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Archive for Creating A/Broad

“Did you get the invitation?” and other Fringe-season faux pas

I’m finally getting to the point where I know other artists in my stop-over cities, and by “know” I mean they’ve been a Smut Slam judge or I appeared in one of their gigs and at the very least we’re friends on Facebook. It’s also coming up on Fringe touring season, has been for a month already, actually. This means that the steady trickle of event invitations on FB is starting to become a stream, and when Brighton Fringe hits in three weeks, we’ll all be drowning in the stressful convergence of two vast rivers of theatrical output and social expectations.

In the interest of managing expectations, avoiding hurt feelings, and generally being transparent about how I integrate the arts with my personal network, I would like to share my personal etiquette around EVENT INVITATIONS.

When I have an event…

I will invite you, if you’re in the area. This invitation carries no expectations with it at all. You can decline, mark “interested”, mark “attending” and then not attend, or show up and that’s okay.

If we are friends and I know that you’ve seen my work, I may drop you a private message and ask you to share with your people in the area. I try to ask selectively, making sure that we’re in the same wheelhouse, you know, you’re not a kids’ clown or choral singer.

If we are really good friends and we’ve talked about my show or event before, I may drop you a private message and ask you to come to opening night for moral support, or whatever, and I will offer you a comp. But I will not take it personally if you can’t.

If we are reasonably well acquainted and I know you have an event going on too sometime soon, I may suggest a comp swap. I firmly believe that artists are not each other’s target demographic, and I don’t expect other artists to buy tickets to my shows. We are all broke. I do not expect comps—so please feel free to turn me down!—but I appreciate them.

If I ask to swap comps with you, and you agree, I will make every effort to attend. If you ask to swap comps with me, there is a possibility I may not be able to attend your show. Whoever initiates the comp swap convo needs to be really committed to coming.

When you have an event …

I do read the event listing. I am very assiduous in my attention to invites that come in through Facebook. I will mark “interested” if I’m interested, and will only mark “attending” if I am really planning to attend OR if it’s part of a festival-wide campaign to attend each other’s events and boost the FB algorithm.

If you direct message me with an invite that does not mention a comp, I will politely decline. I may have had other valid reasons, but the sales pitch is one of them. (See the bit about not being each other’s target demographic.)

If you really want me to attend for some particular reason, DM with that comp offer and explain that you really want me there.

I only recommend shows that I have seen, if not the actual show, then something by the performer. Keep that in mind when you’re asking me to promote your show. I’ll need to see it or you in action first.

Out on the Fringe…

I will never knowingly flyer another artist, with the purpose of getting them to buy a ticket to my show. (I may hand them a flyer as a sort of business card, though, if they ask for one.) If I find out mid-pitch that you are a fellow fringe artist, I will hurriedly take my flyer back and apologize, saying something like “let’s save our paper for the punters.” You are welcome to keep an accidentally bestowed flyer if you like it, or you really want a reminder, but please don’t then favour-shark me into taking one of yours. I don’t want it. Tell me the name of your show, and if I want to know more, I will ask. I expect the same in return.

In person…

If I ask, “have you seen my show?” it is NEVER meant as pressure to see it. Usually that is me trying to either avoid spoilers OR figuring out what background information you need, if we are talking about our shows or audience responses or whatever.

In general…

My hierarchy of interest, separate from any personally connection I may have to anyone involved in the show is as follows:

Solo theatre > storytelling > variety shows with a strong MC > everything else

Fringe festivals are and have always been my chance to study up on my craft informally. I want to see shows that are close to my wheelhouse first. These are my classrooms.

AND

I have given myself permission to not see any shows at festivals, if that’s what I need to stay balanced. My fellow EdFringers know what it is to run a show back to back to fucking back, for a few weeks at a time; even smaller festivals and shorter runs can take their toll. We all have promo to do, and I personally can’t really see a show for two hours before I’m on or for one hour afterward.

Take into account recovering from travels, getting some groceries in, and trying to get some sleep, and you can see that sometimes… we run out of time. That has to be okay: show first, self-care second, then everything else.

