Monthly Archives: August 2012

I am engaged! Edinburgh: Week 2-3

I thought that would get your attention!

No. I’m not actually engaged. Or even dating. However this photo might make you think “hmmmm” …

John Fico and I staged a fake wedding to promote his show “Made for Each Other” by Monica Bauer; along with the London Gay Men’s Chorus Ensemble and a cake.

And that is what it’s all about. Getting attention. See above.

And how else do you get attention for a show without dressing up in a traditional Scottish kilt and running through the streets of Edinburgh carrying a three-tiered wedding cake? You engage people every which way you can. All day. Everywhere. Every day. Every second. Every person you meet is a potential “punter” … or what we Yanks call “audience member.” And it’s not just about handing out flyers to every person you meet. It is about truly engaging the right people at the right time.

Last week, whilst waiting in the queue for Chris Difford’s show “It’s All About Me“, I began chatting with two groovy looking chicks. They seemed like the perfect audience for my show. I could just tell. After all, Chris’s show is an acoustic performance which incorporates slides and videos telling the story of the history of his band Squeeze. I told them all about what my show was about and they promised to come to the show. We sang along with Chris and had a blast. After the show, I met Chris. I told him that I knew Kaisa Hammarlund who was in my musical as well as several workshops for his upcoming Squeeze musical. After five minutes, he asked me if we could talk again over coffee because they were looking for a new bookwriter for said jukebox musical. Of course I said yes. I suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. We will see. As for the gals I met?  They came to my show the next night and brought friends.

Taking a shortcut one day, I passed a candy shop that sold unusual Euro and American candy. I engaged the owner Katrina in conversation about my show, and lo and behold, she’s a transplanted New Yorker who had heard about the show and is bringing her gals to the final show this Sunday. And she gave me candy. I went back the next day and bought some for my flatmate, and she asked me to leave flyers for my show at her charming shop. Engaged!

I engaged Anthony Rapp in a Twitter conversation about the similarities between our Ed Fringe shows (the making of a musical; his being RENT) and he plans on coming to the show. He says he is tired, but I doubt he’s as tired as me. Anthony doesn’t have to flyer for his show. He doesn’t have to hold a cheesy bucket at the end of his show to solicit donations from his audience. He gets paid. He has producers. His show is moving to the Chocolate Factory. But, we all deal with the stress of performing our show for nearly 26 days in a row in different ways. Happily, David Babani who programs the Choc Fac (keeping it short like the Brits love to do) did come to my show and loved it. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be doing my show there in the future. I’ve actually been getting offers to transfer Desperately Seeking the Exit from a number of West End Fringe (Off-Broadway) venues, promoters and producers. I never expected this. Ever.

Adam Kenwright, who is a major force on the West End, came to check out the show and was reduced to tears by the time he dropped £20 into my bucket at the finale. He gave me some great advice on what to do next, and my “team” is currently weighing the options of which theatre, when, and for how long of a run. This show has a limited audience, really, and we’re working on getting a three week run of just three nights a week so that the “West End Wendy’s” can come see the show about a show. During that time, I hope to teach my Page to Stage workshops at the Actor’s Centre, so I can earn some cash. This festival is quite costly and I rely on the bucket donations I make each night to pay for food, bus, batteries, drinks, phone cards, my flyer team, and my front of house gal, Lucy. And more. Luckily, I haven’t had to withdraw any money from the “hole in the wall” (aka – the ATM). But I sure do have a lot of coins. So. Many. Coins.

I’ve engaged fellow performers after their shows, as well as “exit flyering” their audiences. If they like the musical review, Showstoppers, then they will surely like DSE. All the Yanks here have engaged each other in the most supportive ways. In February, I created the USA to Edinburgh 2012  Facebook group, which now boasts over 125 active members. We post about our shows; we post reviews (good and bad) and we all support each other on an hourly basis.

“I have important people in tonight! Can you all come see my show … AGAIN?”

Of course we all do. Many of our shows conflict with each other due to the show times. We need at least 2 hours before our shows to get our heads on straight. And we need an hour after the show to cool down … and find the venue we are going to see the next show at. But, many of us have created long-lasting friendships. I for one have been incredibly inspired by the work that came from Los Angeles. And of course, the New Yorkers. I’ve mostly seen sketch shows and solo shows, cuz that’s what I do; and each and every one of them has been a revelation in comedy, storytelling, media, performance and passion.

And the show doesn’t stop at the curtain call. You engage every member of your audience on the way out of the theatre. You run into them on the cobblestone streets. This town is packed with 2,700 shows (of which DSE has rated the #58 highest-rated show!) and thousands of visitors; yet, I run into someone I know at least six times a day. The city is a volcano consisting of six hills. You never know who you will see at the top or bottom of those hills.

“Hey, look! There’s David Hasselhoff!”

Yes, even The Hoff is doing a one man show here. “An Evening with David Hasselhoff Live!” And he just performed it in London at the very theatre that is courting my show. From Bay Watch to Gay Watch. Anything goes!

