Posts Tagged "MakeYourFringe"

Embracing Suicide Wednesday

(Live on the stage of Theater 3 at Surgeon’s Hall in Edinburgh, image by Chris Scott.)

Let me tell you about Suicide Wednesday. As prepared as I was going to Edinburgh Fringe, I did not know about Suicide Wednesday, and it’s important to share what I learned.

Imagine you’ve spent the past two years getting your show ready for the biggest arts festival in the world, a three-and-a-half week run alongside some of the best stage performers on the planet, roughly 4000 shows every day, all competing for attention. You come to a place like this to prove yourself.

And by that first Monday, you have. Yeah, preview audiences were slow. Of course they were, nobody in Edinburgh knows who you are. But by Monday, you’ve got this beast of a festival figured out: a raucous, nearly sold-out crowd and multiple industry people in the seats. At the end of the show, one of those people isn’t just tweeting about you, he’s emailing you about a UK tour. Let’s set a meeting he says, and you email him back immediately.

This wasn’t so hard. Some people just have it and you’re one of the lucky ones. Although it gets in your head a little. A lot. By Monday evening you’re an ADD tornado of whirling joy and ego, burning enough energy to light this town for the run of the festival. But it feels good. This is fun.

You have trouble sleeping Monday night – hard to come down from that – and when you wake up Tuesday, you’re starting to feel what they call Fringe Flu. No time to stay in bed though, you need to get out into the streets and flyer for your now-successful show. So get some LEMSIP, that’ll will help with the cold, and check your email to see what industry guy has to say.

Nothing. No email yet from industry guy. Shake it off, grab your flyers, head out.

But it’s hard pitching your show to people on the street today. All that energy you had yesterday? What goes up must come down, and you realize you’re feeling the onset of depression like an addict coming off a serious bender and looking for his next score, which also describes how people are seeing you right now. You’re not selling them anything in this state, except maybe your need for rehab.

That’s okay. One day of not flyering won’t hurt. At least that’s what you think until you walk out on stage and there are five people in the audience.

So far, today is less good than yesterday. But it feels more than less good. Your emotional swing has it feeling catastrophic. Doesn’t matter, you don’t want another empty house tomorrow, so you take your sickness and depression and flyers back onto the street after your show. But now something different is happening. Everyone you approach is saying the same thing.

“I’m catching the bus home today.”

Fringe’s first audience exodus has begun, and the new people haven’t arrived yet. You check your sales for tomorrow before you go to bed. Two tickets. Note to self: don’t check sales before bed again. You check your email. Still no word from industry guy. Note to self: don’t check email before bed again.

You lie awake and stew in self loathing over Monday’s hubris and today’s inability to recapture yesterday’s brilliance.

You wake up Wednesday quite possibly the most exhausted you’ve ever felt, and you use the term “wake up” loosely since you haven’t slept. Seriously, you can barely lift your legs, this isn’t normal.

But it is. The adrenaline that’s been carrying you since opening six days ago has just run out. What did you expect? You don’t have an infinite supply of the stuff. And to top it off, you make the mistake of checking your sales and your email again, neither of which have changed since last night.

You’ve been ghosted. Twice. By the Fringe audience and by your industry guy. Why did they even show up on Monday? You hate them. Unless they turn up again, of course, in which case, they are totally awesome.

You down more LEMSIP, put on your winter layers and rain jacket – Edinburgh in August – and drag your sick, depressed, exhausted ass out into the drizzle to see if you can find anyone to hear your story today. And the few people on the streets still say the same thing.

“I’m catching the bus home today.”

Before you walk out on stage to perform, you dose on throat spray and hope you can hit the high note in the second song. You walk out, the lights come up. Five people in the seats.

Afterwards you foolishly ask the box office about tomorrow’s sales. Zero, they answer. Zero advance tickets. And you have three more weeks of this.

Suicide. Fucking. Wednesday.

The full weight of Fringe has hit you. Right in your cocky mouth.

Full disclosure, this didn’t happen to you. It happened to me, and the crazy thing is, this is the reason I went to Edinburgh. Sort of. I went to prove myself, to find out if I can hold my own on a stage at a festival with some of the best performers on the planet. To learn if I have it in me to go out there every day and find the audience to fill those seats. To somehow connect myself to 5000 years of theater history and generations of traveling performers who’ve gone somewhere and put on a show.

