Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

Performing, Panic, and the the problem with being alone.

I’ve not blogged for absolutely ages – here’s my excuse: I’ve been making a show. To give the quick intro for those who are unaware… Last year I wrote a new storytelling show, it did an R&D in January and then, last Fri, Sat and Sun I did performances in front of an audience, ostensibly the final* version of the show. The show, for reference, is called “Every Little Hope You Ever Dreamed (But Didn’t Want To Mention)”.

I appreciate it’s a bit of an oddity, a head of marketing for a regional theatre, also having a sideline as a writer, director, designer and performer of shows he writes for himself. An oddity and also fairly self-indulgent. It’s not that I don’t think other creatives aren’t talented, quite the opposite, but I do think that for my work, written and performed by me, I can do it pretty well. Also a lighting designer would be tempted to use more than six lights when doing a design and set designer mightn’t choose mirror gloss as the paint finish. Arrogant much, you might well ask.

The obvious question is “how did it go?” and to that I’d have to reply “I don’t know”. It’s really difficult to judge your own work at the best of times, I’m pretty bias, although ironically, bias against my own work rather than for it. I’m pretty sure some of the audience enjoyed it, some of the audience were non-plussed and one audience member, front row, found it incredibly relaxing and restful to the point where she slept through 55 mins of it much to the alarm of her daughter – she, however, applauded emphatically so all is forgiven.

Performing is an odd thing – the act of being on stage doing the thing is, I should say, fine. Sure there are distractions to put out of your mind, such as when your Artistic Director comes to watch, and you think of an amazing joke for the pre-show bit, but don’t do it to look professional, and then mess up two later bits because you were wondering whether to shoehorn it in. Or when you forget to take your trainers on so start wondering if you’ll have sweaty feet. Generally though, it passes quickly and is weirdly relaxing.

Pre-show nerves however can go fuck themselves. The hour prior to the show is the most unbearable period of time that passes incredibly slowly. The thoughts that go through your mind – Will anyone come? What if I accidentally leave my flies undone? Is my throat sore? How far could I run away? That’s the bit that spoils, for me at least, the performative process. For reference I feel sick all day from around 11am to 7:29pm, and have to rigidly stick to a process, pasta at 3, stretches and warmup at 6, listening to meditation podcast at 4. Thank god for Anthony the stage technician indulging my pre-show musings to try and distract myself.

I’ll also say that the post-show thing is, well, a bit underwhelming. I didn’t get a huge hit of anything after the show, other than wanting to pack everything up quickly so that the tech staff aren’t hanging around. I find the idea of praise horrifying, I suspect because I’ve worked in theatre long enough to know that “the truth” of a performance is that it’s never as good as your best review and never as bad as your biggest critic – inherently, I’m happy that people don’t feel they’ve wasted their time, but if they’ve paid to be there, then that’s what they pay to see the show, and I don’t think that applause is necessary (although it is nice to hear rather than booing).

I didn’t bow at the end. It was the subject of sharp criticism from a mate, a mate who declared that he’d be up there “in a flash” if the circumstances were reversed. Each night wasn’t perfect – the first night I was a bag of nerves but got through it – the second night I nailed the start but my pacing was off at the end – the final night the start was weak and it didn’t have the dramatic range I thought it needed. Of course my head doesn’t make any consideration for what might have been a) noticeable or b) good. That lack of perfection helps me justify, rightly or wrongly, the bow thing. Also I’m really grateful for the audience sticking with it at 75 mins without tacking on an extra 4 mins of me essentially leaning and looking awkward.

I rehearsed most of last week. Rehearsing alone is a tricky business – you feel isolated and it’s pretty depressing. Like rehearsing anything you start to question everything – is it even good? being the primary question. I think if there was one thing I missed from doing a show with other people, is having that support network, the hand on the shoulder when it’s all feeling futile to say “it’s going to be okay” or simply to lie to me when I stumble over a section and say “it was great”. I’m not saying I need Alex Ferguson and the full hair dryer treatment, rather Kevin Keegan telling me how I’m going to win despite having limited tactical information, or Jurgen Klopp reminding me that we’ve done this 1001 times in training and because we’re a team we will come through this together.

What next? Well that’s the big one. There’s a few people I want to get the opinion of, and I need a bit of distance to know what I really feel about it. My head at the moment is saying to try and tour it, but also to put an earlier version of the script (which remarkably is 10,000 words longer) out as a book and e-book to accompany it. Or I might make something else. I’ve a few ideas, one straight “play” to write and direct but not perform, and another that’s a little freer that this that in my mind is storytelling meets investigative detective drama, but y’know, funny.

Finally. I think, even at this point, I am proud of doing it. I think to write and perform a thing is something that lots of people talk about and being able to do it has been a gift and, for the first time in a long time, I do feel slightly less depressed about my lack of skills or ability. I don’t feel good, or worth paying money to see (I still feel a bit guilty for charging people to see the show), but I don’t feel like “I could never do that” is there for me.

Night x

*100% not the final version as I’ve made changes already.