My Edinburgh Fringe Festival Experience in Honest Numbers
September 14th, 2012 → 3 Comments
At 4am, I found myself wide awake at home in LA plunging my toilet for a half an hour. Now I’m blogging while eating chips for breakfast. That’s right baby! I got some serious jetlag… and apparently… a not fibrous enough diet. But what a perfect time to recap what I’ve been up to the last month and a half in the United Kingdom.
What is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival like? Imagine that the quiet community you live in has been invaded by new regime of migrants. Most are college theater students dressed in bad steampunk outfits. And if you aren’t from the UK, you’ve probably never heard of any of any of these thousands of people before. You can’t walk down the street without being clawed by flyers in your face, words like “improvised musical,” “five stars,” and “excellent show” seem to be drone and echo around you, you get flagged down, desperately by a college kid trying to suck your butt into the seat of a lecture hall turned theater. Every possible inch of space, across a few small square miles is now occupied by an ever revolving line-up of self-directed theater shows that promise they will please you. Even the humid, bleach smelling basement of a dive bar is host to a whole line-up of performers desperately trying to get your to join them for an hour.
To say that spending August at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a totally overwhelming shitstorm is an understatement. Edinburgh Fringe is like a block of street merchants in Tijuana in the most desperate of economies, but with more flyers. It’s like landing on Ellis Island, only to find out everyone you meet is drunk, inexplicably independently wealthy enough to be there for a month, self-obsessed and DESPERATE. It’s so compressed with activity, that just one month there feels like several dynasties have elapsed.
I normally journal every morning, religiously, but performing in the 10:30am breakfast show slot (yes, I know) meant that I would barely wake up for the show, crawl to the theater, and then spend the rest of the day caught in the adrenaline turbine that is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. My diary from last month is basically lots of laundry lists, as I had no time for real poetic reflections on the experience, just basic facts and figures as they came to me.
So appropriately, I thought I’d reflect those numbers and notes back to you….
Kristina Wong’s Fringe Festival Experience: In Numbers.
Amount I raised on Kickstarter and through private donors: approx $18,000 (Note: I don’t have an exact number because not all the donations went through. For those of you wondering why I had to raise so much, watch the budget breakdown on my video.)
Amount of Kickstarter perks, thank you cards I still owe people: 40 (approx)
Approx time it will take for me to finish sending my thank yous and the remainder of the perks out: 15 years
Exchange rate of British Pound to US Dollar: 1 British pound sterling = 1.6217 US dollars (OUCH is right)
Total Days in Edinburgh: 28
Shows I performed: 20
Time to tech, load-in, and the cue-to-cue run the show: 3 hours
Time I normally get to tech and load in the show: 8-10 hours
Dress rehearsals: 1
Days Off: 2
Time I trimmed off of show: 22 minutes, show became 1 hour.
Breakfast shows I did at 10:30am: 13
Evening shows at 7pm: 7
Sckoon washable pads I attempted to give away: 20 (1 for each show)
Number of times those pads were returned by the audience after the show: 3 (prudes!)
Shows where nobody took the pad: 1 (super prudes!)
Number of times I sold out at the Fringe Box Office (meaning that allotment of tix is sold out, and show is categorized as “sell out” even if tickets are still avail at venue): 2
Average audience size at a Fringe show: 8
My Smallest Audience: 9
My Largest Audience: 47
Seating Capacity of My Theater: 50
Times I cried uncontrollably before a show: 1
Times I cried otherwise: 0
Shows with Standing ovations after: 2? 3?
Number of shows where the dead silence in the crowd had me wondering if I was performing high drama: 6? (stopped counting after a while, because it was getting to me.)
5 Star Reviews : 1 (Thankfully for my ego, it was the first one to come in.)
4 star Reviews: 1
3 Star reviews: 1
2 Star reviews: 2
1 Star Reviews: 0
Specific mentions that I was a “Californian” in the less than flattering reviews: 2
*Hey, if I believed my bad reviews were actually right, I wouldn’t share this with you! The reviews from my 4 week run in LA were more reflective of how awesome the show is. Read those! LA Weekly. LAist. Backstage. Thomas Hampton.
DVDs I sold after the show: 6! (Sold out of what I brought!)
