Saturday, 9 August 2014

Never juggle Ukeleles: Lessons learned from street theatre.

I love my adopted home city. Edinburgh has everything you could possibly want from a city: mountains and murals, beaches (murky brown rather than sparkling blue, but it's water isn't it?) and brothels, Galleries and Greggs (SO many Greggs). It's even got its own friendly bench, encouraging passers-by on Leith Walk to sit down for a wee chat.

Photo credit: EdinPhoto (here)
And it has The Festival Season. Squatting across the bridge of the year, like an enormous toad in a party hat. People pour into the city to make jokes about ham, do interpretative dancing to the beat of the Berlin wall and engage in mild psychological torture in the form of a cappella singing. I jest of course. The psychological torture is moderate to intense: particularly in the rain, on a high note.

Today I had a wander along the Royal Mile. I got in people's way, trod on a lady's foot and melted ice-cream all over my hands. In general then, I had a lovely time. 

You don't have to spit far to gob on greatness in Edinburgh during Festival Season. I would still suggest that you didn't do it, because it's a filthy habit. But, you know, the option's open to you. If you fancy spending the night in a prison cell / becoming the muse for a body-fluid-themed show at next year's festival. Put like that, your spit could go viral. Still gross though.

Not everyone can be great though. Unless some people are mediocre, and downright bad, then everyone is average. Everything is 'meh'. 

Luckily, there is lots to fill this role in The Fringe. Always. (Also, I would like to take this opportunity to point out that one person's 'meh' is the next person's 'life-changing'. Just like B*Witched can simultaneously be life-blood music to me and 'OMG turn it off, turn it off my ears just gnawed into my skull for bony protection' to much of the population. Philistines). 

Fertile breeding ground for mistakes and mediocrity lies in street theatre. Now, I LOVE street theatre. Whatever you think about the quality of their work, it takes balls of steel to stand and shout until people start paying enough attention to you that you can start throwing knives or dancing the YMCA. And these people do it sober. 

I saw some street theatre today. Some of it was very bad. There was a man doing card tricks which could, as the Glaswegians behind me pointed out 'Be done by my wean'. And I saw the penny he was disappearing! I should never see the penny. At the end, people started walking away and he threatened them that if they didn't pay they'd go home 'to find their dog dead'. You know that you've done a solid gold show when you have to threaten people's pets to get them to cough up. It's magic, mafia-style.

Some of it was excellent. There was a man, juggling things and waving about whips, to a background of rock and roll music. He shimmied and shook to the strains of 'Let's Twist Again' and did the kind of fiddly juggling that is probably even more difficult than it looks. Now, he made mistakes. But he was having the time of his life, and he made the mistakes so joyfully that you couldn't help but laugh along with him. Perhaps it was a mistake to try to juggle Ukeleles. They are not the most naturally juggle-able of objects. But he really wanted to juggle Ukeleles, and he poured his heart and soul into completely ignoring their intended purpose in favour of bouncing them off cobble stones. 

There was another man who was doing fancy things with a bowler hat, and every time he made a mistake and the hat fell to the floor, he did a theatrical grunt-groan, in time with the music. Eventually it got to the stage where he was grunt-groaning at everything, success or failure. It was wonderful. The sounds of his elation at doing something he loved, and sharing it with people, followed us right to the bus stop. Granted, at one point they did become somewhat disconcertingly intimate sounding... The public setting reassured me as to their innocent nature, but I didn't look back just in case.

You know what was great about them all? (Yes, even the card-trickster with pet-ricidal tendencies) They all stood up, in the middle of the street, and threw their whole heart into creating something that people could enjoy. It didn't matter that they didn't have the best show at the Fringe, or that they made mistakes. It was joyful to watch them throw themselves at something that they loved, even when they ended up splattered against the window. 

So thank you mister juggler, I'm going to try to follow your lead, whips and all. One piece of advice from me to you though: try clarinets. Much more aerodynamic.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Why can't we be friends?

Come with me, and we'll be in a world of pure imagination...

Today, we are going to go exploring. Grab your sheepskin and your ribena*, for the road ahead is long and treacherous, and the territory we are heading to is notoriously hostile.

