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Creating on tour, aka planting seeds and filling the well

Usually the idea of creating new material while touring feels a bit … high-pressure? Over-achieving? Hell, I’m banging this out over the shitty wi-fi on the last possible ferry to get from Victoria to Vancouver in time for my tech rehearsal this morning, with no breakfast and half a cup of Charbuck’s finest, and that feels like enough of a stretch. The thought of trying to work on a new script or memorize lines or have a skype call with a director, it feels like Too Fucking Much Already. (Although I have seen plenty of artists do this, and mad props to them, WTF people, you art-making MACHINES.)

On the other hand, there is something about being out on the road that both blows things open and focuses my creative vision into something like a laser. There are more aspects to creating than just writing a script.

For starters, being out and surrounded by so many other creators helps me see myself and my work in the context of what other people are doing. I wind up being able to define the art that I want to do more clearly by watching others and dividing their shows up into two categories: stuff that I know I would not be any good at or show to my advantage, and shows that teach me something applicable. I can also see, huh, not many people write solo shows like mine, which is a double-edged sword sometimes, but mostly I manage to use that edge to my advantage.

Out here I see what topics and trends and techniques are popular, and decide for myself whether I want to jump on board or not, wholeheartedly or picking and choosing.

I am constantly inspired by seeing how other solo performers make scene or character shifts, for example, or how they choose to portray internal states or dialogues. Even something as simple as pre-show handouts—doodle pads for a kids’ program or question slips for a mentalist session—invite me to reconsider my own physical materials for the audience Some stuff I don’t have the training for, like puppetry or acrobatics or what-not, but there are plenty of other genres—storytelling, poetry, multimedia, even song or dance or a fucking cooking show—that I can access and store up for my own works.

(Specific example: at the Edmonton Fringe this year, I was so jazzed watching my fringe friend Sharon Mahoney use both outdoor and indoor performances to reinforce attendance at both, that I came up with an idea for a new character for possible street performance purposes and also emceeing. I had the name of this character three years ago, but it didn’t get any traction in my imagination until I saw what Sharon did, and then got a chance to sit down with her and brainstorm.)

There are even opportunities to experiment out here, at various late-night cabarets or special events. My new character got two chances to play around in Victoria; I also developed a feminist phone sex sketch with another PSO/fringe artist that almost certainly has legs for other performance environments. With these showcases, there is the constant pressure to use them as sales vehicles for one’s productions, and experimenting can be messy. But fringe is also an okay place to take those kind of risks.

Beyond seeing other performers at work and testing new stuff in bits and pieces, being out on tour gives me the “water-cooler” experience that is otherwise severely lacking in my life. Artists who mostly stay in one place, they develop creative community there. For me, my creative community is online, and tour time is when we finally get face time. It’s not much, little bits and pieces grabbed here and there between shows and flyering and special events and all the rest of the festival frenzy.

But occasionally it’s there, a precious half-hour where I get to hear what people are working on next, and I get to hit them with my titles and ideas and half-formed glimpses of posters for the show that’s coming out in 2018 at the earliest. We don’t have to do anything with those ideas. We all understand the pressure out here. These are simply the moments when I can let down my guard with a chosen few, share my vision, get some broad-stroke feedback, dig into the larger issues—beyond back story and narrative arc into “really, though, THIS is what it’s about” territory—and then, well, jot those notes into a notebook and wash it down with a pint.

You were there for the birth of it, I joke at those moments, but that’s not quite right. I don’t know when my projects will be born, their world premieres or whatever. They were there for the conception.

*****

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