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The Prize of Gent
David Cassel

During the 1994 Gentse Feesten in Europe, a rather large gathering of the tribe occurred. The Gentse Feesten holds one of Europe's largest street theatre festivals. It is a festival dedicated to spectacle and so it does not invite variety oriented street performers. There are so many people on the street during this ten day event that some twenty odd jugglers, acrobats and comedians show up anyway because there is always a show to be had. Over the years, the main festival organisation has observed this phenomenon and in 1994 they officially named the variety artist invasion the "Off Festival." All of the performers in the Off Festival stayed at a campground very near to the centre of town. Almost every performer had a bike and we would ride to and from the campground in large groups. The social scene was extremely invigorating and bonds between performers developed quickly.

After one particularly decadent evening, which somehow turned into morning without us paying much attention, about ten of us decided to bike home. We had spent most of the night in a beer tent and needless to say we were all tanked. Riding a bike drunk doesn't seem to be a bad thing when you're with a huge group of people all doing it with you. The ride out of the centre of town was always full of laughter as we precariously balanced our shows on our bikes and made our way home. The final wide stretch of road to the camp ground was always deserted at four o'clock in the morning so we would take the opportunity to race each other home. On this particular night Drew Franklin from Texas, U.S.A. and Carrie Bag from Melbourne, Australia were at the head of the pack. All of a sudden Drew's rear tire rubbed Carrie's front tire and she flew over the handle bars and landed on her face, damaging her arms and legs at the same time.

Everybody sobered up pretty fast. David "Fish" Holder from Brighton U.K. immediately became the doctor and Drew his nurse. The rest of us stood around somewhat stunned, wanting to help but not knowing what we could possibly do. Carrie was a strong woman, an acrobat, and she wasn't about to let this daunt her. Still in shock, she got back on her bike and completed the ride to the campground. Once there, every one of us stayed with her. Those that weren't present at the time of the accident showed up and stayed for moral support. It was amazing that she completed the ride because once she was at the campsite, she couldn't move.

Then she started to panic. Carrie had only been working the streets for about a year and was still not earning that much money. She had borrowed money to come to Gent and now it looked as though she wouldn't be working for a few weeks. Almost simultaneously, everyone agreed that the next night we would do a benefit show. We told her not to worry and that we would make certain she was safe. The next night, after everybody had finished working, we got together and did the two and a half hour benefit, telling the audience of Carrie's accident and raising about AUS$700; more than enough to see her through the doctor's bill and meet her needs for the next few weeks. A reporter from the local newspaper happened to attend the performance and the next day there was an article in which the publishers of the paper had decided to award the performers of the Off Festival with the "Prize of Gent". The publishers pointed out that the award was being given to us because we, as uninvited participants in the festival, embodied the very spirit of the festival, a spirit which, the publishers say, was lacking until we came along.

The prize was twenty six cents, the cost of a newspaper.


David Cassel

These and other observations about the street can be found in The Pavement Stage (1995, but still looking for a publisher.) by David Cassel, a performer who has been traveling the globe for 18 years doing shows and putting donuts in his pants.

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