And so, the Melbourne Fringe Festival 2013 was underway. And my shamelessly commercial, pop culturey show was playing, shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the boldest most experimental performance art going around. To see what I mean, you can download the Festival's program here. Would my show work here, or would it be too much of a fish out of water? Was this the sort of show that Fringe Festival goers would come to see? The next fortnight would provide the answer.
All I had to do was keep repeating what I did on Opening Night.
All I had to do was perform the show another 13 times, without forgetting any of my lines.
Or any of my moves.
Or running out of energy.
Or injuring myself.
Oh, and publicise the show any way I could. To that end, I managed to score an interview with an emerging online magazine called Issimo. You can see the video of that interview here. And earlier, I'd approached Ed Dolista from the wonderful Indycast podcast. He'd interviewed me back in August, and you can hear that interview here, around the 14:30 mark. Both of these interviews were recorded well before Opening Night, so at that stage I had absolutely no idea whether the show would work or not. It was very much - like that scene at the end of Last Crusade - a leap of faith.
Of course, each night, once I was in the venue, and getting ready to perform, I had to swap my producer/promoter hat for my Raiders of The Temple of Doom's Last Crusade performing hat.
This was each night's pre-show ritual;
I'd arrive at the the venue, and go and get changed into my costume in the mens' toilets.
Then I'd go into the room, and set up the steamer trunk, the puppet theatre, the smoke machine and the easel and map.
Then I'd place and check all of the show's props (including the shadow puppets) and make sure I had all the small personal props I needed throughout the show (Henry's diary, my laser pointer, etc.)
I'd also greet our technician - who'd been provided by the Melbourne Fringe Festival - the brilliant, talented and charming Sarah Wong. She was a delight to work with, and executed all the many lighting cues, and sound effects flawlessly. Thank you, Sarah.
In fact, along with Russell (the show's marvellous director), Sarah was more of a support and help to me than she'll ever know. The thing about doing a one-man show is that it's... well, it's a bit of a solitary pursuit. There are no castmates with whom you can bond, create in-jokes, and share all of the show's highs and lows. Sarah's calm, cheerful presence, her extraordinary skill, and her just BEING THERE from the start of each show to the end of each show made me feel less alone. It truly was great to have her in my corner.
Then, when all was in readiness, and as showtime drew near, I'd make my way out of the room (in full costume), walk past the audience in the corridor who were queuing for my show, trying not to make eye contact (not awkward at all), and duck around a corner. This is where I'd wait anxiously until showtime, when they would have all filed in, and I could re-enter the performance space, through its one and only door. One night, early in the season, I spotted my friend Guy LeCouteur in the queue. I made eye contact with him, but wasn't sure whether to stop and talk. I didn't. I was on a mission - I had to walk another 3 metres, duck around a corner, and stand there waiting until showtime. Like I say, not awkward at all.
As the season progressed, it became apparent that people were enjoying the show. All my work was starting to pay off; I Had Built It, And They Had Come (to mangle a quote from another movie). In fact, there were even a couple of sweet, sweet nights when THIS appeared on the poster in the foyer:
Granted, it was a very small room, and there weren't that many seats to fill, but I can't tell you how much that little red 'SOLD OUT' sticker gladdened my heart.
And so the show went on. The more often I performed it, the better I got to know it, and the more I could tweak and play with small details - drawing out a look here, a pause there, finding new laughs and moments of drama... Thankfully, my body held up for the remaining performances, although I did put quite a bit of pressure on my knees and legs with a lot of the jumping around in the 'Raiders' section of the show.
Before I knew it, this runaway train was about to come to a halt - it was Closing Night, Saturday October 5th. A very busy day, as it happened. Since it would be my job to remove all of my stage furniture and props from the venue, I'd hired a van for the weekend. My actor friend David Whitney was performing in a matinee of Cho Cho San that Saturday afternoon, so I packed my costume into the van, drove it to see his show, then drove it to North Melbourne (where I was performing), parked the van, and had a 2 hour nap in the back. It seemed the strains of the season were catching up with me. After my nap, it was time to go in and do my final show for this season.
The show went well, and afterwards I immediately lugged the trunk, puppet theatre and all the other props out of the venue and into the van, while still wearing my sweat-soaked costume. I parked the van around the corner, got into the back, and changed into the suit I'd also brought along from home. Locking the van, and checking that it was secure (after all, it contained every physical element of my show!), I was now able to go to the Fringe Festival Closing Night After Party, which was in the venue where I'd just performed.
When I entered the party, with its thumping loud music, the last two weeks seemed to catch up with me all at once. There was no one else involved with my show there who I could celebrate with, and I didn't know another soul in this crowded room. On top of that, they were all 15 - 20 years younger than me. At the end of Raiders, Indy says "It's not the years, Honey; it's the mileage".
For me that night, it was a bit of both. I bought and drank one beer, realised how exhausted I was, and how little I was enjoying myself there, at what should have been a very triumphant moment.
I drove the van home, had a much-needed shower, and poured myself a glass of champagne.
I'd done it.
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