Peter Michael Marino: Why I staged the Critical Mass Tomato Toss
Peter Michael Marino

Edinburgh Festival Fringe guest blog: American writer and performer Peter Michael Marino describes how he turned a flop West End musical into the well received solo comedy, Desperately Seeking the Exit,  and how he also instigated a mass tomato toss where the critics got their comeuppance.

[Photo by Chris Harcum]

As performers, we get feedback from the critics and our audiences. Critics share their feelings in print for the world to see. Audiences often share their feelings during the show. We can choose to utilize this feedback by running with it (if it’s good) or running from it (if it’s bad).

Both critics and audiences savaged my West End musical in 2007, so I ran with it – turning the tale into a solo comedy about the show’s demise. Luckily, critics on three continents have embraced this little show about a big show.

Last week, in honour of those critics and scorned performers, I staged the Critical Mass Tomato Toss in The Meadows. Posters of 33 major critics hung between trees as actors and onlookers gleefully pelted their images with over-ripe tomatoes. Surprisingly, several major critics also attended and sacrificed themselves for pelting.

It was all for the homeless charity Streetwork, and it was a jolly good, messy time. Afterward, some critics criticized the event, so I ran with it – and plan to do it next year!

Live audiences are a different kind of critic. Their response is right in the moment. Only they “walk”, rather than run. When doing the Free Festival, as I am, “walking” an audience member is an almost expected occurrence. It means that someone walks out during your show. It’s a term that comics use. Gentle, isn’t it? My show is a theatre piece with a standup/improv feel and my venue is known for comedy so I never know who will walk in or walk out.

One burly local rushed out after 30 minutes. “Thanks for stopping by!” I passive-aggressively shouted as the door slammed behind him. Moments later he returned with two bottles of cider – one for him and one for me.

The next day, two couples in their forties began whispering and twitching during the show. I paused to assure them that if this wasn’t the show they expected, they were free to walk. The women bolted to the door, as one of the reluctant husbands addressed the audience, “I apologize. I don’t want to go…but my wife is making me leave.” He then proceeded to drop a £10 note in my bucket – receiving a generous round of applause.

Last week, a woman in the front row slouched deeper and deeper into her chair as I continued my comical disaster story. I couldn’t avoid her glazed glare and asked her if she was going into a coma and needed to leave. She replied, “I just feel for you. Carry on.”

Yesterday, a local in his eighties stared blankly at me from the front row for the entire hour, slowly sipping his whiskey. At the end of the show, he remained, and with a very thick Scottish accent said, “I didn’t understand a word, mate, but I loved every minute of it.”

At least, that’s what I think he said. And I happily walked this kind soul to the door.

MORE INFO: Desperately Seeking the Exit is part of the Free Festival –  Laughing Horse @ The Counting House, until 25 August.