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Matter

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Aug. 16th, 2012 | 03:39 pm



Statistical Mode: the most frequently appearing value in a set.
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This is the Fringe.

This is where you find out if you matter.

What do you value? You value art, you value money, you value being good, you value mattering.

If you build it, will they come? Will you finish the day back-slapping other performers, sounding out who’s got the most permissive host family, going home to rut in your basement lair (“with private entrance”, so convenient) or sadly counting your money all too quickly, knowing you weren’t on?

It’s not just the money. You must matter.

You have heard of the original, the biggest arts festival in the world, the “Fringe of the Edinburgh Festival” now bigger than that more proper, formal event full of opera and A-List book signings, the scrubby Fringe theatre companies and solo artists accosting potential audience members in the street with flyers, come see my show, come see my show. The average attendance at an indoor Edinburgh Fringe show is seven. Zero-seven. And when you consider that the average includes Eddie Izzard selling out at Assembly every night, there are a lot of actors playing to no-one in a dingy pub meeting room.

It’s a little better in Canada. Less competition, perhaps two or three hundred shows instead of nearly a thousand. In Canada, Fringes are their own entities, sprung fully formed from the skull of the local theatre communities, armored in corporate sponsorship, wielding the sword of complete and utter raving lunacy behind the shield of Art. 

You can tell yourself that you value Art, that your performance poetry or your dominatrix experiences or your improv comedy adds meaning to the world and you are sharing something Important with the suburban girls who are very impressed, but mostly you value them making you matter.

Here in Edmonton, there are twenty-nine venues. They range from plush 300-seat theatres to church basements and billiard halls and empty store fronts stuffed with folding chairs and a couple of lighting instruments. The gravitational center, six square blocks thronged with audience to flyer and accost and coax into a theatre, is the Outdoor Fringe, four beer tents, some fifty food vendors and as many craft booths, two outdoor stages, and for buskers—street performers—six “small pitches” for musicians and mimes and four “large pitches” for acts with big set-ups, giant unicycles and cyr wheels and trapeze acts.

The small pitches are spaced throughout the festival site, you pass two or three every time you go somewhere, sneaking a look at the musician you used to love, the same way you sneak looks at his Facebook despite unfriending, wondering if he reads here, too, if he comments after you on friends’ posts to connect or to freak you out or if you are, after all, not that important.

This alley, full of falafel and coffee stands and the stall selling hemp purses and belts, is where the line-up used to be for pitch passes, where one hundred performers lined up for fifty passes, the hand-out starting at ten AM and the line up six hours before. You brought coffees and sleeping bags for the chill dawn, checked in with each other, not how have you been but where? Singapore, Dubai, Argentina—how is it there? Any money? How are the crowds? Now the passes are done by mail in June, you know in advance it’s worth the trip to western Canada, and every morning there is a draw, the acts pulling turns out of a hat to choose their show times, write them up on a dry-erase board propped on a picnic table.

At the draw, you can decide if you want to do one show or more than one, you can feel you have finally arrived when you hear someone say, “Oh God, we’re not going up against them at seven, give us the three-thirty,” crazy flattered to know that you matter, another act will choose heat and humidity and the audience in an afternoon stupor instead of the much better time slot opposite you.

At the draw, you can decide to take a day off and go to the waterpark with the Aussie who plays We Will Rock You on the musical saw, splash in the wave pool and discover he’s chasing another girl. Years later, you will finally fuck him—you would sing his praises in greater detail but for your mother reading this—please look away, mom, while for a moment you revel in his lips on your neck and the way he dipped in with little strokes, hors d’oeuvres before the feast—though you suspect your mother, too, knows gracious, gentle lovers, thoughts of them persisting at odd moments for days. The feeling that she matters.

After the draw, your schedule set, you might kill time, go to an indoor show, a Fringe show—a solo show about the immigrant experience or teaching in Kuwait or growing up Ukranian, or perhaps a pair of clowns devoid of big shoes and white faces, trained at Dell’ Arte or Le Coq or Decroux, the places where teachers yell at you in a foreign language until, in self defense, you become funny. Until the day when Mme. Le Coq, the wife of your teacher for whose wisdom you have brought your life across an ocean, greets you at the door of the studio to say, Monsieur ne veut pas vous plus ici, and just like the reader of this piece, your French is not strong enough to know what has happened until she closes the door in your face and you’re not sure if you have graduated or been expelled. Back on your own continent, you put together a Fringe show with a friend from the same school or a different school. You wear your natural faces with bright clothes and hide behind the red noses that say you are On, you are Clowns and your friends must interact with Weezie and Mutt or talk to Sarah and Dennis later, roam the Outdoor Fringe passing out flyers about your show and hoping people overcome their revulsion at the terrifying sadness of clowns and buy a ticket, their ten dollars or twelve-fifty saying, you matter.

