If you choose to do a fringe tour, be prepared. Before you click “send” on your application, understand the following:
If you do a major festival like Winnipeg and Edmonton, understand that you may be reviewed by the sports writer or classifieds editor of the newspaper, and they may give you a bad review because, quite simply, they didn’t like it. Maybe you have a clown show. Well, they don’t like clowns. One star for you. No one looking for shows to see knows the background of your reviewer, and they don’t care. They probably won’t even read the review. They’ll just see the star rating and they won’t see your show.
Rather than curl up into a ball, you’ll go out and hustle and flyer people. Many of those people won’t care about seeing your show. Some of them may be rude to you. Sure, you’re a sensitive artist, but welcome to dealing with the public. Ask anyone in the service industry – some folks are nice, some are rude. Hey, get five stars and go out and flyer. There will still be rude people!
At night you’ll hang out with your performer friends at the bar. While you are struggling to keep your show going and not get completely buried, your friends may very well be having the reverse situation. They are raking in money like Scrooge McDuck while you sweat it out looking at the bill for the PBR you bought. They aren’t just having a great time. They are having THE BEST TIME OF THEIR LIVES.
But you worked so hard!
Well… Look at the fringe like a casino. You are rolling the dice. You may win big, you may lose big, you may break even. But when you gamble, you should be able to afford to lose the money, or you’ll be in trouble. And it’s up to you whether or not you want to enjoy the experience.
As for reviews, I’ve tried everything: Never reading the bad reviews. Reading reviews after the festivals. Reading every review in sight as soon as they come out. Having someone screen the reviews before I read them. Soaking the reviews in hot water and cooking up a heaping pot of review stew. Printing out the reviews and using them for placemats so I don’t get the review stew on the good table. Or bad table. Okay, it’s a three-star table.
You may have to use the good ones because you are also the producer of the show and need reviews for marketing, but if you have to read them, wait until the festival is over. That’s the best course of action, I think.
People will probably tell you “congrats” or “shitty review, eh?” and you’ll find out anyway, but there’s not much you can do about that. I think if you’ve made it this far in life as a performer that you have created your own work and you’re touring with it, you don’t suck. You may have room for improvement, but you are improving every time you perform. You are in a good place. So try to have a sense of humor about it. Really, they are all part of the game, and if you can look at it as a game, it’ll be more fun for you. I’m working on that approach for myself, and I’m a five-star, four-star, three-star, two-star, one-star performer.
Understand that you are finding your audience and your audience is finding you. You may not be selling out every show like your friend in the theater next door, but your show may be a little different and more of a niche show. The fact that anyone is paying to see you do your show that you created is an incredible thing, even if it’s a small audience. Don’t lose sight of that. Your fan club is growing. (There is an excellent book called “Effortless Mastery” by Kenny Werner that is mainly directed towards musicians, but it has great insight on performing.)
Other performers are supportive. It’s not easy for anyone to be away from home for a long period in different cities, with no idea how the next festival is going to go. Everyone has ups and downs. You may think that someone is having a better time than you because they are selling out every show and you’re not. Well, they…. Yeah, well… They probably are having a better time than you. Still…
Enjoy the ride!