A shot from opening night of Running to Saint Sebastian, in Prague.
It’s ten days since the Montreal Fringe ended, but I feel as if I’m just catching my breath.
As soon as my theatrical adventures drew to a close, I was right into some very busy days in my life as a freelance editor. As well, I’ve been struggling to know what I wanted to say about my two Fringe festivals, hence the delay in writing this blog.
Part of my writer’s block stems from the fact that I don’t really feel as though I can “wrap things up.” One of the things that is very different for me this year, compared with Fringes past, is that I sense I’m on the cusp of something rather than that something is over. The fact is, my show really came together over the fifteen performances I gave (nine in Prague and six in Montreal), and now I feel even more motivated to take it out into the world and give it more life. I’m missing performing the show, playing with it, feeling it breathe. There’s more to do.
Still, for the time being, I have no performances planned. The summer is likely to be devoted to earning money (to make up for all the money invested, and not recouped, in my theatrical adventures! ah, la vie bohème!!) and enjoying the nice long days. So, in way of a closing, I will attempt to write up some thoughts, random as they are.
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One thing I really noticed in Montreal this year, both when I was promoting my own show and also more generally, when I was volunteering in the Fringe Park, greeting people and providing info on the Fringe, is that most Fringe-goers seemed very reluctant to take a chance. They wanted to know what the “sure things” were—the shows where they’d be certain to get their money’s worth. They weren’t that interested in knowing what the shows were about, and more focused on finding out what the popular shows were, and seeing those.
Is this part of the mania we have nowadays for ranking things according to likes, reposts, shares and followers? Is the value of art considered to be in direct proportion to its popularity?
To me, this is almost the exact opposite of the way I approach Fringeing. The great thing about the Fringe is that you don’t have a lot to lose: the tickets are pretty cheap, and the shows tend to be short (45 to 60 minutes). So, really, why not take a chance and just go and see stuff that looks intriguing? Before you start to read a book, do you expect to know in advance whether it will be “worth reading”? No, you need to read it first. Same with music. Same with theatre.
But this is not what I was encountering when I spoke to people. When attempting to tell people about my own show, I felt I was being seen as a used car salesman trying to flog possibly flawed product, and the punters wanted to kick the tires before committing to anything.
This reminds me of characters in the Alice Munro short story “My Mother’s Dream,” who see the whole world of classical music as a gigantic hoax, so-called “artists” trying “to put stuff over on you.” In Munro's world (the world I come from), the down-to-earth folks respond to this tomoolery with “a simple strength of character … and a determination not to be fooled.”
This attitude is very anglo Canadian, I suspect, and it’s really anti-art.
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But the point is, artists have always been motivated by passion, which generally puts us somewhat at odds with society, and especially one as materialistic and over-intellectualized as ours.
So what I will be holding on to from this whole experience of the past five weeks is that people did come to see my show, people I don’t even know! And at least some of them (the ones who wrote a couple of the reviews I read) were remarkably in tune with what I was communicating with this play. Some of the reactions were so enthusiastic that I even feel a responsibility to continue to perform the show.
So perhaps that’s how I will finish this last blog about my experiences at the Prague and Montreal Fringes of 2019—with a pledge to continue performing Running to Saint Sebastian. Or, as the guy in my show would say, a pledge “to not leave, to keep the faith.”