*****

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My truth is a weapon, and it cuts both ways

I have spent the last eight years peeling my life open for public scrutiny, through my blogging and the plays and the Smut Slam and the Facebooking… you’d think I’d have no boundaries left, if I had any to begin with.

You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. I’m finding boundaries I didn’t even know existed, thanks to my efforts at relocating to the UK. People who are stuck in the visa and immigration pipeline don’t get to keep boundaries, not in the UK, certainly, and nowhere in the world. You learn right away to set those aside, because you have to answer those questions and you cannot hedge or hesitate.

I keep thinking this shouldn't be a problem for me; I strive for transparency and honesty in my work and personal life. A lot of what I’m doing is building a bridge out in front of me, hacking through the underbrush and not knowing where that path goes. But being honest about not knowing, being real about not having my ducks in a row, that is not the kind of honesty that wins me friends at the borders to countries. They want to know my path, and they will push me right out onto it, onto some path, even if I’m not ready.

They precipitate decisions, these moments in the queue at the airport, and when I still don’t have clarity and still manage to get through, I am left trembling in front of the baggage conveyor, wondering what I am doing with my life.

How did I end up here being lectured by someone whose uniform includes a jumper with epaulets, who in spite of that still has the arbitrary right—which they reminded me of at least seven times during a 20-minute conversation—to restrict my global movement, event though my paperwork matches up?

I guess that’s what makes these people perfect border guards: they see staying-in-placeness as a thing to strive for. They question fluidity and shifting and change. They don’t understand how I could have been married and still fallen in love with someone else (don’t even try talking about polyamory), or if they do understand, they call it something else with a sleazy, disbelieving sneer. They don’t really believe that I make enough on my theatre and emceeing to get by over here; “that’s not a real job,” I can see it in their eyes.

Most challenging of all, in terms of my path, is that they don’t believe that it’s possible to have more than one purpose in being in a place; my being in the UK is suspect because I dare to both have professional ambition AND the love of my life here. I must be using the first to avoid going the marriage-visa route. I am skirting the spirit of law, they said as much, and I have to stand there and flush hot under their scrutiny.

I told them about UK Muse because one doesn’t lie at the border, and I thought for one wild minute, maybe radical honesty is the way through. Yes, I want to be with him, and yes, I am working toward that. At the same time, yes, I want to make it with my performance work, here in the UK, where it’s actually possible. But this transparency of dual purpose becomes a weapon in their hands, and now I am left thinking, why is this not enough for you people? I am bringing you the best I have to offer. I am bringing you whatever skills and passion I have for the work that I do and the life that I live.

I am telling the truth, the whole truth, but it’s messy. Sorry, visa and immigration folks—and you might be reading this—but at this stage in my life there’s no way of making this tidier. My life and my love are sprawling and grand, and there are always going to be some glorious bits that end up straying outside the box.

*****

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SMUT STAND REPORT: April 9, 2017 (Berlin)

WHEN: 4 hours (1-5pm), April 9, 2017. WHERE: Mauerpark, Berlin. OUTPUT: two full-length pieces, including a deliciously wet sit-and-spin session (with a focus on the ass) and a summer afternoon of semi-public pussy eating with the smells of sausage on the barbecue in the background.

I wanted Berlin to go better than this, on my first time out with the Smut Stand here. Better = more stories, more interactions, more money (more people buying me drinks 😀 ). I have long held the idea that Berliners, in general, are massive perverts, and every person I’ve met here who has lived here for a while has disabused me of that notion.

However, this city is no different from any other: the spot has to be right. Multiple people suggest Mauerpark, a big park next to a weekend “fleamarket.” I thought sure, if that’s the only time the weather is going to be good while I’m here, but I better try it.

Well. On a sunny Sunday afternoon the foot traffic is certainly there, but as a friend of mine tentatively pointed out, a lot of people go there because they know they can get in an afternoon of cheap entertainment, e.g. people watching, drinking, and haggling over mass-produced picture frames. “You might want to operate on a sliding scale,” my friend suggested. I don’t think so, I replied to the text message, and spent my subway ride to the park fuming about cheap-ass trust-fund-baby hitchhikers.

