This year, I set myself two rules with the video trailers:
- that I would not view any trailer beyond 2:30. I submit that if you’re publicizing videos longer than that, you and I have a very different understanding of what a trailer is.
- that I would resist the temptation to click through to show pages until I’d formed an opinion from the video (while noting which trailers created that impulse, of course).
My general observation is that viewing twenty-seven consecutive trailers effectively illustrated to me how incredibly difficult it is to make a trailer for a stage show. Being able to craft a fine hour of live entertainment is not necessarily the same skill set as being able to craft a two-minute film advertising one.
(This is also a good moment to observe that my view of the trailers this year is, unhappily, pretty negative. This is because years of Fringe touring and reviewing have left me an enraged and bitter shell of a man. Chalk it up to my temperament, or the unusually high number of excerpts: see next paragraph.)
More specifically, my typical observation stands: that sampling almost never works for me. There is an unusually huge proportion of confessional solo shows (more evidence of the MOTH spreading its quivering tentacles across the nation’s storytelling scene like some horrific, Lovecraftian nightmare) – by far, the vast bulk of the trailers consisted of clips of many monologists looking affable, and audiences having what seemed to be a pleasant time. But an actual solo show builds a context and a character and a relationship, and a two-minute clip of watching an audience watch you tell jokes doesn’t communicate those things to me.
In this category, Glorious Garbage particularly struggles by excerpting dramatic moments: without context, the overall effect is shrill and confusing. My Shrink Says I Need This and the Haydell Sisters seem appealing enough. Mind Full of Dopamine relies on my nostalgia for pop-culture references. Pull Yourself Up By Your Brastraps is nearly inaudible. Teacher in the House relies on a dynamic physicality and theatricality that I often find off-putting in storytelling. Suffering for Nothing* suffers from being strangely paced – opting for slow fades between punchlines, rather than smash-cuts – which end up feeling sort of choppy and bewildering.
(Emphasizing that each and every one of these may be fine shows – but that I found myself tripping over their video presentation.)
Four ensemble shows run across personal bugbears of mine. The trailer for Madame Executioner requires that I be amused by period dress and outrageous accents. Damn Kids These Days wants me to have more nostalgia for seventies standards than I do. Alas for Mom? A Comedy of Mourners that I’ve developed a deep wariness of red-nose clowning after many Festivals. Fringe Tonight! seems polished enough, but relies upon enough lazy political cliches to generate my caution (FOX News sucks! George W. Bush is dumb! etc.) These shows have, and deserve, their audiences – but I’m probably not a part of them.
L’Heure de Minuit, Terra Incognita, Seven Dance, and Falling Man offer me clips of either dance shows or dance rehearsals – but it’s challenging for me, as someone without an extensive dance background, to distinguish these in the sea of modern dance shows that take place at Fringe. (Witness my extended whining about dance publicity from last year.)
Office at Night and Couple Fight** are both impressively polished – but they’re trailers for dialogue-driven comedies that don’t include a word of dialogue. (I’m certainly interested in the latter, if only because it involves a heavy percentage of Fringe standbys. Along those lines, while the trailers for Petunia and Chicken** and Breakneck Hamlet** frustratingly don’t communicate much, I’m on board because I know and trust the performers.)
The two Bollywood shows make an excellent contrasting case – while I was confused by the choppy and dialogue-heavy Best Bollywood Inn, I was totally riveted by every second of the colorful and fast-moving Spicy Masala Chai.
So much whining! So much frustration! But what did I love? Four trailers knocked me out, and completely did their job of ratcheting my interest up to ninety.
Poor Lear gives us a homeless man on a park bench, ranting and raving with the monologues of the aged King Lear. It’s simple, weird, and compelling – and puts its central simple, weird, and compelling premise front-and-center (Lear as a mentally disturbed homeless guy). I’ve reviewed Alan Tilson unfavorably in the past – I wasn’t in love with the cabaret-style context he built – but this – this is a very, very interesting context for a body of material that I love. I’m now looking forward to this one.
Saint Guillotine handily exploits my fascination with historical material, juxtaposing period images and text in such a way that left me wanting to go ahead and start digging up my own research on the subject.
Under Current took a cool, dynamic, and interesting physicality, scored it with vague and tantalizing bits of text, and then added some pretty freaking great music. I left without knowing exactly what the show was about, but admiring its style enough to want to see the rest.
And my favorite trailer this year has been:
AND THEN… which just does a pretty amazingly fucking clever job of weaving together the weirdness of film with the weirdness of live theatre. We see the world of the play as a self-contained world, cut back to a nearly empty theatre with a host prompting the audience for responses, and then start cutting back and forth rapidly enough to chop down the barrier between the two. This is fun. This is clever. This displays a high level of competence and self-awareness. I want to see what the people who made this make.
…of course, the beauty of the online trailers is that you don’t have to rely on my opinions – you can view them and form your own. Have at thee!
Questions? Comments? Enraged invective? Check out my answers to occasionally asked questions in Notes on Notes, or the contact info linked from that page!
* I am producing a show in the same venue that is technically in competition with this one for an additional performance (though I do not view mine as a serious contender).
** I have a friendship/acquaintanceship/working relationship with someone involved in this production.