Total number of shows and events registered as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival: 2862
Shows I saw that month: 69 (excluding shows I saw TWICE)
Number of Alcoholic Drinks I had all month: 0 (hence why I distracted myself with so many shows)
Shows that had least one redeeming bit of “interestingness”: 62
How many of those shows were “good”/ “not bad”: 42
Number of shows I walked out of (and I never walk out of shows): 1 (“Clinton the Musical”)
How many of those shows were “breathtakingly excellent”: 10
Times I got hypnotized by a not very good stage magician: 1
Times I told the producer of said bad magic show afterwards that I thought I was still hypnotized, only to learn that I was actually never hypnotized, just possibly crazy: 1
Number of times cute guys made a pass at me: 6
Number of times after accepting said pass, I was handed a flyer for a show: 5
Total number of hook-ups I had: 0 (yep, Wong is losing the mojo)
Numbers of times I was invited to speak to an American college group: 1 (UMass Amherst!)
Numbers of times that talk may have devolved into my own private therapy session: 1
Time when drunk people would stop screaming/singing in the street outside my hostel: 4am
Time when construction would start in the courtyard of the hostel: 8:30am
Days where I woke up fully rested: N/A (“Rest” at the Edinburgh Fringe? What’s that?)
Average Serving of Vegetables Consumed: 1 per day (Potatoes are Vegetables, right?)
Average Number of Bowel Movements: 1.5 per 2 days
Times where I regretting coming out to the festival: 0
Gratitude to all my donors who got me there: INFINITE
What I learned from my First International Touring Experience in a Fringe Festival:
1. My work and perspective is very American and very “Californian”. My journalist friend, Karen, also a Chinese American from California lives in Cambridge, England now. She says she’s accused all the time of being “Californian”. And surprisingly, it’s not actually a compliment from the Brits.
2. Nothing beats an obnoxiously loud American audience. I love that European audiences showed up for me but the consensus among the American performers was that British audiences are generally more quiet. American audiences will sit cross legged in the chairs, slap each other laughing, leap up from their seats to take the spotlight. God bless my loud American audiences.
3. I do have international fans! My new friend is Sarosh from Pakistan who was traveling in London, remembered reading about me in xoJane and took a train to come see me! We spent the next several days watching shows together and talking. And now, I’m contemplating visiting her in Pakistan. Oh yes. And a lot of friends of friends came to see me. And while not everyone might get my humor, I did get really positive response from international audience members.
4. I am a machine! I never thought I could do more output than a one woman show and post show Q&A in a day, but my body was challenged to new heights. Watching 4 shows in a day, marketing my own, and squeezing in some socializing inbetween? WHAT?! How am I walking? Actually, I think my body is finally punishing me now for working so hard.
5. Brits love shows that are earnest and sweet. I didn’t feel so bad when I was panned by a few of the local publications, because after watching some of the well funded British work, I couldn’t help but think, “That was a well constructed story, well performed, and very sweet but SO WHAT?!” The urgency, satire and cynicism characteristic of most of my work, is not characteristic of theirs.
6. On the flip side, Brits have a higher threshold when it comes to invasive audience participation. I saw some of these artists sweat on audience members, spread their buttcheeks apart with their hands, sit on people, throw their belongings around and slap a few across the face with gloves. I barely get away with my shit in America.
7. The United States and the United Kingdom are two countries divided by a common language. I experienced many of the British shows “on delay”– mentally translating the references to British culture and an accent which sometimes felt like the performer was swallowing their own words. It’s a whole other world.
8. While I will continue to tour this show, I’m ready to make a new one. Before my four week run in LA and 20 shows in Edinburgh, I had run this show in Miami and San Francisco and in excerpts all over. I’m happy to keep touring it, but creatively, I need to make new work.
9. Bless the Indian, Nepalese, Bengali, Pakistani and other people from the South Asian and Middle Eastern diaspora for coming to Great Britain and opening restaurants. British food has nothing on a good Indian curry.
Would I do it again? Yes, but under very different circumstances. The fringe festival thing is definitely not a lifestyle for me as it is for some artists. And while I made money, I didn’t recuperate close to 1/4 of my expenses.
Most artists who do the Fringe don’t return the following year, and I can see why. It’s expensive, a huge time commitment, and such a clusterfuck to navigate, let alone, get great results. It really pushes your body to a new limit which can be crippling to the creative process. I’m very lucky to have been in a venue that could support the theatricality of my work and have a lot of help in producing. But I also realized from meeting other artists that I’m extremely lucky to have an existing touring career.
I’m getting ready now for an East Coast tour of Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (oh yes, even though it screens as a film, I still tour it.) I came home to a total shitstorm. The bathroom door broke and my toilet needs to be replaced. I am touring three different shows between now and the end of January.
And so it begins. AGAIN.