(I stopped offering sliding scale to the general public several years ago. The spaces where the Smut Stand operates are not conducive to honesty in self-pricing, and I value my labour too much. I don’t do this to be cute, I do it to earn money, and I know what my work is worth.)

The further problem with daytime Smutting is that I must be in the shade. At night this is not a problem—instead I’m looking for good lighting during those times—but even a partly cloudy afternoon, even with decent sunblock, can leave me a little crispy fried. In this park, there simply was no place where I could take advantage of the stream of sausage grillers and sun-worshippers, be in the shade, AND STILL have my back against a wall.

So I set up on the grass underneath a partially leafed tree, everything at the Smut Stand borrowed, right down to the typewriter and the tape I used to attach the usual signage to the table. (Big thanks to Marc from Sticky Biscuits for lugging the Smut Stand gear out, and to Liliana for letting me use her typewriter.)

And then I waited. Typed a piece or two, to continue getting used to the typewriter. To be honest, that was the most frustrating part of typing yesterday, as the typewriter had several keys that stuck. Also, the z and the y were switched on this German/Czech? Keyboard. All of that slowed my typing speed down considerably.

I persevered, though, and eventually got two customers, neither of whom boggled at the (I thought reasonable) price, and both being strangely vanilla for Berlin. The older Irish expat in particular was just entranced by the whole process, and sat right down on the grass in his pinstriped suit and smoked a cigarette while answering the interview questions.

 

It could have been really lonely out there for me, but one of Sticky Biscuit’s friend circle, whom I had met at my show of Phone Whore here last Saturday, she came out to visit for a couple of hours, and even brought a cup of coffee like I begged someone to do on the event page.

(Yes, I put up an event page for the Sidewalk Smut, after Marc suggested that I do so he could share it around with his friends. Seems weird, and it’s yet another page on FB that I need to manage, but I’ll give it a shot.)

In short, 6 out of 10, would do again, in the evening on a different street.

*****

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“Not like other open mics”: thoughts on creating Smut Slam space

Open mics notoriously happen anywhere that the host can fit them. I’m not even talking about the alcoves and broom closets of Edinburgh Fringe. I have been on multiple open mic shows—comedy, music, variety, whatever—that just unroll in the front room of a bar, dropping crackly static and sweaty punchlines on whatever poor lushes happen to be hunched over their drinks.

I never heard anyone protest this too strenuously, because no one wants to be the squeaky wheel in a scene where performers are a dime a dozen. The venue doesn’t want to alienate its bar flies, er, regulars, and the organizers know that any venue at all is priceless, and because it is generally understood that comedians and musicians and magicians are performers who are going to be playing to drunk and/or hostile crowds for a good chunk of their performing career, it is also generally understood that they might as well get used to weirdness and interruptions and anger and side conversations and possibly thrown beer cans as early and often as possible. Performers just need to toughen up, is the conventional wisdom. It’s part of our training.

Given all this, I think that venues don’t always understand my extreme care when it comes to selecting spaces for Smut Slams. In particular, they don’t always get the privacy factor. I have gotten people saying, “yes, it’s all private space,” or “it’s all yours, we’ll just have a couple of regulars in during that time.” And then when I show up, it’s, you know, it’s the front room of a bar. Or it’s a side room that looks private but isn’t, a fact that everyone becomes acutely aware of when those two regulars break out into an argument during an especially moving story.

Smut Slam space needs to be … I was going to say sacred space. It’s not that exactly, but almost. Smut Slammers aren’t performers; they don’t need to toughen up or get used to bad performing conditions. I don’t want them to have to be tough; that just gets in the way of good, real stuff. Smut Slammers are delicate fucking flowers, and they need a space to bloom, someplace where people feel supported and encouraged in sharing some deeply personal shit. We Smut Slam hosts expend a lot of energy, trying to lay down this foundation, to create the comfortable feel. But we can’t create that feel in a physical space that just isn’t designed to hold it.

