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Bec's Blog

The Seven Stages of Putting on a Fringe Show

Becky Blake

When people ask you in passing, “So, what are you doing for Fringe this year?” , a performer can either answer enthusiastically or want to run away and hide. It depends on the day. About to bat up for Fringe number seven, Becky Blake has identified the seven different stages a performer goes through when putting on their own show. It’s a bit like the seven stages of accepting death really…

1. Bravery

Fringe is a brutal arena and not to be entered into lightly! So, maybe fuelled by a couple of late night Scotches and the promises made by your six best friends to DEFINITELY come and see your show, you press “SEND” on your Fringe application and, mustering all your courage, step bravely into the abyss.

2.     Resourcefulness

You are in full show preparation. You realise many skills you didn’t know you had, lament many you never realised you didn’t have and bluff your way through everything else. Never written a press release before? Tick. Not sure how to design posters, flyers and logos? You’re now an expert! Need props? You save precious dollars by learning how to use a hot glue gun with startling proficiency and take out shares in a gaff tape company. You find out one of your primary school acquaintance’s neighbour’s aunt has just the prop/costume/computer skills/printing company you need to make your show work. You spend two days tracking them down and offer them 200 tickets to your show for them to give you a 5% discount. You have so got this!

3.     Intimidation

Once the Fringe program is released, you start to realise the enormity of what you’ve done. Over 1000 acts vie for punters’ attention any way they can and this can not only be overwhelming for the public, but also for the small first-time shows. You watch, starry eyed, as veteran performers release their award-winning-studded posters and feel more than a little envy towards those who seem to sell out show after show with minimal effort when you’re begging your mother, grandmother and second cousin once removed to come along and put bums on seats. You may feel small. Very small. And insignificant. But you put on your big girl bloomers and suck it up with determination! You’re faking it until you make it!

4.     Obsession

When you see your friends, your first sentence is always, “Hi! So, have you got tickets to my Fringe show yet?” When the ticketing link comes out, you check your ticket sale numbers. Every. Five. Minutes. Ok, actually every two. You spend hours. Days. Rehearsing. Promoting. Making elaborate props. Making lists. Checking them twice. You sleep very little and when you do, you dream about your show. You only eat when you’re meeting with someone to talk about your show and even then it’s only a nibble. You are officially walking on a knife’s edge.

5.     Self-Doubt/Panic

THE SHOW’S NOT COMING TOGETHER RIGHT!!! Oh God, I need to rehearse more. But I haven’t finished my promotion! Why aren’t people buying tickets? They say Adelaide buys tickets at last minute, but how late is last minute? Why is everyone buying tickets to Dave Hughes and I’ve got five people for my first performances? Aren’t I funny enough? Have I not done enough promotion? Does my show suck? Oh God, do I suck? Why haven’t my six best friends bought their tickets yet? Why aren’t the reviewers flocking? Should I send them a reminder or will they think I’m annoying and then avoid me? Why did I ever decide to do a show in the first place? Conversations, bargaining and threatening God are common at this stage. So are consuming multiple bottles of anything alcoholic. You may or may not lose control of your sphincter.

6.     Excitement

The build-up to Fringe is electric. The entire city comes alive with colour, sound and scent. People come out of the woodwork and it becomes damn near impossible to get parking. It’s intoxicating. You walk down the street and there’s so many people you can pretend you’re in Sydney. Venues launch their Fringe programs and there’s parties with free booze and food every night of the week. And YOU ARE PART OF IT ALL!! You’re hobnobbing with all the creatives! Heather Croall ACTUALLY wished you Chookas for your show! You are so very glad you did this, even though you’re nervous and have a bit of a hangover from stage number five.  

7.     Triumph/Pride

No matter whether you sold a thousand tickets or ten, there is a triumphant sense of pride as you step out onto the stage. You did it. You accomplished this. You revealed your creative soul to a bunch of people, some of them strangers. You were fearless. And as the curtain closes on your show, you’re filled with an odd mix of elated satisfaction and sheer exhaustion. You swear you’ll never do another Fringe again… Until next year…

Becky’s new cabaret, Girl Power Collective, makes its international debut at the Adelaide Fringe Festival 2019.

In a bit of shameless promotion, you can purchase your tickets here:

https://adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/girl-power-collective-af2019

Girl Power Collective Good Copy.jpg

So.... I Recorded a CD...

Becky Blake

Recording Studio Selfie

Recording Studio Selfie

So… I just sold the first copies of the first cd I’ve ever put on sale to the general public.  I must admit, it felt pretty good! I’ve recorded songs for promotional purposes before and I went through a phase where my close friends were getting married and I’d write and record them a song as a wedding present.  But I’ve never SOLD my own cd TO THE PUBLIC before! After 23 years in the industry I feel like I’ve reached some sort of milestone.

