7 May 2014

Ever wondered what it's like inside the mind of a Fringe performer? #BrightonFringe

Performing in a Fringe festival such as Brighton Fringe is a very exciting thing for everyone involved, but it's rare that people know the processes that go on in a performers mind before, during and after a show. 

Performers rehearse for months before the fringe and it is hard work. We give up any free time to our art and a big chunk (if not all) of our social life takes a hit. During the actual shows our minds and bodies go through a rollercoaster. It's not all rainbows, kittens and smiles. Unless you are actually going to a fringe show called, 'Rainbows, kittens and smiles'. In that instance it might be all those things.

After talking to so many comedians about this subject I thought it would be a interesting blog post to share. Now you can take a peek into what other comedians or performers go through leading up to and during the fringe seasons. Be warned it is not always pretty. 

So, what is it like in the mind of a performer? 
I have talked to many of my friends who are also comedians, actors or performers and below is a summary of what we discussed goes on in our heads before, during and after a show.*

*Views do not apply to every single comedian or performer in the world. (But, I bet they come close)

Before the show
We go through stupid levels of adrenaline and anxiety. The thoughts that trigger us can be: "Will the months of work pay off? Will the audience like it? Will there be an audience? Will I remember my lines/set? How many times do I have to keep going to the toilet? What if it goes wrong?"

To get a handle on these thoughts and anxieties many of us have rituals or routines that we do before a show. These can involve clothing, chocolate, music and naps. 

During the show
The internal monologue can be present throughout a performance even when you are doing your set or play. It can go something like this:  "They laughed at me! That guy has his arms folded so he must hate me.  What’s the next bit? I really love this. I can’t believe I am doing this. I hate this. Ok, I love it again. Did I say that already?  I forgot a bit. Oh, they laughed again. "

After the show
Our minds can go two ways so it can be a gamble how we will feel.

The Elation – Our hearts are pumping with pride and we feel like we have done the best we can do. The audience loved us. People are coming up to us to say how they enjoyed it. We think how amazing we are and how there is nothing we can’t do! We are sociable. Everything feels so right in the universe. 

The Misery – The audience didn't get it. We could have done a better show. We had no audience. People are avoiding eye contact with us or so we think. We want to go home. We want to go to bed for a few days and just sleep. We think we are not good enough. We wonder what the hell we are doing with our lives. Every insecurity we could possibly have can come to the surface. Maybe we should just have a baby. (Or, maybe not).

Sleep and getting grounded
So important yet often (nearly always) sleep is so hard to achieve after performing.  It's so tempting to get tweeting/facebooking looking for comments about your show to keep that buzz going. Some people often need a drink or set aside 'wind down' time to achieve sleep or to just get grounded. Sleep is affected by both good shows and bad shows. We can't win. 

The comedown
We can't win with the comedown either. Everyone gets the comedown. Everyone. Whether we had elation or misery over our performance, the comedown will catch up with us. After our show it will happen the next day, a couple of days or even months later.  After one show, mid fringe run or post run, the comedown can strike at any time if we are not careful. I have never met a comedian or performer who doesn't get some kind of a comedown. Dark thoughts, paranoia and depression can make a home in our heads. Different people have different strategies to cope with it. However, alot of us have to go back to our 'day jobs' and this can add to the pain. The saving grace is that it does get better and the light can be seen again in the form of doing another performance, starting a new project or having a creative idea we want to try. Welcome to the rollercoaster.

Helping ourselves
The healthy way - Eat well, get enough sleep, take vitamins, pace ourselves, exercise and don’t stop taking your medication!

The most common way - Eat chocolate and comfort foods, drink alcohol, stay up late talking with friends, obsess about what is written on social media about us, or have jealous thoughts as someone else's show is better than ours! 

Improving ourselves and our show
We take the good and bad feedback then use it to improve ourselves. (Well, most of the time) We listen to recordings or watch the video of our performances. We are hard on ourselves. We ask people we trust for honest feedback. I would suggest that you only give a performer feedback if they have asked you too. We can be in a very sensitive and vulnerable place when we come off stage. We try to keep evolving and moving forward. However,  'helpful' comments in the wrong circumstances can crush a performer. We try not to fester (too much).

Get inspiration and not jealous
It's really important for us to see other comedians and shows. In fact we are curious to see how we compare with other comedians or performers. We see good shows and bad ones. Bad comedy can inspire us as much as good comedy. Although, it is frustrating when we feel we have wasted an hour of our lives, bad comedy can have it's plus side because it makes us think, "I can do that better than this". It will also make us feel a bit smug. (Don't you comedians/performers pretend you don't get smug because I know you do). Good comedy makes us think, "I want to be as good as that". Same applies to acting.  If honest, it will also make us feel a bit shit about ourselves for a while as we agonise on when or if we'll ever be that good! 

Things we forget being a comedian and performer
  • Not everyone can do what we do
  • The more we do something the better it can get
  • We make big sacrifices for our art
  • Success doesn't happen over night
  • Anything can happen
  • Just keep going 
The thing is, we will still come back next year and will do it all again. We will put ourselves through the same mental torture. So, the the big question is - Why do we do all this to ourselves?! 
I think it is because we love it and it's the only thing we want to do. We feel we are 'home' when we are performing to an audience.

I can't speak for everyone, but a lot of these things seem to be rife in me and in the comedians or actors I surround myself with. Most of the time we don't want you to see what's really going on. However, lets be honest with each other. Behind the scenes of every fringe show you can know with confidence that there will have been blood, sweat and tears shed at some point. More reason to support your local fringe festival. 

