performers' library

Waterloo Festival Report (2000)
Waterloo Buskers Carnival, Waterloo, Ontario

Martin Ewen

Waterloo has a university where 70% of the Programming students go straight to Microsoft after graduation and a large sausage rendering plant. It also has a street theatre festival over 3 or 4 days.

At the core of this festival, in a green room on campus where everyone's booked into there are two refrigerators. These refrigerators are what makes the Waterloo festival unique. One fridge has things like juices and fresh food and its the first one you come to as you walk in, it says "Good morning-I contain all the things needed for a healthy and constructive joyful existance." We'll call this fridge the 'Set em up' fridge. The other fridge is in the far corner and contains nothing but heartache. Heartache and headache and depravity and loss of motor skills, especially hand eye co-ordination-and for some, mild intoxication. It says "Good morning, you look like hell, I know you don't really hate me, your mind is clouded, I'll just wait here and come this evening I'll be the most attractive thing in the room." We'll call this fridge the 'Knock em down' fridge. [Author's note: I realise that articulating whiteware is rife with pitfalls for the unwary and furniture says different things to different people but please bear with me as I investigate this precarious new medium.]

These two fridges have earned a respect from all who have dealt with them, sometimes indeed, whole campaigns have been waged against one particular fridge. The reason for two refrigerators being the core from which all else at this festival radiates is simple, close to mystical and on some level probably profoundly maternal. YOU CANNOT EMPTY THE FRIDGES: The fridges seem to be evidence of an eternal and generous dimension. I've seen whole platoons of street performers, many very experienced, armed with nothing more than bottleopeners, hurling themselves in decreasingly organised waves at the 'knock em down' fridge. All for naught, invariably the 'knock em down' fridge is the last thing standing. Strangely and illogically this only encourages nightly battle. And every morning the 'set em up fridge' is there, non judgemental and full of bran. I spent two days in the 'Knock em down' fridge, experiencing the magic first-hand and lost three toes to frostbite.

Beyond the looming omnipresence of the miracle appliances there's actually a decent street festival. Another example of a small community inviting strange people into their midst for no better reason than they are uniquely mildly amusing for short periods. (Who would have thought that a subconcious knee-jerk response to emotional deprivation could be so attractive to a community?) After years of irksome shopkeepers, traffic wardens with delusions of grandure, anal constabulary and the like, it's great to be part of an effort by a community to gather us together and treat us well simply because they recognise the worth of the laughter we generate.

Here's who was there:

Silver Elvis, Toronto, Ontario (AKA Pete Jarvis) Formerly a male model and fitness instructor, Pete was unfortunate enough to be leading staff at a paint factory in their morning exercises when a vat adjacent to the gym exploded. While the other victims of the blast settled for well compensated lives of quiet, strangely tinted desperation, Pete went on to carve a career out of impersonating dead people he bore no resemblance to. (Its a suspension of disbelief thing)

Mark Segal, Scotland Bought up by a cete (it's the collective noun for Badgers) of laid back Badgers in a damp cave in the highlands after escaping his parents at a picnic, Mark survived entirely on hallucenogenic fungus, the occasional stillborn badger and licking the insides of lollywrappers discarded by trampers until he was discovered by gypsies, who, finding him entirely deficient as a sex aid, sold him to a small circus who used him as a decorative weathervane. In his time, perched on top of the bigtop he picked up valuable showbiz tips. He now climbs a ladder for a living.

Michael David Hirschbach, Halifax, Nova Scotia Formerly a gang leader with the notorious 'Devils undergarments' a group who terrorised Halifax in the 80s, riding their 10 speeds without helmets and blatently ignoring pedestrian crossing instructions, Michael underwent a conversion of sorts and now champions the entertainment of little folk.

Chameleon, UK (AKA Doug Dougal and Dave Pickens) Formerly altarboys, members of the Vienna Boys choir and posterboys for the Intemperence League of Great Britian, Dougy and Dave's show is all about perspective and balance. For 40 minutes at a time, up to three times a day they display these sterling qualities while producing comedy. The rest of the time is spent trying to focus and falling over.

