For the last three years, COVID has meant that nearly all of my performing has been in my living room with my cats as the audience, or occasionally on Zoom. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my cats, but they aren’t the best audience.
I’m sure the experience has been shared by actors, singers, comedians and others worldwide – though for many the audience may have been dogs plus Zoom. I doubt it makes much difference. The point is that we are now getting out there and discovering whether material developed in the confines of our flats, witnessed by companion animals, is likely to work somewhere like the Edinburgh Fringe.
This year will be my third attempt to cross the Atlantic from New York to Scotland. While having much longer to prepare has been a benefit in some ways there’s suddenly a lot to be learned, or relearned, pretty fast.
Until recently the biggest worry was whether Demeter Meret would invade my set, which consists of suitcases. Or her brother Lorenzo might interrupt with loud meows – insisting I let him into the closet. But that’s just changed. It’s Fringe road test time. So I have now presented free workshops in front of real live people in New York (Theater Lab) and Los Angeles (The Yard). It’s taught me an immense amount. In fact I found myself drawing up a list of differences between rehearsing at home for a feline audience and out into theatres. Initially my list was for sheer silliness, but then I realised there were serious underlying points:
Confidence: I guess everyone has doubts about whether the Edinburgh audience will enjoy their show. A cat yawning in the middle of your funniest joke doesn’t help. But applause, and flowers, after a workshop can be immensely reassuring.
Preparation: You never know if you are doing things well, but you do know if you’re doing them thoroughly. I was as thorough as possible at home but was not prepared to have my cat wake me at 3am the night before my NY show, nor for a gas leak, nor for a mouse in the house in LA. As my Alexander Technique teacher pointed out, “there’s no correlation between getting a good night’s sleep and doing a good show”. Now I have a new routine to get ready.
Tech rehearsal v showtime: When I am doing my tech rehearsal, I am not a great performer - my brain is in producer mode. This caused my team to freak out until they saw me on stage later with a real audience. Good to know.
Gratitude: I’ve been working on this show for so long that I’d become focused on just getting through all the things I have to do on stage. Doing the show for an audience allowed me to sense their energy and reaction and get to hear the lovely things people said afterward. My gratitude for the affection and support was overwhelming.
In summary, cats are incomparable companions but lousy audience members. Being out there in front of humans makes you come alive again and realise just how harsh the impact of isolation has been.