I find myself on the edge of a cliff, about to jump. I am not a thrill seeker, no friend to a rollercoaster. Growing up, I was a shy, perfectionist control-freak with an overwhelming fear of failure. I spent inordinate amounts of time alone in the hall closet, imagining gags and shows that nobody would ever see. However, I grew up to be a cabaret performer, performing professionally, all over the world for the past 14 years in all manner of rough waters, so I've become accustomed to that particular adrenaline drip. In eight days I'll be joining 25,000 other brave souls from around the world to show my stuff at the biggest theatre festival in the world, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I haven't been to the Fringe in 10 years, and I've never done it solo, before now. So, I'm taking big breaths, and getting ready for what will likely be one of the most exhausting, humiliating, and expensive months of my life. Or, it could be I'll catch a wave and be sitting on top of the world. Either way, I have to take the dive, from my comfortable position at home in summertime NYC, and it sucks. This is the moment I've been waiting for.
I propose that the opportunity to fail is a gift, a blessed gift from the gods, and it should be sought out. Not all careers offer such easy access to that exquisite opportunity. Teams of consensus makers and editors, layers of managers overseeing decisions, focus groups and market analysis surveys shield most of us from the potential for open catastrophe. But as an independent performing artist, or more inelegantly, a clown, my career offers it all the time. In fact, the opportunity to fail is my rainmaker - it writes my paychecks and my material. The bottom line is this, even if I do fail, and my material just doesn't land the way I want it to, if I accept that failure without shame, then people will laugh. Folks love to watch other people failing, if they can do so without shame. Networks of reality shows can attest to that. So, if vulnerability is where it's at (any live performer or critic thereof will tell you the same), and shameless failure is just another way of succeeding, then what on earth do I have to be afraid of?
1) Nobody will show up. The average audience size at the Edinburgh Fringe is four. Four people. My venue seats 200. With 196 opportunities to fail, nightly, this season is going to be downright sacred.
2) Everything will go wrong. In this festival, stages are shared between at least 10 different shows every day and night. With a 15 min crossover set up/tear down time, there is such a high likelihood of technical snafu's that it makes my internal perfectionist control-freak want to invest in diapers and call it a day.
3) Nobody will like me. I've worked my whole life to get to this point, and spent the last 10 years developing my material: working up the skills, courage, and writing then previewing the show, and raising the funds to produce it internationally. If/when I get a bad or even mediocre review, the shy little girl within who I put to rest so many years ago just might wake up in time to kick me softly into a curb.
Do these fears sound familiar? They read pretty standard from this writer's perspective. If so, then I wonder, when was the last time you could really fail publicly? I mean, when was the last time that you tried something, in front of people, that just might not work out? I venture to say, if you don't know how to push yourself, your idea, your product to the next level, that you need an opportunity to fail. Seek it out. It won't come to you. If you're like me, the pressure, the deadline, the judgment from within and without, just may drive you crazy. But the craziness will offer a new perspective. Daredevil stunts are always riveting, because either way, the daredevil comes out changed. Either way, there is no shame in how you walk out of a trial by fire. Of course you want to succeed. So do I, desperately. But I might not. I set myself up to potentially fail because people like to watch, including me. There's no better story than a close match, won by the underdog. Everybody relates to the underdog. But even if the underdog loses, if she's cool with it, we still feel like winners. Blooper reels are still the most reliable entertainment around. Shameless fails will always be big wins.
I chose a career with the most possible contact with failure. Considering the shy perfectionist ego at stake, today, it seems like insanity. And now, I'm pushing myself again into the most precarious position I can find - self-producing original material in the biggest and most expensive festival on earth. Why? Because taking the opportunity to fail is how I made my way out of the closet, and it's the only way I know how to step up, humbled, to meet my maker. I don't trust the safe nest of Downtown NY cabaret anymore. I need to be judged honestly by people I haven't partied with, and feel the sting of whatever rotten tomatoes come my way. And yes, everything could and will go wrong. But all my best material has always from real time accidents; I am a clown, after all. So I might as well put myself in an accident-prone position and pan for more comedy gold.
So I'm on my way to the UK (or the soon to be made independent Scotland - talk about an opportunity to fail,) where critics are armed with education and sharp wits, and audiences are armed with guides to an unseemly array of choices. I'll be reporting from the front lines of Edinburgh so you can witness my current wrestle with disaster from the comfort of the Internet. The shy American girl from the hall closet has become a showgirl. Now, will she fail or will she succeed in the UK's festival crucible? My brain says it doesn't matter. My heart says root for me. My last line says, "Where will you find your opportunity to fail?"