Monday, July 29, 2013

Eight things I learned from the Kansas City Fringe Festival

This past week found me at the Kansas City Fringe Festival, telling my story of cancer survival, mythology and bike rides, From Terror to Triumph. It was a great experience. I met hundreds of wonderful people attending fringe, many talented performers and learned a great deal about living the life of a storyteller.

So you don't make the same mistakes I did (you get to make your own) as well as for our mutual amusement and edification, here is a list of the Top 8 Things I Learned (or relearned) From The Kansas City Fringe Festival.

8. I like accosting people on the street. A big part of getting audience for your fringe show involves handing out publicity postcards on the street to people going to other shows. Turns out, this is fun! People like meeting the performers and love to talk. (If you want a copy of the postcard, I will mail them to the first 10 people who contact me. Bonus gift if you comment below on this post!) Maybe my next career is as a street side story vendor?

7. Listening counts. My street postcard pitch went something like this, "I'd like to invite you to my fringe show. It's a mythic journey through cancer and beyond. If you or someone you care about has been effected, please come." About a third of the people I said this to then told me their cancer story. The ones I listened to came to my show.

6. The definition of fringe is flexible. What defines edgy art? Does it need to have nudity? Swear words? Sometimes just being honestly playful or talking about the tough stuff makes for a powerful fringe. We bury play in work, hide the tough stuff behind admonishments to buck up. Sometimes art is fringe just because it declares itself.

5. Don't forget to feed your beast. I went to several great shows at the Fringe Festival and was reminded that making good art requires consuming good art. Don't starve yourself.

4. Practice is a good thing. Practice with listeners is better. In this case, I was practicing my story in front of an audience, running through the whole 55-minute set three times in five days. Because I am a storyteller and not confined to a word-for-word script, the story shifted each time. I loved hearing how some bits rose to the surface and others fell away as I danced with the audience. I now have a much greater understanding of the story than I did, even with many hours of solo practice behind me.

3. Be yourself. Be vulnerable. No matter what I tell, my audience is always more connected and involved if I am myself. If I'm not trying to be someone else or do something contradictory to my nature. What's more, by allowing myself to be vulnerable on stage my audience has permission to be vulnerable themselves, to experience whatever they need to while they hear the story.

2. Self-care matters. I didn't see as many other shows as I would have liked because I was worn out from performing this emotionally intense piece. That's okay. I saw enough to feed the beast and I rested enough to give my audience everything I could.

1. When you touch people, they need to touch you. I've experienced this before, certainly, but it was borne home with great power during the fringe. When you tell a story that means something to people, when you give them permission to feel strong emotions, they often need to connect with you  afterwards. It's been a long time since I've had this many people need to hug me, touch my shoulder, even cry in my arms. This is part of the storyteller's job, helping people feel what they need to feel. I believe I have a responsibility to not run away from the feelings my story may have induced.


The last thing I relearned? Gratitude. I am so grateful for the chance to tell this story to these audiences. Thank you.

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

19 comments:

  1. And you dance beautifully with audiences, Laura. I learned from my father that dancing involves listening, paying attention. "You can't follow!" he always said when he tried to dance with me. I hope, for his sake, that I've learned to do this a little.
    I wish I'd been in KC to hear your story. I would have listened.

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    1. Thank you, dear Jo. I'm looking forward to seeing you later this week. I'd also add that I think you're a helluva storydancer yourself.

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  2. I wish I could have heard your story, Laura. The very first San Diego Fringe Festival was a few weeks ago, and I saw several interesting performances and thought the entire time about what I story I could bring to the festival. Next year, maybe? I'd love to see your postcard.

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    1. Hi Marilyn! Please email me your address (laura@laurapacker.com) and I'll send your postcard and extra treat right out!
      I'd urge you to present in the Fringe. It was a lot of fun as well as a lot of work.

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  3. More than advice, you tied this together beautifully.

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    1. Thank you Sandy! It really was a powerful experience and one that helped me remember things I knew but had drifted from.

      Please email me your address if you'd like a card and a surprise!

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  4. "I believe I have a responsibility to not run away from the feelings my story may have induced." Preach.

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  5. Great advice. Wonderful observations. I would love to read your card -- send me a PDF if you're running short of the real things. I keep hesitating about this fringe thing...and something keeps nudging me toward it. Thanks for the shot of Possibility.

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    1. Happy to send it to you along w/ a bonus treat! Email me your address.

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  6. Hey, kiddo, now that the piece is dusted off, perhaps you'd like to present it as your Story Space feature in Cambridge , MA on Oct. 15th (I spell out for the benefit of those reading this who aren't you). I'm probably not alone among folks hereabouts when I say I'd love to hear it! Hugs to you & Dr. K. - Bruce

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    1. I'd love to, but it is long - 55 minutes. Is that too much?

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  7. Nope. As long as the host knows in advance, we can accommodate programs of that length.

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  8. Kansas City is really getting to know Laura Packer and I expect they are thrilled! Sounds like you gave them a very special evening.

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  9. What a gift you gave to everyone that heard your story! I'll be at the conference too! See ya soon!

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  10. I agree with the comments already here! Beautifully written, sharp and insightful, fabulous for beginners, and great reminders for those who have forgotten! I would love to be a fly on the wall of Kansas City to see what people are saying about you and your impact in such a short time there. I bet there is a great deal of talk and accolade. Bravo, a thousand times over.
    S

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.truestorieshonestlies.blogspot.com.
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