After our successful rollercoaster run at the 2010 Toronto Fringe Festival my company was asked to perform in two Best of the Fringe Festivals, one downtown and one uptown. We were thrilled, of course, and luckily we were all available.
I am writing this blog in retrospect, unlike my other Freudian Slip blogs which were written during the festival and the rehearsal process. I was exhausted by the end of the Fringe and I was running on fumes for the first stretch of the Best of the Fringe at The Berkeley Street Theatre. This is a beautiful theatre, converted from old factories, in downtown Toronto. I have never performed at The Berkeley Street Theatre although I have seen a few of my friends perform in shows there. I have always wished I could put up a show there – and all of a sudden the dream comes true.
I did The Best of the Fringe Festival in 2007 when I produced and music directed Show Stopping Number! The Improvised Musical. That took place at the now defunct Diesel Playhouse. That was a fun experience although the troupe blew to pieces when we won a comedy award. I suppose the challenge this time is to make sure this show doesn’t blow apart just because we achieved some success.
The first challenge was to move THE COUCH. Our friendly neighbor who keeps helping me out of jams, was there to rescue us once again. The upstairs theatre we were performing in has a fire escape stairwell, and that was where they had to bring the couch up. I say “they” because now we are dealing more with unions and there was a whole team of guys who came down and whipped it up the stairs. I took a look at the theatre and dealt with the friendly and professional staff.
The backstage area has a kitchen, shower and bathroom. Its a step up that’s for sure. I loved the Royal St. George (where we first performed the play) but there was an issue with the bathroom.
The next day was our tech rehearsal. They let us nail the picture frames into the floor so Bray, our set designer, was able to return the weights borrowed from Humber College. Humber has done a lot to support this show. When we loaded in we discovered I had left a piece of the set behind. But other than that we had a fun tech rehearsal. I was simply thrilled to be in this theatre. It is much wider so we have plenty of the room. The audience is also looking down on us, unlike the last theatre where they were looking up at us.
SHOW NUMBER ONE (BERKELEY STREET THEATRE)
The next day was the performance. Keep in mind this is only a matter of days after the Fringe. We are bookending the Best of the Fringe Festivals. We are one of the first shows to perform and we will be the last show to perform in North York. The challenge for all of these shows, and the source of the majority of my anxiety, was figuring out how to keep promoting. I had already tapped a large section of friends and family, and it didn’t seem like the press was interested in continuing to promote the Fringe.
I re-plastered our sandwich board with pictures and posters and drove downtown early and locked the sandwich board to a pole at the intersection near the theatre. It was anyone’s guess whether this would bring any people in. I feel I have facebooked and twittered this show like a maniac in the past few weeks. I’ve probably annoyed many people. But I feel responsible for the company and I wanted to turn a profit for them. I’m a promotion machine when I am pushing something.
We all met in the courtyard at our arranged time. We had a new nervous energy. Mine was mainly focused on the size of the crowd. By the fifteen minute point I could distinctly hear quite a few voices entering the theatre. I started to relax as I realized that we would indeed have an audience. (As a producer I suspect this fear never really goes away).
Although we were not sold out we had a decent sized house for a Wednesday night for a show with almost no promotion. And the audience seemed to love the show. I have to admit having the audience right there looking down at us was a new experience. We did have a lot of friends and family at the show, several of whom stayed afterwards for a long time to talk about future possibilities for A Freudian Slip of the Jung. It means a lot to me when my colleagues come to the show. I am really surprised by which of my friends chose to never once come to this show.
After ward we went to Betty’s and had a lovely chat over beers and food. Bruce is leaving for a much needed vacation in the west. Tomorrow we will be flying without our director.
SHOW NUMBER TWO (Berkeley Street Theatre)
Our second performance was the very next day, a Thursday. I redid the sandwich board and again put it out on the street near the theatre in the hope that it might attract more people. But I had pretty much run out of ideas for promotion for this first part of the run. I knew that for the North York run at the end of the month I would have more time.
Perhaps this evening we felt too sure of ourselves. We have done this show quite a few times now and we all know where we get the biggest laughs. I could hear the crowd coming in, but it did not sound as big as the night before. But as a performer it is important that you go out and do your best performance no matter what the size of the audience is. You never know who is out there.
