Being 47, and quite new to solo show performance, and in a city not my own is quite the roller coaster of emotion. My first show had 4 audience members (3 comps), my second show had 8 and my third, 12. Tiny tiny tiny audiences for something I have worked hundreds of hours on over the last year. It is a humbling and eye-opening experience.
Last year, I performed my very first solo show Allie Weigh’s Inn at Montreal Fringe–my hometown for most of my life. My venue was small and cosy and I occasionally sold out my performances and always had good houses. It was a good run. A very good run. But I was unknown to the Fringe world, and I did not get an official review. As soon as that run was over, I began working on my second solo about motherhood. I applied to several fringe festivals. I got picked for two. And I have spent the year reading, writing, composing, and performing bits of the show in preparation for Ottawa and Victoria fringes.
When I was young (16-19) I was a star of sorts. A peace movement star–part of a tour across the country raising awareness of the nuclear arms race. I was on the front pages of newspapers, on TV, on national radio, and in the media of every place we visited. Our tour was wildly successful and it led to more and more fabulous invitations and opportunities. I left all that behind when my life felt like it no longer belonged to me. I turned inward mostly. I listened to myself for the next move. I got direction from my gut which led me into sex education, counselling, workshops, couple counselling. Within a few years, I was successful. I was in the media, on TV, on the radio and soon had more clients than I could possibly see. During this time, I had my kids. I was too tired to become a “personality”. I did not want the split existence of being in the public eye and trying to have a private intimate life. I deeply longed for wholeness, and integrity. At every turn, I refused the chance to become more well-known, preferring instead to guard my self-determination over my days, and hours.
Now that my kids are grown, I actually have the time, and enough financial security, to embark on something as involved and effortful as solo performance. It is an enormous amount of work. But it hasn’t been difficult. In fact, the flow is just there, it is just always there. Easy.
Bringing the work to a brand new city, with no name recognition (Weigh is actually a performance name which I made up to keep my psychotherapy work life separate from my performance life) is a whole other humbling sort of challenge. A good one. But a hard one. Performing in front of 4 people is very uncomfortable–for me as the performer, and for the audience members. The emotional gymnastics involved in quickly getting over my shock and disappointment, staying focused, and getting so little energy from the tiny audience, and staying focused, and digging deep, and deeper, and deeper, for every last bit of juice I can find to put on a good show, and staying focused. THAT was challenging. THAT was the hardest thing I have done in a long time.
I think I have grown a lot in the last few days. My show’s audience doubled for show #2, and then was still bigger for show #3. Every show is slightly different as I enter into relationship with the audience that shows up. The feedback from the few who have come to speak to me has meant the world to me.
Being a nobody in a brand new field is quite something. Clarifying. Strengthening. Hard. But meaningful. It is kind of like what happens when my partner and I leave our busy life in the bustling culturally active Plateau, and our computers, and we go camping. At first, it seems so empty, in an uncomfortable way. Then we start to notice things–the sound of the wind, the feeling of the air at different times of the day, the endlessly fascinating fire burning, the little plants and insects, our own heartbeats. Our own breath.
Ottawa Fringe is like that for me so far.