Nelson is a small
town next to a lake, deep in the mountains, about 12 hours drive in a mini van
from Edmonton, Alberta. As if you don't know your fellow performers well enough,
you get to find out what only half a day in close confinement will allow people
to divulge. Who amongst us is a devout nudest, who of us knows the heights of
every major hillock in Canada, at what point repetition becomes potentially
homicidal, all the important stuff.
You arrive three days before the festival and get to enjoy all Nelson has to offer:
horse riding, renting boats on the lake, the nearby hot springs, mountain biking,
trekking or just hanging out unwinding after one festival and preparing for the
energy of the next. It's rejuvenating and all thanks must go to the festival administration
who generously provide for it.
It was hot, getting up to 39 degrees (Celsius) during the daytime. And our hotel,
which was conveniently central and rustically historical and in every other way
commendable, was not air conditioned and as we were all mainly on the third floor
where the hot air rose to, it was very hot at night.
How hot was it?
It was so hot staff used sleeping guests as plate-warmers.
It was so hot that Australian Aboriginals died bewildered in the hallways.
It was so hot that the entire surface of your body became incontinent as you slept
and you woke feeling like a jaded prune soaking in a pool of cheap white wine.
Gosh it was hot.
Most of us were just from the Edmonton Festival with the exception of Alex Elixir,
who is a veteran of the Canadian circuit with a juggling and balance, uncroppable
hour long show and an American clown called OJ who is the most amazing physical
comedian I have ever seen. He has a fashion cop roving character and a host of
set physical and character pieces. Locally there were also contributions from
musical acts of various dimensions and the Nelson skip-rope team who were this
year the world champions.
Also there, as he had been in Edmonton, sort of unofficially, was Justin Case.
Justin is a strange man from a small village near La Chaux de Fonds in France.
His show has featured in all the major festivals from Japan, NZ, Europe and North
America as well as circuses and stages worldwide and yet his equipment falls apart
on him show after show and somehow he keeps muddling through. I think perhaps
with a translator and a good bike mechanic he could yet salvage what's left of
his career. He does ride the smallest bike known to man and improvises with whats
left of the bike he rode in on sufficient to still be one of the more popular
acts on the circuit.
Day one: Woke up in a pool of my own sweat about 6:30 and stumbled downstairs
in search of some sort of heat relief. The road outside was cool but uncomfortable
and the traffic downright uncharitable. So I paced about muttering obcenities,
flowers wilted, trees blanched. At seven, the greenroom was opened, so I grabbed
my pillow and burrowed into the stacked furniture in the corner where I slept
amongst chairlegs 'til the performers meeting, where everyone got to intro or
re-introduce themselves. ("Hello, my name's Martin and I'm a sleep deprived
wolverine. Please don't look at me or I'll disembowel myself and flay you to death
with my intestines.")
The festival takes place on the closed off main street and had been extended a
block from the year before. There were 4 main intersection pitches and a number
of smaller improvisational pitches where people either settled in or rotated.
Add to this a generous supply of rovers and the atmosphere was rich and playful
and the locals wandered about very pleased that someplace this small and out of
the way could produce an international festival.
There were two water misting stations, where, if you felt you were going to black
out from the heat you could position yourself for relief. But even so, a couple
of performers in the high-energy bracket did get dizzy and have to go back to
the green room to recover. The skipping team knocked themselves out.
Days one to three carried on much the same with a slight drop in temperature on
the last day.
There were three night time shows; the first, a ticketed meal and entertainment
night for sponsors and interested parties. Stickleback Plasticus faced a dilemma
of having a Canadian Mountie wearing a Kilt as a volunteer and not knowing if
he was wearing anything underneath it, (they needed to as he had to prove his
buttock clenching prowess later.) Emma gracefully pratfell and had a quick squiz
up his dress and I don't think he even realised. OJ also did a brilliant high
energy dorky character piece.
The second night was a local talent night held at an outdoor stage on the street.
Local talent being a little thin on the night, OJ stepped in and did a piece as
well as Tupahn and Andrea House also obliging with some solo and duet songs.
The third nightime show was the latenight Madness. Highlights included Mark Segal
somehow deliberately wetting himself onstage as a schoolboy character, Pee Wee
slipping and falling in it the next act, a monologue by Wendy Vousden, another
piece by OJ, Special Blend, a hastily rehearsed group chair balance piece, and
the night was brought to a close by marshmallows being driven into the crowd with
The organisation that made it all possible did a great job and did all they could
to make the experience a welcoming one for the performers. An indication of the
unpaid efforts people went to was that two drivers brought vans to pick up the
Edmonton performers, drove 12 hours to pick us up and then drove 12 hours back
and then did the same in reverse at the end of the festival. On behalf of the
performers I'd like to thank all the locals who gave of their time.
Brooke Leatherman was the director of the festival. And if Shelley [Switzer, of
the Edmonton Fest] is a casual truckdriver in her onsite approach then Brooke
would have to be an outwardly calm while inwardly frazzled Raccoon who still manages
to get his extended family unscathed across the highway.