I am quite certain that we gave this audience the exact performance we would have given any other audience. In retrospect we were all pleased with the execution. But something fell flat. The audience did not seem to be responding. Perhaps it was because they were smaller or were more spread out. We couldn’t figure it out later on. At one point my character has a chance to look out into the audience and so the curious part of me wanted to see what they looked like. All I saw were expressions of delight. So I guess they were one of those audiences that quietly enjoys a show.
My neighbor Ron was there right after the show ready to receive the couch. Off it went as we filled up the cars with the rest of our props. My hair still had all the white paint in it. The company wanted to go out again. We decided to go to a place that used to be called Vox.
The danger of me going out with the company all the time is that I then have to hear all the kvetching, which doesn’t help me deal with things. I will already exaggerate a problem in my mind. So if a cast member also has a habit of exaggerating a problem and then it goes through my exaggeration amplifier than we have a problem. It’s like feedback distortion. The subject turned to our coverage in the media which by all accounts was pretty good, but we tend to focus on the negative, don’t we?
If we focused on the positive we could say, ‘The show is in the Best of the Fringe. We were Patron’s Pick. We made the front page of a community paper. We received good reviews.’
I did my best to sleep off any negativity so I could refocus my positive energies for our North York run.
My wife and some of her friends rented a cottage during the week we had off from doing shows. This was a much needed break and I spent some time canoeing and swimming near Peterborough. The only bad thing that happened was I had a flat tire and I had to figure out how to fix that. In the middle of the week I had scheduled a venue walkthrough at The Toronto Centre for the Arts, where our last three shows will be (for this run anyway).
I was pretty excited about this walk through. Not even a year ago I was at this theatre watching The Jersey Boys, never dreaming that I would be performing in the same building less than a year later in my own play! It is definitely worth taking chances with your career. Sometimes you have to ask yourself, ‘what do I have to lose?’ Or, “What the fuck Joel? What the fuck?”
I took the two days I had in town to print up new posters for our run in North York. I met the producer of the Best of the Fringe Uptown at the stage door where the actors from The Jersey Boys were signing autographs after a matinee performance. I had a glimpse of the backstage life of The Jersey Boys show. I have met a few people involved in this show before.
Then I was shown our two dressing rooms and green room. Then I was shown the studio theatre. It is a really nice space. Again the audience will be looking down on us, which I like. That is how I envisioned it when I wrote it. As I looked at the seats I tried to envision that lots of people would be there. The producer did give me some incentive to do everything I could to promote the show.
Immediately I began to brainstorm ways that I could promote these three shows. I had to find a way to reach out to the local community. After all, I am a North York boy. I lived here for five years here as a child and we still know a lot of those people. Reaching out to the psychology community in the city might work as well.
I went back to the cottage to get a few more days of relaxation before heading back into the thick of promoting the show again. When I got home I started kicking my promotional plan into gear. This involved key e-mails to certain people with the jpeg of the new poster.
On Sunday night I went out late with my poster equipment. I postered up and down Yonge St. This was not encouraged by the festival itself, but I was doing things the downtown way, the way I know. Just For Laughs have their posters all over North York and that festival is over. I was surprised by how alive and kicking North York downtown is on a Sunday night. I must say, I am at my happiest when I am postering a show. I don’t know why this is the part I enjoy so much. But I love just driving around late at night listening to tunes. It is very relaxing.
I hit some key spots downtown as well, just to remind people that it is happening.
I also decided to run a Facebook ad. I put aside a small budget for it. It was a total gamble as to whether it would work or not, but I can’t rely on just my friends to come to this show. I had to reach out.
On Monday the company got together again to run through the show one more time to make sure we remember everything we have to do. Also, Bruce tightened up the show a bit.
On Tuesday we had our tech rehearsal. It was four hours long and started with us moving THE COUCH again. This was not easy. When we arrived at the theatre half an hour early it was lunch time and there didn’t seem to be anyone there with enough authority to let us in with the couch. Eventually the problem was solved.