Are you ready?

Welcome to 'The Friend Zone'. I'll just give you a moment to let the desolate wastes, the howling wind and the absolute lack of people having sex sink in.

Horrible isn't it?

Do not be downcast, weary traveller, for I have good news...

The friend zone isn't real. 

At least this, frankly slightly overwrought, version isn't. Wait a second, I'll get my map out. 
File:17th Century map of the Orkney Islands.JPG
Here be dragons. Wait, how did we end up in Orkney?
Image via wikimedia

For those of you lucky enough not to know, the 'Friend Zone' is purportedly the place where a gentleman goes if his romantic advances are rebuffed by a lady of his acquaintance***. Here he can listen to her complaints about all the inferior specimens she dates, yearn and write bad poetry.

Relationships are complex, many stranded connections built up between two people. Sometimes it seems like all the threads are there, but it just won't knot. That is rubbish. It's horrible when your expectations and desires don't tally with someone who means a lot to you. I know, I've been there too. 

However, here is the thing. The world is made up of you and many other people. Each person is the protagonist of their own story, with their own hopes and dreams and desires. Unless you are an actual Love God, you will get rejected at some point. Even Love Gods might get rejected if they approach the wrong person whilst in sheep-form. The person rejecting you isn't doing it to hurt you. They're thinking about their own story arc, where they're going to get that magic sword from when the magic sword-shop is closed for a family holiday etc. etc. In fact, if they are actually your friend, rejecting you is probably not something they want to do. They like you, they want to see you happy with the right person / the right people. By definition however, the right person is someone who wants to share your threads as much as you want to share theirs.

'But,' I hear you cry, 'I'm such a nice guy! I would treat her so well!'

That's grand. Genuinely, it is brilliant that you are a nice guy. But don't be nice to get a reward. That's not behaviour for a grown human. That's behaviour for a toddler who has to play nicely to get an ice-cream. Once you're grown up, you can be nice just because it's the right thing to do. It's nice to be nice. It's even better to aim higher, to broaden your adjective horizon. Shoot for 'interesting' or 'clever' or 'shed of the year' (you have to be a little wooden for that one). But do it for yourself, before you try to get anyone else involved.

Things might be awkward for a while. That's fine. But please, for the love of all that is cute and fluffy, if you find yourself using the phrase 'Friend-Zone' (or even worse 'Friend-zoning' as a verb), go and have a wee lie down. The 'Friend-Zone' is a little bit icky for several reasons. For one thing, it implies that friendship with the opposite sex is a booby (heh, booby) prize. The 'Friend Zone' is held in such fear and dread that you can only conclude that being friends with women (see***) is some kind of dreadful punishment. Like we are going to tie you to a chair and force you to discuss the relative merits of 500 almost but not quite identical lipsticks. This is not friendship. This is experimental theatre. If your friends are doing this to you, I suggest you get them an agent or a self help book.

Secondly, the 'Friend Zone' reinforces the idea that every boy is entitled to a Princess, they just need to collect all the stars and redeem them at the nearest vendor. Women are not like supermarket loyalty cards: you cannot collect a certain amount of points through kind gestures / buying eggs and then exchange them for coupons / A Dream Relationship.  There's no such thing as a 'dream relationship' anyway. Relationships are for two (or more) people. Dreams are just for one.

And it matters, this entitlement complex. It matters because a few months ago a young man in America went on a shooting spree because he couldn't get a girlfriend despite being 'the supreme gentleman'. It matters because memes like the below (trigger warning) exist. Offered friendship by a woman? Yes, 'joking' about sexual violence seems like a proportionate response. I can't think why she didn't want to jump your bones. You seem like such a nice guy.
Picture from:
Not everyone is going to fancy you. If everyone fancied everyone, we would never get anything done. But you miss out on a hell of a lot if you object to a whole group of people being friends with you. So I would like to ditch The Friend Zone in favour of everyone Just Getting Along.

Sound like a plan?

*Other beverages are available**
**Though why you would want to drink anything else is beyond me.
***Insert other pronouns as appropriate, but the loudest voices on the 'Friend Zone' seem to be straight men.