Who Wants Candy?

27 08 2010

Fringe veteran TJ Dawe dishes on noisy candy wrappers, mid-show texting and other audience no-no's

For anyone who caught Thursday’s opening night performance of Lucky 9, the latest (and possibly most intellectually engaging) autobiographical monologue by Fringe deity du décennie TJ Dawe, one moment will linger longer than whatever Ennegram type you might be: the intrusive crinkling of a candy being unwrapped—a sound that literally stopped the show.

Given Dawe’s trademark intricately woven subplots, it came as a bit of a shock when the action crinkled to a halt mid-anecdote so he could directly engage with she-with-the-candy. “It’s just as loud if you do it slowly,” he offered, giving the now-chagrined gal the chance to finish unwrapping. He even went so far as to quote past Quirks and Quarks host Jay Ingram’s book, The Science of Everyday Life, where the audio dynamics of crinkling plastic have been investigated.

The show did go on, of course, but the momentary intrusion really brought home the importance of those obligatory front-of-house speeches Fringe audiences so enjoy. (Quick sidenote: Who’s gonna be the best front-of-houser at this year’s Fringe? My money’s on Kelly Hudson at University Canada West, Venue 16, but let’s see who can challenge her!) It also made me wonder how often a touring demon like Dawe has to put up with poor theatrical manners.

“Crinkly candy wrappers are distracting for sure, but there’s an added layer to it when someone’s unwrapping one carefully—they’re genuinely trying to be quiet and not interrupt anything,” says the creator of past Fringe hits Totem Figures, The Slipknot and Labrador. “And it always amuses me that an actor can prepare for years, doing vocal training, doing whatever they can to make sure they’re audible right to the last row, and all it takes to completely upstage them is crinnnnnnkle . . . crinnnnnnkle . . . crinnnnnnkle . . .”

So how does Dawe deal with it? “Having worked with performers like Chris Gibbs [The Power of Ignorance] and Charlie Ross [The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy] for years, I’ve learned that if anything happens that the audience notices, the worst thing you can do is ignore it,” he explains. “To acknowledge it, make a joke out of it or especially to weave it into what you were saying anyway—like when I described the Enneagram Type Two, the Helper, and offered the sneezing woman a Kleenex—the audience loves it. It proves the performer is really in the moment, and reacting to exactly what’s happening right there and then. That’s one of the things theatre has to offer; no TV show or movie or novel will do that.”

But are candy wrappers the worst thing he’s had to deal with? Not a chance. “The most annoying interruption from an audience member isn’t even what most people would think of as an interruption. Cell phones, candy wrappers, I can handle that. Texting—that’s irritating, especially because the texter doesn’t seem to realize their screen LIGHTS UP and attracts the attention of anything sitting beside them or behind them, much less the performer on stage who can see them texting. But the one that really gets me is people who put their feet on the stage.”

Of course, this is only a problem in venues where the front row is close enough to a low stage (not a concern at Venue 12, Fairfield Hall, this Fringe, where he’s playing on the floor . . . at floor level . . . ah, you know what I mean). So, feet up on the stage—just ignore it and go on? Not if you’re TJ Dawe.

“I asked a woman in the front row in Orlando to please take her feet off the stage, and she did, but sat there shooting daggers at me for the rest of the show, with her arms folded,” he says. “And in Edmonton just last week, my venue was set up in a way that looked like people might do it, so I wrote and printed off little fortune-cookie sized pieces of paper, saying, ‘Out of respect for the performers, please keep your feet off the stage’—and then attributed each one to a different person: Amelia Earhart, Sugar Ray Robinson, Margaret Laurence, Annie Lennox, Mel Torme, Marshall McLuhan, God.”


“It worked.”

Hmm, wonder what God would have to say about candy wrappers?

—John Threlfall



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: