The Report from Europe!
April 9th, 2013 → Leave a comment
After my tour through the (freezing cold) UK and Europe last month, I’m feeling renewed, refreshed, and excited about the future! HOLY CRAP! There’s actually a world outside of America! And that world is…. EXPEN$IVE!
One of the fruits harvested from last year’s exhausting Edinburgh Fringe Festival, was an invite to come back to the United Kingdom and perform “Going Green the Wong Way” at the Flying Solo Festival at Contact Theater in Manchester, UK (you know where Morrissey and the Smiths came from).
The public transportation in Manchester is pretty great. If you miss a bus, one comes five minutes later. Reliable public transportation? How novel! Somehow Manchester’s Chinatown is right next to the Princess Street! The Gay neighborhood! And there’s a “Chinese Arts Centre”– and it’s not just Chinese people who work there. And there’s a “Curry Row” where you can eat Middle Eastern, Pakistani and Indian food!
And that’s about all I got to see of Manchester. The rest of the time was inside the theater.
It was a lot of work to pull of this tour! Lots of paperwork, lots of planning, and because it’s cost prohibitive to ship the set and props, we had to arrange to have a lot of junk collected in England upon our arrival to build our set. The key way to tell that I’m really working hard on tour is because I hardly have any pictures from the week. Most of these pictures came from my technician!
I am grateful that a last minute United States Artists International grant from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation was able to help support the travel expenses of my technician Jen Cleary! THANK YOU USAI GRANT! Jen has toured the country with me (you may recognize her from some of our video diaries on the road) and was really key to getting the show up. It was also her first time going to the UK and the second stamp on her passport. She was excited! I was excited for her.
If you are familiar with my scripting process, you know my scripts are honed over many live performances, so following my “script” is very difficult because I often change things up with each show. So teching my shows is a lot about learning my timing, not just following a document. This is why it’s tricky for me to tour without a technician.
If you aren’t familiar with the theater process, you might naively assume that I show up five minutes before showtime, talk to my audience for 80 minutes and go home. It’s so much more involved that that. What you don’t see is me writing grants to help support the insane costs of touring (something I frequently bitch about on this blog), us troubleshooting the show’s file on QLab, meticulously preparing the set, marketing the show so that people know I’m still in business and still working, rewriting parts of the show to suit the local audience, rehearsing, trying to sleep normal hours, loading in all those show cues, pulling audience members where we can. Phew! The show is the easy part.
A good show should look like it was easy to put on. Had I not had Jen present, I would have been trying to teach the Manchester technicians to do the show, then rehearsing, then doing the show. I’ve done that before at some theaters, and it’s incredibly difficult. Having someone who can actual do the “tech speak” and knows the show, alleviates a lot of stress. We were so swamped on this tour, and were kicking off so much jetlag when we arrived, we didn’t get a chance to make a video diary!
That’s a lotta seats that we had to prepare with trash for the audience to throw at me!
I got to meet Chella Quint! An American ex-pat in England who is a super funny woman in her own right who also is the Comedy Editor for the F-Word Blog. She took the train from Sheffield to come see me!
We had our set built in Manchester!
The shows all kicked ass. They do a crazy thing after shows where they let audience members evaluate their experience. PUBLICLY. GASP. I told them I didn’t want to see these forms after but Jen made me look at this one.
I’m a dork who couldn’t stop oohing and aahing and laughing more than the average Brit at everything sort of life reflection as filtered through a British accent. In the above picture, I got tired of an endless queue of boys doing the freestyle rap at Contact’s RAW open mic night and jumped in to do a very strange hip-hop poem to vaginas.
What was even cooler was teaching a workshop to ten artists working on new solo works. I felt like I was learning. It was the FUNNIEST workshop I’d ever taught. We did exercises where they gave fake lectures and told convincing lies, and everything as filtered through the deadpan of British English was just so much more funnier.
Here I am hosting the “Pitch Party” for Contact. Imagine if grant applications were actually live performances in front of a panel of judges who vote on who will receive a commission at the end of the night. That’s a “Pitch Party”. What a nervewracking and intriguing premise. And for some reason, they let my American ass host it! I learned a lot about their funding culture that week.
As you can imagine, with flight costs, work visas, and the whole Atlantic Ocean obstacle– I don’t get out to Europe much. I tried my damndest to string up additional shows in Europe before getting out there– lectures, open mics, I was game for anything like I was 23 again (that’s right, I’m not 23 anymore). I wrote everyone I could think of who lived out there, but the only offers I had would have me zigzagging from Berlin back to the UK for 20 minutes of stage time in Brighton (Not that that wouldn’t have been awesome).
But we did get a show in London! A FABULOUS SHOW! Out of nowhere, a fabulous producer of local events named Vera Chok who had heard about me from a new fan from my show in Edinburgh emailed and asked if I was doing any shows in London. And with eleven days to go, she set up a whole evening in London for me at the Bethel Green Working Men’s Club. Vera is an amazing soul. She made cucumber sandwiches, bought flowers and vases for each table. She really made it a classy and sweet evening. This kind of generosity is everything!
London was EXPENSIVE and EXPENSIVE and EXPENSIVE. Did I mention it was expensive?! It made New York look bargain basement. Right now the exchange rate for the the British pound is $1 to 1.53 BPS, but changing currency in London really gets you closer to $1 to 1.70 BSP. ARGH! $17 bowls of noodles! Just our Tube pass for the few days there was close to $60!
And when looking for accommodations (even on Airbnb) the best we could do was the Women’s Prison of Central London, aka the Central London Youth Hostel (above). Imagine eight women crammed into a room of bunk beds, storing their personal items in lockers, one of the woman a Romanian woman with night terrors, the other a woman running her hair dryer as you try to sleep and a shared bathroom down the hall (don’t forget your key, or you will get locked out)… this is what we were dealing with. The cost for a bunk? About $45 US dollars/night, per person. Add insult to injury, they make you rent a towel. YES. RENT a towel for about $3.50 with a $8 deposit. Do new towels even cost that much? And wifi isn’t free either. I tied a plastic bag filled with underwear to my bunk railing to ward off evil spirits.
The London show went really well. I’m glad that I had Jen with me to transform a bar into a functional theater space. Above, is Vera Chok dancing to kick off the show!
Despite the pricey cost of living in London, the museums are free! I finally got to check out the White Cube which I had read about in “The $12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark” and also a wool exhibit at the Sommerset House. Here I am at the Saatchi Gallery, contemplating the art. I tried to post an unedited version of this on Facebook and almost lost my account with them. So I’ve put up an edited version of the art photo to my left.
I spent some time in Berlin and Amsterdam afterwards. I went to those two cities because I know so many American artists who have moved there and tour through there and wanted to stake them out for the future, and hopefully connect to local artists. Ever since going to Cambodia in 2011, I’ve been fascinated with transplant communities. I was pretty lucky to hook up free places to stay through friends and friends of friends. I’m so happy to be part of a generous community of artists!
I watched a show entirely in German– a language that I do not speak btw. I literally wandered in off the street. Took a chance and bought a 3 euro ticket ($4) to see a show. The woman at the box office tried to discourage me from being bored, but this play made it rain onstage the entire the show!
**Here’s a funny story about how umlats are REAL.**
I was traveling with my buddy J.Keith and we asked our German friend Elke to recommend a town between Berlin and Amsterdam. Rick Steves had no suggestions in his tourbook. Elke suggested “Munster” near the border of Germany. So we bought a ticket from Berlin to Munster, then Munster to Amsterdam.
Something wasn’t right about Munster. The locals at the bar had no idea why’d we would travel to their town and the only thing they said was worth seeing was the Tank Museum. We realized the next morning, we were in the wrong town with a similar name. Somehow, the rail site sold us a ticket to “Munster” and not “Münster.” But they had also sold us a connecting train from “Münster” to Amsterdam.
When we got to the tourist agency in Munster, the woman explained that we weren’t the first person to make that mistake, and we wouldn’t be the last.
So, we spent our day trekking across Germany to get from Munster to Münster.
After six hours of trains and missing one of our four transfers, we arrived in Münster and got to pop our heads out for half an hour to look around. I actually prefer Munster over Münster. Though it was a monster to master the trip.
In Amsterdam, I did the tourist loop, including a canal tour, the Sex Museum (where I learned nothing new BTW), and I saw two shows at the MC Theater! One was totally in dutch! I also went on the “Prostitute information Tour” where I learned that for about $65, you can have 15 minutes with a window prostitute and usually, they finish up in 6 minutes. I also spent a whole day in the modern art museum.
***NOW I’M BACK IN LA***
I got home and in one week got myself together for a one night only show of “Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at Ohlone College in Fremont. It was great! I still got it!
And here is an omen/future plumbing issue that things are growing my way. I come back to find a plant growing out of the drain in my sink. Tomorrow I do what might be the last show in Southern California of Going Green the Wong Way at UCLA! We’ve got a pretty large RSVP list. Then I go to Canada to work on the new show, then give a keynote at UCLA! Then… maybe, sit a little?