Let Them Eat Cake

Life as an artist during the Fringe.

The saying, “You can’t have your cake and eat it,” is wrong. You can have your cake and eat it. In fact this is exactly how the general procedure of consuming confectionery goes. One procures a cake, it is in their possession, and then it is eaten post-haste. The correct expression of this proverb is, “You can’t eat your cake and have it,” because once you have consumed your cake, it’s on the way down your gullet. So by definition and standards of good taste, it cannot be eaten again. The cake is gone. Somehow the syntax of this saying has reversed in popular use, and here we are, confused, collectively muttering illogical proverbs with our fingers covered in chocolate icing. But how does this relate to being a practicing artist during the festival season? Hold your horses, we’ll get there. Doing creative work the rest of the year is hit and miss. Adelaide loses the critical mass of punters that it gains during festival season and far fewer people will go out of their way to see shows. Unless you’re working for the State Theatre Company, putting a show on in August almost always results in mass texts, emails and Facebook invitations to friends, acquaintances and family members. ‘Please come and see my show. It’s good, I promise! Look at this review! 3.5 stars! Come along, it will be like Fringe again!’ Beware the man in the bar with a tinge of desperation in his eyes and a stack of A5 glossy flyers beside his pint. He is an actor, and those flyers that end up as pocket chum in the washing machine were half the show’s budget. Yet in Fringe time, you will get punters. The promotional surge is always there and always important. But if the show gets a good review, you won’t have to strain friendships to build an audience. You might even sell out. You might even get paid. Most Fringe shows don’t make any money. Most hardly break even, and the ones that do make money will pay their performers far below any semblance of a minimum wage. When you take into account the hours that go into creating a theatre performance, stand-up set, dance show or art exhibition, we would make more money asking people for bus fare on King William for the same amount of time. It wouldn’t be as enjoyable, but you could probably afford your rent at the end of the week. The joy of creating is key though. No-one local in the Fringe is really thinking about making cash at the end of it. The idea that people will attend, you might get a nice review (Sweet validation! They love me! You were wrong, Dad! I’m a star!) and that you’re a part of something larger is enough. This brings us to the cruellest irony of being a part of the Fringe. The performers who are so busy in the festival season are exactly the people who see shows for the rest of the year after the buzz has subsided. But, like a grossly overweight chef devoting his time and attention to making a delicious soufflé while his customers chow down on lamingtons, Berliners and lemon tarts, we can’t consume all of the fantastic work on show, because we’re too busy making our own. Of course, once a show’s run is over, performers get out there and exploit their artist passes for free seats at shows, cheap beer and entry to the debaucherous dance floor of the Fringe Club. Yet, this is only a slice of the world that the rest of the public has inhabited for weeks already. Sometimes this irony convinces actors to abstain from taking part in Fringe projects. They save their money, and eschew the stage to sit in the audience and watch shows. For the rest of the year, they do independent and amateur projects, hit up auditions and work somewhere in the hospitality industry, but in the festival season they’re free to see whatever they like. Too often that freedom becomes exile from the creative exploits you’re witnessing. The mind wanders and you think to yourself, ‘God, I’d love to be up there. I’ll do something like this next year. We’ll have six actors sitting onstage at a bus-stop and one of them has a heart attack…’ Even when you’re watching someone’s work, you think about what you could be doing and what you should have been doing this time around. The camaraderie enjoyed by the hordes of artists in the festival season is fantastic, and an awful thing to miss out on too. All manner of ticket swaps, networking and unpublishable exchanges take place. For so many of us, this is the icing on the cake – being caught up in a swelling community of artists, frantically working to produce and witness as much work as they can before the tents come down, the streets open back up and the audience goes home all too soon. Life as an artist during Fringe time is a double-edged sword. Time that would normally be spent seeing the brilliant shows that won’t be here for another year is spent on your own endeavours, plying your trade at the sprawling bake sale that the festival has become. Yet, if you were to forget your creative aspirations and settle into a seat three rows back, you might get to eat a bunch of delicious tiramisu, but you wouldn’t have much to show for it at the end aside from some sticky fingers and the desire to slip into a nice, novelty apron and get ready for next year. John Dexter appeared in the Fringe production Now We Can Talk, which won a Fringe Award for Best Theatre last week.

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