I have learned so much at the Fringe. On a practical level I've learned to edit proposal, to write press release, and to create script review. I've learned how to adapt to a crisis situation and how to social network regardless of time or place. I've learned how to talk to people, as well as how to listen. But one of the most vital lessons I've learned has been about balance.
(Ecstatically waiting for Danny Bhoy's show to begin)
Earlier this week I got to see one of my all time favorite stand up comedians, Danny Bhoy. I have been excited about the potential of seeing Danny Bhoy even before I was accepted into this program. I think he's wickedly funny and, since he never-ever-ever comes to America, I was thrilled at the chance to get to see him live. And the show was absolutely wonderful. Not only did I get to sit second row center but Bhoy's comedy was just spot on. As I left the theater, I could not keep myself from smiling. Later that evening, however, I wondered at the worth of that smile.
Without using names, one of the shows my company represents is a dance troupe from Zimbabwe. On the same night of the Danny Bhoy show, I ended up having dinner with my boss and the leader of this troupe. And over the course of our meal together, I was reminded of why it is I do what I do.
The majority of the shows at the Fringe Festival don't make a profit, that's just the nature of the game. Instead, shows look to use the Fringe as a jumping off point for booking a tour or securing some other form of sustainable, steady income. Even artists have to pay rent. Thus, though most shows lose money, they find promoters to support their time at the Fringe in the hopes of capitalizing on it at some later point in time. Some shows, however, don't have this luxury.
This Zimbabwe dance troupe isn't here because any one paid for them to fly and rent a venue space, they are completely and totally here of their own means. When someone asks who paid for them to get here, they simply say "We did." This group spends the rest of the 11 months of the year working and saving and borrowing from friends and family, just to get to the Fringe Festival each August. For one month every year, they leave behind everything that is precious to them, to share what they love to do with the rest of the world. And their experience here is no picnic. Further out of town than even most of the out of townsfolk, it takes them over an hour everyday to arrive in Edinburgh. Even then, they have to arrive hours ahead of their show so they can flyer for a few hours before hand. And, when their extremely fast paced and physical dance show is over, they'll spend a few more hours flying before making the long journey back to the hostel where they are staying. They must endure immovable and harsh governments (on both sides), exhausting schedules, and the unfortunately- more - than- occasional- ignorant person.
But you would never know it from their performance. There is such a sense of joy, of loving life in their dance, that you can't help but smile to watch them perform. I've seen them change the atmosphere of the room with their dancing and their smiles. And it's because they hold onto those precious tenants of artistic integrity and basic humanity that we are all to apt to forget; they are here because they want to be here. They scrimped and fought to get to the Fringe so powerful is their love for what they do and their investment in sharing that passion with the rest of the world.
As I sat listening to this man describe how much he and friends go through to get here and how much it means for them to be here, I couldn't help but feeling like a complete and utter schmuck for being so invested and excited in see a big name comedian like Danny Bhoy. I felt ashamed of my earlier joy. As an audience member, as an artist, don't I owe it to my craft to support the underdog? What am I doing in a big name venue, watching such a big name star? I took time of work to pay to see a show, they take time off from their steady jobs to pay to perform for others. At that moment I felt incredibly selfish.
But here's the ultimate conclusion I've come to; sometimes it's ok to be selfish. The challenge of our lives is to find the balance between selfishness and selflessness. Going to see Danny Bhoy was a completely self indulgent excursion. But it was ok to have that indulgence and it was more than ok to have a good time. Doing something for yourself does not make you a bad person, it makes you sane. We are allowed to be the providers of our own moments of happiness. But in those moments, we have to remember how extremely special that joy is. We have to remember how hard people fight and struggle to attain their own snippets of joy. And we have to honor that. So take your moment for yourself. But there are two conditions. First of all, when you decide to indulge yourself, enjoy it. Happiness is an impermanent state of being, savor it while you can. The second thing you have to do is just as important as the first. When your moment of positive selfishness is over, remember the billions of other people out there who didn't get to partake in that luxury. Remember them and, if you can, and I believe we all can, spend some moments of selflessness trying to help another person get to their own moment of positive selfishness. When that happens, when you do that for just one other person, just one, that's when you really learn what happiness feels like.