Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Tales of the Unexpected

I chose that name for this post because it is exactly that...a lot of things happened during R2M's first real Fringe outing that I did not expect. Firstly, I hoped to be able to make good on my promise of keeping a daily blog. That did not happen. At the end of each day I found myself pretty exhausted and continuously forgetting to film or photo any daily happenings. So I was tired and without much fodder to post. So I didn't. I am trying to figure out if this experience has been to my benefit or not. I guess I will find out about that in the future.   I have discovered that the fringe can be quite brutal. It can chew you up, spit you out and leave you doubting whether or not you should be doing what you're doing. I have seen this happen to other people. Now, I experience it for myself. With Watch iT! I thought I had a pretty good product that had been tried and tested and would be welcomed with open arms into the Fringe bosom. It even came with the endorsement of being part of the Made in Scotland programme. I had a good team working with me covering all bases. We were to show the work in one of the best venues for dance & physical theatre during the Fringe. Our promo game was tight. Social media output was on point. Everything seemed to be in good shape so all I had to do was delivery 23 stellar performances. I wouldn't say they were all stellar but i'll at least pat myself on the back for delivering the goods 23 times in what is quite a physical piece. Yet, somehow things didn't quite take off in the way I was expecting if i'm honest. And it's the disappointment, lack of response and ubiquitous stress that causes the Fringe to wear you down and doubt yourself.

So what happened? Reviews happened. Quite a lot of them, which is great. But, just not ones that showed the work in a very favourable fashion. Despite the subjective nature in this mysterious art form, it's difficult to say they don't matter. Because they do matter and especially in the Fringe context. The reviews are really the first kind of contact punters will have with your work if they don't know you. And when there's over 2500 shows to chose from, with prices that sometimes make you think twice, you want some kind of assurance that what you're going to see is half decent. I know years ago I would happily take a risk on work I hadn't seen before or had any clue about. But then again I was only paying £5 a ticket. So I don’t really blame any punter for wanting to get some quality for their cash and if quality is defined by the number of stars attached to a show then there you go...And I have to admit it was strange to receive such negative press during this outing after showing the work back in 2009 and 2010 and receiving great reviews. I think there's something in not being the new kid on the block anymore or perhaps tastes change? Reading the reviews it seems to me that people expect the work to be about the mass media influence on our decision making. But it isn't. Its a much more personal look at the literal relationship between man and his TV. The work consistently got 3 star reviews (bar one 4 star), which in the Fringe is basically as good as saying don't spend your cash to see this show. It's tough to take I must admit. Especially, as I mentioned, coming from a good starting point. I began to think that this was doing more harm than good. But if i'm getting the same level of feedback then perhaps there’s something in that. Perhaps there is something I don't see that others do? So I suppose in one sense it has been helpful. It has made me reassess how I look at the work and how it is coming across to people. As a result there are some parts I will change but others I won't. Like it or lump it. When you show something everyone is going to have an opinion...and they vary greatly, so it has been a good lesson in learning to deal with this level of critique. I have to admit thought that there are some reviewers from Scotland that will be getting the tony thrills veto from now on...til the end of time.

Bloody Team GB. Why did they have to do so well this year? I jest. What a great summer for the UK sports fanatics. Trouble is they all spent their holiday cash on going for a once in a lifetime trip to the Olympics or just stayed at home or in the beer gardens and watch Team GB smoke pretty much the rest of the world (except the USA and China). One is hardly going to come to the theatre at 1pm when such action is taking place. I think the Olympics had a big hit on the numbers of punters in the streets of Edinburgh this year. Things did pick up towards the end of the month, but it's been a quiet one. For everyone it seems. Just had to be the year I was taking my own work to the Fringe. 

Our promo game was good. Along with some good design, t-shirts and badges I even built a TV head to out and about with. This was an absolute winner. People just come up to you to see what you're flyering or want a picture (then you hit them with a flyer). Rumours of the TV head guy spread around the town. It was easy to shift 2-300 flyers in under an hour on a good day. I have no idea how much of this translates into bums on seats though. I guess I could have been out pounding the streets a lot more during the month. We did have an additional street team doing some of the work but you can always try harder and do better.

I also think the work suffered from it's marketing. When I made this piece it was a real departure from the normal hip hop and breakdance stuff that i'm used to. There are elements of that genre in the piece but not a lot. It's really about so much more than that. Yet when I toured the piece back in 2010 I knew that the hip hop tag is always good selling point to theatres and to bring in audiences etc...and i'm strongly associated with that world in Scotland. I think many people didn't quite get what they were expecting...or were surprised and got more than they bargained for. Eitherway, confusing the audience in this sense is never a good thing I reckon. So it's taught me that I need to represent my work as clearly as possible and find the right context for it, not trying to make it as broad and accessible as possible when it isn't. Yet this is quite tough in the Fringe when you only have 40 or 80 words to describe your work and make it look words aplenty.

Ultimately, we just didn't get good audience numbers through the door. This is disappointing mostly because you're making work for people to see it. Besides getting it seen by promoters (of which we had a good attendance) I wanted to get exposure to a wider audience and begin to develope some kind of recognition within the UK dance audience. We'll just have to try and set up an english and welsh tour then.

So have there been any positives to beasting myself for the last month? Well it has been great to do the piece this many times. I have started to find new nuances, directions and content for the work. I don't feel like putting the work to bed just yet and along with the interest from venues there's the chance to develope the piece in conjunction with a theatre in England. It's also been good to show R2M as a company in front of the scottish arts industry. It's no longer just me in my living room building props but I’ve had the chance to work with a good team that will push the company forward and the creative industry folk have seen this. Basically, it gave good face. However, it will be a year or two before something (if anything) will manifest in the form of a tour...which is what we're after in the end. To tour, show the work, make connections, have experiences and perhaps, just maybe make a little profit.

What I have noticed is how we are all obsessed with quantifying how good something is. This must be good because it has X amount of stars or has won X amount of awards. Even in the art world where everything is subjective, we still strive to be the best and quantify it somehow. Our innate competitive trait perhaps? A form of validating what we do and all our hard work? A reward? Getting something  tangible out of the intangible? Convincing the paying public we're worth it...who knows?? I'm not gonna lie...I would have loved to have won something or gotten X amount of 5 star reviews. It wouldn't hurt would it? But it's not gonna kill if you don't get them either. I'm off to Bangkok to do a show in a couple of weeks and then maybe Russia. I get to travel a bit, work with good people, get a lot of pleasure from what I do and occasionally get paid....those rewards aren't too bad in the end.

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