Wise words from my brother on the opening night of my Fronterafest show on Thursday. It was a terrifying and exhilerating experience, the performance that is and not my brother’s words. Not this time anyway. After a horrible tech rehearsal the previous Sunday when I didn’t get enough time to run the whole show because we were faffing around with lights and props, I had pretty low expectations for the night.
I spent most of Thursday pacing around the house, recolouring my flipchart sheets which are part of the show and required no further work, and making ‘I don’t think I can do this’ calls to my ever patient friends. And of course completely ignoring my brother’s advice.
My call time was 7pm, even though I was last on the bill and wouldn’t be going on until about 10pm. I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous before a performance and couldn’t really hold a conversation with anyone. They’d talk, I’d nod, while running my opening lines in my head and hoping I wouldn’t say one out loud in response to a question. I put on my ipod and listened to a lot of Queen, just to get me in the 80s mood. And I’ll admit to playing Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ a few dozen times over. I’m really not much of a fan but there’s something about that track that pumps me up and makes me feel powerful. Sort of like ‘Eye of the Tiger’ in 1980, until our typing teacher used that great intro to make us practice hitting the keyboard letters to the beat so that now every time I hear it I play air-typewriter for the opening bars.
I ran my lines with my backstage announcer, Sean and lost all confidence in myself. I smoked virtually a whole pack of cigarettes within 2 hours, which is a great move for an actor and if there had been coffee I would have glugged that down quite happily. Anything to keep me busy. If only I could knit. Because then I’d be way too dull to undertake anything so daunting as writing and performing a solo show.
There was an intermission after the first three pieces – the last of these was a very funny slam poet who got the audience whooping and cheering. Thank god I didn’t have to follow him. In Austin stand-up terms it’d be like following Jimmie Roulette.
The piece before mine was a little odd. I didn’t see much of it, I just remember a half-naked guy smothered in talcum powder and a man in a red plasticy cape. That’s Fronterafest. Straight after that they set up my props and once all was done, I was asked by the stage manager if everything was ‘okey dokey’. At Fronterafest, your piece will not start until you reply, ‘yes, it’s okey dokey’. I can understand the logic: it’s easy to just say ‘ok’ without even thinking because we overuse it. Okey dokey requires some thought. Even so, I felt very odd saying it, akin perhaps to telling the stage manager that I like to cuddle. Foul word, one letter away from curdle.
And then it was me. I think my nervous energy helped me play my 21 year old self quite well. Lots of bouncing around and hands in pocket. The audience was fabulous, not just my friends, but the whole place. I got lots of laughs in the right places and quite a few unexpected ones. The only rough part was my mouth drying up on a particularly important scene and I couldn’t break for water. Horrible feeling, my lips felt like they’d turned inside out and I was licking them and sticking my tongue out like … . oh I don’t know, a lizard maybe? But I think they just use their tongue to catch flies and that wasn’t my overall aim.
I was a little sad when it was over 23:30 minutes later but also relieved that I hadn’t gone over the 25 minute limit and I was in desperate need of wine. I felt proud of myself for my usual few fleeting moments until I watched my tape for the third time and wondered what the heck I was doing with my arms when I crossed the stage and what was that strange expression for and why did I add in that line that wasn’t part of my rehearsal and why didn’t I stay in the light for the whole of that scene and wasn’t that pause too long and why were my eyes all over the place in that act out and …..
“please stop Maggie, I’m trying to sleep”
psst..Stormy dog, are you awake?”
Yes, it was only a play. But now I can call myself a playwright. Chekhov would be proud.