My first night of discograffiti - my new show, now playing in Brighton - was something of a baptism of fire for me. Don't get me wrong. I have done first nights before and I had a reasonably decent set of expectations on audience number and response (some might even say retaliation) to my material. However, it was the unexpected things which made my first night into the ultimate challenge to keep my hair on.
The story unfolded undramatically at first. Unlike last year, where I managed to arrive at the venue minus some rather important equipment, the physical side of setting up in the venue was a doddle. I arrived before the previous show was even starting, enabling me to store my stuff in the relative safety of the room in which the show would be happening. Then I went downstairs to compose my thoughts, read my script and generally prepare for the evening ahead.
I had no presales. This was not a surprise to me. I have serious doubts that The Brighton Fringe is worth doing unless you are Brigton based, or have a loyal Brighton following. That said, it is worth doing from the point of view of running in a new show, so game on.
I knew from last year that flyering within the venue woud be enough to recruit a small audience, so that is exactly what I did.
I am an equal opportunities flyer hander outer. I will offer you the chance to see my show no matter what your station in life. One especially vulnerable seeming couple took a flyer and I concluded that they were possibly too drunk and broke to bother coming upstairs, but that was fine.
Just before the show was due to start - it started late because the audience were being all Brighton about the concept of time - the bloke from this odd couple approached me and asked about my two for one ticket offer. I repeated the offer and he said he was coming.
While I had made the small audience sit at the front, I allowed this couple to go to the back of the room, reasoning that they would probable be safe and sound out of the way. I asked my show helper to charge them, but told her not to move them. I think she misunderstood as she did neither, and I wasn't that fussed about making a scene over it. Perhaps if we had made a fuss of charging and moving them they would have been more under the spell of the show than they proved to be.
Some of the show's material was both untested and under-rehearsed. While some might say you shouldn't inflict this on a paying audience, I would counter that the audience were in for half price and half the show was pretty tried and tested. Also, I am lovely and worth seeing... and this was put to the acid test.
Getting momentum in the first section was difficult as the drunk couple at the back kept chipping in. This wasn't the only factor as my recent rewrites would bear witness to. However, it really didn't help. I managed to stay pleasant, working the heckles into jokes and stopping the show when the bloke had a coughing fit, to see if everything was ok. What I got back was playful banter, but disruptive nonetheless and clearly out to steal focus. It wasn't helping the show and the paying audience were not enjoying the interruptions.
Halfway through the show I stopped and told the couple that enough was enough. I said that I had tried my best to be nice to them, but that they were disrupting the show. They were welcome to stay, despite not having paid, but only if they stopped this behaviour. They had to choose between staying and behaving themselves or leaving.
They had a little argument between themselves but eventually left. During this time I didn't perform or particularly pay attention. We just waited for them to leave.
As the door shut on them I improvised a quick four bar song on how awkward the whole things had been. It got a laugh, we moved on.
I had to skip a major banker within the script, partly for time, and partly because I knew it worked and was really there to test the other material. The show didn't really ever recover. It already needed work, and the early audience problems had pretty much fatally wounded it. On top of that there was music leaking into the microphone channel from somewhere else, just quietly, but removing any dignity I might have had left.
We packed away and had a post-show drink where I asked my show helper to look out for certain bits of material to see if they would get a laugh the next time.
So to bed.
I managed to keep my energy levels up, reasoning that this sort of experience was a one off and that there were some positives one could take from the situation. My hotel room was in Worthing, so I journeyed the 30 or so minutes there, listening to a rather fine podcast, the Answer Me This podcast. Very good.
My hotel was closed for the night.
I rang the bell. I rang the phone. I even spoke to some other residents, but there was no point in them letting me in, since I didn't know which room was mine.
I kept my temper.
Then I travelled around Worthing looking for hotels that were open and had rooms. That killed an hour. So I asked the last hotel where a nearby services might be found so I could try the hotel there. The Premier Inn in Littlehampton was the obvious candidate. I rang the booking line who told me "sorry, there is noone available to take your call and you can't leave a message". Twats.
I drove there on spec. Someone was around and booked me in... into their Bognor Regis branch.
Eventually, still with a calm voice and a smile on my face, I checked in at Bognor Regis. Nice room, good wifi, comfy bed. Result.
How I didn't have a massive sense of humour failure is anyone's guess. I suppose I'd already been pushed to the max and just kept on surviving. The show the next night would be, and was, a lot better.