I’ve gotten calls from old New York friends who are here to take it all in. They come to the show. I think out of the 24 shows I’ve done, I know at least one person in every audience. And who knows what the audience will be like on any given day? Last Friday I had a full house. The next night, I had THREE people in the audience (one of them a former student from my improv classes at the Actor’s Centre) and the other a REVIEWER. We know they are reviewers because they sport a blue laniard. And the theatre (aka; the Shoebox) is so small you can’t miss them. I engaged that audience in a whole new way that night. Seven-minutes into the show, I simply stopped and said:

“OK, boys. I am aware of what’s going on here. There’s me up here telling a crazy story. And there’s the three of you down there feeling uncomfortable to laugh because there’s NO ONE ELSE HERE. So let’s be friends. We’re at the bar having a laugh together. You have drinks. I have a cider … ok … it’s just water, but we can pretend. Here we go!”

And after that we were all on the same page. We had a blast. And that reviewer gave me a ★★★★★ review!

All the posters around town have suddenly filled up with stars. As soon as a review comes out, we all get to Fringe Central and wait on queue to print out hundreds of stickers to place on the posters around town (I know where each of my 45 posters are hanging – mostly gay bars and coffee shops) and sticking those little buggers on the flyers (or postcards, as we Yanks call them) which we leave all over town in every available centimeter of space. One day I stickered 300 of my flyers while attending a free seminar about touring shows internationally. Every spare minute counts! I delivered them to my flyering duo. I came home and lo and behold I had another 4-star review. The next day, I did it all over again. And then again. You can read all of the reviews HERE. They are short. And they are raves. And I am thrilled.

I also got a ★ scathing review from The Scotsman. When I read it, I cried. With tears of laughter. Really, at this point, there is no point in crying over one reviewer who was clearly at the wrong show for her taste. Read it HERE. And feel free to comment. Although, this journalist does not post the comments. Odd.

This is the last weekend of the Festival and everyone here has pretty much reached the end of their Scottish-lambs-wool-ropes. Some reached that end last week. I’ve seen several performers call it quits. They couldn’t handle the reviews or lack of them; the flyering; the small houses. Hey! It’s the largest arts festival in the world. It is the hardest I have ever worked in my life … and I include mounting Desperately Seeking Susan in that equation. Yes, this show about that show is ostensibly a one-man show, and I am also a one-man promotional machine. My publicist Ann-Marie Baptiste is back in London working remotely for the dozen shows she is repping at the Fringe. Perhaps you Facebook readers are tired of seeing my daily posts. But, I must engage. There’s at least one person who finds out about the show from Facebook every day. We need to do all we can. And in the end, there is no such thing as a one-man show. The audience is the other character.

Sometimes you are acting with 50, sometimes 3. But as long as you are engaging them, you’ve done your job.

And it is indeed a job. It’s called show business, not show show fun, as they say. Meetings, seminars, meet-and-greets, phone calls, texts, emails, carrier pigeons! Yet, in between all the business, there is a great deal of fun to be had. I have not laughed or smiled so hard on a daily basis in a long, long time. This festival has re-invigorated my creative juices, and even my acting career, that I had all but thrown away …

“I enjoyed your performance. Would you be interested in a role in a sci-fi pilot being shot in Dublin? Here’s my card.”

YES!

“Have you considered writing a book about the making of your musical? Here’s my card.”

THANKS!

“Wanna go out for some gluten free pizza and a couple of pints? Here’s a map.”

YES INDEED!

I am totally engaged. All I had to do was say “yes.”

Thanks to all of my friends and family who have said yes and who’ve been so supportive these past few weeks…months…years.

I would not be here without you.

xo

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Week 1, Edinburgh Fringe: Hills and Valleys

The Edinburgh Fringe is well underway. And it certainly has its ups and downs.

Having arrived here exactly a week ago from Manchester, where I performed the show for 2 nights to packed, enthusiastic crowds, my first voyage from the train station to my flat was up a huge hill and down another… while lugging about 75 pounds of luggage. This was a primer for what was to follow.

The flat is in the Leith section of Edinburgh, across the street from a lovely green park. I’m in private room in the home of Alan and Victor, who couldn’t be sweeter. We have the same taste in music, tapas, and B-movies and they provide tips about the terrain on an hourly basis. It’s a sweet spot to come home to at the end of the physically and mentally exhausting days here.

One minute it’s pouring rain, and the next it’s hot and humid. One second it’s breezy and freezing, and the next it’s sunny and still. The weather changes faster than my mind. I go through 3 outfits a day from shorts to jeans and hoodies.

I make a joke in the show about the joys of “navigating the ancient cobblestone streets of London” – but that’s nothing compared to the practically Medieval roads of Edinburgh! The city is built on upper and lower levels. Hills, valleys, alleys, short-cuts that become long-cuts, roads that lead to nowhere, etc. For 5 days I kept overshooting a major road here whilst crossing the populated North Bridge. How did I keep missing that damn road? Every time? Oh! I missed the little set of granite steps that lead down the road to the lower level of the city. So very, erm, Roman?

