Ben Abbott is the Outreach Coordinator and a Program Advisor for Performing Arts Abroad. He is also a professional actor and playwright. He has performed his award-winning solo show Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity in dozens of venues around the country in Fringe Festivals, special engagements, and on tour.
Some of you may remember a few months ago I wrote about taking my one-man show to a few fringe festivals. For those of you who don’t…I recently took my one-man show to a few fringe festivals around the country, including the New York Frigid Fringe.
While I was in NYC I had a long phone call with my wife as I walked from the Lincoln Center down Broadway through Times Square to the East Village where I had a performance that night. It was on that long walk, during that conversation that she and I decided to organize a western states tour of my show.
There were a number of factors going into that decision of course. We would be moving that summer, and we had friends all over the west coast who had expressed interest in seeing the show. As we talked about maybe stopping in one place to visit/perform the show and then another, the idea took shape. “Why don’t we just do it? Let’s just do a whole tour!”
Now that that 15-city, 20-performance tour has wrapped up, there are a few things I have learned.
You don’t need someone else’s permission to make art.
I touched on this idea with my last post about fringe festivals, but it became even clearer while out on tour. I had to pinch myself again and again every time I took the stage that this was actually happening. We weren’t hired to do this. I didn’t audition and get cast by an established theater company. I just decided to do it, made the necessary preparations and voila, we made Theatre.
I recently heard an interview with Mike Myers (of SNL, Wayne’s World, and Austin Powers fame) wherein he said, “They say all you need to have theatre is two planks and an audience. SO what are you waiting for, go to [the hardware store] and get yourself a couple of planks. “
It takes more work that you can possibly imagine.
I knew this going into it, but it’s one of those paradox loops where you know you have to expect the unexpected, but you can’t know what the unexpected will be, because then it would be expected.
I knew that I would look back at the end of the tour and kick myself for the mistakes I would make along the way. I knew I would shake my head in retrospect at my own ignorance and naiveté. I knew all this and I was ok with it, because that’s how you learn and advance in life. The next time I decide to do a tour, you can bet I will do some things differently. I have such a better sense of what kind of marketing works and what doesn’t, what kind of venues are worth more than others, and what kind of schedule is reasonable versus what will lead to burnout.
As I ran into all of these, um, we’ll call them “learning experiences” it would have been easy to get discouraged or frustrated, but instead I reminded myself that this was half the reason I was doing the tour in the first place. And that leads me to my last point.
Take the first step, commit, and just do it.
Remember that long walk back in New York City where we decided to do the tour? If we had known then the amount of work that that decision would mean, I’m not sure we would have done it. Likewise, if we had waited to know everything we needed to know it almost certainly wouldn’t have happened because the only way to learn it was to dive on and do it.
I go back to that long walk in NYC because that’s when the ball started rolling. That’s the moment that the tour began. Everything after that was just a matter of executing, and it came a step at a time. “OK, we need places to perform so we need to do this, and this and this. We need to get people to come, so we need to do this, then this, then this.” It all fell into place because of that vision we had and commitment we made with each other over the phone while I walked down Broadway on a crisp February evening. It was just one foot in front of the other until all of a sudden we were on stage in Laramie, Wyoming, or driving from Seattle to Portland, or taking a bow in front of a standing ovation in Mesa, Arizona and we said “whoa. Look at where we are! Look at what we’re doing!”
And thank heavens we didn’t know how hard it would be because looking back we wouldn’t trade it for anything. True, we didn’t know what stress and hardships would be involved (I mean, at least we knew we didn’t know, so I guess that’s something) but we didn’t know how amazing it would be either. We couldn’t. We figured it would be pretty cool, but we just had no concept of how life changing and wonderful it would be.
So how does this relate to Performing Arts Abroad?
Doing a program abroad is a big commitment. There are questions you won’t know the answers to until after you’ve returned home. There’s a considerable amount of time, money, and effort involved—in both the program itself as well as in the preparation. But it all starts with a single and simple step: deciding to do it. There’s nothing wrong with gathering all the information you can before making a commitment, but at the end of the day, clicking that “apply now” button is always, ALWAYS going to be an act of faith. But once you take that step, everything else is just a matter of execution. One foot in front of the other (and it helps that you’ve got us to help you every step of the way so you don’t have to invent the wheel like I did.) And then one day you’ll find yourself walking down the street in Rome on your way to your internship and you’ll say, “Whoa. Look at where I am! Look at what I’m doing!” The difference between someone who finds herself in that situation versus someone who doesn’t is much smaller than you might think. It’s the difference of taking the first step and the pathway leads from there.