Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Stilts Denmark: The Big Show

The Big Field - pre 30,000 scouts
The culmination of our week was the pre-show show for 30,000 international scouts in a very large field on the outskirts of Holstebro; not far, as the crow flies, from OdinTeatret. We could hear the sound-check wafting across the flat Danish countryside every morning. The closer neighbors must have been livid.

Front of Stage, waiting for orders.

I admit that my interest in the project, apart from the stilts, was that it seemed rather outside the usual venue for the theatre and I was curious to see how it would be handled: a huge crowd with the trappings of commercial and military overtones  (TV cameras and the rigid scout structure).   Indeed, the project was frequently referred to as "my nightmare" by those in the know. We came to expect each rehearsal to start with a sigh, a roll of the eyes, and the words, "There's been a change". From the performers side, however, we generally felt good hanging out with cool, talented people, and we were used to challenges (we were, after all, stiltwalkers) so, okay, whatever. 

The Stick Figures at the top of the hill.
The stilters with the toughest job were the five "stick figures", so named because of five 15' flexible tubes strapped around their bodies. It took about an hour to dress them up and strap them in, after which it was nearly impossible for them to sit anywhere. They were positioned to appear on top of the only hill in all of Holstebro, from which they descended and walked the length of two football fields to the front of the stage where the rest of us were going through various bits and routines. 

Jay and Helen of Carpetbag Brigade. 
The odd rings were played with in
rehearsals, but not used in peformance.
I was pared with Helen A of England, who came along with a Victorian style costume. It was the general consensus of the group that my costume blended best with hers, particularly if you squinted your eyes to the point of closing them. 

We got to mix it up with Jay and Helen G of Carpetbag Brigade, creating a rather absurd-comic-drama that had three parts: me and Jay dancing a tango and generally harassing the audience, me and Helen G in a mad scientist power-struggle with electric hand jive and bondage, and me and Helen A with a proper circumspect adagio (I don't know what Jay and Helen A were up to while me and Helen G were zapping each other). Center in-front-of-stage were the four members of the Colombian group Nemcatacoa Teatro who pretzelled themselves into amazing tableaus and feats of counter-balance. In addition to our antics, Deborah Hunt's masks and giant puppeteers danced in the aisles while the Jasonites underscored the visuals with rousing song and percussion. 

Maskers and Giants created in Deborah Hunt's workshop.
The evening was cold and moist with the threat of rain, an uneven surface underfoot and the insane din of commercial television production all around us, with images projected on two large rock-concert screens left and right.  Our hard working directors were incensed that there were almost no projections of our work on the screens, nor thanks or acknowledgment of our work coming from the MC's on stage. Instead, advertisements were broadcast and camera shots of the crowd prevailed, prompting spontaneous "woo-hoo"'s whenever the scouts saw themselves. It was a performance for our times: live, passionate, community inspired artists vs. the cold modern technology of mass media. 

The Scouts arrive - pretty orderly, actually. 

We engaged and delighted the audience members who caught our acts without distraction; the battle was not lost, though we were out-gunned. I felt a little like the fly vs. the cannon; they may make the louder noise, but HA, they can't maneuver fast enough to kill us. We live to fight again.

Much love and many thanks to our fearless leaders, Julia, Tage, Donald and Deborah, the music of the Jasonites, the Odin staff, the puppeteers and maskers, and especially to my compatriots on the stilts. This was fun. I'd be happy to share the studio and the field with you all again anytime.

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