Oh hey there friends, random people who follow my blog, and my Mom!
I know it’s been a while since I’ve stretched the writing muscles, but *ahem* I’ve been a lil’ busy! Oh you know, the usual: performing comedy, sippin’ on overpriced coffee and alcohol in different countries, walking around town in a giant foam brain costume ̶
Right. About that last one.
As I would assume at least some of you weirdos who follow me know, I’ve spent the past month parading around Scotland wearing my custom brain to promote my one-woman show at the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
I know, I know. What in the actual fuck.
And it’s true, I got a lot of “wtf” looks while schlepping my gray matter up and down those cobblestone streets at all hours of the day (calm down, MOM, the taxis there are bigger and could fit my brain inside and I always, always got a taxi home past 10PM).
I’ll admit I was a bit of a freak-magnet.
I mean it’s not every day you see a lady waltzing around town in a giant brain. And if it is then you clearly live on another planet and I’m purchasing a rocket ship and going there immediately.
This lil’ baby is turning five years old next month, can you believe it? It feels like just yesterday that the words “I want a cool Halloween costume” escaped my lips in front of my architect father and crafty mother shortly after recovering from an invasive craniotomy.
When you survive something like that, you say all kinds of crazy shit.
Honestly, I was thinking like a cool T-Shirt. Maybe a hat with some funky noodles popping out of it, you know, something fun for the kids.
What followed was a civil war between my parents about how to make a costume for such an occasion. What do you make the girl who survived brain surgery? A giant foam brain, obviously. And when it came time for the festival, it was the first thing on my packing list.
It’s made it’s rounds at Halloween parties, bars, and hospitals aplenty. But never has the brain been on an adventure quite like this.
Of course, the first question was…how the fuck do you ship a giant foam brain to Scotland?
A hockey bag. Duh.
Getting it home was a different story, but we’ll get to that headache later.
Here are a choice few things I’ve learned in my past two months of performing, traveling, and frightening small children while wearing a giant brain costume. Enjoy.
I’m never really “ready” for anything.
In true Mimi-style, I did not prepare for this epic journey as much as I could have. I did a lot, to be sure. But the fact still remains that I submitted a paragraph about a show that didn’t exist to the largest theater festival in the world. That paragraph was accepted.
And then I shit my pants.
I’d never written a “one-woman” show before. I’m not talking stand-up either. I’m talking like theater.
That level of perceived prestige really scared the poop out of me.
Was I qualified to be on a stage for an entire hour with nothing but my story? How does this work? Will I have to memorize all those lines? Do I get a water break?
I actually hadn’t even seen any one-woman shows before.
So I went and saw Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag.
And then I shit my pants again.
It became clear to me in that theater that this person really knew what they were doing. And I did not. But I had approximately 90 days to figure it out.
I “finished” my show on the airplane ride over to Scotland.
And even then it wasn’t done and I wasn’t ready.
My show was about twenty minutes too long and I hadn’t memorized any of the lines.
I’d performed it once in New York before leaving to twelve people (more on audience size later!) and did well but looked at my script pretty much the whole time.
None of that shit mattered in the end though because I found my way.
I marked up my script until it was basically just a bunch of black scribbles on the page. I booked out a rehearsal room and rehearsed to myself the three days leading up to my first show. I marked it up more. I panicked. I held my script on stage the first week.
And then slowly, day after day, I needed the script less and less, until finally, I chucked it in my bag backstage.
I wasn’t ready. You never fucking are. Get over it and do it anyway.
It’s always good to lower expectations.
I know that sounds like something I wouldn’t say, but hear me out for a sec.
I didn’t go to Fringe thinking I’d be the next Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She started out there, as a lot of celebrities have. Her one-woman show Fleabag was turned into a hit TV show and propelled her into big bad-ass movie roles and international fame.
As much as I wanted to entertain that fantasy for myself, I didn’t want to go there. That was a lot of pressure for someone who was literally still completing the show the day before the first performance.
After doing some light research and hearing from other performers that Fringe was a slog, I decided I would just survive it.
On a very basic level, I would be alive by the end of it.
That sounds pretty apocalyptic, but you should read these Fringe blogs these days, my god.
And they’re all true.
“It’s not rewarding.”
“It was totally worth it.”
“It ruined my life.”
All these things and more have been said about the Fringe and they happened to all of us. Sometimes I felt all these things at the same time.
“And so it goes.”
I did better than I thought (but actually).
My plan was to survive, right. And in my opinion I barely hauled my decrepit bones out of the trenches.
It turns out I did exceptionally better than I realized at the time.
The average Fringe audience is three people. Yes. 3. 1-2-3 human beings.
Why so wee?
8,000 shows and 500 venues in the course of a month, that’s why so wee.
So the struggle wasn’t so much getting accepted to the festival, but actually bringing a crowd and also everything else.
And it was exceptionally difficult for me considering my “venue” and time slot, arguably the worst combination to exist in Fringe.
I put “venue” in quotes because it was actually just a fucking warehouse built in god knows what century with sewage issues and faulty lighting. And I’m not talking the cool, hipster kind either.
The first time I hauled my brain up to my room in the building I thought someone had surely been murdered there. If not, multiple people. Maybe this was where those cults all committed suicide at the same time in the 70s.
It was fucking bleak.
And here was the glorious location of my one-woman show. In a squat little room with a makeshift stage with a gaping hole in the back (that I promptly fell off of), forty dusty old office chairs, and two desk laps for stage lights.
This is surely where dreams (and people) go to die, I thought.
My first show I had an audience of 4. The next day I had 10. And then for the duration of the run I had anywhere from 2-8 people until my last show in which I had 15.