And then there is the show.

Perhaps you assemble your cyr wheel, or your giant unicycle, or your trapeze rig. Perhaps you have an Australian show, a pole show, one trick up high that finishes forty-five minutes of, let’s face it, dicking around to build an audience big enough to give, their applause stroking you, atop the pole juggling knives and looking left to the next crowd around your friend (also on a pole but on a bike) and looking right to your enemy (also on a pole but on a bed of nails). You may be excused from wishing for a moment that he will be punctured, or thinking, Pussy, for his non-skilled “trick”, yet in your heart knowing it’s all the same to the audience, it’s not an absolute level of difficulty their money scores, but how well you sell, how funny you are, whether they like you, whether you’re good enough.

There is a seven-second window—eternity!—between your final “Thank you!” and the first audience member’s money in the hat, the moment where no matter how much they laughed and clapped, you wonder if they liked you, really liked you, or if this is it, the shameful shuffle of audience feet away from you, who will now have to get a real job, do something productive, your mother was right goddammit—and there it is, thank God, a five or a ten or a twenty (good shows have at least a few twenties), and the gentle rush begins, thank yous and “you’re amazing” and “how do you do that” and “can I take a picture”? and you breathe out and are worth something again.

And if something beautiful and amazing happened, perhaps a new string of improvised jokes or you finally caught five or the new trick worked or that audience member stripped to his underwear in the first five minutes of the show, that thing will be validated, you will tell that moment from the nine o’clock prime time slot or the midnight ‘let’s try it’ show for weeks. But if the money didn’t come, if the applause was half-hearted and they walked away, you will know that the moment in the yellow streetlights didn’t matter.

In two weeks, you will pack your bag again. Pull out the multi-plug for three countries’ phone chargers plus laptop plus alarm clock, bid goodbye to your pot-smoking elfin host, the laundry privileges you abused, the neighbor’s internet you pirated, your sunless but private basement lair. Perhaps there will be another lover, another friend, another heartbreak, another moment of transcendence and beauty beneath a light-polluted sky.

How do we call ourselves faithful? How do we call home every night, sing songs about love and write poems and take pictures with children and still lie down with strangers?

The man I lie with will not tell me he loves me. This is, at least, familiar. And if he did? It wouldn’t be enough. That’s why I—you—we perform. It’s not enough. It can never be enough, no matter how we wish to break the pattern, change the mode. It doesn’t matter what our parents gave or bought, how often our ex-husbands and separated wives call, how they breathe our names transatlantically, we have to give. We have to give, we have to receive, we have to matter, and it’s the clapping, the money, the strangers in the front row, in hotel rooms and our arms that tell us so.



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whipchick is in Edmonton, in a sunless, internet-free basement lair. Twenty-four shows, starting in twenty-four hours. Friends and fans from around the world. And a whole lotta self-esteem issues. Catch you on the pitch!

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Comments {60}

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Patty Cryan

(no subject)

from: p_m_cryan
date: Aug. 16th, 2012 08:42 pm (UTC)
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Old ghosts.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 16th, 2012 11:49 pm (UTC)
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Definitely.

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sarcasmoqueen

(no subject)

from: sarcasmoqueen
date: Aug. 16th, 2012 08:58 pm (UTC)
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I did a Fringe show here in Montreal a few years back, and it was bizarre. The first night, there were like 8 people in the audience, and by mid run we were selling out and having to take away the chairs that were backstage for the cast to sit on between scenes, lol. Of course, "sold out" meant 45 people because we were performing in a teeny tiny space, but still...

It's so different from traditional theatre. I'll need to do it again sometime...

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 16th, 2012 11:50 pm (UTC)
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Isn't that crazy how it goes? My last Fringe, I did an indoor show as well, and was in a beautiful 275 seat venue a little too far off the main drag to get people in. I was giving away 100 free tickets a day, and roping off the back of the seating so that everyone had to sit in the first ten rows!

