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My Fringe Nightmare (Part One)

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In early April I woke up from a familiar nightmare. I’ve been having the same recurring dream pretty much since Fringe registration closed back in March, a dream with varying specifics, but always the same scenario. In some versions it’s the first day of the Fringe, I’m walking through the streets of Edinburgh, taking things in, checking out the posters and familiar sights, and then it hits me: I don’t have a show! My poster is up, it’s advertising The Rap Guide to Human Nature in bold letters, plastered with positive reviews from last year, but as I search myself I realize with mounting horror that I haven’t written a word in preparation. I’m going to have to just step on stage on day one and wing it. What am I supposed to be talking about again? Evolutionary psychology? That’s heavy stuff. Oh man, I am going to die on my ass! In other versions of the dream I’m actually backstage, just about to step in front of a big crowd for my first show, and the same realization dawns, with the same sense of panic. And in yet other versions I’m performing, rapping and cracking jokes about human nature, fully aware that I’ve blown it and have no script. Then I wake up, look at my phone for the time, and the date, and breathe a sigh of mingling relief and anxiety: four months left to write it, no worries.

The squeeze that induces these dreams is the strange situation where venues will sign up known acts without seeing a script. I used to have to submit my material in advance (which meant the writing deadline was the registration deadline), but not anymore. Now I can just say: “I have a new show” and submit the reviews from my previous show, and viola, my name in lights (or at least in the Fringe catalogue). Of course, I didn’t actually have a new show until the past few weeks. The first words of Human Nature were written on the coach on the way home from Glastonbury back in July, and the last words were written about ten days ago, and that’s the just the fixed, scripted lyrics of the songs (about two thirds of the show). The rest of it is improvised. I detailed the reason for this late start in a previous post, and it has to do with my strange genre, which mixes comedy with science and rap, each of which have their own time demands (researching and recording).

Well, on day one of the Fringe, Wednesday, there were moments that resembled the dream and moments that diverged. Obviously I actually do have a script, but there were definitely awkward moments and moments where I was fraffing away while thinking “shit, what’s the next section again?” Good thing I have a great DJ on stage with me who holds me down like a rock. Jamie cues the records when I’m losing my way, and even tells me “Mate, you talk too much” when I talk too much, which I definitely do sometimes (plus it gets a laugh). The first show was ramshackle, but stepping off stage I at least felt assured that it was not going to be like my nightmare, that I did have a lot of great material in the show, and that I would not be stranded alone in front of a hostile crowd (thanks in no small part to Jamie on the decks). The shows were not very professional, but they were a good basis to build from, revising daily (performance, feedback, revision). And in today’s show we finally hit our stride, but I’ll save that for the next post, which will also include the most fascinating variations on the dream, the rare ones in which I’m kicking ass, even thought I have no material. These represent the El Dorado of dreams, but for now it’s late and I have my first Rapconteur show tomorrow, so I’d rather go prospecting than keep writing. The Fringe is getting good.

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