Well it’s finally started. All of the shows have had their tech rehearsals, the volunteers have descended on the grounds, and the mustard is flowing from the food vendors. The Dutch Rambo puppet beat the crap out of the Terrorist puppet, and the papier-mâché llama was a hit with the children.
The 28th annual Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival is officially open, and despite a few hiccups, everything seems to be going smoothly.
For the first two days, all the groups in Venue 2 will have their first performances, and it can be a little tense for performers and technicians alike as we see whether the schedule will hold, the effects all work, and the audiences will understand the subtitles and the Dutch nuances of 1980’s Sylvester Stallone puppetry.
Sometimes there are mishaps with a first performance. A line dropped here, a prop misbehaving, or a technician missing a cue or playing the wrong sound (I’m really sorry that the llama sounded like a goose tonight. I’ll fix it for the next performance).
The vast majority of the time, the errors are minor and an audience would never notice. But there are some instances when a show has an obvious blunder, and I’ve seen some doozies over the years.
This is a story of one of my favourites…
I had a show, about ten years ago, that was a group of 5, from a very amateur theatre company. They were fairly unpolished, and didn’t really understand some of the ways of theatrical performance. Their director and leader was an elderly man, who was very hard of hearing, and I had to shout quite loudly to make myself understood. Their technical rehearsal went fairly smoothly, and I explained how everything would work on their first performance. The show started with a couple of songs, with two younger gentleman on guitars, and a lady singing.
So I explained that on the day, I would open the house (let the audience in) fifteen minutes before their show was scheduled to start, and then give them a five minute call, close the doors, run up to the booth, and start the show. The first cue would be bringing the house lights to half brightness, and then a blackout along with a fade out of their preshow music. Following that, the stage lights would come up, and that would be their signal to start the show.
I thought I had explained it well, but it turns out that they misunderstood.
Fifteen minutes before their show, everything was fine. I brought up their preset lighting cue, which had the house lights at full, and the stage lights out, so the stage was quite dark. I opened the house and let the audience in, and five minutes before their performance I gave them a five minute call, then proceeded down to front of house to make sure the doors closed on time like I always do.
As I headed back up the stairs to the booth to start the show, I heard music.
It seems that the group thought my five minute call was their signal to start, so they just walked out onto the dark stage and started the show without me.
By the time I got to the booth, they were halfway through their second song, which they had played in complete darkness, with people still taking their seats, and the gentle preshow tunes of Zamfir playing underneath. In front of the bewildered audience, I took control of the lighting board, and very slowly, and “artistically” brought the stage lights up, the house lights out, and quieted the Pan Pipe Master in as musical a fashion that I could muster, as if it was part of the show and not a mistake.
After the show I went to the elderly director and apologised for the misunderstanding and to explain what a five minute call means.
“I AM SO SORRY ABOUT THE START OF THE SHOW, I MUST NOT HAVE EXPLAINED MYSELF CLEARLY AND THE ACTORS STARTED THE SHOW EARLY”
“Yes, I think that it was a little dark at the beginning but other than that it was a grand show.”
“OK, I’LL FIX IT NEXT TIME.”
*looking at his watch* “About a quarter to seven. Hmm, it looks like we finished quite early.”
“YES, THAT’S BECAUSE YOUR ACTORS STARTED THE SHOW TO EARLY BEFORE I COULD GET TO THE BOOTH.”
“Oh, I don’t think it would snow this time of year, but yes that would be a worry, that’s the gospel truth.”
I started to apologise for the Zamfir underneath the first two songs, but quickly realised he didn’t hear it.
After that, I found a writing pad and started writing my questions and suggestions down for him to read… which worked fine once he found his glasses.
But it all worked out in the end, as it always does. Any mistakes on opening day is soon forgotten, after the following performance, and once the jitters are gone, artists join in on the Fringe fun, supporting the other artists and filling up on mustard.
So enjoy this first day, and all the days that follow. It’s time to get your festival on, because we’re all Fringing here.