Our tech rehearsal was four hours. During the first two hours I felt we were having too good a time. What I mean by that is we were all concentrating on how witty we are instead of the job at hand. So of course, when something technical screwed up in the second half we were rushing through all the cues. The job was done, but not without some tension.
We all went our separate ways, but then I received a call that our stage manager had misplaced her wallet. I drove back to the theatre while we tried to figure out how to solve the problem. I am relieved to say the wallet was found the next day in the theatre.
The next day was our first performance, a Wednesday. I had set aside a few comps so I knew there would at least be a few people. But I really had no idea if any of the promotion I had done had worked. When I arrived at the theatre my friend Jennifer was on stage doing her Fringe show WANTED: If Not Wed. I looked at the monitor and it seemed as though she had a good crowd. That was encouraging.
Then the festival producer came into the green room where some of us had gathered. She told us how good our pre-sales were. I was shocked. Something had worked. I wasn’t sure what. But I’ll take it.
I realized I had left my hair paint in my car. I had to run out the stage door to my car and then back. I was a sweaty anxious mess half an hour before show time.
You can hear the sound of the theatre through the monitors. I was very excited to hear a large crowd in the theatre. After Kara gave us our five minute call we stood at the curtain waiting to perform my play once again.
SHOW NUMBER THREE! (Toronto Centre for the Arts – Studio Theatre)
I also love being on stage. There have been certain points in my life where I realize that the problem with my life is that I am not on stage. After being stuck in the music director box for so long it has been so refreshing to be treading the boards once again, using the large theatrical presence God gave me. If I don’t use this presence properly I use it improperly. By making a loud public protest for instance.
I felt the show went very well, and the audience loved it. I honestly didn’t have any idea we would have such a good house. The producer of the festival seemed pretty happy. Still the cast was critical of themselves. But I felt so much happiness and relief. They have done an amazing job. We all have our quirks and we have our moments of dysfunction, but it all seems to be working once we hit the stage. There are minor gaffes here and there, but we always get through it.
After ward we met with Denise’s cousin visiting from Woodstock. Him and his friend had really enjoyed the show. As I walked out of the building I took a snap shot. I wanted to remember this moment. We all went walking on Yonge St. I wanted a milkshake at the Dairy Queen but the line up was massive. I was craving sugar big time. Bruce and Kara were craving cigarettes which were impossible to find in this part of town. I ended up getting a massive bucket of iced tea at Wendy’s. After a smoke and a chat we all said goodbye in Mel Lastman Square.
I went home a happy and sweaty mess.
SHOW NUMBER FOUR! (Toronto Centre for the Arts – Studio Theatre)
We had one day off. I spent the day relaxing, feeling more confident about the size of the house. Perhaps the facebook ad was working. Who knows?
My wife and I went to see Inception. I have heard mixed things. I thought it was horrible. The soundtrack was overblown. The story was disappointing. Wasn’t Shutter Island a better version of this story? Saw the ending coming from fifty miles away.
It’s easy to criticize something, isn’t it?
We had an earlier show on Friday. We were the 7:00 show instead of the 9:00. I almost prefer the earlier shows so I can get my performance anxiety over and done with. I felt we were unfocused backstage before the show. Bruce wasn’t in the audience and sometimes I think things go more smoothly when he is there. I was nervous when just before the show I couldn’t find one of the actors. I eventually found him but then he disappeared again. It gave me an anxiety attack.
During the show there were a few problems that almost threw me off. I do this bit with a cigar cutter. Suddenly, just before the gag, I looked down and it wasn’t there. This show is very well rehearsed. Everything is planned. I had no choice but to mime the cigar cutter and improvise a noise for it, which made Denise start to giggle.
Also David got part of his latke stuck in his throat. The cocaine joke didn’t help matters. I could tell that he was struggling. It wasn’t something an audience would notice. At one point he left the stage. He was still having a problem with the latke. But eventually everything worked itself out, as it usually does.
The audience was even larger tonight. It’s building. Someone said that it was the biggest audience at the festival so far. I’m not sure if that is true, but it certainly says something about the size of the house we had.
After the show I have been washing the white paint out of my hair in the shower. I hate going out with it in my hair so I am taking advantage of the backstage facilities. David wanted me to meet some people. So I chatted with some friends and signed an autograph.
