Straight (From That Side of Town)
August 30, 2009
One thing about the Fringe Tour is, it can be cruel.
It's marvellous, it's the most fun I've ever had in my life and I feel I've usually been pretty lucky: with reviews, with venues, with time-slots, with press opportunities, and so on. This also means I've had lots of bad luck, but I still reckon the good luck well outweighs the bad.
Of course in many ways you make your own luck, and there is nouse in being in the right place at the right time, and fortune certainly favours the brave. But we all know there's more to it than that.
And bad luck.
And every year on the Fringe Tour there are great shows which get little audience.
And there are truly admirable stick-their-neck-out flawed shows which get little audience.
And there are usually shows which weren't much good out East but which, after humungous effort, and bad reviews, and walk-outs, and cutting and chopping and rewrites, and axing scenes and sections and strands, get taken apart and put back together as something which works well … And then they start to succeed somewhere across the Prairies and roll nicely into B.C. for some well-deserved if belated success.
But never have I known a show as good as Catherine Montgomery's Straight (From That Side of Town) to get nowhere.
Every act I've spoken to loves this show. I love this show. Jonno from The Accident loves this show, Gemma Wilcox from The Honeymoon Period loves this show, Rob Gee from Fruitcake loves this show, my girlfriend Priscilla loves this show, Jayson from Fall Fair loves this show, Keira McDonald from Cherry Cherry Lemon loves this show, Jimmy Hogg from Like A Virgin loves this show, Anders from Uncalled For loves this show … We all love this show.
Yet critically, she gets slammed, and audience-wise and cash-wise, she gets very little.
It's not a pretty show and some people are going to walk out. It's messy, it's ugly, it depicts grief, it depicts a damaged, drug-addled, booze-ridden young woman failing to get her life together. Yet it shines with … life in the face of darkness, with the love of mother for daughter, and daughter for mother … with the comedy of pain, with teenage hormonal compulsion, with energetic prose, with a face lighting to a glow as it articulates and laughs at the cruelties life throws at her.
This is a show written by a young woman with iron guts. The guts to try that. To start a show like that, there. To then take the audience on to that place. To be so aesthetically out there. And it's performed with a woman with iron guts: to put herself through all that, day after day; to present all that to audiences show after show after show; and to get nothing back for all her heart, her guts, her sweat and her class.
The quantity of strength that must be in that performer, any performer, believing in their art and keeping going through all the s**t the days, the shows, the press, the reviews throw at you. To see good shows doing well and yet get nowhere yourself: to see iffy shows doing well and yet get nowhere yourself. Day after day. Show after show. Review after review. City after city.
I mean, I've had it tough on tours, yet I'm not sure I've ever even had it tough in two consecutive cities. I've always ridden the updown crashbang rollercoaster but I've always had shedloads of ups to shut out the many downs. And Straight (from That Side of Town) is excellently played, it features some great writing and it has the funniest sex-scene I've seen in years.
And yet she gets no audience. How come?
She has so much courage and, aesthetically and acting-wise, she is everything the fringe should be. Unafraid to go for the dark and twisted, unafraid to be go for the poetry in her prose, unafraid to structure a show in seven sections laid out one by one to make what should be a beautifully ugly winning hand.
The Fringe is all about risks: Risks in writing, risks in acting, risks in themes. Well, she's taking every risk going, she's stuck every neck out and she's had every neck chopped off.
The only sad answer can be that The Fringe milieu is not everything it's meant to be. Bravery can fail, talent can fail, risk-taking can fail.
Who is to blame for this? Catherine for her promotion? Reviewers for not realising the power and quality of the writing and the acting? Audience for ditto? Personally, I hesitate to blame audience for anything, but …
Catherine hasn't failed, her show is a rocking success. The Fringe has failed her.
I love this show. It certainly ain't pretty, but please go see it. Maybe in Victoria or Vancouver she'll get the response alll of us want her to get. Me, I'm going to read some Corinthians from the Bible. Is it really as great as she makes it sound?
And as many of you will know, some government so-and-sos just axed the funding of Intrepid Theatre, who run the Fringe. So firstly, up yours, you visionless no-marks, happy to trash people's best efforts to create the illusion of action …
and more on this when I've spoken to a few hundred punters about what they think.