Can street theatre be political and succeed?
Will a street audience stay when a piece of theatre becomes confronting?
When I trained at Lecoq 24 years ago Alain Moulaut was teaching us the writing modules. He used to challenge us every now and again with the question “What do you want to say? As a writer what do you have to say to the world?”
At the age of 21 I didn’t really know. Something about males doing tricks to impress and attract females… hence Joseph D’Amour Bouffon. www.passion4laughter.com. http://passion4laughter.com/?page_id=62
At the age of 40 I remembered Alain’s words.
By this time in my life I had enough grey hair that 25 year olds would hold a door open for every now and again. I figured perhaps by this time my experience might add up to something possibly worth listening to.
One image immediately sprang to my mind’s eye… an old poster which was very much part of my early politicisation… an old poster released by CND in the early eighties. It had a picture of a helmetted skull and a bomb with the words “It has been estimated that to feed, water, and educate all those in need in the world would cost $17 billion per year. It is a huge sum of money. About as much as the world spends on arms every two weeks”.
Shocking. And still 20 years later, it jumped from my consciousness.
Presently it is more like 30 billion to feed, water and educate… and 30 billion spent on arms in eight days.
At the age of 40, I was able as a street performer to attract, pull together, and entertain large crowds of people.
There is a stock line in the street performing profession that goes something like “Ladies and gentlemen, now I have you gathered together, I would like to talk to you about Jesus!”.
I planned to change that to …”now I have you gathered together I would like to talk to you about the world arms trade!”
Would it work? Would they leave or would they stay? I suspected that they would leave as it would be uncomfortable for them. A street audience can be very fickle.
The first booking was the wonderful Woodford Folk Festival. During a rehearsal I was on the 7ft unicycle juggling two tennis rackets and a baby strapped to a submachine gun. My wife came out and asked me how on earth I was going to make that funny! That was the task ahead. That was the tight rope to walk.
So was born Jeremy Farquar the twisted butler in “The Fool, the cow and the art of corruption”. http://passion4laughter.com/?page_id=67
After the Woodford performances I needed another section to the show. A final section which analysed what we can do. A section which touched on hope. as opposed to leaving the audience in shock and digesting the horrific facts of 30 billion dollars spent on arms in 8 days.
The slackrope was a trick which delivered an image of humans holding control of the balance of the world, with the past behind us, the future in front and the present held in balance.
At the age of 42 I had a new skill to learn; the slackrope.
Life gives us unexpected gifts doesn’t it? In fact I now stand on the slackrope, balance a globe of the world on my head, and juggle three symbols of actions we can take towards a more peaceful world: a human heart (forgiveness and conflict resolution); A pen (the power of writing to your MP or signing petitions); and a kitchen sieve (to remind us to filter the bulldust we are fed by the media). Its quite a trick.
Audience members have thanked me for bringing them to tears!
I have now performed the show at festivals, street festivals, and the street at Edinburgh Fringe. To varying demographics from mature and arty, through to younger and smashed. At times from 11am in a market square to 1.45am in a big music festival.
From all these various audiences the reactions have been intense, heart warming and positive.
Even when the show changes from curiously amusing entertainment to harrowing edutainment the audience stay. They stop cheering, and go very quiet, but they stay.
I now have people emailing me after performances asking for letters to send to their MPs.
I am pleased to say that my fears were misplaced. I underestimated the general street audience. They do not only want froth and funny. But rather, people appreciate a show with substance.
As the final scene says…. There is hope!
Thanks for reading. Please get in touch and let me know what you think.