Friday, 18 September 2009
Down the Rabbit Hole
Now, this could be a really long post – so, if that is a disincentive and you’d prefer something short and to the point, go here.
Ok, in 1983 I was invited by the promoter of the Hole in The Ground venue to perform at The Edinburg Fringe Festival with my then collaborator and partner Dave.
The Hole in the Ground was a building site that housed three circus tents – theatre venues for the occasion - and a forth, smaller tent that served as the bar.
The Amazing Mendezies were a “developing-out-of-the-street-towards-professional” juggling duo who had been together almost two years during which we had already appeared on stage in the now defunct Rainbow Theatre London, been thrown out of the Tower of London by the Beefeaters and spent two consecutive winters in Spain and San Francisco respectively .
Dave, who prefered to call us Street Pirates on the Wikipedia entry, has some pictures from the Spanish winter up on his blog in Images from Nowhere – here.
The promoter’s idea was basically to have a distraction going on in the bar that would encourage people to hang around before or after the main shows in the tent that included a youthful Emma Thompson and a very angry young comic from New York.
We were a bit sceptical.
Neither of us had had any experience of the Edinburg Festival - summer was a lucrative time for us on our usual pitch in London and it was uncertain that The Hole in the Ground could excavate itself out from a potential financial fiasco.
The deal was that our train travel would be paid, accommodation provided and we would be free to busk in the bar tent.
We decided to go for an initial one week trial with an option to stay for the following two weeks if things worked out for everyone, something that probably also suited the promoter as it gave him the opportunity to cut and run too.
The granite city was exciting and the accommodation was interesting - we shared a flat with an Icelandic actor who performed in a cave (an adapted old railway arch) to an audience of one, charging an increasing ticket price for each subsequent show.
Dave, who luckily was always the business brain in our partnership, wisely chose to see the premier of the show.
I decided, subsequently, to go to something else.
And there was a lot to do.
The Edinburgh Festival as a name is misleading as there are, in fact, several running simultaneously through the first three weeks of August.
The Main Festival, something classical (I think), the Jazz Festival (if you have to ask you won’t understand), the Film Festival (I saw the European premier of The Kiss of the Spiderwoman and it was SO exciting – the organiser walked onto the stage with a hot reel of film under his arm and said; “Phew, this just arrived at the airport from the editing suite in Brazil, I didn’t think it would be here on time!” He loaded it onto the projectors and the lights dimmed) and the Fringe Festival – the biggest (where we were).
In fact the accommodation was unnecessary – there was no time to sleep - and at the time, maybe still, Henderson’s was THE best vegetarian restaurant ANYWHERE.
When we arrived at the Hole in the Ground we were disappointed. It was hidden away, relatively far from the main action and……….a hole in the ground. There seemed no way that punters would find the place or want to stay if they did.
The organiser showed us to the bar tent, helped us notice the tiny stage and pointed out the single spot light. We looked around at the empty plastic chairs and the grey gravel floor. We looked at each other.
“Only seven days.”
Then we were left alone with our thoughts, worries and, bizarrely, two silver serving trays to collect money.
That night we returned, changed into costume in a dingy toilet and walked into the first of three planned shows that evening.
Try to imagine Christians walking into the arena in ancient Rome, two lambs entering a Bear Pit or perhaps, Mad Max at the Thunderdome.
I think Dave climbed on a stool and hit the spotlight with his drumstick in an attempt to focus it. All around, the level of noise from the drunk and jubilant crowd was in complete contrast to the universal absence of interest anyone showed toward us.
But, hey, we were professional.
We had stopped half of London as it turned away from the riverbank at the end of the annual Oxford/Cambridge boat race and turned them into an audience, we had (with a lot of help from the people of Barcelona) turned away the Policeman who tried to stop our show in Ciutadella Park and we had tried, and spectacularly failed, to stop the crowd that roared from the bars on Pier 39 the night San Francisco defeated Phoenix in the Super Bowl Final. A night that ended in drunken riots.
At the end our third show –sweaty, horse and tired - we sat and looked at the pile of money on our two plates.
At the end of the week we signed up for two more, at the end of August we took a month off to recover and we returned every summer for the next three, only eventual divorce preventing us from being there still.
We got our first review (the Stage magazine – I hope Dave still has it), our first Television Contract (in a show with Emma Thompson), an invitation to the Freiburg tent Festival in Germany the same week as Stan Getz, our first Contract in Australia, our first Fan, our first joint bank account, a new van and a few ideas about Icelandic performance art.
We had such a good time that I think we busked on the Mound during the day as well and ended up with more money and future work than we had ever imagined to be possible.
More than i have ever had since now i come to think of it.
Anyway - I warned you this was a long post – it was at The Hole in the Ground that I first saw the Omelette Improvisation team in performance.
We knew two of them already, as a student I had taken part in a clown workshop with them but they were a league or two, or three, above us and had a residency in one of the three tents.
During the three weeks it became a habit to sneak in at the back and watch them work, minion learning from the masters.
The format of the show was simple – four people on stage, a full tent audience and a big box in which to put suggestions for sketches, with pencil and paper as you came in.
Brilliantly funny and entertaining, every night.
When you see someone do this, who masters the medium, well, it’s inspiring.
And tonight I remembered all this; probably because of a question in the comments of fellow blogger Anne and I thought two things.
1. Could it work to do something like that in a blog format?
2. Why don’t I try?
A few posts back I asked - “any questions” – and that didn’t work but here’s the idea this time.
The next seven posts will be improvised around any idea (any format) suggested by any (of the few) readers that visit.
Leave your suggestion in the comments and I’ll pick one at random.
Is it worth a go?