"Two people at our opening night! Just the worst!"
This desperate lament was written on a three by five index card and posted on the cork board at the performer's center of the Fringe. I saw it on my first day in Edinburgh and my heart bled for the sad souls unable to find an audience. Poor, poor dears, perhaps they aren't cut out for show business, I thought, nibbling on a scone and quietly going through my vocal warm-ups before rehearsal. That's the business, I sighed like a world-weary agent in a 1930s Ginger Rogers backstage musical and went back to doing my lunges.
Three days later, walking helplessly through the blackout at the end of my opening show, marinating in my own perspire, I looked up to see my tech director, Jax, smiling gently, "14 is pretty good, the average house size at the Fringe is eight." Yes, I understand that, but I am not average -- I'm special, I'm an undiscovered jewel waiting to be unearthed and this was supposed to be my unearthing, dammit. I'm like the Nijinsky of solo shows about comedians who decide to become priests. I wrote a book! I flyered for three hours, for Chrissake; standing next to the half price hut in my clerical shirt and madras shorts (that's my gimmick -- priest on top, party on the bottom or something like that) screeching, "You decide whether or not I should be a priest!" People took my flyers! They said they would come to see my show. They promised they would come! Liars! My show is amazing, my mom even said so! I'm amazing, who wouldn't want to see my amazing show?
Fourteen people at my opening night! Just the worst!
Having had some time to reflect and garner perspective after my opening night, I can say that on a rational level I expected a small house from the beginning; after all I'm an unknown comedian from the States performing a new solo show, with no promotional company backing me. It makes sense that people wouldn't be lining up to see my show on opening night. Still, the same ego that thinks it's perfectly reasonable to write and perform a fifty minute piece with just me talking about just me has greater expectations. I think I'm fascinating and I expect you should too. Perhaps great expectations isn't the proper phrase for what I have, perhaps delusions of grandeur is more on point.
But the reality that my dear ego must face is that unless you are a big name stand-up or singer or have established yourself as a considerable presence throughout the years at the Fringe, your audience numbers are going to be low at the beginning. The hope is that through good reviews and word of mouth you pick up some buzz and people start to come to see your show. In the interim you keep telling yourself that you are good, you're show is good and that you shouldn't jump on the next plane out of Edinburgh and enroll in a TV/VCR repair course like your parents told you to do in the first place.
In many ways, the Fringe Experience is a microcosm for the life of a performer: there is always rejection, there is frequently pain, some succeed, many more do not. But the joy is in the work, whether it be for fourteen people or fourteen million, the idea that what you have created, what you are expressing, this part of yourself that you are offering up, is affecting and having some impact, however small, on people's lives is really quite remarkable, astounding when you think about it; which is why I try not to. And always it must begin somewhere, and oftentimes that "somewhere" is a little black room with fourteen people.
Wish you were here!
No seriously, I do, then you could build up my audience numbers.