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Diary of a woman on the edge of a fringe festival opening

Days until opening: 15

Expenses so far: approx. $4208 covers venue hire, video content and prop production

Tickets sold: 106

Tickets need to sell to break even: 210

“It’s a beast of a play, who on earth is going to put it on?” an experienced director-friend asked me a couple of months ago. Swallows, um me. With just two weeks to go before the said play, Woman Implodes, is launched from the stage at the Mechanics Institute as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, the reality of what I’ve done is setting in and so is waking up with a bowel-scraping fear. Let’s hope I don’t become the Imploding Woman of the title.

When I wrote the play, a story of a working mother who struggles to fit everything in and loses her shit in an earth-shattering, time-altering kind of way, I didn’t restrict myself by considering how it might actually be performed or how I would fund it, otherwise I would end up with a solo show in a black box and a $2 sparkly hat as a prop.

Instead, I’ve channelled Steven Spielberg with a science fiction plot that requires a jet-pack, a rocket, and a drone, not to mention 17 characters including three children, sharp shifts in time across three locations, and 91 audiovisual cues. Now, some of this is my fearless director, Paul’s challenge to deal with, but as I’ve decided to produce it, some of it – namely the props, costumes, multimedia and marketing – is now squarely mine and so is the budget or lack thereof.

I did try to find sponsorship for the play – I even offered to include some in situ marketing opportunities for a cereal brand. “The mother character could hold your cereal box aloft and say: ‘This is the best cereal I’ve ever eaten’.” I’ve got no artistic principles, for $500 I would have made my characters say pretty much anything.  After several sponsorship proposal knockbacks I realised the title of my show mightn’t have been the most appealing from a brand alignment perspective. Perhaps I should have called it “Woman is satisfied and happy because of her excellent hygiene products”. So now I’m trying to make Avatar on a Clerks budget

Finding props has become easier since we decided to go for a B-grade sci-fi movie theme. It’s amazing what you can do with cardboard scavenged from the back of an electrical appliances shop, kilometres of aluminium foil and polystyrene.

Eat your heart out Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Fringe prop shopping requires a savant-like knowledge of the particular stock holdings at all $2 shops within a 15-kilometre radius, not to mention an innate olfactory resilience to the toxic smell of plastic off-gassing, and also a willingness to venture into the unknown – sex shops, for example, are often good for costumes and accessories – or maybe it’s just the sort of shows I create.

Instead of having child actors on stage, we’re using fake children on wheels.

One thing I have decided to invest in this year is venue. This is the first time I’ve had a show in a real theatre and I want to make the most of it.  My first two plays, Sakura Mansions,  Death and Downsizing, were upstairs at a bar down a bin-lined back street in Chinatown. Halfway through each show, the DJ below kicked off a sturdy drum and bass set that made the seats vibrate, and the actors had to shout their way to the finale. The shows were also punctuated by drunken downstairs patrons barging through the door and onto the makeshift stage demanding to use the toilets.

My next two plays (Dead Squared and Kindness of Stranglers) were in an exhibition space upstairs at a bar-restaurant on Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. The nightly fee was minimal and the space was a good size, but there was just the small issue of the manager’s over-zealous booking system. One night we turned up to discover she’d booked in a 21st birthday party. And then there was an evening we competed with the relentless shrieks of “It’s a penis and a straw” from a hens’ night directly below. So having a dedicated theatre space with real seats and a fixed lighting system is a precious opportunity I don’t want to squander.

Multimedia is the other production element to which I’ve devoted energy and funds. AV adds a layer of complexity but it solves some of our dilemmas. For example, instead of having child actors on stage, we’re using fake children on wheels while we project footage of real children in the background.

kids web

Last week we filmed theoretical astrophysicist Dr Katie Mack (pictured below) for a cameo as herself, explaining some of the science behind the premise of the play. Or what I assumed was the science – as it turns out I wasn’t quite right.

“As you guessed I might, I did find some technical anomalies,” wrote Dr Mack after I sent her the script. “The only thing that really matters for the story is that I don’t think the moving-the-Moon-farther-away thing would work.” Hmmm that would be the main tenet of my plot. After sending me some mind-blowingly cool suggestions of epic sci-fi proportions to fix it, she suggested we just film a disclaimer, which we did the day after she was filmed in discussion with Brian Cox and a couple of days after she tweeted an internet-breaking rebuttal to a climate-change denier – no doubt we were the highlight of her week.

Untitleddrweb

Due to the work and family commitments of the cast – and, heck, the fact I’m not paying them, we’re working on a profit-share arrangement – rehearsals have only been once a week for the past couple of weeks. But with just over two weeks until opening it’s time to step it up. And, hopefully, get all the lines down!

We’ve booked rehearsal time at the venue, as until this point, we’ve been stepping the play out in my lounge room to save on costs. I guess rehearsing in a room crammed with laundry, half-constructed Lego restaurants, my husband’s record collection and my three kids, peering intently and memorising all the swearing,  is akin to some form of extreme Scandinavian method acting.

As we race towards September 13, I have two pressing concerns. One, what to do about a stage manager; and two, getting bums on seats. Firstly to the stage manager, an individual with the ability to creep, Scooby Doo-style, around in the dark without tripping, is naturally hard to find.

For months I’ve tried everything to find a stage manager – advertising, contacting drama schools, begging friends – short of lurking around the Victorian College of the Arts with a big cartoon-style net.  I would do it myself, but I am already running the multimedia. I have a terrible feeling I’m going to end up doing both – piffing stun guns and flying drones from the AV desk. I’d better get practising with my throwing arm.

Marketing your show is tough in a festival with more than 400 events – how do you stand out and capture your own audience? During the festival, the town hall steps are crammed with a combination of professional promoters handing out flyers and the artists themselves.

I’ve decided to take a different approach and hit school newsletters, parenting bloggers and run Facebook ads. I’ve also sent out some lunchboxes with media releases inside to female radio presenters. Again, I should have rethought the name of my play – I’m not sure how women feel about receiving a parcel from “Woman Implodes” – I hope they haven’t all been sent to some special section of Australia Post for suspicious packages.

Promoting your own show is a constant see-saw of relief and fear. Relief when someone says they’re going to buy a ticket, particularly for Saturday night when we currently have zero audience. Fear because you know how unprepared you still are for an audience. Relief when one of the school parents says they’re bringing a group. Fear when you remember you haven’t worked out how to run the AV without the screensaver of your holiday to Noosa being projected between clips. The adrenaline is certainly surging.

To see Woman Implodes visit www.melbournefringe.com.au

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