Enjoy spontaneous creative splurges

Burnley Express March 1980/1

It was definitely April 1st, whether it was 1980 or 81 I’m not entirely clear, (Note to self; Should put dates on newspaper clippings) My return to street theatre. Not sure now what inspired me to want to celebrate All Fools Day with a series of street clowning performances, but it was great fun. In the morning, with Simon Wilson, we did a pavement climb into the pedestrian precinct in the centre of Burnley – Inspired by the Monty Python climb of the North Face of Uxbridge Road.

After lunch I ventured out ‘window shopping’ in full clown costume. Inc: mummers rag coat and red nose..After inspecting and measuring up the window outside a shop I went in and attempted to buy the said window from the bemused shop assistant inside ……. Later I went fishing with a rod, line and large magnet in the fountain in the Market Square. Where I was challenged by the market manager resplendent in his uniform and peaked cap..
” You can’t do that here!”
“Why not?”
“Because it’s against the rules.”
“I’ve looked at the bylaws for the Market Square and i don’t remember it mentioning not being able to fish anywhere.”
“That’s because,because….no one ever thought anyone would try fishing in a fountain – only a madman….”
“So is there a rule against fishing here or not?”
“Well…Well.. But. But there aren’t any fish!”

At which point I pointed out the tins of sardines swimming around in the fountain that I had slipped into the water when I had arrived. Speechless in disbelief the manager walked away shaking his head muttering to himself. The small crowd that had gathered round us gave a slightly muted round of applause – I’m not sure whether they thought the manager was part of the act or not.

I didn’t completely give up performing after leaving London and This little Piggy Stayed at Home . More I gave up pursuing clowning as a career path and my skills became more a part of a toolkit for entertaining ourselves at People in Common and for livening up political activism.

The summer after I had moved to Burnley I returned to Leicester. Staying with Woody at Some People In Leicester and teamed up with some former youth theatre mates to take part in a street theatre festival in the town. Performing as the ‘Punter Family Traveling Circus’ doing various stunts and ‘street magic’ around the centre of Leicester in the company of the likes of Geoff Durham The Great Suprendo. ¹ When I got back to Burnley I went to sign on and when asked what my previous employment had been I said I had been working for a traveling circus. To my surprise, and much to his amusement, the DSS officer happily signed me on as a ‘clown’. But informed me that he didn’t think they would be able to find me much work, as there was not much call for clowns in East Lancashire.²

In 1983 Welfare State produced an inspirational handbook Engineers of the Imagination

” A book to get thumbmarks and glue on, it explains the basic techniques of Welfare State International’s work – the making of processions; large scale puppets; fixed structures; fire and ice technology; processional, theatre and dance music, celebratory food and feasts and much more.”

Our copy of the book quickly became thumbmarked and glue stained as we were inspired by and adapted the ideas and techniques in the book to our own communal circumstances. In 1986 I went on a nine day residential winter school run by Welfare State at the Menai Centre on Anglesey. The course wasn’t focused on the large scale theatrical events that the company had become known for, but rather what it was calling ‘domestic celebrations’.

The course is intended for all those working on a personal or community level, who are interested in revitalising social celebrations; anything from the purely personal, (birthdays,/namngs/housewarmings/funerals), to the wider context, (Thanksgiving/Bonfire Night/ National Anniversaries).

WSI Winter School brochure

At the time I was interested in working out how we could meaningfully celebrate moving to The Mill after having been dreaming of it for the best part of a decade. As it was we would be inspired/encouraged to create a whole host of communal celebrations; I began what has turned out to be an occasional shadow career as a amateur bonfire builder. Catriona, as part of doing her A Level Art course was set the task of creating a landscape in a box and then painting it – however she got more interested in the landscape in the box and we created ‘The Box Show’. Turning our communal house into a pop-up art gallery for a PV opening night. And one mid-winter we did a mini tour of a puppet Mummers play around our friends houses. All these were in one way or another the result of our contact with WSI – either directly from the book or their Burnley connection, or even just being given the permission to be creative.

We also staged a large scale pirates treasure hunt for Finn’s 8th birthday out at The Mill. Ending in the middle of the field where a large X was marked on the ground surrounded by a ring of spades – with an ammo case full of chocolate and sweets buried two feet down.

Drawing on my experience at the Oval House community video project for a while we organised a series of community films and talks in our communal house on Clarence st. Later I became a community representative on the board of Mid-Pennine Arts helping to co-ordinate a Multi-Cultural Arts festivals to coincide with One World week that ran for two or three years.

Perhaps the most ambitious performance we put on grew out of a video project we did as part of Finns home education. Which turned into a one night only multi-media Front Room Theatre show: with video, live performance and a shadow play – called The Clown Fish and the Hell Fish.

Notes:

  1. We also did a series of summer playscheme shows in parks and playgrounds around the Leicester. Geoff Durham was married to Victoria Woods, at the time an unknown northern singer songwriter. We went to a late night joint show that the two of them put on in the Studio theatre in the Haymarket.
  2. The DSS officer had clearly not come across Jamie Proud or John Fox from WSI.

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