Want to know what other comedians and performers say about surviving their fringe show?  Yes? Well read on...
Aiden Goatley - Comedian and writer 
"Actually during the Edinburgh Fringe is the only time I feel normal. I survive because I have my family with me and stay a bit sane. Before a show I am all about routine. I have to wear a particular brand of shoe and also eat a snickers bar. The lack of either will be the reason I didn't perform correctly."                                             

"Before a show I have bit of wine (this makes me sound like an alcoholic - I'm not, it's a prop - honestly) I ask my Director to give me a pep talk. Usually this is what my intentions are for that particular show so I can focus.
I make sure I have really inspiring and powerful walk-in music so that while I'm hiding backstage, I'm dancing about on my own to it. My current favourite song is 'Roar' by Katy Perry.
During the show I finish the wine (it's a prop, honestly) so by the end of it I'm quite relaxed!). After the show I try and avoid discussing the show as my head is buzzing. I try to relax and have a drink with friends who have came to see me. If I don't do that, I go and see another show and enjoy being in the audience instead of on stage!"
Anna Morris - Character comedian and writer                                 'Bitchelors' Laughing Horse at The Quadrant, Brighton Fringe 

Sometimes I find it helps listening to really awful upbeat music about an hour before a gig It gives me the stupid energy I feel I need. And it’s not even songs I'd ever play in any other scenario. Examples are 5ive, S Club 7 and 2Unlimited.

I like to mostly stand during gigs. If I sit down I find my body gets too relaxed. I drink mountains of water before I go on stage. Sometimes between arriving at a gig and going on stage it can be a litre or more. I don't know why. I feel better when hydrated and fresh. It could just be nerves though, or oncoming diabetes.

If a gig goes well I’m usually buzzing and have to stay up for about two hours when I get in. If a gig doesn't go well I have to say up for about 2 hours when I get in and then go to bed and listen to Flanagan and Allen.

I nearly always try to take a mid-afternoon rest on the day of a gig. I’ll either sleep for an hour or lie on the bed listening to classical music.
                                                                                   Phil Lucas - Comedian and Writer Heat Pumps, Kate Garraway and other niche concerns 

I also listen to upbeat music on the way to the gig, something to get me fired up and excited about going on stage.  Same as Phil (above), it's usually cheesy pop....I did like blurred lines until I listened to the lyrics, now it's Moves Like Jagger!

When I am about to go on stage, I take lots of deep breaths and repeat in my head the first line of my material.  I shake my wrists out a bit and generally do some mini stretches that people can't see, just so I am loose on stage and not all stiff and unnatural.

Afterwards, as I would have had butterflies before the gig, I will have a glass of wine lined up, which I usually drink pretty quickly afterwards.  I would never drink before a gig as I need to be focused.  If I am driving or not drinking, I just again take lots of deep breaths, sip water to calm down afterwards...but, I don't enjoy that as much.  I feel like the wine is a well-deserved treat!

                                                                                                      Julie Oliver - Comedian 

I tend to get terrible post show blues so I try to limit the impact on my life. I do this by setting aside 'headspace' time throughout the run to remind myself that life is still going on around me and to keep myself grounded. I find it helps me to keep myself on a level. When I get into bed after a performance I have a recap and analysis of the day though and try to assess what's real and what was the craziness!
Nicole Ollivere - Actor, writer and producer 
"Before a show, I like to try and get my energy levels up as much as I can. I try listen to a lot of really heavy, aggressive, fast music to try and pump myself up (or I play it on my guitar) – I find this improves my speed of thoughts during the show – good when dealing with hecklers. It also makes me to feel like a tank, supremely confident and impervious to harm!
Afterwards I need to do the exact opposite. I try and find somewhere quiet and solitary so I can bring myself down and reflect on my performance and become “normal” again.
I find if I don’t do either of the above I run the risk of either having a bad gig or not sleeping that night."                                                                 
                                                                                            James MCDonnell - Comedian 

"Before a show, I start to talk very quickly, but very politely like a character in a Richard Curtis film on speed. I remedy this with a menthol vogue and a gin and elderflower. Post show I'm usually pretty exhausted, but still very polite. Think Richard Curtis character now on ketamine so to remedy this I'll drink whatever you're offering!"                    
                                             Zoe Charles - Burlesque Artist, storyteller and comedienne
                                      'Memoirs of a Slutsky' at Malborough Theatre, Brighton Fringe 

Sometimes the rush before and the deathly stillness after a gig is almost too much to bear. I used to cope with that by getting quite drunk before and then blind drunk after. I've had to try and get that under control obviously, so I have a couple of strange habits:I nearly always have to wear a lucky waistcoat when I gig, unless it's really really hot or a festival show.
To replace the alcohol, I now need to do tai chi before and after the gig. Just a few small exercises to help my breathing and keep me calm.
Peter Strong - Poet and Comedian 
Perfectly Goddamned Delightful, Laughing Horse at Hobgoblin, Brighton Fringe

Before every show, I sit quietly and breathe. (and I am very grateful that I still can at my age)
Lynn Ruth Miller - Comedian and writer
80! at Malborough Theatre, Brighton Fringe

Thanks for reading and remember to keep supporting the fringe festivals!

Feel free to comment below on your experience of performing in the Fringe. I would be interested to know what you think.

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