Last week—in my report on Dezi Gallegos’ new show, ‘Yesterday Again’—I spent a lot of time talking about newness, originality, world premieres, fresh spins on old themes… You know.. Stuff we haven’t seen before.
Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about this, in part because this week marks the one-year-anniversary of my trip to Scotland, where I presented fourteen performances of my own theatrical enterprise, the one-man-show ‘Wretch Like Me.’ Going to Scotland, a land where so much is so old, was nevertheless like a full-immersion baptism in the new, the original, the never-been-seen-before.
I was there for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where something like 2,500 shows were taking place all over the city during that three-week period. In Edinburgh, walking down the street during festival time is like watching a battle between the new, the newer, and the newest. Some mornings, I’d put up a new poster for my show, stapling it a pillar already covered with posters, and people would actually stop to look my new poster… Until the next theater artist came along—sometimes less than a minute later—to slap their own, even newer poster up on that pillar right on top of mine.
That’s a perfect summation of what the festival is like… A feeding frenzy, one that extends beyond the hoards of theater artists trying to woo audience members into their particular show, and also includes those very audience members, because in Edinburgh—at all Fringe Theater Festivals, in fact, including the San Francisco Fringe happening again this September in the City—people show up eager to see something new. They want to be surprised. They want to be shocked. They want to have their socks blown off by the sheer novelty of seeing something no one has ever seen before, to be amongst the first to be exposed to a new talent, a new script, and new idea, or a new spin on an old idea.
I managed to see about 30 shows while I was there, and not all of them were good, but some were unforgettable, and if the price of seeing a great play I’ll never forget is to see one or two that I’d like to forget as quickly as possible… Well, I’ll pay it, because that’s the way the world works, isn’t it?
Yes, I know. The safe and the comfortable do have their place.
One thing I’ll never forget is watching a hundred people fill the lobby before my show began every day, only to watch the majority of them file, not into my show, but into a production of Alice in Wonderland happening in the theater across the lobby. Another hit show was an adaptation of Oliver Twist, reinterpreted and set in Nazi Germany during World War II. A bit of the old with a new… twist.
I get it. I saw some of those shows.
But watching something you are familiar with, and walking out having gotten exactly what you expected, as reassuring as that is, is nothing compared to the thrill of walking into a show about which you know nothing, and being blown away but something that took you places you didn’t even know you wanted, or needed, to go.
What if we somehow could sustain that Festival State-of-mind for the rest of the year, right here in Sonoma County, all of us eagerly reading the calendar listings to see what’s opening at one of our many Bay Area theaters, scanning the page to see what’s new and exciting—or what’s old in an exciting new way—taking a chance and throwing ourselves into the unexpected mystery of adventure that defines the theatrical experience.
I know that would be good for the many theater artists who work to bring you something new every week. And for you, who knows? It just might change your life.
So why not plan to see some theater this weekend. Do it. The new, the old, and the new-and-old, it’s all waiting at a theater near you.