important: If you are going to play a guitar on stage, make sure you tune it.
A few other notes from the last few days of Fringing:
OK, I admit it: Matthew Everett actually exists
I’ve been involved in the Fringe since 2007. That year, Vilfication Tennis did a fringe preview that offended Matthew Everett so much that he wrote an entire blog entry about it. It surprised me because while we do an offensive show, we didn’t think that particular joke was so awful. But it was awful to Matthew – which is a completely valid response.
So that was a thing. It wasn’t a big thing and frankly, his anger at our bad joke helped boost our attendance so I have no reason to complain it took place. I kept meaning to meet up with Matthew at Fringe central just to say “hi – I’m sorry that we made a joke that you found hurtful.” I never did.
In the years since, I’ve never managed to talk to him. I’ve been told we were in the same room at the same time but since I don’t know him, I had no way of making a connection with him.
Heck, he’s seen (and liked) some of my shows.
For me, it had turned into a joke. I continued to say that I was unconvinced that he actually existed.
Well, I met Matthew on Monday. He’s a very nice guy. As a writer, he grapples with the same questions as me. As a Fringe enthusiast, he shares the unexpected finds with everyone he talks to.
The Fringe brings a hugely disparate artistic community together for a brief time and that is one of the things I find so cool about it. You are always meeting people who share your enthusiasms. They are your competitors and your collaborators and your friends. It is all just so amazing.
Fringe reviews can be helpful and not
I love getting audience reviews when they are helpful. Take, for instance, the reviews of Schrodinger’s Apocalypse that took us to task for having failed to create a convincing prop for “Action Comics #1.” Absolutely right. As the writer, I was frustrated by that myself. It was fixed by the second show in no small part because an audience member complained.
For A Brief History of Irish Music, we’ve been very conscious of complaints regarding the acoustics on the New Century Theatre. We have done everything we can to mute instruments so people can hear the lyrics to our songs. It isn’t enough but at least we are doing what we can.
Reviews of our August 7th show are pretty critical and that’s OK because we weren’t all that good. Our music was off and we blew a boatload of lines. The audience noticed. Not much you can do about that.
One complaint that always bothers me is the “too much swearing” complaint. What does that mean? When I have people swear, it is because I think they are people who swear. I don’t have people swear for shock value. I have people swear because people swear.
What you are really saying is that you don’t like swearing. Which is fine. I’m not sure it is fair to dock a show for your own biases.
People dock shows for their biases all the time. As an artist, you need to accept that.
But that is what audience reviews are all about. People get to tell you what they thought and you have to deal with it. I may not like getting told that I wrote a show with too much swearing but I have put my work out there and told people to tell me what they think. They get to tell me what they think whether or not I find their comments helpful.
It is remakably Democratic and while it can be frustrating, it is part of the Fringe experience that is irreplaceable.