Like Spring Break, honeymoons, and back massages – The Fringe Festival always seems to end too soon. Just when you hit your stride – find the super-secret parking spot near Rarig, and a pair of shoes that compliment your lanyard – boom. It's over.
Shortly before midnight last night at The Crooked Pint, the audience picks were announced. Audience picks are the shows – one per venue - that after the first four performances are calculated to be the highest-sellers... or rather the most attended... or rather...
To be honest, it's actually more math than I'm qualified to explain, but the bottom line is that butts-in-seats aren't the only calculation. How many butts belonged to purchased tickets compared to artist passes to punch cards to gold passes...
But even more complicated than the math behind the Encores, is how they are seen by the audiences and artists of the festival. In the true spirit of Hemingway-esque journalism, after my own performance last night, I went to Fringe Central and drank more than my share of whiskey while surveying the crowd.
The show that I was in, Sex and Sensibility at Intermedia Arts, was incredibly fun to do, and we had great crowds every night. We were certainly in the running for the Encore, and thus began the mental cycle that I learned is rather standard at this point of the festival.
Will we get it? Who else might get it? Should we plan on it? Is it shitty to plan on it? Do we want it?
The conversations we were having in our green room mirrored the conversations I've had among my Fringe casts of the past—and were reflected again by many of the good people of the Crooked Pint last night.
This much is clear – the Encore is good. To get the Encore is good.
It is, perhaps, among the very few ways that artists feel like they “win” at something. A definitive win. A win that is not measured—as so many of our successes are measured for better or worse—with very, very subjective and interpretable “critique” by either one blowhard, or a panel of blowhards. No one who creates Fringe Theater is quick to be pegged as unduly concerned with status, profit and popularity—and yet. . .
To get the Encore means, unequivocally, you did well. The people liked it. And they want more.
In practice, however, sometimes the Encore leaves people longing for second place.
As I asked Fringe performers about their relationship to the Encore, the same reaction came up again and again:
“You want it, but...”
The most repeated “but…” was because, historically, the Encore performance is a company's smallest house of the run. Up until then, they've had five performances which were packed to the gills. Probably their fifth show was the most packed, the most responsive, filled with Fringe die-hards who had heard the hype and wanted in.
The Encore is scheduled last minute by it's nature; and competes with 18 other now-award-winning shows, and filled often with Fringe artists who are … ah, hem... free at 8:30PM on Sunday and would like to see what “all the fuss is about.” It can be a bummer. Many a yellow-lanyard whispered in confidence that they have found themselves wishing they had gone out with the bang of closing night and skipped the Encore all-together.
On the other hand, the really knock-out shows – the total sell-out shows that turn people away – they kill it with Encores. Reaping one of the unmitigated benefits of earning the spot that I'm surprised I failed to mention yet – more money. Another night of ticket sales never hurt anyone.
There can be technical problems with Encores as well. If the Encore is totally unforeseen, a company can find an actor is unavailable; or rescheduling a load-out impossible. One artist told me of a time two years ago when they had to tell the festival in advance that they couldn't take the Encore even if they won it because one of their artists was booked. It sucked, she said, and yet there was also some relief to not be preoccupied by it.
Your intrepid reporter was, in fact, so in-depth with... reporting... that when the actual Encore announcements began, I was completely unaware. I heard applause and noticed that the herd was all looking at the same spot on the horizon. I gathered up my... reporting... and headed to the balcony rail where I saw Jeff Larson step off a platform. Immediately, everyone was again turning to one another and talking.
I had fucking missed it.
I had been awaiting this very moment. Not only to gather material for this here blog but to text my cast the news.
It was posted on the website in seconds, of course, but I still found myself leaning over tables and asking friends and strangers alike: What happened? What did he say? Way to go Lois Lane.
I quickly learned that no – we did not get the Encore. LABYRINTH, a show that sounds mystical and beautiful and fantastic, will be on the Intermedia Arts stage tonight at 8:30PM. You should see it.
I, unfortunately, will not.
Which is a bummer – in fact, the 1986 film was a significant enough factor in my formative years (codpiece) – that I'm rather surprised I didn't see it already.
I will not be seeing any shows tonight for the same reason that I was only able to see two during the whole festival run (MY AMERICAN ASSASSIN, and FOTIS CANYON —both fantastic, both Encore-ing). Because its the height of summer, and I just bought a 1971, 28' Silver Camper and all I want to do is drive it to the Wisconsin Dells and drink beer on the roof. We leave in an hour.
I suspect I'm not the only one who is hot to gather Fringe material for 2015.