Lessons I learned from Wrestling an Alligator:
1. It could have been simpler. We had a gargantuan set and this was a bit of naivete on our part — particularly since this was a Fringe show that had to be set up and struck in 15 minutes. Given that the tone was absurdist, the realism of the set detracted from the goofiness, to the point where the performances were scrutinized more heavily than they needed to be.
2. As a director, I neglected to have pickup rehearsals between performances. The result was a carefully tailored show that radically changed in a matter of days. I’m still happy with how it turned out. 160 audience attendees for four performances for a debut play in a small venue is fantastic by just about any standard. But since I come from a film background, this in-the-can mentality could have been avoided and the careful tics that had been established over time could have been preserved, had I done the basic work here. My bad. I’ll be volunteering on some more shows and taking a few classes to get my chops up here.
3. Production circumstances kept me in the booth, where I was only able to see half the stage. I really needed to be in the audience to assess the show and keep things tweaked. Of course, if I hadn’t insisted on crossfading between two CDs, it wouldn’t have been necessary. Funny how one little detail becomes an arduous regularity. (And that’s just one little example.)
4. Do not give the audience too much information to process — particularly when it’s oblique and obscure. This kind of thing works for novels (Gene Wolfe comes immediately to mind), but this approach is more prohibitive to the stage. There were audience members who remained enraputed with our show, but were trailing five minutes behind trying to pick out all the references. This killed potential laughter. And it came at the expense of audience members reacting on relaxed instinct. Some people really hated us for this. A couple people saw the show twice, and they confessed to me that they were relieved that they were finally able to understand it.
5. If you introduce a pre-show element, be sure it relates to the show and doesn’t come across as a cheap marketing gimmick. For all shows, we handed out visitor badges. This was an eleventh hour idea on my part, but ultimately it created more confusion than it was worth.
6. Hauling a bigass van around San Francisco with a set is a bad idea. Because there’s just no damn parking in the City, and you end up parking in the Avenues and getting home at two in the morning. Had the set fit into a car, I wouldn’t be nearly as exhausted as I am right now.
7. Never underestimate the gestures of other human beings. I was truly overwhelmed by our incredible volunteers, and the support I received from friends, family, co-workers, lit bloggers who came all the way from Los Angeles, and the other swell folks who came out to see our show. Beyond that, Christina, Kirk, Amanda, Meredith and the good folks at the Fringe were some of the nicest people I’ve encountered. The other Fringe performers and volunteers who went to see our show were incredible. San Francisco’s film scene may be teetering on the brink right now, but this city’s commitment to independent theatre is very much alive and well. There’s a good deal of talent and drive in this town.
Despite all this, I wouldn’t trade my Fringe experience for the world. I learned a good deal about theatre, myself, and other people, and had a blast. There are many things I will and will not do again. And it was fantastic to watch our great actors create such magnificent characters. Contrary to the anonymous coward who wanted to “off the bastard before he ‘creates’ again,” I will return next year to the Fringe — if not sooner for another local show.
For those who weren’t able to see it and expressed interest, we did videotape Saturday’s show. If you’re interested in a tape, drop me a line and we may be able to work something out.
And, hell, I may pop in here more regularly than I suggested. It’s really just a matter of time. I have a funny feeilng that I’ll have more of it starting this week. But now it’s time to rest.
© 2004, DrMabuse. All rights reserved.