Smut Slam venues have to be private. In my tech rider for Smut Slam, I phrase it as “we must control access to the space,” because we are going to sell tickets to everyone going into the room. Almost always, if someone pays for a ticket, they are going to take the show more seriously; after all, they have something invested now. Also, with that single, controlled entry point, we can check everyone who goes into the space: how much have they had to drink, what’s their general attitude, how do they interact with staff/crew? Do we have to assign someone to keep an eye on the person in question over the course of the night? These are the literal security issues that having private, ticketed spaces helps address.

Controlling access to the space is as much about noise as it is about bodies. When audiences in a Smut Slam space can hear external chatter and noise and espresso machines, they understand that Smut Slam noise can travel outward too. Comedians and other professional performer types usually develop a second layer of skin over their eardrums, to help filter out that ambient noise. “Civilians,” as I call them… they don’t have those mental-auditory buffers. Most of them are sensitive, and rightly so.

And then, well, let’s go back to that ineffable quality of space. After a certain point in the proceedings, we have to shut the door on the space. No more folks; catch us the next time around. We guard the perimeter because goddammit, every Smut Slam is basically a roomful of strangers weaving a delicate web of shared vulnerability and trust. We stake out the space to make that web. We are holding some turf where the room can bloom. I don’t want just any randos stomping through that beautiful smutty garden.

*****

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Visa delays and situational sadness, aka Bereft in Berlin

There are many good things about Starbucks: their coffee is pretty much always the same over-roasted blend everywhere (at least you know what you’re getting?), and you can always get free Internet, which is a boon when you’re out and about in a strange city. There are usually power outlets somewhere in the walls, though you might have to hover a bit. And the typical Starbucks is busy enough that nobody will notice you sitting in the corner crying.

I’m doing that right now. I'm totally happy with people ignoring me; I don’t think I could really handle a well-meaning stranger asking me if I’m okay. I’m sure I am okay, intellectually I know I am, but the reasons why I don’t feel okay would take too long to explain.

It’s just international bureaucracy in the end, a mismatch between what the visa processing web site says and what the harried but polite people in the visa-processing office said in person. I had planned to get back into the UK on Monday—with the 3-to-5 day processing window, that was optimistic, but hope thrives like a cactus on very little. But in the office this morning, after waiting an extra half-hour beyond when my appointment was scheduled, they informed me that it was actually five to seven business days for processing, and that did not include the amount of time it would take to courier the passport back to me.

So I will almost certainly be missing both the London and Bristol Smut Slams this month, and maybe even the one in Brighton, and I am a little taken aback by how much that upsets me. I think my co-producers can pull together the show just fine—they’ve been watching my shenanigans for three months now, and the structure is of course easy enough to follow—but I hate being away from the slams at this critical point in their development.

We’re starting to getting regulars at those events, and I think they want to see me, in part, and I know I like seeing those people and knowing that I know people. This is where it starts feeling personal. Do you know how hard it is for me to get to know people? Everyone knows me but I don’t know anyone, and that was just starting to change, in all those different cities, but now there’s this fucking glitch and I have to wait until May.

And then, I didn’t plan to be here in Berlin past April 9, so obviously I didn’t plan anything to DO. I don’t do tourist stuff; I don’t care about architecture. Maybe I’ll try out some baked goods and Turkish kebabs. But really, the thing that I enjoy the most about touring, besides the performing aspect, is meeting people, and I don’t mean in bars. I mean, I want to do the things that I know how to do—performances, Smut Slams, Sidewalk Smut—and then start conversations with people that way, and then we get to talk. My performances are this week, and that’s it, and then I have at least four days hanging empty in front me.

It's not that I have nothing to do. Patreon. Videos. Catching up on social media and all the assorted admin. Sidewalk Smut, I guess, if I can find a useable typewriter and table/chair combo to borrow. It’s still a bit chilly here, but I can wear my Lumberjack Lingerie ™ and find some fingerless gloves and do a few evenings. Hell, I could be really decadent and spend a few hours a day working on my next show ("Cameryn Moore Is HEARTH-CORE").

I’ve got lots of stuff to do, I guess, but it’s not what I had planned, and I was just starting to find my feet, get my routine in the UK. Now I just feel lost and terrified all over again.

