One major hurdle when performing anywhere that isn’t your home base is getting people to come (actually that’s always a hurdle.) I was fortunate enough to have a small network of friends and family to support my work and help me with flyering etc. I spoke to other international artists, who said it was very difficult, but totally rewarding, as your mates are always going to enjoy what you do, but when total strangers from another country can connect with your work, that’s the best prize. I totally agree.
On the other side of the coin, the fact that I didn’t know anyone was actually one of the greatest things about it. In Melbourne, I have a ton of people I know so when I go to shows, talks and events, I talk to them. Because I didn’t know anybody I talked to everybody, and Kiwis are famously friendly. I was pushed to bowl up to people and introduce myself, boldly convince them that I know what I’m doing and what my show and work is all about. As a result, I got invited to go and see all kinds of shows and pop up events and chime along to rehearsals, workshops and movement sessions. Because NZ Fringe was the only reason I was in Wellington, I had the time to do all these things. I could sit in cafes and write about what I had seen, collaborate with the other internationals to mentor each other and just enjoy what being part of a great cultural festival in a wonderfully cultural city has to offer.
Other factors to think about when coming from abroad to NZ is to allow time to rest and sort out any niggles- self-care, for want of a better word. It goes without saying to be an independent artist you need a thick skin, and this can be especially put to the test times like these. Jetlag, adjusting to climate, food, being away from home, pace of the place can all sometimes throw us. I found a great hot yoga studio and a great massage place that got me feeling sweet as and ready!
I was really lucky to have a fantastic stage manager who was super clued up on where to get all those last minute things you don’t think of- she had a tool kit of duct tape, scissors, safety pins and all! Lists and Bunnings Warehouse (hardware store) are your best friend, as don’t rely on your venue to have all that stuff. If you can get a local to stage manage, even if you didn’t have a stage manager at home, it’s really helpful and they will probably bring a few friends to your show or be your buddy when you are having a pre-show meltdown.
One great piece of advice I was given before any season is to set your expectations. For NZ Fringe I wasn’t expecting to make billions of dollars or become famous. My expectations/goals I wanted to get out of it simply was to prove to myself that I could run a season in a foreign city and also have my work seen by a range of audiences. I also wanted to get better at networking and develop my creative palette by seeing a whole bunch of different stuff. The fact that I did make some money was a bonus on these expectations, which I achieved by focusing on the process and finding every lesson there is to be leaned within that.
I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off if it weren’t for the fantastic support of the NZ Fringe team. Through emails, skype, phone calls and instagram posts, they made me feel totally supported and special and helped with so much. In other Fringe festivals, I have felt a real ‘us and them’ separation between the executive/creative directors and the producers/artists. But NZ Fringe felt like a level team, a family (especially at the after party owwwwwwwwww!!!!)
This festival is a perfect one as it’s the right size to get to see lots of different stuff but not be overwhelmed by shows. It’s in a beautiful country where the people are awesome and nature surpasses anything you have seen. Entering it isn’t without risks, but when we do things that challenge us like this that’s when we grow and change.
Joana Simmons is a producer and comedy cabaret performer from NZ based in Melbourne, Australia. Her show “Putting the G’Day in Cabaret” had a solid run of shows and great reviews in NZ Fringe 2016. She also wrote for Theatreview in Wellington and writes for Theatrepress and Milkbar Mag in Melbourne. Her company, Just Bananas brings presenting, performance, writing and workshops to a range of people and events in schools, theatres and the community.