performers' library

Nelson Festival Report (2000)
Nelson International Buskers Festival. Nelson, British Columbia.
Martin Ewen

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 golfclubs.

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.

Martin Ewen

Martin Ewen and his 3-meter-tall stilt character 'Lurk' have been traversing the globe for the past ten years observing the world from a slightly different perspective than the rest of us.

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