Day 9 2012: Random acts of Fringe Fest kindness.

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.

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About JBJ

John lives in an abandoned toolshed behind a fake rubber vomit warehouse in Winnipeg Manitoba Canada with a squirrel named Peanut Hoarder, where he steals an internet signal from the Kung Fu school next door. He is a little "off". View all posts by JBJ

5 responses to “Day 9 2012: Random acts of Fringe Fest kindness.

  • Tonya Jone Miller

    This totally brought tears to my eyes. The fringe is a family like no other- volunteers, staff, and performers working together for a common goal. For those of us who find it, it’s HOME.

  • Mel Marginet

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. Wow. I’m crying but have renewed hope in humanity #GoodDay!

  • Kevin Longfield

    I hope that the reviewers who think it’s a good idea to go East to “preview” shows read this post. It’s one more reason why trying to review all shows in the first weekend is such a silly idea.
    Your story reminded me of a similar experience I had a few years ago. I struck up a conversation with a young man as I was locking my bicycle, and found out that he was a performer: from Montreal, if I remember correctly. He gave me a handbill, and since I wasn’t doing anything else that afternoon, and he seemed like a nice guy, I went to his show. It was sparsely attended, and like the show JBJ wrote about, it wasn’t perfect but it had a lot going for it, not the least being the performer himself, who was (and I suppose still is) a very talented actor.
    Later on I saw the young man in the square, and told him how much I enjoyed his work. I said how surprised I was that he didn’t have a better house. Then he told me that The Free Press reviewer had come to his very first performance ever of the script in Montreal. By his own admission he gave a poor performance, and he realised that his script wan’t there. He and his director spent the next few days working hard on both the script and the performance, and when he got to Winnipeg he contacted the Free Press and asked them to please see his Winnipeg performance, because it would be in a very real sense a whole new show. Instead the one-star review ran.
    I tried to talk up the show to other fringe patrons, but I remember one person telling me that she read the review and there was no was she was going to give any time to the show. People don’t realize that theatre, like golf, is a game of inches.
    On another thread some reviewers claim to write for their audience and not for artists. OK, fine. Just how is the Winnipeg audience served by reviewing a show in Toronto or Montreal that might bear only a slight resemblance to what Winnipeg audiences are going to see?
    That said, it is also important to keep things in perspective. The actor I was speaking of suffered what I would call a major injustice, but it’s nothing compared to what Jackie Robinson had to endure when he broke the colour barrier in baseball. And the actor went on to a professional career, appearing several times in Winnipeg’s stages.
    The kindness of strangers is important, but it won’t do you much good without perseverance. If the woman JBJ wrote about hadn’t bucked up and given the knitters a good time, it’s doubtful that she would have developed an audience.

  • melanie (@melanieknits)

    Knitters are awesome. This is a sweet post, thank you for sharing it JBJ.

  • JBJ

    Featured on the Red River College radio show Heartbeat:

    [audio src="http://redriverradio.podbean.com/mf/web/4qdu56/November15Heartbeat.mp3" /]

    It’s at the end.

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