I really thought this was a failure until I remembered the average.
And considering my “venue” I was actually shocked when anyone came in at all without turning and running in the opposite direction.
One time the lights in the whole building were still off when I came in ten minutes before showtime. I opened the door to the room to find a 20-something couple happily waiting for me in pitch darkness.
“HOW DID YOU FIND ME HERE.” I said like I was on some true crime show.
I also got two 4-star reviews, a “Very Good Show” rating, features in two medical journals, and a mention in a newsletter for the biggest brain injury group in the UK. I got compared to Amy Poehler.
And I never had to cancel a show due to lack of a crowd.
The “venue” did close down for a day due to a backup of sewage…ohhhh THAT was fun! Try explaining that to a hopeful audience member!
“Hey do you want to see my show tomorrow?! You can’t see it today because they are currently pumping literal turds out of the building but I promise it will be all sorted tomorrow! I just got a 4-star review that says I’m charming AF!”
It took me a while to see just how well I did. It certainly didn’t feel that way. I kind of doubted Queen Amy had ever performed in such a grim place. I brought 72 books to Scotland thinking I’d sell out no problem. I sold 15. Again, that’s actually fucking great. But playing the numbers game can really make you question your worth and success.
I also had an epic stress-induced meltdown about two and a half weeks into the festival. It was after our family dog Tucker passed away rather unexpectedly and I was having a really hard time.
Keep in mind that Tucker is actually in my show. Multiple times.
I even impersonate him.
And I had to do that shit every fucking day knowing he was gone without bursting into tears.
I’m a god damn champion.
But finally I broke. And when I did, Mom and Dad were on Skype to listen to me blubber about how hard it was and that it wasn’t fair and he wasn’t supposed to die and nobody was giving a shit about me or my “art” in my stupid fucking “venue” every damn day ̶
I was crying so loud that my lovely hosts Laura and Doug came in and asked if I was OK and came to chat with me, bless their fucking hearts.
“Honestly,” Laura said in her posh British accent. “I’m surprised you didn’t break sooner. I’m exhausted and I’m not even in the festival.”
I loved that she said that. It showed me just how resilient I was and am still.
I didn’t just survive. I crushed.
I’m a really fucking good storyteller.
I can’t say I ever felt exceptionally talented at acting at a young age. I certainly never professionally trained or got some fancy degree. I loved the stage, but I never really got the roles I wanted and always felt bitter or jealous about someone else’s level of skill or naturally straight, fluff-free hair.
Well, good news is that when I did my one-woman show the cast was me, myself, and I!
And from what I’ve heard (cuz I obviously haven’t seen a lot myself lol), one-person shows can be utter disasters if the person isn’t at least marginally talented at storytelling, acting, and so on.
I guess it helps that I’ve been writing, telling, and molding this story for five years in as many mediums as is allowed per person*
*How many art-forms are you allowed to dabble in before you sound like a psychopath? I mean, come on, we all know Steve the DJ-podcaster-playwright-clown-poet-chef is out of his damn mind.
When it came time to write the actual script for the show I propped the book up on my knees and went through and basically found all the parts I liked that I thought could look funny on stage. When I was feeling exceptionally lazy I even plagiarized myself (HA…take THAT English teachers of my past!).
But you can’t just read a book on a stage and call it a one-woman show. That’s called a book reading. And those are awful no matter who the fuck you are.
So this required a bit of craftswomanship. And the help of two directors I hired to listen to my really lengthy and confusing script for several weeks until I figured out what the hell I was trying to say (Thank you Neal and Ilana!)
Eventually I did.
And the result was an entire month (except for The Shit Evacuation Day) of performances where I emptied my heart on that “stage” and made people feel things; laughter, tears, hope, fear, all of it.
I did that.
A lot of people wanted to talk to me (and some didn’t).
I wish I would have worn a Go-Pro strapped to my head because man did I get some interactions to write home about!
I wish I could remember all of them. I would say 3 out of every 10 were just drunk people fondling me.
But those other 7/10 tended to very fulfilling interactions.
Lots of therapists. Some nurses. PhD candidates. A science journalist. Terrified or curious children. A pack of about 20 Asians who watched me deliver a ladybug safely off my brain and onto a nearby leaf. It was quite the performance piece, I must say.
But truthfully, I had the most amazing conversations wearing that thing. When drunk dudes weren’t shouting at me that I looked like a giant ballsack, I really had quite a good time.
A lot of people wanted to tell me about their own brain injuries or the injuries of friends or family of theirs. Some had passed. Some survived. All had stories. They wanted to share something with me over this big weird brain. Even though several layers of spray painted foam separated me from these complete strangers, I felt closer to these people than I ever thought possible.
It made schlepping the damn thing around all the time worth it. It really did.
I mean I could have done without the drunk girl grabbing it from the ground behind me and trying to put it on her fucking head, but we’re all just lucky I’m not in a Scottish jail for first-degree murder cuz bitch, YOU TOUCH MY BRAIN I WILL SMACK YOU SO HARD YOU WILL TASTE LAST FRINGE FESTIVAL.
Shipping a giant foam brain to the states while you travel around the world is not cheap.
I don’t want to talk about it, OK.
No really. I said I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT GET OFF MY DICK.
But you know what it was worth it cuz I anticipate being YouTube famous in approximately a few weeks cuz someone finally caught my sexy brain on camera and he’s some big YouTuber with a million followers or some shit.
We made it, Mom and Dad.
Sorry I had to leave the hockey bag in Scotland. I’ll pick out a nice one for Dad and give it to him for Christmas and I promise I won’t also leave that one in Scotland.
Travel is the fuel for the soul.