“The Last Straight Man In Theatre” opens tonight at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, coming a year later than expected. Last year I was wait listed for the festival, and went all the way up to #1 on the wait list. In the end I was offered two venues, but they couldn’t work for this production. One was an outdoor venue and the other venue was too big. I wasn’t sure if I would continue to tour with this show in 2011, but when I decided to do so last fall, I entered Orlando again and this time got a venue that was suitable.
Last fall I was performing “Straight Man” for ten Saturdays in an artist collective space on the edge of Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn. The show went well, made a small profit, and was a lot of fun to do. One Saturday I was in the bathroom standing by the sink, when I had a Eureka moment: This show is not for theater festivals, or at least Fringe festivals. Now, you would think I would have had this moment of realization when I actually played Fringe festivals and saw that, despite getting by far the best reviews of my career, the sizes of my audiences generally dwindled as the festival played on. What was left were the hardcore fans who would quote lines from the show. A cult audience!
Alison Cousins and I worked hard on the show to create something that would work on two levels – one being a show that, if you pay close attention to it, you can see the themes and connections that are being made. The other way you could watch it is as a broad sketch comedy show. I think people are more apt to try to find the connections and figure out what it’s all about. At festivals people may be seeing “Straight Man” after seeing two other shows in a row, and are generally prone to want to sit back and relax and not think hard about what’s going on on stage. I get that. A blogger friend of mine in Minneapolis had enjoyed the show, but said he had trouble describing it to people. That’s one reason why a show like “The One-Man Star Wars” was so successful on the Fringe: the title describes the show perfectly! Whereas my title doesn’t even connect with my show in a linear way. I am asking the audience to do a little work to take a ride with me, and they won’t be disappointed. But who is to say how I would feel at 10:30pm at a Fringe Festival after having sat through three shows already? Would I really want to sit and make an effort?
“The Last Straight Man In Theatre” has played over sixty shows now, and has sold out one: a sixty-seat venue at the Indianapolis Fringe last year. I like having a cult show. I also wouldn’t mind making money. I realized when I was at that bathroom sink in Bed-Stuy that the show works better as a stand-alone show. I also realized that I had already submitted the show to the Orlando and Montreal Fringe festivals.
I would like to see the show do good business in Orlando, and I am out handing out postcards and selling the show as best I can. Because of the fact that this festival is very gay oriented, the title of my show is especially strong here. Orlando is a great Fringe festival, with a lot of big local shows that could swallow up an out-of-towner like myself. So I am promoting the show to hopefully prevent that from happening. Orlando (and Montreal for the matter) is really a wild card. I have no idea how it will be received and how it will do at the box office. I do have a bit of a following in Orlando from doing “Hooray for Speech Therapy” in the same venue two years ago, so that helps.
It is a curiosity factor to me as to how the show will go. I am looking forward to seeing how things transpire. I do know that it is a tight show that was just performed last Friday in New York, so it is well-oiled. I also know that I will love doing the show, and will let the show connect with me as it always does in different ways depending on what my mood or feelings are at that moment. In the end, that’s all I really have control over.
A few years ago I read a book called “Effortless Mastery,” a book written for musicians, but it had a lot of good info for performers in general. One thing the book said was that you should never complain about having a small audience. The fact that ANYONE is spending their time and money to watch you perform is an honor and a privilege.
And it is. It really is.