It’s not a cd that’s going to burst into the charts and make me an overnight success.  It’s just something to sell at gigs when people want to hear some more of my music and take a souvenir home with them, and it’s a record of where I am musically at this point in time.  It was recorded in around eight hours in a home studio belonging to the gentle and extremely talented Andrew Bignell, tucked away deep in the Adelaide Hills.  Yes I know, eight songs recorded in eight hours.  No mean feat! I wanted it to have somewhat of a live feel; most of the piano and vocals were recorded in one take with a few bits tweaked here and there.  No pitch bending, no fancy schmancy vocal effects.  What you hear on the eight studio tracks is me. And my keyboard.  And, on three songs, gorgeous tremulous lines, played by the most wonderful Cello Chick I know, Sandy Hosking.  Pure and simple.

The elegant Sandy Hosking putting her finishing touches on the cello tracks.  Fine as a pine lime splice.

The elegant Sandy Hosking putting her finishing touches on the cello tracks.  Fine as a pine lime splice.

 There are four original songs on the album. The earliest, called ‘Rainy Day’, written around the year 2000, about one of my besties who was, and still is to an extent, having a hard time with men and relationships.  I could feel her pain and I just wanted to take it all away from her and for her to live happily ever after, because that’s what she deserves.  Her pain hasn’t really subsided, but nonetheless she’s changed her mindset and is living very happily ever after in the absence of a man.  You’ll see this spectacular woman at many of my Piano Chick gigs; Daina is the door biatch with the mostest.  And there are still occasions when I wipe her tears away (and she is ALWAYS there for me in a crisis!) and we often stare at each other with incomprehension about the way the world works.

‘Ode to the Piano Chick’ is probably my favourite of the original songs.  It’s a story about what I do for a living and how the show must go on, regardless of what is going on in my life.  Sometimes my kids are sick, a family member has passed, I’ve just had an operation or just had a really crappy and difficult day (all of these things have really happened!).  Sometimes the last thing I feel like doing is lugging my gear into the car, driving across town, lugging it all out the other side and putting up with jeers from the guys at the bar and frowns from the manager (though it’s better than being ignored!).  But when I sit down and start to play, none of it matters.  It all fades into oblivion, because the music takes me away and I fall in love with it all over again. And then somebody requests Piano Man. Again.  And then I get a random round of applause in the middle of the song and I realize people aren’t actually watching me, but the footy’s on the big screen above my head.  Again. And, again, I lose myself in the music.   

‘27’ is the song that I wrote for my latest Piano Chicks show, Sex & the Sixties.  It’s amazing to think that not even a year after Woodstock that Janis and Jimi were both dead and Jim Morrison was to follow shortly afterwards.  All aged 27.  This started somewhat of a cult club with Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse signing up decades later, as well as a host of lesser-known musicians.  And yes, that does mean we have to put up with Justin Bieber for another 7 years! In the show the whole band is playing it live, but for the recording it’s stripped back to piano and vocal, sort of in a Harry Connick style. Thank God I’m past 27!  (Only just, mind you!)

I wrote ‘That’s Just the Boys’ for my 2013 show, Piano Boys, where I opened the show, lounging on the piano singing it, with Paul White accompanying me on the keys.  It’s a burlesquey-tongue-in-cheek style romp, which was a lot of fun to record. 

Concentrating on getting those piano tracks down in one take....

Concentrating on getting those piano tracks down in one take....

The remainder of the studio tracks on the album are covers of some faves.  Sandy joins me on cello for Real Men and Foolish Games, two of the most popular Piano Chicks & Boys songs from our shows.  Then I do my tribute to one of my favourite Aussie singers, Chrissie Amphlett with a medley of her tunes.  Chrissie’s dying wish was for her song “I Touch Myself” to be a torch song for women suffering from cancer; a reminder of how early detection is currently the best cure.  She faced her fears with such spunk and spirit.  I admire her greatly.

 The final studio track is Miss Celie’s Blues from the wonderful movie, The Colour Purple.  It’s a message to all my girls who might be having a tough time, to dig deeper and believe in yourself.  If I hadn’t done that, I’d never have done my first Piano Chick shows, which have helped define me as a musician and given me so many skills in areas I never dreamed I’d have.  We’re here for a good time, not a long time, sisters, and my message is: Shake your Shimmy and Go for It! 

Then there’s the live tunes, recorded at the gorgeous Promethean theatre, where I did my first Piano Chicks shows in 2012.  There’s the crowd pleasers, the ‘Carole King Medley’ and Carly’s ‘You're so Vain’, then one of my favourites, Tori Amos’ ‘Cornflake Girl’.  We finish up with Alicia Keys’ ‘Superwoman’, which I found difficult to get through for a long time without bursting into tears; it’s such an anthem for the working woman.  My original team is behind me; Gary Isaacs on bass, Andrew Bignell on drums, Sandy again on cello and Paul White on Hammond organ.  I don't want to describe it as a Mastermusic reality journey, but it really has been.