Proving yourself comes with trials. That’s kind of the point. And while a lot of us ask the question, “Do I have the energy to persevere,” we don’t all get the opportunity to ask it about something we really want. Edinburgh was that opportunity for me.

But when you hit dark moments like Suicide Wednesday, what you want can become clouded. You’re suffering, you’re not having fun, you’re not making money, now you get to find out if this is something you really do want.

Performing at Edinburgh is something every young performer should experience. If you can make it through this moment and still want this, it’s what you should be doing. And if you realize it’s not what you want, there’s no shame in walking away. You’ve discovered something valuable.

The shame is if you walk away because you’re afraid of doing the work. As someone who spent years (okay decades) not doing what he wanted because he was afraid to find out whether he could, this was the moment I finally got to discover the answer.

Do I belong here? Do I have it in me?

And on that Wednesday, sick, exhausted, dejected, by myself in a city I don’t know, I had to decide if I had three more weeks of this. in me This is not a moment that is exclusive to theater. It’s the dark night of the soul. The oldest stories we have talk about this moment in our lives.

I want to tell you that I dug deep, grabbed my flyers, put a smile on my face and went back out into the street. But that didn’t happen for another 20 minutes.

And let me add this: just because you throw a tantrum, email your publicist telling her you’re done, you’re not flyering another day, you’ll still perform but from now on you’re on a theater-going holiday, it doesn’t mean you won’t feel differently when you’ve calmed down. In 20 minutes.

Then you’ll remember the question your mentor asked you: “Aren’t you willing to suffer for something you want?”

Then you’ll make another batch of LEMSIP, fill your thermos, wrap a scarf around your neck, grab a stack of flyers, and discover a deeper source of energy than you knew you had. You’ll go back out into the streets and make a couple dozen people laugh hard enough that they might buy tickets to your show.

There have been other moments like this in my life, where I had to take stock of myself and ask if I had it in me to do the work even when it looked like there was no hope of success. And there are times that I didn’t have it in me. I walked away because it was clear this wasn’t something I wanted.

I feel zero shame about those moments, and those were some of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. But I’ll never be as proud of them as I was of the moment I picked my depressed, sick ass off the floor of my Edinburgh apartment and walked back out into the street with those flyers.

And two days later, my Friday house was nearly full. I have never appreciated a group of people so much in my life, never been so humbled to share my story, and so determined to keep going.

By the time my last week rolled around, just five shows left, I had …

Dean on Radio Free Brooklyn

Killy Dwyer invited me onto her awesome radio show Mock-U-Mental (okay, maybe I prompted the invite). I got to share the two hours with the funny and talented T-Spoon, aka Katie Haller. We told stories, we sang songs, I ran out early to catch my train. Honestly, it’s everything you want in a radio show. Here’s a link to give it a listen:

Airing Zachary out on the first day of spring

“Hellooooooo!“ Zachary says before he’s even opened his door. You know how your dog greets you when you come home, tail wagging so hard it looks about to break off? Zachary greets you with just as much verve, but more Ethel Merman than Labrador.

And today, he’s even dressed to go, so I don’t have my typical 45 minute wait while he gets ready. It’s the first real day of spring and he wants out of his dark little cave of an apartment.

His 81-year-old legs have trapped him inside during the cold weather. Zachary needs to be around people and inspiring things he can absorb and talk about. He needs connection, and he finds that everywhere he goes, sometimes to my great embarrassment.

But I also like that feeling of connection, I just often don’t know how to open myself up to it. So I put up with embarrassing moments to live vicariously through Zach.

Outside we blink in the sunlight like the other million vitamin D deficient New Yorkers emerging from hibernation. I have at least two winter layers I need to shed before bikini season. No I don’t own a bikini, and I probably won’t shed the layers either.

“Let’s take the M2 bus up Madison,” Zachary says.

I’ve spent most of my life in New York in a monogamous relationship with the subway. I don’t do buses. They stop every other block. You feel like you’re getting nowhere. But the bus is right outside his 58th Street building and the subway is three blocks away.

