An Idiot at FronteraFest
Diary of getting a homegrown 25-minute play onto the stage for Austin's biggest annual performance festival
Full disclosure: I can be an idiot sometimes. I make rash decisions, I procrastinate like you wouldn't believe, and I have ideas that turn out terribly. All of this was proven thoroughly as I prepared a 25-minute piece for the 2017 edition of FronteraFest, the annual performance event at Hyde Park Theatre. Here's a diary of that experience.
May 12: An artist I've worked with in the past – we'll call her Rococo – emails me asking if I'd like to do something at FronteraFest 2017. I happen to have a short two-person play I've been wanting to workshop, so I'm all, "Sure!" I'm only working part time, so I have time to make it happen. I ask my ride-or-die bestie (henceforth called Sassafras) to play the other role, and she says yes.
Oct. 28: I have not thought about FronteraFest in months when I get an email from Rococo: "Just making sure you're still doing this." I confirm. Though my part-time gig has blossomed into a temporary full-time gig, I'm still certain I can pull it all off.
Dec. 5: Sassafras and I do a quick read-through of the play, which takes place in a trailer park at dusk. I want to build an RV with a door – which I think I can do with a white canvas wardrobe model from IKEA. I'll use Christmas lights to create constellations inside the RV, and as the sun sets in the show, the stars will literally come out. I'm confident I will have time to make all of this happen, because my temporary full-time gig should be ending in the next week.
Dec. 6: My temporary full-time gig is offered to me as a permanent full-time gig, and I accept. It'll be a little crazy, but I still feel confident I can pull this off. Maybe.
Dec. 18-Jan. 16: I am settling in at my job, which is eating up a lot of time. There's also holiday madness, including but not limited to an epic road trip, way too much food, and a goat farm. Sassafras and I have yet to rehearse, but I'm sure it's going to be fine.
Jan. 19: First rehearsal. I reiterate my IKEA wardrobe RV idea. I'm certain I can engineer it to work and it'll be spectacular. We will do the build the night before tech.
Jan. 24: I am starting to panic about the show. I feel I may be in way over my head. I call my friend Brianna almost in tears.
"I'm an idiot," I say.
"No, you're not," Brianna shoots back.
"I've done a lot of stupid things."
"Lynn, you don't have to be an idiot to do stupid things."
"Thanks. Fair warning. I'm writing about this. I might reference our conversation."
"Cool," says Brianna. "Call me something good, like Brianna or Tianna."
"I will," I say. I am still uneasy.
Jan. 27: The night before tech. I head to Sassafras' house to pull an all-night rehearsal/set build/prop fabricationpalooza. The living room looks like the scene of a tent murder – poles and nylon everywhere. I now realize I had an incredibly poor idea.
Instead of rehearsing, we end up catching up, knocking back some whiskey, and ordering 40 hot wings. We talk and laugh late into the night. We fall asleep upstairs in the loft, because something has died in the walls of Sassafras' master bedroom – resulting in a trench foot-like stank.
Jan. 28: In the morning, we rehearse, scrape together one last set idea (a thin wooden board wrapped in Christmas lights and hung with paper background), then run to the dollar store for last-minute props.
In the theatre lobby, I'm hastily throwing on my costume when Sassafras gasps.
"What?" I say.
"Oh, shit," Sassafras whispers. "I forgot the CD."
My heart stops.
"The sound cues? Fucking really?"
"Nope, it's right here." Sassafras giggles. "Gotcha."
We show the stagehands the piece of wood and ask if they can duct tape it to the wall. They say they can only use painter's tape. We try to stick the board to the wall with painter's tape. It doesn't work. So we scrap our set. We set light and sound cues and run the show as best we can. I try to stay present, but all I can think is how I've ruined our set because I'm an idiot.
Back at Sassafras' place, I am mortified to do the piece on a blank stage. I tell Pete, Sassafras' husband, that I need a way to indicate a trailer park without trailer-like objects onstage. He suggests a sign for an RV park. I am stunned by his brilliance.
Jan. 30: I wake up with a fever, and I'm sore and exhausted. I call in sick to work. I cancel rehearsal.
Jan. 31: I am sweating and shivering, I'm running a fever, and I can't sleep enough. I call in sick again. I cancel rehearsal again.
Feb. 1: I'm still shaky and sweaty. I call in sick. I ask Sassafras if she can come over so we can at least run lines. She says she can't stand up for more than 10 minutes without breaking into a sweat. We cancel rehearsal.
Rococo asks for a blurb for publicity. I text her a short synopsis. She texts back: "Are you spelling it Madea on purpose?"
I try to text back, "No, it's Medea," but autocorrect changes it to Madea right in front of my eyes. I try again, and the same thing happens. "OMG AUTOCORRECT IS CHANGING IT," I text back.
Rococo sends a "laughing so hard I'm crying" emoji. Medea is the Greek immortal my play is about, and Madea is a Tyler Perry character. This could cause mass confusion.
Feb. 2: The day before production. I go to work, and even though I'm only running at 50%, it's good to be back. Sassafras makes it over around 6pm. She grabs my idea book and starts sketching out the sign, which is now pretty much our entire set.
"That's my idea book," I say.
"Yeah. It's only for ideas. Don't draw dicks in it or anything."
We run lines as Sassafras sketches. When we're done, I look down at my idea book, and she's drawn a pretty cool logo – right next to a dick. We finish the sign, run the show a few more times, then call it a night.
Feb. 3: Day of production: I go to work, which takes my mind off the show, then go to Sassafras' place. We run lines, then pile everything into Sassafras' car and set out for the theatre. We get there early, so we go across the street to the pizza joint.
We walk back to the theatre and go to the green room – really a little patio in the back. It's cold out, but we have jackets and comfy chairs. We sit, quietly whispering our lines. We meet the three women going on before us and immediately fall in love with them. They are warm and funny, and we talk and laugh with them until the lineup starts. Then we go back to our whisper-through.
At last, it's go time. Sassafras and I are both jittery, but I'm so excited to be doing this. We give each other a hug, then I walk around the outside of the theatre to stage right. I make my entrance. We do the show. It feels really good until our sound cue (softly chirping cicadas) jumps to the "oohs" from KC & the Sunshine Band's 1975 pop hit "That's the Way (I Like It)." We pretend not to notice. When the cicadas come back, Sassafras takes a perfect beat before restarting the scene. "She's so damn good," I think. We finish the show smooth as silk, take our bows, and walk off together. Out front, I hug my mom, who drove over an hour to see my piece. I spend more time at the pizza joint with Sassafras and Pete and some other folks. While we're out, we get the news that our show has made "Best of Week," so we'll get to perform it again on Saturday. We celebrate a little longer, then I make my way home – and to bed. I'm spent, but I haven't felt this good in weeks. I fall asleep smiling.
I feel so lucky to be a part of FronteraFest. For less than the cost of dinner for two, anyone can get 25 minutes on one of the linchpin stages in Austin to present whatever they want. FronteraFest gave me the space to dream as big as I could – and fail a little. It forced me to distill everything to its theatrical essence, to what was truly necessary to tell the story I wanted to tell. And I was obliged to see the experiment through to its end. I made mistakes, sure, but I had the support and smarts of my scene partner to cancel out my occasional idiocy, and together, with a little magic, we pulled it off.
FronteraFest “Best of the Fest” runs Feb. 14-18, 8pm, with Bill A Tue. & Fri., Bill B Wed. & Sat., and Wild Card Night Thursday. For more information, visit www.hydeparktheatre.org.