Then I had a milkshake at Dairy Queen across the street. I really crave sugar drinks after performing. Could it be I have low blood sugar? I bought a ticket to Jennifer’s show WANTED: If Not Wed, which I thought was excellent. Her writing and acting were superb.
Afterward I took the last few posters I have for this run and put them up around the corners near the theatre. I felt even more relief. Success! In North York of all places. Nothing like a hometown crowd.
SHOW NUMBER FIVE! (Toronto Centre for the Arts – Studio Theatre)
Our last show connected to the Toronto Fringe Festival was finally upon us. I was pretty relaxed all day. I wasn’t concerned about crowds anymore. There is nothing I can do anymore to promote the show.
I have to be satisfied with the fact that large amounts of strangers saw my show, and some people who I thought were my best of friends never found the time to make it out to the show once. Some people had legitimate reasons for missing it and explained the reasons to me. But when I find out people never showed up who never explained why, and that they did find the time to go see Inception then you can basically go fffffffffade away.
But if you want a successful show you can’t just rely on your best friends to show up anyway. Besides I miss 99 percent of the shows my friends do.
I sat with Moira in the green room. We chatted about some of the events over the past few years. You see, there is a real story behind this play. Those who know me well know what the real story is. Now some of the naysayers are trying to congratulate us. Hmmmmmm……
We had another good sized crowd. This time there were lots of friends and family and new friends who have come to see the show more than once. This is how I move on in my life. At some point you have to leave old broken down friendships behind and forge new friendships and partnerships.
The show went very well. I was really trying to enjoy myself knowing that this is the last show and I really do not have to worry about producing it anymore (other than moving the couch). Everyone involved did such a fantastic job.
When the show was over I breathed a sigh of relief and washed the paint out of my hair. Time to wash off Freud. We needed to move the entire set outside before The Jersey Boys crowd got out. There were several groups of people waiting for us outside. My neighbor who has been moving the couch was running late so I stood outside with my family, including my brother, niece and nephew (who thinks he’s famous because he’s related to me….ha ha ha!) visiting from Vancouver. It was nice to have everyone there at the finish line.
Finally we moved THE COUCH into the van and the rest of our props. The company decided to go out for a drink at Moxies. I bought everyone drinks and we all had some good laughs. Except of course the issue that continues to piss me off about a certain street rag came up again and took the wind out of my sails for a good half hour. There will always be naysayers and unfair treatment. I’m going to have to make a new set of rules the next time we do this show about certain subjects that are off limits. Accentuate the positive people. This is what success feels like. Enjoy it. The glass is at least half full.
Almost exactly two years ago an incident occurred in my life. This is not the place to go into what happened or why it happened or how it has, unfortunately, never really been resolved. It has taken me two long years to build myself back up. Now I feel I have actually surpassed where I was when everything fell apart. I have broken out of the prison of being a music director (or have I?). This is my third consecutive success at the Fringe. I hope people can finally see that I am more than a piano player. I am a producer, playwright and actor as well. My resume proves it. There are still those who try to keep me down for some mysterious reason. It feels good to break the mold they all set for me, but now I am truly exhausted.
I had to move THE COUCH one more time. I met my neighbor and we drove to the artist’s studio where we borrowed the couch two months ago. You know the show is over when THE COUCH is moved one last time.
I went back home and started preparing for a barbecue for everyone involved in the show at my parent’s house. My parents have really been very generous during this whole process. We ate like kings and sat in the backyard chatting and enjoying each other’s company one last time before we all go our separate ways. Of course, the show was very successful so we owe it to ourselves to do this show again. There are already several ideas and a few offers. I look forward to it.
I took a week off at a friend’s cottage to refresh myself. The same cottage where I devoured The Portable Jung two years ago. Looking up at the stars at night I realized how small we are and how short life is. I felt it was time to address something that was happening that was unfair and affecting the collective unconscious. Two years later the same cottage is where I have been writing this most recent blog. A wonderful thanks to everyone involved who made this show a success and thanks to the owners of the cottage. Because it was here where I came up with a crazy idea for a play.
Sean Fisher (Suga Jam)
A Freudian Slip of the Jung 2010