Thoughts on Success and Failure

Insomnia II - explored Julian Schüngel via Compfight

It's almost 2 a.m. and I can't sleep. Chalk it up to still being on Fringe time, or the post-show crash I feel urging me down into a pseudo-depression. Or perhaps it's the stress from producing the upcoming Roller Derby Saved My Soul at Zoofest in Montreal that's got my guts tied up in knots. Heck, it's probably a combination of all of the above.

I was going to write this post tomorrow once I had finalized my numbers for Dolores at the Ottawa Fringe, but the insomnia has me itching to write down all my thoughts now or never hold my peace.

Listen folks, for all intents and purposes, the premiere of Dolores at the Ottawa Fringe Festival was an incredible success. Things I have to be proud/happy about:

  • This was my first theatrical translation and all feedback indicates that it was a really good one.
  • This was my partner Martine's first professional theatrical performance and, night after night, she was absolutely phenomenal.
  • This play gave me the opportunity to work in French, something I have been dying to do for years now, and gather a few more UdA credits for both myself and Martine.
  • By staging the show in a real kitchen, I created a site-specific theatre experience that people aren't soon to forget.
  • Everyone who saw the show loved it. Including an anonymous patron who bought 11 tickets to one single performance. I cried when I heard that.
  • I got to work with Tania Levy again, helping her solidify her crown as a Fringe Festival directing queen. Tania is definitely an actor's director and I'm going to work with her every chance I get. You should too. And pay her lots of money to do so because she's worth it.
  • I have a new stage manager that I can call on now whenever I have a project on the go. Jess Clark is definitely the unsung hero of this show... I didn't mean to make that rhyme.
  • We got some great preview coverage in various media outlets.
  • We got some great reviews, including my first 5 stars ever.
  • Dolores won the award for Outstanding Drama at the end of the festival.
  • We raised $520 for two local women's shelters, L'autre chez-soi in Aylmer and the Interval House in Nepean.

Dolores director, Tania Levy & I with our Outstanding Drama Award

These are the things that I am desperately trying to hold onto at this late hour when the doubts come creeping in. Because here's the thing, even though Dolores was awesome and the buzz surrounding it was even better, I lost a lot of money on this production and my insecurities about myself as an actor reared their ugly head with a vengeance. I played to mostly empty houses (and in a venue that seats only 17 people, that's saying something), had to cancel one show because no one showed up, and closed the production with our strongest performance yet to an audience of three (three very appreciative people, but three nonetheless). And on days we did have a bit of an audience, most people didn't pay for a ticket since they were either media, volunteers, artists or VIPs. Definitely not complaining about having these wonderful souls in the audience, because as an actor this was, insecurities aside, the most creatively fulfilling thing I've done in a long time and I was thrilled to have anyone there, but as a producer I was tearing my hair out.

And yes, I understand that the odds were stacked against me: French play at an English festival, drama when folks prefer summer comedies, BYOV instead of mainstage, ect. It was an experiment that I undertook, perhaps naively thinking that my name and/or the site-specific nature of the piece would be enough of a draw for the English audiences and that the French audiences in Ottawa would be like the ones in Toronto who come out in droves to every improv show and community theatre production.

Could I have done more? Possibly. I could have flyered more, I'm sure. Many of the anglophones who came to see the show told me that they understood what was going on, even with the language barrier, so maybe I could have tried harder to convince more people of that. Maybe I could have called more people, asked for more help? Maybe. Hindsight meet 20/20.

Part of me likes to think that had I known my audiences would have been so small, I would have scheduled less performances, but I know that's not true. As hard as it was playing to 3-4 people at a time, it was such a joy to work with Martine and I grew so much as an actor in those 10 short days that, if anything, I'd want to do more. And we will. I don't know when or how yet, but Dolores will happen again. Maybe in Ottawa, but definitely in Montreal and Toronto.

I know how this game is played. Sometimes absolutely fucking brilliant shows don't get the audiences they deserve for a variety of reasons that are completely out of your control. As much as the Ottawa Fringe likes to toot the horn of "record-breaking year", I know plenty of people who had an experience very similar to mine. It happens. It sucks. And it can make you want to crawl into a hole with a pint of Haagen-Dazs, never to return to the light of day until you've burnt through six seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

If that's how you're feeling right now, I just want to say don't. Don't do it. Don't give up. Don't let it happen to you. I've been here before. For every Roller Derby Saved My Soul, there's a No Exit Upstage. That flop scared me from writing/producing for well over a year. And the silly thing is, that show wasn't even that bad, but I'd convinced myself that it was. Because if I created the worst play ever, then I can understand why it flopped, but if it was actually ok to pretty good, well then the world just doesn't make sense to me and that thought can be too scary to accept right now.

I'm not worried about the content of my shows. Dolores was amazing and Roller Derby is always a hit. But like I said, it's late and I'm alone in a damp basement apartment, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, wondering if I go into the bathroom, will it be the spider or the centipede today? That's when the doubts come in to get me and I start wondering why I quit my day job (again, some more), left my beautiful bed in Toronto, uprooted my entire life (again, some more) for one on the road...

I can't pinpoint exactly what it is that keeps me going like this. Good friends like the ones I find in my travelling circus of a Fringe family is one. Rethinking success is another. Perspective is everything. Every scar makes me stronger, every attempt makes me better, and I have a lot to be proud of. I'm doing this for me, but I'm also doing this for you who might be reading this right now.

Like I said to my mother once Dolores was all over, some people go on vacations, I put on plays.