It takes guts to step into the spotlight alone and bare your soul. The Straight talked to a few brave performers going it alone at this year's Fringe Fest. Here's one of them:
Rodney DeCroo knows that Didn’t Hurt is not for everyone. Having performed it some 40 times now—at festivals in Orlando, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton—DeCroo has come to realize that the solo piece hits some viewers a little too close to home; as a result, he has taken to telling audiences that he won’t judge them if they need to step out of the theatre.
In the autobiographical 75-minute show, the Vancouver-based writer and performer lays bare his own demons. Raised in western Pennsylvania and later in remote northern B.C. by an abusive alcoholic who had seen his own share of horror in the Vietnam War, DeCroo grew up with a world-view shaped by trauma, poverty, addiction, and toxic masculinity.
He tells the Straight that, although the tone of Didn’t Hurt has lightened significantly since he started performing it, there are nights when one part or another will affect him profoundly in an unexpected way. Take, for instance, his story about playing with his brothers in the clearing around the family cabin while their father watched from a distance—through the scope of his hunting rifle.
“One night I did that line, and I felt genuinely scared,” DeCroo admits. “I was surprised that it came back that hard. Different things hit me all the time. Some nights when I talk about my dad beating me up, it hits really hard, and on other nights it’s just part of the story I’m telling. On one night I was talking about my jujitsu coach, and how that helped me, and then all of a sudden, bam, I got really emotional over that. So it changes every single night. Some nights I’m laughing in places where I’ve cried. It’s like a roller coaster. I just get on it, I don’t know what the ride’s going to be.”
Those who caught his previous Fringe production, Allegheny, BC (Stupid Boy in an Ugly Town), will recall that it traversed similar thematic terrain, but DeCroo notes that there was a “huge fictional element” to that 2013 show. When DeCroo was creating Didn’t Hurt, director and dramaturge TJ Dawe suggested he do so without incorporating any of the songs or poems that have always been the artist’s stock-in-trade. “There’s something about performing those things on-stage that allows me some distance from the content,” DeCroo says. “TJ went, ‘I don’t want poetry or music. I want you to just speak simply from the heart of those experiences.’ So it requires a degree of vulnerability and directness and closeness to the subject matter that is very different.”
The result is an experience that is just as emotionally resonant for the audience as it is for its creator. “I have so many people who cry openly during the show and they thank me afterwards and say that this has touched on their experiences, or those of somebody they love, and they feel like there’s hope,” DeCroo says. “And ultimately, for me, what I want people to walk away from this show with is hope.”