*****

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SHOW REPORT: the second most awkward performance of Phone Whore ever

I have performed Phone Whore probably close to 200 times, if not more. I have performed it a lot, in packed 100-seat theatres and in the basement of a pub with three people watching. For a frowny, arms-crossed crowd in a women’s bookstore, and for a room that was half-full of sex workers. I have a lot of experience to draw from, in terms of assessing audiences, but the show this past Saturday night was something special, and by special, I mean, AWKWARD AS FUCK.

All’s well that ends well, and I am here to tell the tale. We pulled it back from the brink, and it was a nice, tight show, performance-wise. But it started like a smoldering trash heap, oh Christ.

To start with, my front-of-house volunteer, a bright-eyed young theatre person who had checked in with me on the two previous nights when he arrived 15 minutes before house opening… well, he didn’t check in with me this time. I texted him at 20 minutes to show: no answer. I peeked out the doors at 15 minutes to show—when the house was supposed to open—and he wasn’t out there. I couldn’t understand it, he had been talking the whole weekend about bringing his dad, and then the night before he said he was bringing his mum, too, they were huge theatre fans, “don’t worry about it,” he said. And he had just pushed the show on Facebook. What happened?

I came back into the theatre and said to my technician, right, if he’s not here by five minutes before show, we lock the doors and have the drunkest, most leisurely load-out in theatre history. I was fully ready to cancel. I had already clocked out. It had been a challenging weekend, and if nobody showed, not even my door person, that would be the perfect icing on the bad, bad cake.

As I was getting ready to lock the doors, I looked out one last time and… there he was, smiling and leaning against the desk out there, and waving out me. And there were people out there. Not just his mom and dad, but, like, three other people.

I turned to the technician. There are people out there, I whispered. We have to do the show. And then I whirled back around to the volunteer, with my eyebrows lifted significantly. Can you come in here for a second? He walked in, and his family followed him in. By yourself, I hissed at him. They can’t come in yet. He hastily gestured his family back out into the lobby, I gave him a quick pointed briefing about CHECKING IN with your BOSS when you arrive for your volunteer shift, and told him to let the audience in.

It was a small house—six people, including the volunteer and his mom and dad—but not the smallest I’ve ever had. Not noticeably more awkward until I started doing my normal pre-show crowd work. You’re Joseph’s mom? Oh, you are? Okay, and you’re also his relative? You’re his AUNT. Excellent!

I extricated myself from that as quickly as I could, and slid down the row to chat with the straight couple a few seats down. And how did you find out about the show?

“We saw the poster.”

You… eeep.

It wasn’t as bad as that: they were visiting from Glasgow and staying at a friend’s flat nearby for the weekend. They had swung by the pub the previous night because they heard it was a good one with good entertainment upstairs. Nothing on this week except Phone Whore, so they looked me up and decided to come on closing night. “Yeah, when we googled it, a bunch of 4- and 5-star reviews came up, so we thought we’d take a chance.”

So, okay. At least 33 percent of the audience was informed about the upcoming work.

Joseph finally closed the doors and the first phone call came on. The audience missed the first laugh checkpoint, so I was prepared, but damn, they were quiet. So very quiet. It was the quiet of paying attention, not the quiet of “we’re hating this,” so I plunged on ahead, but still AWKWARD, and about to get more so. In between calls 1 and 2, my character talks about a couple of clients, including one guy, “he’s an ass men, he’s a real sweetie, a real Southern gentleman.” Whose name is JOSEPH.

FUUUUUU…. It didn’t even hit me until I spoke that paragraph out loud, and then I was like, oh. Right. I wonder if his family will ever let him live that down? I wonder if his family will ever talk about this play, ever, was actually what I was thinking, because they saw the whole thing. They stuck it out. His mom, dad, and maternal uncle were sitting right next to him and I did that full-out mommy-fucker call, and then of course Call 4.

I did say I survived, right? And so did they. Everyone in the house hung around for the Q&A; the energy was fine in there, good questions, etc. Afterward, though, I asked my tech how the show felt from up in the god box, and he said, “It was a good run, but I had to stop watching toward the end.”

