This is Tonya Jone Miller. She is a Fringe performer (actor). And she is a Kindness Activist!
|Tonya Jone Miller - a woman filled with talent and KINDNESS!|
I have written a few pieces in this blog that refer to Fringe Festivals. I am not sure the average reader knows what I am talking about when I mention Fringes. Fringe Festivals are events around the country (and other countries) where multiple independent theatrical pieces are produced in a short period of time. Without the fringe, many of the shows would have no other avenue to reach a stage and audience: producing yourself is super expensive – you have to have a space, lighting, technician, ticket selling system, etc. So Fringe Festivals provide an outlet for performances of all types to have a venue. Many Fringes are “uncurated” - meaning all applications are considered equally and if there are more applications than show slots, shows are drawn in a lottery to get in.
Many Fringe artists TOUR with their shows. That means applying to lots of festivals (paying what can be hefty application fees), crossing your fingers and hoping to get in several, then figuring out a plan to transport yourself from city to city doing your piece. Touring is rewarding for sure, but also exhausting, stressful, can be financially draining, and definitely full of ups and downs. Touring artists find themselves in a new city every couple of weeks – being housed by new people in each town, hanging up their posters in new storefronts everywhere they go, having a technical rehearsal and showing new in each venue technicians how they want their lights/sound to work, and handing out what ends up to be thousands of postcards advertising their show to potential audience members. Did I mention how exhausting it all is??
|Touring Fringe Artist Les Kurkendaal starting off the |
2015 Indy Fringe by handing out his flyers to potential audience members
And to top that off, when touring artists show up in each new town, they do not have a “built in audience”. Shows that are local to the town have guaranteed ticket buyers – their co-workers, aunts, uncles, 3rd grade teachers… Touring performers often don’t know a single soul in town! Heck, we have been in lots of cities where we have free tickets to give away and don’t even know anyone to give them to!
But let’s get back to Tonya. She is based in Portland, Oregon and often spends summers touring the Fringe circuit. We saw her amazing show, “Threads” and really liked it. And she is super kind!
|A promo piece for "Threads" (photo credit Gina Bixby)|
I am naming Tonya a Kindness Activist because of something she did back in August 2015. Many touring performers were finishing up a summer on the road by performing at the Indianapolis Fringe Festival. The Indy Fringe is a fun one, but it can be tough for out-of-towners to draw audiences. Often at the end of Festivals there are AWARDS handed out – “Best Solo Show”, “Best Ensemble”, etc. But when the Indy Fringe was finishing up and Tonya heard that there was only ONE award being given, an award for selling the most tickets, she stepped up!! As Tonya told me, “It just seemed like there was a void to be filled… Indy is a lovely festival, but it is smaller. I really felt like I made some good connections with some of the other touring artists there, and I was a little bit like, ‘I wanna do something to tell my friends how much I liked them!’ ya know??”.
|An inspiring part of being in a Fringe is going to see other artist's shows! Here a|
group of performers eagerly awaits a show to start. :)
As I mentioned earlier, touring can be expensive. Let’s just say, no one is getting rich on the fringe circuit. But Tonya waltzed down to a frozen yogurt store and plopped down all the cash she had to buy gift cards as awards! “I think I had something like, $40, so I got like all the $3 frozen yogurt gift cards I could get! Each one was only $3… So basically people could get like, a YOGURT, no toppings… But I was like, ‘Screw it!’. I just wanted to do something nice for people.”.
Prizes in hand, Tonya set up making up some of the most eclectic awards categories I have ever seen. As she explained, “It wasn’t about, like, ‘You sold the most tickets’ or ‘You were the best actor in the festival’. It was more like recognizing the wonderful ridiculousness that is a Fringe.” And THAT is what made Tonya’s awards so damn spectacular!!!! They celebrated the lunacy that is Fringe. And Tonya wasn’t about to give her awards out privately – oh no. If there was an official awards ceremony for the “real” award, Tonya was going to present her awards in a grand fashion, too! So she asked if she could take the mic to present her awards, too, and the organizers agreed. “They didn’t have any idea what I was doing! So I was like, ‘You gave me an inch, I’m going to take a mile!’ and she leaped up on stage to present!!
|Performer name badge|
I was so proud of my sweetheart David for winning an award that night! He walked away with the
“I Can’t &*%#$ Do That Award” for the super physical work in his show. Other categories included the “Death is Hysterical Award” (we think the winners of that one were Kurt Fitzpatrick and Xan Scott, who had a good show but a super hard festival because their venue was way off the beaten track). As Tonya said, “It is not always about sold out shows and great reviews. Sometimes it’s just about trudging through and doing your job as a performer. Nobody wants a bad festival, no one wants to lose money. But at the same time, if you are open, then every festival can be a learning experience.” Another category was “The Future of Indy Theatre is in Good Hands Award” which Tonya bestowed on a group of teenage Indy girls.
|Kurt and Xan - proud recipients of an award from Tonya!|
“Really, the reason I did it was about putting SMILES on people’s faces.“
It worked, Tonya. Your impromptu frozen yogurt awards ceremony was over a year ago and thinking about it STILL puts a smile on my face. Thanks for all you do to encourage other artists along the tour, and for the KINDNESS you put out into the world.
For more information on Tonya’s show “Threads” check out this link: Threads