Tuesday, December 23, 2008

'Tis the Season. And Speaking of Seasons....

This last season -- that is, the period of time between August of 2007 and August 2008 -- has been one of the most creatively exhausting in recent memory. This is due, no doubt, to the success of two projects that I was involved in: the creation of Descendant of Dragons, my first solo show and to date Maximum Verbosity's only legitimate hit; and the creation of the Rockstar Storytellers, which has helped keep several prominent Fringe artists visible throughout the year.

See, my plan for creating a season has always been simple: I come up with ten thousand ideas, and attempt to mount all of them. Nine hundred and ninety-eight of these ideas fall through the cracks along the way. Thing is, this last season, I had the momentum going to get nearly all of these shows up.

Of these, the two ensemble shows were the most successful: Logorrhea and All Rights Reserved were, I suspect, largely coasting on phenomenal casts and the reputation of my last Fringe outing, and though the latter received an extremely volatile reception from the critics, that didn't seem to prevent audiences from coming and laughing at the jokes.

The two new solo shows -- The Hunting of the Snark and The Secret Book of Jesus -- both flopped rather dramatically. I suspect that this is due to a combination of poorly marketed concepts on my part, and the fact that they were both mounted as part of struggling events (Alice in Biffyland for one and the Spirit in the House Festival for the other.)

Add to the above a remount of Descendant, and the fact that I was doing 2-5 storytelling gigs each month -- and committed to generating new material for all of them -- and it's not hard to see where that exhaustion may have come from. At several points during the year, I had one colleague or another pull me aside and advise me to slow down. While I don't think that I allowed any of the individual shows to suffer from my divided focus -- well, okay, maybe one or two performances were pretty grisly to watch -- marketing certainly took a hit, as did my own mental well-being.

Thing is, I set out to do the same thing this season, only to discover that shows are slipping through the cracks again -- I can't seem to get any of my proposals off the ground, can't seem to get any venues booked. (Well, I suppose "can't" is relative. I was commiserating about this with a colleague over a beer, when he pointedly asked what I've done since the last Fringe. "Hardly anything!" I whined. "Well, yeah, I've performed in every Rockstar show except one, and I've either hosted or featured at every Word Ninjas event, and I did another set for Vilification Tennis, and that new storytelling festival down in Rochester, and, oh yeah, I wrote and performed a new forty-five minute solo show back in October, but I didn't even produce that one..." Yeah, okay, but comparatively I've slowed down, and backsliding is the thing that troubles me.)

But, yeah, the sense that I have -- and particularly after our last Fringe show -- is that the Descendant magic has worn off. It's not hard to see why -- many of the above shows had people in our audience who discovered Maximum Verbosity through the '07 Fringe, and were startled to find that my real passions tend toward much more stylized text -- expressionism and slapstick, horror and fantasy -- rather than the hand-wringing, soul-baring autobiography that made me a flavor of the month. Which may explain why, to my surprise, my reaction to that magic wearing off isn't dismay so much as relief. There's a sense in which I feel like I've rediscovered my freedom to work on the projects that interest me, rather than investing so much in high-stakes productions.

Only to discover, of course, that the problem with freedom -- heh. And how many of my blog entries could begin with that phrase -- the problem with freedom is the fact that it's paralyzing. With a stack of unproduced scripts in front of me -- and a dream project that I'm finally summing up the courage to tackle -- I've been struggling with one of the most frustrating periods of writer's block that I can recall. Or, to phrase it more succinctly, the problem is that now that I've given myself the time to create everything, I find that I can't create anything.

That's been turning around in the past few weeks, as I'm getting closer to pinning down a show in March. Of course, anything can happen up until the contract gets signed, which is why I won't go into more detail about it. And, of course, it's an ape-stupid project -- there's almost no time for pre-production, an abbreviated rehearsal process, no budget and a sprawling ensemble to manage, if I ever manage to get auditions pinned down.

And I'm loving it. For the first time since the Fringe closed, I'm springing out of bed in the morning. My productivity has tripled. Space to create is all well and good in theory, but apparently I thrive on chaos, on taking disparate pieces of information and slotting them into the illusion of order. Whether or not all the elements for getting this show to the stage pull together, I've gotten my kick in the head to get moving again.

See, the problem -- and this, of course, has always been a key problem for me -- is balance. Extremes are easy. Moderation requires discipline.

Still, I've got plenty to keep me occupied in the meantime. I finally got around to writing up a set of bylaws and executive positions for the Rockstars, after which I was promptly elected Chair. And if you're looking for something to do the day following Christmas -- and who isn't? -- we've got a new holiday show, "Jingle Bell Rockstars," 10:30pm at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage, immediately following Joe Scrimshaw's "Fat Man Crying." Hell, see both.

And stay tuned.