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Kizzy

(no subject)

from: xo_kizzy_xo
date: Aug. 16th, 2012 10:02 pm (UTC)
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I love the breathless energy of this!

I only heard of the Edinburgh Fringe a couple of years ago, and it was via a YouTube clip. I guess the only similar thing I could compare it to is our annual First Night celebration? Except that you definitely wouldn't be out on a pitch.

It's the human condition to want to matter, and that mattering can take on so many different flavors. Putting it out there and basically announcing it to the world as you do in this piece puts, I think, a much deeper meaning to it.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 16th, 2012 11:51 pm (UTC)
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Thank you :)

Yeah, I've been to some First Nights, and it's very similar! (And in the south, they do have outdoor performers, too).

I'm glad this piece worked for you, it was a tough one to tackle and turned out to be more complicated than I thought.

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

(no subject)

from: halfshellvenus
date: Aug. 16th, 2012 11:13 pm (UTC)
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Really vivid, interesting look at many lives all collected into one larger event. I liked that you assumed the narration of many different people over the course of this (my favorite was the clown school, with forced funniness and eventual graduation or expulsion).

or if this is it, the shameful shuffle of audience feet away from you, who will now have to get a real job, do something productive, your mother was right goddammit
This is just fantastic, such a great summary of every performer waiting to see the true impact of their work, and wondering whether they were good enough (or people clued-in enough) for it to pay?

it’s the clapping, the money, the strangers in the front row, in hotel rooms and our arms that tell us so.
And this ending is perfect, because at this moment, it could mean anybody. Everybody.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 16th, 2012 11:53 pm (UTC)
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I'm so glad you got the narrative shifts, I was really worried they would be confusing!

The clown school thing is so strange to me - I know a ton of contemporary clowns, and they all have the most horrific teacher/maestro stories. I know at least two people whom Le Coq got his wife to kick out, and there's always the classic "Be funny" game - where you have to get up in front of the class, and the teacher yells at you and tells you to try something else repeatedly, and you're not allowed to leave the stage until you've gotten genuine laughter from someone in the room.

And I'm glad the shift to everyone at the end came through, too.

Thanks - I really value your feedback.

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Lose 10 Pounds of Ugly Fat...  Cut Off Your Head.

(no subject)

from: n3m3sis42
date: Aug. 17th, 2012 12:56 am (UTC)
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Yeah, after 10 months of Idol, I could relate to this a little bit. Was at intentional? I liked the bit about the clown school a lot - it must be weird to be a clown.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 18th, 2012 03:47 am (UTC)
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Wow, yeah! I didn't set that up on purpose, but that external validation is just...soo...powerful!

Clowns are a whole 'nother species - I know so many excellent clowns, and it's so interesting watching them segue in and out of their clown, and interact with the world in that way. And every single one of them has a horror story about their teacher! The maestro who would grab students who didn't seem "grounded" in their stance, fling them to the floor and stand on them, yelling, "The ground is your friend, my friend!"

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(Deleted comment)

whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 18th, 2012 03:49 am (UTC)
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Thanks :) Yeah, it sucks for the person at home. I would definitely say my job comes first, and the only way to make it work for me is dating someone else in the business, whose job also comes first, and learning not to be hurt when his work takes up time we would have spent together, or when one of us needs time to focus before a show! I'm glad this was enlightening :) Seriously, avoid theatre people - we're all crazy and arrogant and self-centered and in need of constant validation.

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Myrna

(no subject)

from: myrna_bird
date: Aug. 17th, 2012 01:07 pm (UTC)
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This made me feel kind of guilty at first because I remembered some outdoor performances I have watched and enjoyed but did not 'bother' to throw any money in the hat, guitar case, basket, whatever.

There have been others I was not interested in or didn't have time to stop and watch or listen.

Your perspective as the one performing and being driven to do just that: perform and how it does impact your self esteem if you don't feel you were 'good enough' just makes me sad. I'll bet a lot of people in the crowds forget that you are working for your bread and butter.

Then I remembered some of the shows I have seen over the years and a smile crossed my face. I have happily tossed dollars in, bought CD's, and taken pictures and personally thanked the entertainer of the moment.

