August 17, 2012 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
The Minnesota Fringe Festival has been over for almost a week now. I sat down Monday with pen and ink and did a few pages of freewriting on that topic – a brain dump, or morning pages, or whatever you want to call it – so that I could reflect and move on to the next project. (If you are one of the “fit but few” audience who saw the show I did with Loren Niemi and John Devine, The Computer Wore Semiotics, you know that the use of pen and ink for brainstorming actually figures into my story at one point. So it makes sense to mention it here. I am still a cursive dinosaur, and proud of it.) After the scribbling was done, I went grocery shopping. The next day I went back to the day job and didn’t think about Fringe for a couple of days. Here are the observations that rose to the top when I did:
1. I didn’t think about it for a couple of days. This was refreshing. However necessary creativity and the creative process are in my life, I have to admit my own obsessiveness when involved in this work can make me pretty damn uncomfortable. It is good to pay attention once more to preparing a meal, to sweeping a floor, to my evening walk. It is good to have work in an organization that makes a positive contribution to the world. It is good to be able to pay my bills. Would I want to spend my life at a Fringe Festival? No, probably not. I am grateful for the opportunity it presents and grateful when that opportunity is done.
2. Neither writing nor performing is easy for me. I write and tell stories first and foremost because, as I said when InCommons asked, I am inspired by the need to bring meaning & community out of experience that is [at least initially] chaotic or isolating. That does not mean everything I write will succeed as performance. I can write a story about a key moment that is pivotal in my life, in ways that elucidate meaning for me, but I still may not manage to connect this moment, and the range of emotions that accompany it, with my audience’s experience. One advantage performing has over publishing is that you find this out sooner. But given that you’re trying to do the opposite, this can be pretty disconcerting.
3. The big wild card, of course, is who the audience is, and what the audience is looking for, from one night to the next. The stories Loren and I chose to tell were stories about academia and technology, which has a self-selecting audience from the get-go. On top of that, these were stories about the nature of creativity and narrative itself. Add to that a theological angle, and in some sense you have a show that is bound to offend, confuse or disappoint someone. As we inevitably did.
4. Even when you think you have described a show accurately on the web site in your background materials, and have a video preview that gives people an idea of the pace and tone of the show, there’s no guarantee your audience – or your reviewers – will pay attention to those things. On top of that, the audience dynamic itself feeds back into the energy with which you engage the material. I had one reviewer who told me my story was hilarious and captured the essence of academic absurdity; another who felt it was a pointless whine. From the point of view at which each began, and the expectations they brought, they were both right.
5. Particularly with performance memoir, it is way too easy to identify with the story you are telling, and to see the degree of enjoyment of and engagement in that story by your audience as a measure of your own self-worth. And it simply is not. It’s just a story. No matter how important the material is to you, no matter how many truths you discover when creating it, when it’s on stage it either works for people or it doesn’t. And a certain point you just have to give that back to the universe and move on. Which is what a post-partum blog post is for.
How do you wrap up one creative project and move on to the next? This inquiring mind wants to know….