A Bad Stretch

Update from last week:  Xan and I didn’t visit a facility for patients with Alzheimer’s.  What we visited was a community center that hosted a day of games and activities for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.  We sat with them in the beginning of their day, introduced ourselves, and talked about what we do.  I mentioned that I had performed my show “Hooray for Speech Therapy” in Seattle and they had questions about stuttering.  It was Elvis’ 80th birthday, so I got up and did my Elvis impersonation.  I got the impression that many of these people had seen it all.

And now today!

I have a habit of procrastinating on creative projects that I should be doing, particularly projects that are existing in a realm that I haven’t been in before.  I don’t like to admit that, but I do want to do these projects, so I want to get to the bottom of what is holding me back from doing them.  There is no point in sugar coating things to myself.  Last Sunday I filled a page with a list of accomplishments I’ve had, which were right alongside a list of bad stretches in my life that maybe I’m subconsciously trying to avoid going back into.  See, I don’t actually say, “I think I will not work on X.”  What happens is I just somehow find ways to distract myself, and days, months, and years go by, and I’m saying to myself, “I should be working on X.”  X never gets done.  I have the ability and skills to do it, so why am I not doing it?

Well, I will share one of the bad stretches with you, which includes one of the biggest mistakes I ever made.

In 2006 I went on a six city tour of the Canadian Fringe.  I was relatively new to the scene and I didn’t quite know how it all worked.  I created a new solo show called “Rebel Without a Niche” and I worked very hard with a director in New York on developing and performing the show.  I worked a full time job and then I would go way uptown in Manhattan and rehearse and then go way downtown back to Brooklyn to go home where I would do rewrites and admin work for the tour.  I was going to be away for over two months, so I had to prepare for that.  I got a sublet to my apartment, spent time with my first serious girlfriend as we prepared to be long-distance for a while, and took care of how I was going to manage things while I was away for so long.  It was all new to me.  When I arrived in Toronto – the first stop of the tour – I got off the train and sat at an outdoor restaurant and for the first time in a long while, I could breathe.   Preparing for this had been exhausting.

I had performed “Rebel Without a Niche” once, in a festival called the Uptown Arts Stroll in a church in Manhattan.  It was well received.  And I only found the time to run through (half of) the show once between then and Toronto, which was during a busy month.  I did a tech rehearsal for the show in Toronto, and then had an early evening performance of “Rebel Without a Niche.”

It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t polished.  I was unrehearsed.  But knowing what I know now, it was the worst show I ever did.

The audience was tiny, but the Toronto reviewers were there.  I wouldn’t have given the show a rave either, but I was eviscerated.  I heard since then there is not as much support for out-of-towners, and it is true that I would read a review of a Toronto show that had a write-up as negative as mine, but it was given three stars while “Rebel” got one.  I remember there was one reviewer who only had one kind thing to say about me – “He’s tall.”  My brother read the review and looked at me and said, “You’re not tall!”

I started to hit my stride performing that week, but it was too late.  Not many people were coming.  They read the reviews.  I took a train to the Winnipeg Fringe, ready for a fresh start, but the reviews had followed me.  I wasn’t getting a fresh start.  I was dead in the water before I arrived.  Except for one night in Winnipeg. There was one night where the right crowd was there, eating it up and loving every minute of it.  It would take some years before I would find those kinds of crowds more consistently.  Bad reviews beget more bad reviews.

My mistake was that I opened a show without being prepared.  And the circumstances made it a worse mistake.  It never happened again. But there is a happy ending to the 2006 tour.

Right before my penultimate performance in Vancouver, a performer friend of mine told me that the show in the venue next door to mine would be selling out.  He advised me to go and promote my show to their line-up, because most of the crowd out there won’t be able to see the show they want to see, and will likely walk over and see my show if they know about it.  He was right!  I went over and sold, sold, sold!  I even walked people over to my venue!  When I was walking into my venue, I heard someone say, “This show is sold out!”  The crowd loved it.

There is a happy ending to that and there is a grand happy ending.  I never gave up and I powered through that tour, even when I got sick at the Edmonton Fringe and stayed in bed to regain my voice.  I believed in myself.   But I took a beating when I got those reviews.  No matter how tough you are, it’s not fun to open a newspaper and read that you suck.  These days the majority of the reviews I get are positive.  When a bad one pops up, I sometimes appreciate it because it keeps my ego level.  But that stretch in 2006 really rocked my self-confidence.  To this day I think there are people who associate me with those old reviews.  The experience may have left a voice in me that says, “You can’t do that.  You’re not good enough.”  Well, if I know where that voice is coming from, maybe I can share with it the positive things I’ve heard over the years.

One of my favorite reviews I ever got was the following year when I performed the show in the Ottawa Fringe Festival.  The review said, “Kurt Fitzpatrick is the kind of comedian who grows on you, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t laugh during the first few minutes of his one-hour, one-man show.  Believe me, after you have heard the story about the “stolen eye” and the delightfully disgusting anecdote about the jelly doughnuts, you will be ready to roll in the aisles.”

In other words, just give me a chance.  I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.

Current reading: “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Making Money on Wall Street” by Christy Heady.  This book is from the 90’s.  It’s not for idiots.  There is a lot of dense information.  Also it goes far beyond Wall Street and into other kinds of investments and personal finance.  Also I’m reading “Of Mice and Men” for the first time.  That Steinbeck kid has chops.

Current movie: “Wild.”  Reece Witherspoon learns that having sex with lots of guys and doing heroin can ultimately improve life.  Wonderful advice to young women!  But I did enjoy it.

Current TV:  We started watching “Sons of Anarchy.”  Katey Sagal’s character gives some good advice to her friend: “Bad things happen to greedy whores.”  Yep, no lack of advice out there, ladies!

Current wisdom:  I thought of what advice I would give to myself if I talked to myself in my early twenties. The first thing I thought was, “Know your value.”

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