Your entry took me through quite a range of emotions and I am applauding you right now!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 21st, 2012 09:31 pm (UTC)
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It's OK not to give to everyone :) I give to most street performers, unless they're really bad, and that makes me feel better that I don't give to panhandlers!

What I love about performing on the street is that the people who can afford to pay subsidize the people who can't, and that way everyone gets to see the show, which is pretty cool :)

I'm glad you've seen some performers that you've loved! (And I bet I know some of them :) )

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Sarah Thee Campagna

(no subject)

from: Sarah Thee Campagna
date: Aug. 18th, 2012 04:06 am (UTC)
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"That’s why I—you—we perform. It’s not enough. It can never be enough, no matter how we wish to break the pattern, change the mode..."

Love this.

As a performer who now creates visual art as well, I think I hang on the breathed or mumbled words of my audience a bit differently than do my visual art peers... except for the "also a musician" artists. They share the same disease.

Thank you for this beautiful writing. Off to vote for you.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 19th, 2012 04:19 am (UTC)
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You're welcome, and thank you! I'm glad this piece spoke to you :) Yeah, it's that feedback like a drug...

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(no subject)

from: carlasch
date: Aug. 18th, 2012 09:30 am (UTC)
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this was great, whipchick. introspective, skeptical and even slightly romantic all at the same time. always love your writing.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 19th, 2012 04:18 am (UTC)
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Thank you - I'm so flattered you came over to read! You know I'm a sucker for romance, too :)

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Essay

from: anonymous
date: Aug. 18th, 2012 02:36 pm (UTC)
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I think you have come very close to arriving at your destination as a writer. And, hopefully it will be many a persons vacation spot. You truly can move me to feel about places in the soul I have never been.

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whipchick

Re: Essay

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 19th, 2012 04:18 am (UTC)
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Thank you - I'm really moved that you felt spoken to.

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Laura, aka "Ro Arwen"

(no subject)

from: roina_arwen
date: Aug. 18th, 2012 04:24 pm (UTC)
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I had to go Wiki "Cyr wheel" to see what it was. =)

I like this line: There is a seven-second window—eternity!—between your final “Thank you!” and the first audience member’s money in the hat.
Also rather like the waiting between posting an entry and getting your first comment, LOL.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 18th, 2012 09:08 pm (UTC)
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Yes! Total eternity!!!

This is one of my co-workers on cyr wheel :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnEpifKZZ6U

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alycewilson

(no subject)

from: alycewilson
date: Aug. 19th, 2012 07:47 pm (UTC)
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I want to cry, reading this. It can apply to so much more than this type of performing.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 21st, 2012 09:32 pm (UTC)
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I'm glad it spoke to you - thank you. Yeah, I think we all need validation. Some of us are just more aware that that's why we feel empty.

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Dom

(no subject)

from: comedychick
date: Aug. 20th, 2012 07:09 am (UTC)
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I haven't performed at any festivals myself, but I have been to a few, and have friends who've done them. It was interesting reading about the performer perspective.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 21st, 2012 09:32 pm (UTC)
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Thank you!

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theafaye

(no subject)

from: theafaye
date: Aug. 20th, 2012 09:42 am (UTC)
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I've always wanted to do an Edinburgh Fringe but have never gotten round to it. I miss performing sooooo much but babies and emigration stopped it dead in its tracks and I've not been able to get going again.

(And I must also confess that it's wonderfully refreshing to read a non-fiction entry this poll.)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 21st, 2012 09:33 pm (UTC)
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I'm so scared of the Big Bad Edinburgh! It's reportedly so tough :) I bet you would be amazing - you have such cool ideas. Glad you liked the non-fic! I was looking back at what entries people liked the most, and I think my biggest strength is personal essay :) So I'm glad for the validation!

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Kristen

(no subject)

from: pixiebelle
date: Aug. 20th, 2012 03:37 pm (UTC)
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There were definitely parts of this I could relate to. I think it hit home for others too, I'm sure. Which says a lot about the writing obviously, since having people connect to your work is important.

Self-esteem issues and the need for validation... *sigh*

Well done, I think this piece shows a bit about you and also let's the reader feel like bits about them as well (or stuff they could have written).

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 21st, 2012 09:35 pm (UTC)
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Thanks - I'm so pleased you felt it spoke to you :) Yeah, we all need to get our ticket punched, don't we? I think that's what I love about the personal essay format, it's a chance to say, "me, too" :)

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