The  master music maker, Andrew Bignell.  He made the whole process so easy and enjoyable for all involved.

The  master music maker, Andrew Bignell.  He made the whole process so easy and enjoyable for all involved.

And whilst it would be nice to reach my breakeven point with these cds financially, it really doesn’t matter, because I’ve already achieved success simply by putting it out there and doing it; it’s not about the money. All I hope now is that those who make their purchases enjoy the music and that it puts a smile on their faces. 

And that, somehow, it serves as a reminder of what a wonderful thing live music really is and encourages them to tell a friend to go and see a show sometime.

 

 

(Becky Blake's cds are available by emailing her on beckyblake0@gmail.com or messaging her on facebook to receive an order form.  $13 delivered to your door in Australia, or $10 at her shows.  Please enquire for international postage rates)

 

 

 

 

 

Tori Take Two

Becky Blake

The first time I saw Tori Amos perform was 1994.  I had just returned from performing in Asia and Little Earthquakes was one of three cassette tapes I’d taken with me to play in my Walkman.  I’d laughed, cried and longed over Tori’s music for seven months straight.  I’d learned to sing and play pretty much all of her songs and she was a wonderful role model; a talented, strong and sexy pianist whose gyrating at the grand piano made my young head spin.

I went along to the Festival Theatre with my sister and my dear friend, Peter.  I remember Peter agonized over his tie, we missed the support act and my sister was livid.  Tori appeared on stage, muttered something about masturbation and the church, performed solo for about an hour, walked offstage, walked back on, sang and played Cornflake girl to a backing track and walked off again.  That was it.  The audience was a bit stunned; around us, people were shaking their heads and wondering why she’d given us so little of herself.  How had we pissed her off? I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was that had disgruntled us all; she’d played and sung beautifully.  Maybe it was her manner?  Her self-indulgent behaviour? My sister and I staged a brief protest trying to get her to play “China”, a favourite of ours she’d neglected to play, but it was in vain.  Tori was gone.

Fast-forward twenty years.  Whilst Tori and I hadn’t exactly had a falling out and her early albums are still regularly on my playlist, I didn’t really relate to her post-modern era and hadn’t taken the time to listen to anything of hers for much of this century.  But, I chanced to see her concert advertised and on the spur of the moment decided to see if Tori had grown and could redeem herself.

This time my husband and I caught the support act and the tension in the room grew as we all awaited Tori’s arrival. A bespectacled Tori, clad in black leather pants and a wrap dress, still with the trademark red locks, entered the stage and the crowd erupted.  She nodded acknowledgement at the audience, sat down to play and the magic began.

Equipped only with a grand piano and a keyboard placed behind her so she could switch between the two, often playing both at the same time, sitting astride the piano stool (hence the leather pants replacing her usual skirt; so no Beaver), Tori held the audience captivated for almost two hours.  No mean feat.  Her vocals changed from swooping, melodic highs to ugly sneers to bare whispers within a phrase; her sound engineer perfectly in tune with her vocal needs.  A state of the art lighting show added to the theatrics, keeping beat with her syncopated rhythms and soaring countermelodies. I only knew about half a dozen songs, but loved them all.  And when she played China, I wept openly; tears of pride for a fellow piano chick at her awesome best, tears of nostalgia as memories came flooding back and tears for Peter, who took his own life 9 years after our first Tori encounter.  It was an emotive experience only wonderful music could give a person.

Like the first time I saw her, Tori again didn’t engage in conversation, other than muttering something about a guy called Sam.  But this time her performance was real.  She was a musician at her best, confident in her own headspace and well and truly enjoying her music.  It was infectious. 

 So, in a world where information is so easily accessible and we hunger for it, did I again miss a running commentary of Tori’s music?  Yes and no.  Sure, it would’ve been nice to have heard the tales behind the songs, especially for some of the more cryptic ones and when her diction wasn’t clear. But, I remember once going to a temple in India and refusing repeated requests to have a guide with me, preferring my own company and interpretations from my own thoughts, rather than having constant chatter at my side.  I loved letting my imagination run wild.

 Maybe it was that Tori and I had come full circle, moving in the same direction.  We are no longer insecure little upstarts with a chip on our shoulders.  We are mature, confident women with a love of music and nothing to prove to anyone but ourselves.  And when she sang a breathless rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, the question about why bluesbirds fly beyond the rainbow, why can’t I? was not rhetorical.  It was a challenge, an invitation to see how far we can fly, how much we can achieve.  I left the concert feeling uplifted and empowered.

Now, excuse me whilst I go and download some Tori to get myself up to speed.  It’s long overdue.