Walking with a map is sooo not cool. I can’t do it. So I save a photo of the destination on the map on my iPhone and use it as a sorta primitive GPS for every new location I visit. At least I look like a cool, wealthy American who gets a signal on his phone. And then my UK phones starts ringing and I have no idea which phone is doing what.

So far, I’ve done 7 performances of Desperately Seeking the Exit. And I’ve seen 10 shows. Or maybe 12. I don’t even know anymore. Many of us Yanks have been seeing each others’ shows and I have to say they were all excellent and inspiring. I’ve also seen some shows that just caught my eye … and some of them were rubbish. High and lows. Highs and lows. The trick is to see as many shows as you can; not only for the “art” but to network. That’s how it works. You scratch my show’s back, I will tweet about yours. But with 2,700 other shows all playing here, there is a ton of people to reach.

Pete against the wall – of competition

In a city populated with thousands of performers, locals, and tourists, I run into someone I know at least a dozen times a day. From visits to Fringe Central for the free wifi or seminars, to the popular late night outdoor garden tents of Assembly, Gilded Balloon, and Underbelly – I always spot a familiar face. “Hey! You just tweeted me this morning! I’m Pete! You look just like your avatar! Come see my show!” And then I hand out show flyers. That’s all I do. Hand out flyers.

A circus of promotion on The Mile

That’s all anyone does here when not drinking or performing. Promote and promote. There’s a popular strip called The Mile where all sorts of performers in various stages of painted-face and garish costumes hawk their shows. It’s like walking through an actual circus. I can’t do The Mile anymore. I’ve instead taken up conversations with folks at other shows, or at pubs, telling them about my show. Hence, I carry about 100 postcard/flyers with me every day, as well as my promotional glow-in-the-dark buttons, stickers, computer, hard drive, and adaptors. And I’ve lost about 8 pounds in a week. In sweat. My belt tells me so.

At the end of the show, my entire “costume” is completely soaked. I call the room at the Edinburgh City Football Club where my show happens at 6PM every night, “The Sweat Box.” It seats about 50 and is quite intimate. Just a 6’X6′ stage, two windows, 6 tiny HOT lights, and a tiny backstage area. But the backstage area is not for prop storage. That would be the tiny open closet down the hall, next to the ladies room … which has become my dressing room. I use a cheap bike lock to lock up my trusty boom box to an iron grating on the window in the prop closet – because we all know how important windows are in closets. I simply cannot carry that box back to my flat 10 minutes away whilst also carrying a few pounds of sweaty clothes and flyers, posters, buttons … you get the picture.

Sometimes my show has 8 people in the audience; other times I have 40. Inevitably there’s a familiar face in the crowd who buys me a Magners in the upstairs bar. And I wind up filling in even more blanks about the show, and the show within the show. Like an evil form of déjà vu, I’m once again adapting my script every day to satisfy and engage an international audience. “British” becomes “English”, so I don’t include any Scots in my observations about life in London. After all, I don’t know enough about the Scottish culture yet to make any judgements. The word “spastic” is offensive to Scots. OK. Now it’s “jerky.” Miming a cigarette comes off as “the finger” to the Scots, so change that. Candy=Sweets. Arugala salad= Rocket salad. And no one here knows the TV show SMASH. So, I need to know who is in the house so I can direct certain bits to that section of the audience. We now open with, “Where is everyone from? Oh! London! I love that city. New York? Me too! Kirkintilloch? Where is that? Scotland! I love it here! Well, I have a story for you …”

I see the audience nod and sometimes nod off. It’s hot in the Sweat Box. I’ve stopped using the stage lights and just use the natural light streaming through the windows. “Oh! The sun is out! Let me pull the shades. Oops! It’s pouring rain now. Let me turn on the stage lights. We all good? Good. Oops! The humidity made my banner fall on my head. Whose mobile phone is ringing? Why is the deaf guy and his translator down front leaving halfway through? I’m talking too fast?”

While holding out my collection bucket at the show’s end (actually a cheesy Uncle Sam hat) I get a pound here, a £20 note there. I’ve had folks tell me they saw the actual musical in London and loved it. I’ve met other performers who swear to spread the word. I’ve had an old couple wander in 40 minutes into the show and tell me how much they loved it. I even had a reviewer come in 8-minutes late and then gave me a trash review in The List based on not hearing the set-up for the entire show. A real LOW. We got that review retracted. And then we got a MUST SEE from The STAGE the very next day. Ups & downs every minute of every day!

Coverage! And inside, this Anglo is a centerfold.

More reviews will be coming out this week. We are all warned not to read them. How can I not? You learn just as much from your negatives as your positives. Your highs as well as your lows. A lot like life.

I’m off now to “exit-flyer” after a fellow Yanks’ show. That means passing out flyers as the audience files out of a show. “If you liked this show, you’ll like mine. Come see it. It’s about a flop that I wrote! And it’s free!”

The good news is I don’t need a map to get to the venue. I ain’t no tourist.

Cheers!

It rains and rains … and then there’s this reward.

 

Desperately Seeking The Exit: Video Interview

Nice sweaty live video interview. You know, casual. Like me.

WATCH HERE