I think the exercise would do him good. Zach’s a retired dancer, used to have calves like oak trees, all this gnarled muscle. These days they look like twigs, and how do you get that muscle back if you’re not going to walk?

We get on the bus at 58th and as Zach pays his fare he asks the driver, “Does this bus stop at 103rd?”

“101st,” the driver answers.

I want to be grumpy about losing the bus-subway battle, but right away I notice how nice it is. There’s daylight on the bus, almost feels airy. Might have to have an affair with the bus.

We’ve only gone 10 blocks when Zachary shouts up to the driver, “Can you stop at 103rd Street?”

“This bus stops at 101st.” Not even a smile from the guy.

Zachary starts to sing. I’d say the bus is 70 percent full, and 50 percent can hear him, and I’m looking around to see who’s amused and who’s annoyed.

Then this older woman with white hair and soft, smiling eyes leans in, “My husband used to sing that song to me. He loved going to the Loews movie palace on 175th St.”

“That song was a big hit with the German and Jewish vaudeville crowd in the 1930s,” Zachary says. We reach 90th St.

“Can you stop at 103rd?” Zachary shouts up to the driver, and you can see the driver shift his focus forward.

“Come on, driver, stop at 103rd,” someone else shouts, but the driver is having none of this.

The older woman stands and puts her hand on Zachary’s shoulder, “I wish you all the best, even though I haven’t figured out who you are.”

I don’t tell her Zachary used to dance for Balanchine, that he used to be the choreographer of the Metropolitan Opera House, that in the 1930s he was a childhood radio star on the Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour. I don’t say anything, I just watch and wonder how he does it.

When we reach 100th St., Zachary asks one last time, “Do you stop at 103rd?”

This time the driver turns around and stares. “This bus doesn’t stop there.”

We get out at 101st and walk the rest of the way to the Museum of the City of New York. We’re going to see the Automat exhibit, Horn and Hardart, the restaurant that used to sponsor the radio show Zachary did.

You know that feeling when you step off the street and into a museum? All the chaos and the noise disappears and everything is quieter and cooler. The exhibit is right on the first floor and you can see people moving through it. They’re silent, isolated even though there’s a crowd, each one trying to take it all in without disturbing anyone else. One step in Zachary plants his feet, takes a deep breath and belts out a song:

Less work for mother
And she’ll understand
Less work for mother
Just lend her a hand
She’s your greatest treasure
Just make her life a pleasure
Less work for mother dear

“I used to sing that on the radio!” he declares, standing a bit taller, planting his foot.

And now everyone in the exhibit is looking at me like I can’t control my toddler. They don’t understand, no one can stop Zachary from doing stuff like this.

Besides, for him, Horn and Hardart was all about making a racket. One of his acts was tap dancing. On the radio. In roller skates. Here’s a recoding to prove it:

Courtesy the Zachary Solov Foundation

As you can hear, it’s just as bad an idea as it sounded when you read it. Complain about the internet all you want, but this was what they had for entertainment in the 1930s.

And slowly, every person in that exhibit, except for one, lone, cranky woman off in a corner, has formed a circle around Zachary. One of them is even crying because she hasn’t heard that song since she was a little girl. And now Zachary has an audience. They want to know all about the Automat first hand.

They called the Automat because you got your food through an Art Deco, coin-operated wall, glass panels with little knobs you turn to open.

“After the radio show, they’d give you a stack of nickels and you could go get whatever you wanted,” Zachary says as they slowly walk through. “You’d walk right up, put your nickel in, and get your pumpkin pie. That’s helluva treat for a kid.”

But those 81-year-old legs start to fail him and he shoos people away, which never happens. Zachary loves his audiences, needs that connection that comes from telling his story.

Age wins this time so we sit on a bench until he feels better. He’s just not ready to go home yet. Not to the dark. Not to being alone.

“We should go to that famous coffee shop,” he says.

I can’t think of a famous coffee shop on the Upper East Side, but I’m excited at the idea of discovering some old New York treasure I’ve never known about. “What coffee shop?” I ask.

“You know,” he says. “The one with the donuts.”


“Yeah, that’s the one.”…

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Manspread photo credit: Paul Graham Raven