Barry Smith: Irrelativity
July 4, 2010
TORONTO – I’m taping a flyer to the bathroom wall, right above the urinal where everyone (well, every guy) will be forced to see it. Study it, in fact.
It’s a flyer for the show I’m performing here in Toronto as part of the Fringe Theater Festival. It’s a glossy, postcard-sized piece of paper with my show title, my picture, and nice things people have said about me printed on it. A guy walks into the bathroom and sees me busy at this task and he says, “I hope your tongue heals up quickly.”
Now, if this happened to me anywhere else, or at any other time, I’d probably be shocked. Maybe even scared. You hope my tongue heals quickly? What does that mean? Is that code for something? Is this guy hitting on me? Is it a password that I’m supposed to reply to, like “Yes, and the vultures make quick work of the fox,” and then he’ll hand me a briefcase full of $100 bills? (Hundred dollar bills aren’t called “Benjamins” in Canada – but that’s an unnecessary aside.) Or maybe it’s just a Canadian thing. Like saying “eh,” maybe Canadians also wish you speedy tongue recovery while you’re in the bathroom.
But because this happens in the bathroom of a Fringe Festival venue, and the guy sees that I’m desperately trying to pimp my Fringe show, he clearly knows that I’m somehow fringe-related. So I just assume that he’s mistaken me for someone from another Fringe show – there are about 170 different Fringe shows happening here over the next 10 days, people from all over the world doing their strange theatre pieces, all day and all night – so I have to assume that, statistically, at least three of these shows involve a guy who looks like me with something on his tongue that needs healing. Gross. But theatre can be that way.
“Yep,” I say to the guy, and I continue taping pictures of myself to the bathroom wall. Nothing weird about that.
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These flyers are the currency of the Fringe Festival performer. I’ll have handed out nearly 1,000 by the time this festival is over. It can be pretty brutal work. You don’t hand them out in grocery stores or to random people on the sidewalk, your best bet is to pass them out to people who are lined up to see another Fringe show – these people already know that the festival is in town, how to buy tickets, and so forth. They are ripe for the flyer picking. The down side is that they are being inundated by other people handing them flyers for THEIR shows. See, I’m not the only one handing out flyers. No, EVERYBODY is handing out flyers.
So, if you just want to stand in line with your friends to see a show, you’re gonna have at least a dozen people, one after the other, coming up to you and shoving a shiny little slice of dead tree in your hand and telling you how great their show, “The Healthy Tongue,” is. It can be overwhelming, and eventually people will just start to ignore you. Or worse.
“Hi there, here’s a flyer that you don’t want, and now I’d like to tell you about a show that you clearly don’t care to hear about.”
“Hi there, sorry to interrupt, but feel free to stare at me with hatred in your eyes for the next few seconds I’ll tell you all about how awesome I am.”
“Hi there … oh, wow … I didn’t even know that Canadians carried handguns.”
And so on.
To me this feels like a sort of boot camp. There’s real power in being able to deal with rejection, and being rejected every 12 seconds has to be helpful to you in the long run, right? If you can have someone totally ignore you while you are describing your precious little art project and NOT feel a crushing blow to your ego, then you may be ready to advance to the next level. I think I’m going to make some real progress this week.
“Hi there, here’s my flyer, and I’m happy to report that my tongue is healing nicely.”
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