What, the play?

“No, the audience. During Call 3, I started covering my eyes, and I hid behind the desk for all of Call 4.”

Folks, when the tech says it’s awkward, it’s AWWWWWKWARD.

*****

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When my one real/fake home doesn’t even feel right…

I don’t consider myself a diva. I suppose every diva probably thinks that they’re being reasonable, but I honestly try to be chill. I have to be, with all the traveling and fast load-ins and being my own roadie most of the time. Last night, though, after my second night of a three-night run, I found myself wracked with tears about my set furniture.

“IT’S NOT MY HOME ANYMORE,” I sobbed over the phone to UK Muse. “it’s not right.”

I didn’t expect this intensity of feeling, even though I knew things would be different. This is new furniture, see. I had commissioned it to live here in the UK, to be available for European performances of Phone Whore. The original pieces are still back in Montreal; I left them there because I just couldn’t justify bringing them all the way over, paying huge sums in extra baggage fees. In retrospect, I see that I could have paid slightly less than the cost of construction and skipped the heartache, but at the time it just seemed like the logical next step towards establishing my performance work on two continents. I needed two sets.

The carpenter who I had found through a friend of a friend seemed prompt and responsive; when I emailed to him that the chair, for example, really needed to be fattie-friendly, he didn’t even (metaphorically) blink. Tanner, the director of my fifth show nerdfucker, had been able to reverse-engineer construction plans for the pieces (the original carpenter had gone off the grid, so I couldn’t find her).

Now, Tanner had mentioned to me, early on in the process, that he tried to streamline construction a little bit, because there was lots in the chair that seemed like overkill, etc, and I didn’t object because I knew that the original pieces had been kludged together with no plan, only a directive: both pieces need to pack down and be able to fit in the trunk of a 1991 Toyota Corolla. So yeah, maybe there was a way to make them lighter weight, without compromising the structural integrity. I didn’t want to get in the way of that.

So I knew that it would be new furniture; everything was going to feel different. But at tech, when I started handling the separate components and feeling the splinters, it began grinding home to me. These are really new. The edges are rough, and catch at the bedspread I use to cover the chair frame. I couldn’t find the right foam for padding the chair, and so I am sitting on a whole new assortment of lumps and bumps and none of the positions that I normally hold during the show are comfortable or even work. I did not realize how much choreography for sitting and shifting had gotten burned into my muscle memory over six years of doing this show!

Wait, there’s more! One of the arm assemblages malfunctioned in two different ways at tech and during the show itself. Three of the four chair legs fell out of their slots when I lifted the chair up after the show last night to move it, in spite of latches on each leg that were supposed to prevent that.

And to top it all off, the two tables don’t stack up over/around the assembled chair anymore. That wasn’t ever specified in the design; that was just the way the original set worked out, and then I never thought to tell this new carpenter about it, because that’s the way the originals were. But when the dimensions and measurements got changed and streamlined, something got buggered, and now they don’t stack up right.

I know I’ll get used to it. I have to. The carpenter is going to make good on the malfunctions and the structural reinforcements. He’ll sand down the rough edges. I think I can stack up the furniture if I take the arms out after each show. I will eventually find the correct foam.

But last night it hit me, hard: this set, this stupid, simple set for a show that is supposed to be taking place in my living room, this set really WAS my living room. It is the place where I knew exactly what was going on, and I knew how far back I could lean, and in which directions. I knew what was safe and what was probably a bad idea. I knew how to slam all the furniture and props into place in under 12 minutes, and I knew that at the end of that frenzied 12 minutes, I could sit down in the chair and lean back, and Phone Whore would be home. And now I don’t even have that stability anymore. It’s all changed.

I will deal with it. Hell, I made this move of my own free will. I knew. But I didn’t really know until last night, after two shows of not being comfortable and breaking my own chair with positions that the OTHER chair, the REAL chair could take, I didn’t know how it would feel to my body.

Right now, it feels all wrong. And I am tired of not having a home, not even a fake one.

*******

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