What The Fringe - inside a show at an outsider arts festival or why make art when people you love are dying
You’ve probably got at least one person in your circle of friends who’s plugging some kind of show right now. If you’ve noticed an uptick in the kind of upbeat-yet-deseperate invitations from your arty friends to attend their weird thing, it’s because The Sydney Fringe Festival is happening now and has been for a few weeks.
The truth is I have a show coming up in the Sydney Fringe and have also been meandering that fine line between friendly reminder and cloying plea which tests the patience of both Zuckerberg’s algorithms and digital associates on various medias. In turn, I’ve been subjected to the cacophony of artists in my own friendship circles trying attract eyeballs to their own thing, which I struggle to attend given I’m either out of town or preparing my own show. So it goes.
Crowd anxiety is part and parcel of being an artist. But since messy personal struggles have hampered my promotional efforts, the usual performance anxieties take on a new dimension, and for the first time I’ve felt that grippy-heart-what-if-no-one-comes feeling in my chest (familiar to anyone who’s ever hosted anything) to the point where I’ve been kept up at night.
In a rare moment of reflection I realised that most of the promotion, (including mine) focuses heavily on the “what” - inevitably a title, blurb, promo photo and ticket link - rather than the “why?”. And as much as I believe in the “what” of the show I’ve created - what it’s about, what’s going to happen - I think the “why” behind it deserves some airtime. Shedding light on the motivations and stories behind my show might reveal something more generally about creators well outside the mainstream.
Artists like comedy veteran Alice Fraser, my creative partner in our show this year TrackSuits Live (a spinoff of our weekly FBi Radio show), has been working as a professional comedian for two years. She has a solo Fringe show on too. I have collossal respect for her determination to follow her passion professionally and succeed on such a difficult path.
Alice’s mum is in hospital right now, nearing the end of a long battle with cancer and MS.
As for me, I’ve still got a day job, around which I busk and perform improvised music solo and with a band, at home and when I travel, on the street for change from passersby and in clubs for actual legal tender. I’ve performed, mostly gratuitiously, in warehouses, parks, gyms, trains, and in the middle of the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.
My intellectually disabled brother is having problems at his group home, and my wife’s father has just been hospitalised with surgery that happens to coincides with other private difficulties with her family.
Alice earns a precarious living from her art full-time, while I work a job because my musical endeavours couldn’t possibly cover my rent. Long story short, we’re both passionate performers, and we could both be spending the time we’ve devoted to TrackSuits dealing with challenges in our personal lives or doing something easier that pays better.
Instead, of giving up we’ve pressed on, probably to our own detriment.
And that’s how I think art should be. For me, taking the stage should be an act of service performed by an extrovert.
It certainly takes some ego to want to take the stage, but my desire to write, rehearse and perform for years in obscurity has been maintained by a desire to hone my craft and to try and serve an audience with a creative gift they haven’t experienced before.
And as artists and people Alice & I differ greatly in our philosophies on the roles and relationships of art, performance, and payment - it’s a conflict we play with in our show. The Fringe is a chance to challenge our creative capacity on a platform shared by many other artists and hopefully benefit from the shared associations and legitimacy of joining something greater than ourselves.
And it’s that sense of serving something greater that I feel has allowed Alice and me to rise above some significant struggles in our lives that has meant we’ve not been so on the ball with the show promotion stuff.
Several times along the way Alice & I have questioned whether it was worth continuing with this show, and inevitably the answer has been yes. Our show isn’t about cancer or family struggle at all (though Alice does some great death jokes), but the energy of it is forged by our determination to work despite difficulty, and our belief that art is worth making.
I think our catharsis is in performing despite the difficulties - to transcend the struggles which beset everyone, dealing with death, pain, family struggle and depression with laughter and music, the only weapons we’ve learned how to wield.