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The Arts

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Luck, talent and a whole lotta hard work

Posted: 07/21/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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David Johnston (right) says he doesn't do theatre for the money, though it would be nice to one day make enough to live. Right now, he says he's focused on his craft.

OLIVER SACHGAU / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

David Johnston (right) says he doesn't do theatre for the money, though it would be nice to one day make enough to live. Right now, he says he's focused on his craft. Photo Store

Few people go into the performing arts for the money. For many, being able to pay the bills with theatrical endeavours alone is a dream in and of itself.

But getting there is a long process, and it starts with getting your name out there and honing your craft.

David Johnston, an actor in The 11 O'Clock Number!, an improvised musical show at this year's Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, says there is a long grind between starting out and being able to live off the money made from theatre.

"When you're starting out in your career, and unless you're very lucky or very talented or a combination of the two, there is a certain degree of 'I need to form a basis and I need to become a little better known,'" he says.

Johnston himself has enough financial stability, he says. Even if he makes little or no money from the fringe tour, he won't necessarily be in a dangerous position.

"I wouldn't be happy, but I would be all right for the time being," he says.

And after all, it's not about the money, Johnston says. If it was, he could have taken almost any other job.

"With the sheer number of hours we spent, if you just worked a minimum-wage job during that time, you would make so much more money," he says.

What the fringe tour really provides, he says, is a chance to get better, and a chance to get better known.

"I think it's going to help me develop my craft, I think it's going to help the company, and I think its going to down the road let me say, 'Yeah, I did this, and maybe you saw me," he says.

-- -- --

If selling tickets for a stage show is hard, one might think being dependent on donations from the public after a show would be harder. But Chris Visser says both have their pros and cons.

Visser is a street magician who performs his show several times a week at Old Market Square. He makes no money from being there, apart from what people are willing to put in his hat after the show.

But the upside to public shows is that, unlike indoor companies, he doesn't have to pay for his venue.

"I just have to pay my expenses... it all works out," he says.

There are two barriers Visser says he has to break. The first is getting people to stop and watch the show, and the second is convincing them it was good enough to pay for. The second one took a lot of practice, he says.

"You definitely fail the first few times that you try to do it, but you don't have to pay rent on the venue, so you can do it over and over again," he says.

Performing for a street crowd also helps hone skills in a way that a stage can't.

"It's amplified my skills tenfold. I can now speak to any audience so much easier than I could (when I was performing onstage)," he says.

Even with the risks of not making as much money, Visser says he would recommend street performing to every magician out there.

"It gives you the abuse you need... It helps you focus on how to entertain an audience, instead of how great you are," he says.

-- -- --

A perfect Saturday, weather-wise, helped the fringe festival set a new record for tickets sold in one day.

The weather on Saturday was ideal for fringing and by the end of the day, the fest had achieved the highest ticketed attendance for a single day. A total of 10,613 tickets were sold for 137 performances, 17 of which were sellouts.

Indoor attendance on Friday was 9,341, which set a new record for that day, festival executive producer Chuck McEwen says. Twelve of the 138 performances sold out. McEwen said he was happy with the result, especially considering Friday night's downpour.

"It was amazing that the extreme thunderstorm didn't stop our dedicated fringers," McEwen says.

oliver.sachgau@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2014 C5

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