Wednesday, June 29, 2011

From the Trenches: Stories from the Fringe

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Andrea Alton.

Hello Again Everyone!

It’s Wednesday, and my hair is looking great, I’m feeling good and my meds are in full swing, so here’s my next post. Since I shared some of my Fringe experiences in my last post, I decided to reach out to some people to get their Fringe experiences.

But…before I get to that, just a quick update on the cockroach I mentioned in my previous post. (The one that was in the dressing room of the Off Broadway Theatre.)

A LOT of people have expressed an interest in the roach….well, like six. Whatever. That’s not really relevant. So in 2008 I was in the dressing room with the seven and a half foot dead cockroach and I remember our director, Jay Duffer, asking me, “Do you want me to get rid of it?” For some reason that is beyond me I said, “No, don’t bother.” What the hell was I thinking? It was a dead roach, and I love it when people do things for me, but I think I just assumed that one of the other casts, the venue director or someone that cleaned the theatre would get rid of it. Or I thought Jay would scream like a big girl even though he’s (sort of) a manly man. Regardless, the roach stayed on the dressing room floor for the entire festival. So the lesson here is if someone offers to get rid of dead cockroach, just say yes.

Now on to my hard-hitting interviews with my running commentary in the side notes.

What was your funniest or most horrifying Fringe experience?

Kathleen “Last year, in our TOSOS production of The Five Lesbian Brothers' "The Secretaries," directed by Mark Finley, our tech was short, and we didn't have close to the time we needed to correctly block everything. The venue managers were far more concerned with us being able to pack up and get in and get out in the 15 minutes allotted than they were with us being able to set light levels and make sure our set pieces were placed. So our stage manager, the amazing Jen Russo, was pretty much teching the show as we went on opening night. During one exit, the stage went dark, and we heard an amazing CRASH that sounded like someone had fallen into a drum kit. Turns out someone HAD fallen into a drum kit!

The lights went up, and we saw a pair of legs sticking up from the orchestra pit. The blonde herself, Karen Stanion, had taken a header off the stage. Costumer/Playwright Chris Weikel was sitting in the front row, and he leapt into the pit, swept Karen up, and lifted her back onto the stage. She played the rest of the show with a rapidly developing massive bruise on her hip. She and the show were triumphant, and the show went on to the Fringe Encore Series”.

Karen: “Actually the bruise was on my ass and let's not forget the hot mysterious guy who also asked if I was okay when I was in the drum set. The guy must have been my guardian angel since everyone who was there says he never existed!”

Kathleen Warnock (Producer) & Karen Stanion (Actor), The Five Lesbian Brothers' "The Secretaries”, FringeNYC 2010

*Side note: If anyone knows who the hot mysterious guy is, please contact me asap. I’d really like to meet him.

When you worked on past Fringe shows, did the A/C work or were you sitting or working with a bunch of smelly people that looked like they were going to pass out?

“In 2004, I was in a play that was in a venue called Arthur's Dress Shop. It was an old storefront with an antique window A/C unit that stopped working before our opening show. No A/C was typical in the Fringe back then, so no big deal, BUT this play was set in 1604 London. We were wearing these period costumes - long, heavy dresses, long sleeves, even petticoats. You could easily get distracted counting the drops of sweat that were falling from my nose. Our director eventually stole fans from the TKTS line and handed out popsicles as people came in, so amazingly most of our audiences stayed. It was a bit like Bikram yoga, but with bonnets.”

Vanessa Shealy (Playwright/Actor), One, Two, Whatever you do... FringeNYC 2011

*Side note: Kudos to the actors, director and audience. I can’t stand hot theatres, I’m a wimp but if someone gives me a popsicle, I’m usually pretty happy, and I would have stuck around.

When I sent Cash Tilton my list of questions, I asked him to answer just one, but he sent back an e-mail with nearly all of them answered. Since they were so entertaining, I decided to post them all.

What was your craziest Fringe experience?
“I had a Facebook stalker who had fallen in love with the character I played and didn't really distinguish between me and the character.”

What was your funniest Fringe experience?
“I had a long speech about bullfighting with dozens of Spanish words with dozens of syllables naming all the dozens of participants in a bullfight. During our opening performance, I got hopelessly balled up in the middle of the speech, stopped, took a breath, and said, "Let's start this over again." Biggest laugh I have ever gotten in my life.”

What's the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?
“In general, the shortage of tech/dress time in the performance space.”

What was the first show you saw at the Fringe?
“1990 or 1991. Don't remember the title. It was a two-character, four-actor show (that's two actors per character) in a little bitty space up some stairs. It wasn't bad at all.”

Did you meet someone and fall in love?
“Regrettably, no.”

Did a homeless person, mouse/roach walk across the stage?
“No, but a thief did steal a bunch of stuff from the women's dressing room during our severely limited technical rehearsal in the space. Agita, police investigation, not much rehearsing.”

