On the Streets

This is a short piece I did for the Dublin Fringe Festival in September ’08. Richard Gilligan shot the cover of the brochure. He did a great job, as did the Fringe which was a lot of fun even after all the drinking died down.

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Dubliners are natural performers. It’s something to do with the perma-grey colour of the city that encourages extroversion in individuals. It’s not all entertaining. Street-shouters, bar-bores and poetic ass-pinchers are the price you have to pay for the odd piece of unearthed gold. It’s inconsistent; you can’t bank on it for nothing. You could kill a whole day waiting for some street urchin on horseback to drop a witticism and come away with nothing but “Ask me fart”. But that’s the way we roll here: brief summers and short bar openings. There is beauty but is it ever over quickly.

On the Streets is the Fringe Festivals programme of events that attempt to mimic the ephemeral charisma of Dublin. It’s got the Fringe set in mind but it’s also constructed in such a way as to grab the public who might, when questioned what they think of theatre, reply, “Ask me fart.”

The performances take place in parks and public places and they’re mainly free, which is more than enough encouragement for a city where recession means we’re still burning fifty bucks on a night out just complaining about it more. They’re organised so tight as to appear almost random; sporadic performances popping up and catching the sort of people who could see themselves in drag far sooner than they could ever see themselves in a dance venue, will be involved in the Fringe Festival whether they like it or not.

Close to a fifth of all the builders who kept the bars, white van dealerships and suburban breakfast delis in business over the past decade have left Ireland in the past year; Transport Exceptionels could be a homage to them. A dance between one man and his JCB. The JCB is brought to life by a driver inside the cab with blacked-out windows, while a dancer wills the machine to swoop and bow like a lion tamer. A seven-tonne, yellow machine with personality. A car can be temperamental, can a JCB not suffer emotions too? The JCB show forms part of a group called Balance, important I suppose when you’re being held in the air by a machine not known for its sensitivity. The remaining shows of the Balance series include a tight rope act and a man inside a cube filled with water, trying not to drown. And they’ll all take place in the Docklands, symbolic as it’s also a piece of land built on balance and the hope that it won’t go underwater.

Taking things to a way more intimate level, Blackbox is one of those shows where you can guarantee there’ll be more people on stage than in the audience, but that’s not a diss. The audience sits inside a black box with slats built into each wall; the performers then put on their show from the outside. The slats are controlled by the performers. As interesting as it might be for the one person trapped inside, anyone on South King Street that day will be presented with the way more interesting, ridiculous scene of a group of actors trying to get a warm response from an inanimate, black box. If the parkour guys were there, they’d probably climb it. Parkour? Remember, that modern, urban sport invented by a group of French guys who lost the keys to their third-floor apartment one night? The Urban Playground will be doing workshops and performances in three different areas around the city, no lies. Unlike Pinocchio, which is a show set in a car. The car drives around both interacting with the city and ignoring it. At the end of the show, the driver dumps you out on the street somewhere with loose directions to get back to your loved ones. This show works well for people who don’t live in Dublin. Apparently in Edinburgh people got dropped off in Irvine Welsh territory.

Residents of Dublin would be better suited to a show called Exposures. Calling it a show is right but not quite on the money; calling it a game is better. Imagine you’ve lost your memory. Someone tells you a bit of background info about who you really were – a completely different person from who you actually are – and then you’re launched on a mission to discover as much as possible about this person that you’re pretending to be. The city is complicit. Shopkeepers, taxi drivers, people just passing by. You take photos as you go along and then in the true spirit of audience participation, your photos get to be part of a group exhibition at the end of the festival.

The On The Streets section of the Fringe Festival is a bit like the grandmother at the wedding trying to pull everyone off chairs to join in the dancing. It’s involved and it wants you to be too, but there are some shows that let you be lazy. Whiplash 3 and Bastien for example. Bastien is a flash mob opera, which means a Mozart score sung by three professionals and whoever else wanders into whichever park they’ve chosen on the day (skylarks and tone deaf welcome), and Whiplash 3 is a choreographed, and I stress choreographed, fight in Temple Bar Square.

Joyrides, dancing JCBs, Opera and fake blood by the gallon. If none of these things are to your taste, I hear the West is beautiful in September.

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