It always amazes me when complete strangers come together in times of need. When out of the blue, an act of kindness changes a person’s life. This story is one of those times.
A few years ago, one of the shows in Venue Two was a young woman from the States performing a one woman script that she wrote. It was her first time fringeing and Winnipeg was her second stop in a 6 Fringe tour. She had started in Montreal or Ottawa (I can’t remember which) getting the advice to use another Fringe as a workshop before coming to Winnipeg. Apparently, according to the performer, it was a good idea because she was able to fix some major problems that she had on her opening night including some technical disasters and major script problems, before she performed at the behemoth that is the Winnipeg Fringe.
Her show wasn’t perfect, but it was good and had a few laughs in it. She opened her fairly polished show to a large house and a friendly crowd. Happy with her opening performance, she wandered the Fringe in high spirits, enjoying herself and exploring everything that the Winnipeg Fringe had to offer.
Back in those days, CBC didn’t have as much influence on the general public as far as reviews went. The really important review was the one in the Free Press. If you got a good review in the Free Press you were golden.
The next day I was reading the morning edition of the Winnipeg Free Press entertainment section. The review of her show was on the second page, and I remember it talking about microphone feedback, terrible lighting, and a story that didn’t make sense and gave it one star.
This was the first year that the Free Press decided to send critics to other cities to preview Fringe shows before they came to the ‘Peg. They had seen her opening in Montreal or Ottawa and reviewed that performance instead of the far superior production that she had opened with in Winnipeg a few days earlier.
The next time I saw the young woman was for the first performance on the first Friday. My team leader and ticket sellers were already set up in front of the venue doors, a young man and an elderly lady who was knitting.
I met the young U.S. performer to let her in to the venue. She had read the review the day before, and although she was upset, she went out all day and passed out handbills and tried to sell her show. She warmed up, set up her props, got into costume and I went down to let in her audience 15 minutes before her curtain. Which wasn’t there. Zero tickets sold.
I lamented to my volunteers that I had to go tell the young performer that there was nobody in her audience. I knocked on her door and broke the news to her and she broke down into tears. She had worked so hard on her show, writing, rehearsing, workshopping, and handbilling the day before. It was heartbreaking to watch. I told her there was still 15 minutes before her show started and maybe she would get some walk-ups, but inside my head, I knew it was very unlikely on a Friday morning at noon.
I walked out of the dressing room into the venue, head down, forlorn, thinking about the bad luck this poor 19 year old had.
I suddenly heard a clicking sound coming from my venue. I peeked around the corner and my jaw hit the ground. There were about twenty women in the audience… All elderly, most knitting.
I went to my team leader to enquire what happened, and she said that the knitting ticket seller, upon hearing that there was no one to see the show, walked around the front of the building to Fringe central and told all of her friends that they should come see this show. Seems that a bunch of people from her senior apartment building all volunteered that day and the Fringe grounds were full of knitters.
I walked back into the dressing room, told the performer that she had a bunch of walkups, helped her compose herself, and then she gave those grandmothers one hell of a show. For the rest of her run, she had a minimum of 10 people and one house of over 50, most of them elderly folks who heard about the show through word of mouth.
I thanked that knitting volunteer profusely and always made sure she was comfortable from that point on. Every year I would get her as a ticket seller for at least one shift, and when I performed in 2010 she came to see the show I was in.
This year I asked around to see when we would get our knitting volunteer, and was informed that she passed away over the winter. I will always remember her and the beautiful act of kindness she offered to a young girl that she didn’t know.