Fondest Fringe memory?
“A reviewer wrote that I had "godlike comic timing." Someday I'm going to have that embroidered on my pillowcases.”

Cash Tilton (Actor), An Off-White Afternoon (2006), One Seat in the Shade (2008), Stand Fast (2010)

What was your biggest obstacle and do you have any advice?

“I'd have to say, getting an audience to see the show! FringeNYC has gotten bigger and bigger, and now it's positively teeming with interesting pieces to experience. Oftentimes getting the word out there about your show in this sea of options is an enormous challenge. I think my company, like many, did our best to title the show interestingly, send out a bajillion press releases, Facebook invites, and email/text/telephone/smoke signal every motherf**ker we knew, and many motherf**kers we didn't to come check us out. But looking back, I think we should have better budgeted our resources to pay a press agent. It would have relieved us of an enormous burden and helped us better focus on the work itself.”

Carl Holder (Actor/Co-Author/Producer), The Boogyman Thumbs A-1-A, FringeNYC 2010

*Side note: I immediately liked Carl when I met him a year ago because he asked me if I wanted a beer and a taco as I was putting on my mullet to play my character, Molly “Equality” Dykeman, at his Fringe fundraiser. If someone offers you a beer and taco, you are immediately bonded for life.

What was your biggest obstacle or one of the hardest things you had to overcome?

“The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was dealing with fight choreography for "Venus and Mona" in the 2010 Fringe. We had so much of it with coordinated sound effects that we consumed almost our entire tech solving blocking and sound system problems. Because we had so much fight choreography, the actors' call time was an hour and fifteen minutes before curtain (and we only had 15 minutes in the theatre--30 if you count the time after the house opened). We ended up renting a space down the street, doing our fight call there, then heading to the theatre for the actors' half-hour.”

Melissa Attebery (Director), Venus and Mona, FringeNYC 2010

*Side note: I’ve worked with Melissa twice and she’s a wonderful director. She’s directing the play One, Two, Whatever you do... this year at the Fringe so go check it out.

My friend Robin is now the Queen of Festivals, but back in 2008 she was putting up her solo show for the first time. I wanted to know what one of her weirdest Fringe experiences was from that year.

“When I did my solo show at the Fringe in 2008, I expected the journey to be exciting, fun, stressful, rewarding and scary. Scary in the “OMG, I don’t know how I can perform and produce my solo show” way. Not the “OMG, I can’t believe I have a stalker” way.

My show, “My Salvation Has a First Name (A Wienermobile Journey),” is about how the Wienermobile saved my life after years of bullying. As one might expect, I’m open and honest about what that experience was like. Apparently, my stalker who I’ll call Hockey Puck (more on that later) was moved by my show. After the first performance, I got an email from Hockey Puck on MySpace (yeah, when MySpace was still popular) telling me that he loved the show and wanted to know if I wanted to go out with him. I was flattered, but not sure if I should accept this offer because his profile picture was of a hockey puck with the Boston Bruins logo.

I didn’t write back right away, and when I showed up for my second performance, the Venue Director handed me a business card from Hockey Puck moments before I went on stage. I wrote him back on MySpace saying I was busy with the Fringe, etc. and that I couldn’t meet.

He tried to reach out again including joining my mailing list, and I finally replied with the standard lie saying that someone from my past had come back into my life and we were going to give the relationship another try. That did the trick. He responded saying, “Thanks for letting me know.” I never heard back from him again. I guess you could say that I really arrived with the Fringe. I got great reviews, a stalker and hate mail. Not too shabby for my first Fringe. J”

Robin Gelfenbien (Actor/Writer/Producer), My Salvation Has a First Name (A Wienermobile Journey), FringeNYC 2008

*Side note: Robin’s show is going to the Chicago Fringe Festival in September. If you are in Chicago, go see it! It’s a wonderful show and you may even get a free wiener whistle and at the United Solo Festival on Theatre Row in NYC Nov. 15 .

What’s it like being a reviewer for Fringe shows?

“I've been going to shows at the Fringe since 1999, but once I started reviewing Fringe shows for Theatre is Easy, I found myself getting a bit obsessive. One finds oneself seeing more and more shows just because one can.

I still get tired thinking of the day I saw five shows, starting at 12 noon. I ran into a fellow reviewer at what I thought would be my fourth and final show of the day, and he talked me into joining him for one more. As we rode the bus across town, I thought, "Dan, what are you doing? GO HOME!" Of course, that fifth show ended up being one of the highlights of all of my years of the Fringe.”

Daniel Dinero (Director/Reviewer/Fringe Adjudicator), Currently directing The Austerity of Hope by Dan Fingerman at The Fresh Fruit Festival

I’d like to thank everyone who shared their stories of past Fringe festivals. I had reached out to a few venue directors and technicians, but I didn’t hear back from them in time. L We had a MySpace and Facebook stalker story. Does anyone out there have a Friendster story?

If anyone has any Fringe stories or advice they’d like to share, please post them. More roach stories are welcome, too!

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