Wednesday, 8 August 2007

On punctuality

One spends so much of the Edinburgh Festival waiting.

(Not least for one's favourite bloggers to sharpen their pens and get to work on the whole affair. In the meantime, I'll have to do. UPDATE: about three hours after this post, Chris wrote something. Excellent!)

At the beginning of every show one sits waiting to see if an audience is going to turn up. In Can of Worms yesterday we had seven people, the legendary Fringe average. It was the smallest house yet and a real endorsement of the show when several of them stayed behind to chat afterwards:

WOMAN FROM NEW YORK: Have you guys been to New York?
STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: It's our first show, actually. We've not really been anywhere.
WFNY: You should come to New York.
SB: If you book us, we will come. [I know, sorry about that]
WFNY: Have you been on the BBC?
SB: It's our first show. We've been doing it for five days.
WFNY: You should be on the BBC.
SB: Thanks.
WFNY: Have you been on television?
SB: It's our first show. We're a theatre company.

She was very nice, and she made us late for our get-out.

I can't abide unpunctuality. It's rude, plain and simple. It says "I don't care about you sitting on your own in the cold". I also can't abide how nice I am about it when people are, inevitably, late. I somehow make them feel that it's ok, that I'm not annoyed. Note to you all in the future: I am annoyed. I'm just really, really nice.

This also goes for latecomers to the theatre. Would you start a book on page four? Then get there in time for the play to start. If the play's any good, the beginning bit will be there for a reason and missing it will be like missing a few bits of what's probably sky from a jigsaw that's mostly sky. You might be fairly sure it's just some more sky you're missing, but you can't be sure.

I make a slight exception to this for Can of Worms, simply because, being clown, your late arrival provides us with meat. The day before yesterday, someone arrived, magnificently, just as Nick intoned to Paul the line "you're late". "And so are you", he added in the direction of the tardy few. It wasn't at all big or clever, but it got a big laugh. I'll explain why some other time.

Everyone knows that being late professionally is bad. An actor missing their entrance or their cue, even by a fraction of a second, disrupts the whole piece, especially if they do so consistently. Anyone who's seen more than one of my shows will know that pace is an obsession. In my shows, actors need a cast-iron excuse to pause for thought before a line: why can't they say the thing as they think of it? Very often, there's no good reason, apart from to draw attention to the acting, when everyone looks better if the cue-bite is sharp. If I'm bored in the theatre, there's an evens chance that a large part of the reason is that it's "contemplative" or whatever, which is simply another way of saying that the actors let the energy drop between every line. People describe The West Wing as unbelievable because "no-one really talks like that". But I'm not interested in watching drama about people who think and talk at the same speed as me. I want a distillation of what's true, not the truth itself; I want to see people thinking rapidly, performing remarkable feats of emotional and intellectual dexterity. I don't want to watch them torturously arriving at the place where I've already been sitting and tapping my watch for ten minutes.

But the best way of "not being late" is to not say what time you're going to arrive. Which brings me, finally, to the press.

This time last year, and the year before, and all the years before that, I remember being an unspeakable ball of tension, waiting and wondering whether any reviewers were ever going to come. Then about fifty-one weeks ago, and all the years before that, a couple had been in and I spent another week as a ball of tension waiting and wondering whether the reviews were going to be any good. In times like these one holds for succour to stories like Unlimited's: they sold Static averagely for four weeks, then won a Fringe First on the final weekend and succeeded in carrying the momentum into the following Festival.

So this year I feel like someone who's thrown a party to which everyone's turned up at nine on the dot. It's nice, and all the nibbles are ready, but it's not what I've prepared myself for emotionally. We've had the Scotsman, the Metro and some website I've never heard of in to both shows, The Stage in to Can of Worms and Three Weeks in to Man Across the Way. And the good thing about getting them in early is that the delay until publication will hopefully not quite be so long.

So have a look at this, and this, and this. They might not be particularly articulate, and one of them might get my name wrong, but for the time being I'm very happy to have something I can put on the flyer. Then I can get back to waiting for audience members with slightly more optimism.

1 comment:

Miss Tickle said...

Hello Dan,
I don't have the reference, but some jolly important study discovered that we speak more quickly than we think anyway. Which always helps with adding weight to cue-bite persuasion.