Perspective: lessons from the fringe |

Perspective: lessons from the fringe

Barry Smith
Aspen, CO Colorado

My run of my “American Squatter” show in Vancouver was a success. Great reviews, great houses. The show even won the Critics’ Choice Award. Perfect way to end my summer in Canada.

I’ve been back in the States for a week now, and I know this sounds weird, but I have to keep reminding myself that I’m talking to people who aren’t Canadians. This applies mostly to geographical comments, which, when you’re on the road, and you’re me, can come up a lot.

So, for example, when I’m in Seattle and I say that I was in Saskatoon (which I say to anyone who will listen, or even appears to be listening), I realize that they probably don’t know where I’m talking about. Sure, they may have heard the word before, but chances are good that they can’t really place it on a map. Somewhere in Canada, no doubt. However, when I tell someone that I live in Colorado, I get the feeling that they probably have a bit of an idea of where this is on the planet. I’m not sure why I’m thinking so much about this, as I’m hardly a geography scholar. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t locate Wisconsin on a map. Maybe not even on a map of Wisconsin.

I did two humbling “Jesus In Montana” shows in Seattle over the weekend. Life on the Fringe Festival circuit can be pretty easy if your show is going well, as mine thankfully was most of the summer. You do a show or two in the same city, word gets out about your show, you get some good press, whatever, and soon people are flocking to see you ” you get to be a Fringe celebrity after a few days.

Well, in a big city that’s not quite the case for an unknown. Thanks to Jennifer, who is a PR goddess, I got advanced coverage in four major papers in Seattle the week of my shows. Amazing. The cover of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (strangest newspaper name ever) weekend arts magazine read, “Is Jesus a Chiropractor Living in Montana?” with a nice little writeup on my show. The Seattle Weekly ran a picture and a story. The Stranger chose me as a recommended pick for the week.

And come Friday night at 8 o’clock, 24 people turned out to see my show.

There are two ways to look at this number, and I have looked hard, both ways. There are nearly 4 million people in Seattle. Twenty-four out of 4 million: That’s not the kind of fraction that graphs well. I realize I’m not the White Stripes, but this seems disappointingly low.

Then again, 24 people turned out for my show! Me, a total unknown performer in a big city where there are lots and lots of other cool things to be doing while my show is going on, and 24 people chose to come to a tiny theater and listen to me talk about my strange decision making process. That’s actually really not so bad, right?

I mean, sure, it’s no Saskatoon, but still?

It’s weird how quickly I’ve gotten spoiled, and how quickly this spoiling can turn to humility, and how quickly humility can turn to epiphany, and then, before you know it, it’s time for a nap. Again.

The next night in Seattle, I had 25 people, which, if we return to the graph, actually shows a substantial improvement. With that kind of growth things would really be happening for me. But, alas, time to hit the road again.

However, the part of the equation that doesn’t fit into the graph is how much the crowds liked my show, or at least seemed to like it, based on their laughter and applause. Whenever I get too caught up in numbers and PR and career realities, I’m always brought back to the present by how much I enjoy performing my show for people, especially when they are into it. I’m totally addicted and probably have no choice but to spend the rest of my life feeding this addiction.

There are worse things to be addicted to, I suppose. Geographical trivia comes to mind.