Well, Dying Goldfish and Nosedive Productions Presents has come and gone.
Although my best assessment of the process was that it was one of our most ambitious and best projects next to Ruins and Mayonnaise Sandwiches, it was also one of the most grueling and draining.
We aren’t going to be following this show up with McTeague, as we had originally planned, but with The Adventures of Nervous-Boy: A Penny Dreadful. I’m looking forward to this one; it’s about as different from Dying Goldfish as can be.
First of all, this was a hard show to sell. I never like trying to con people into seeing the shows (bully, plead and cajole, yes. Con, no). I think giving potential audience members a completely false premise of a play will lead to very bad juju very quickly.
Dying Goldfish was (is) a play for and about adults. I had a hunch that these sorts of shows don’t sell, and I was aware that doing a show like this would definitely test the patience of attendees,* but my guess and hope was that the Nosedive audience base would “cut us some slack,” as it were, and go with this (i.e., “Hey, we got spiked eggnog and monkey puppets the last time, let’s do something a little more serious this time ‘round. Just as long as we get more booze and monkey puppets next time…”).
In a lot of ways, they did. A number of our devotees really loved it (and I can’t thank Mac Rogers enough for the very kind words he put in his SlowLearner blog for us). Dying Goldfish also had a very warm reception from audience members over the age of 50 (one of the first times this has happened with a Nosedive show).
Doing the Off-night series was also informative. This was the first time we’ve ever attempted to do anything like this (but this is also the first time we’ve had an exclusive rental of a space). We’d definitely like to try something like it again, but probably not for a while, and definitely not the same way.
Mac Rogers recently provided his thoughts as to how and why doing a festival-type show is roughly akin to digging razor blades into your gums, and he pretty much hits the nail on the head. Here are my thoughts on the subject, having now come out the other side.
The original idea was to take advantage of having an exclusive month-long space rental. Since, according to Equity bylaws, we couldn’t do more than 12 performances of the play (not that it would generate more audiences, anyway), we figured to bring in some performing acts on the Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays that had their own audience bases. We’d charge $10, give the acts $5 of each ticket, and keep the other $5.
They’d get a free space and some cash; we’d get some money to recoup our losses on the space. Also, the acts would get some free publicity from us, and hopefully vice versa. It was one of those, “If all goes right, everybody wins” sort of deal.
That is not, however, how it worked.
One of the biggest problems we faced is that we didn’t know what it was, and therefore couldn’t really promote it. Some acts dragged their feet, either committing to a time slot at the eleventh hour, or deciding at the eleventh hour that they couldn’t commit. Some were very apprehensive, thinking that a bunch of guys telling them, “Hey, free space for a night to do what you want!” would soon be followed by, “now if you could just co-sign this bank note…”
As a result, there wasn’t a set schedule we could advertise until the week before opening.
It ended up being…uh…a couple Wednesdays…mostly Wednesdays…but one Tuesday, and…uh…how many Mondays?
Also, unfortunately Patrick, who was originally named the point person for this project, got drafted to act in, sound design for and direct a portion of Dying Goldfish. There was just no way he could have the time to rope in 9 different acts (as was hoped) and accommodate their different technical needs.
We have no horror stories about any of the performers exactly (although one did show up AFTER the audience did), Mac is right when he explains in his blog that you end up having to do every show from scratch, teching a new show each night with new people; and when you’re losing money hand-over-fist, about to drop dead of exhaustion and discovering that the only two reviews on your play aren’t positive, it’s tough to really give a flying fuck about the 25’ cable the Monday performance artist needs for his ten-minute bit in front of six audience members.
What also really sucks is when you find out that all the performing acts have other (more important) gigs going on at a later date, which they’ve been promoting more (i.e., “If you can only come see me once this week, see me at this other show, not the one at the Access Theater.”). I can’t exactly blame them. Again: no one really knew what this whole “Nosedive Productions Presents” was.
You just can’t promote these damn things.
This is also doubly true when you’re desperately trying to get audiences for your 12-performance run. It already takes enough pleading and cajoling to get people to come to your play; it’s absolutely impossible to go to another event on top of it (“We have to go to SIX Nosedive events in one month, Comtois…?”).
Now, this wasn’t an unmitigated disaster (although I really felt bad that Adam Wade only had one paying customer — thanks, Jenny! — come see his show, which was excellent). The one perk was that we brought in acts and performers that we personally stood behind and knew would be good, so we could encourage people to come and be sincere when we said it’d be worth their time. And I will say, all the acts that came in were good; I’m sorry they didn’t have more people come see them.
Also, it didn’t cost us anything.
It was great seeing Chris Bujold again (a childhood chum and co-founder of Nosedive) and seeing his group. It was also nice to commiserate with other performers on the uphill struggle that is Doing This Shit.
Still, spending virtually every night in the Access Theater for a solid month got…how shall we say…a little tiring.
I had naively thought that there was enough of an audience for Off-off-Broadway and underground comedy to go around. In other words, I thought there were still a decent percentage of theatergoers who actually liked going to shows on their nights off, as opposed to the percentage of theatergoers who see shows out of obligation to a member of the cast or crew.
Boy, how wrong can a guy be?
Well, for those of you who genuinely enjoyed Dying Goldfish, I whole-heartedly thank you, and I apologize for what comes next.
For those of you did not enjoy the direction that was taken with Dying Goldfish, and prefer us to go back to the brain-eating, monkey-puppet, “Poor Jimmy’s had an accident...So may you all,” style of theatre, well…once more into the breach, dear friends, once more.
Going back to volatile,
James “Vitriol” Comtois
June 14, 2005
* Considering that achieving Nosedive’s ultimate goal — twenty original productions in ten years culminating with Kronos Unbound — would require us to inevitably test the limits of our audiences’ patience and endurance, I figured the halfway mark would be as good a place as any to start “testing the water.”