The Silly People, Kitchener, Ontario (AKA Phil Leconte and Colin Frank) Phil and Colin performed their first circle show at this festival. It's a rare pleasure to see acts evolve into world class shows in front of you. Young, professional and original, it should be many years before they become jaded bitter former husks of themselves. They were the most impressive new act I saw last season plus they let me stay at their place.

Stephen Elve, Halifax, Nova Scotia From a shady past so well buried you could doubt he'd ever had one, Steve formerly produced service industry videos for department stores specialising in playing the role of difficult customers. It is hard to believe that the silver tongued unflappable magician we all know used to earn a living screaming at blanching assistants at makeup counters. The videos are now collectors items and have been credited with reviving patients from longterm comas.

Karl Saliter, Cornwall, CT Karl, who left a perfectly good career as a tree doctor in Arizona to take up street performing, now lives in Connecticut surrounded by trees he ignores. Initially having a show that primarily consisted of pouring bugs down his shirt and jumping about for coins he now concentrates on entertaining others. A little known fact is that when not performing Karl devises methods by which he can suspend rocks the size of small trucks above his house and while this may not be particularily funny by my standards, it is in fact true.

Bill Ferguson, Vancouver, British Columbia Formerly humble, Bill has recently cut all his incredibly long hair off so that people apart from himself can see just how big his head really is. Having said that I don't want him to hit me which is why I live in New Zealand.

Tim the Juggling Fool, Peterborough, Ontario Juggling on a tall unicycle might sound, to those of us who have seen a bit, not much and that's because it isn't. But God damn it, it works. And if anyone deserves a crack at a boilerplate generic standard, it should be someone young and nieve enough not to realise their knee joints will turn to chalk in a few years from having to jump from such a height. Tim is that man.

Lurk -NZ I am Lurk, Lurk is me, spooky huh.

Furry Eggs, NY (AKA Ed Stander - glass harmonica) Ed is a distinguished gentleman and apparently a bit of a brainiac. When not circling his damp fingertips over the rims of variously filled glasses to produce sounds pure enough to uncross the eyes of Siamese cats, he trains atoms at a leading university.

Tomko Lamb, Calgary, Alberta (hammered dulcimer) So unassuming that I can only assume he's unassuming, Tomko sits quietly at his instrument, he makes beautiful music, sells CDs and seemingly secure feels no need to try and impress. I really hate that.

YoYo Guy, Denver, Colorado (AKA John Higby) Formerly the cowboy in the village people, Yo Yos are to John Higby what metholated spirits are to smelly people who live under bridges. Consumate skill, deft stagework and well chosen musical backing combined with just a hint of irony in his stage presence, cunningly disguise what amounts to a manic/compulsive disorder. The guy Yo Yos in the shower, married a woman called Yo and has two children, Yo and Yo.

Two's A Crowd, Los Angeles, California (AKA Al Carr and C-Mo Green) Formerly caucaisian, Al and C-Mo first met at a short and strange name competition. They got no-where but spurred on by failure they began to dance and experiment with making gentle fun of white folk. Initially stuck in their own suburb they eventually saved enough to travel far enough away to find some.

Humans Against Gravity, Vancouver, British Columbia (AKA Peter Boulanger, Ninon Parent, Darren Adam and Ashlea Earl) Peter never saw the surface of the planet till he was 7. His mother was a coalminer who disguised herself as a man for employment's sake and gave birth to him during work. Scared of being caught she hid him behind a tea urn 3 miles beneath the surface and fed him at lunchbreaks. When at last he was taken aboveground he couldn't believe the vast sky above his head, he felt he could fly. He still does, the poor deluded fool. The others in his troupe humour him, they wave their arms and smile and fling themselves into the air but to Peter its all so real.

Acromaniacs, Hamilton, Ontario (AKA Brett Tomlinson and Dan Aubin) Formerly skinny little wimps, always picked last for schoolyard sports teams and bullied by even pigtailed girls two years their junior, Brett and Dan eventually found each other, and then found steroids. Now rippling and buff, they balance together using their nipples, arms, legs and anything else firm enough to pivot on.

There was a $50 a ticket sponsor's night to kick off, three days of street theatre with a late night madness and a children's show to sign off. All produced by Lynne Sosnowski with a dedicated hard-working bunch of volunteers who worked until the job was done. (One night till dawn getting the stage fixed.) I could go on about my admiration for the work put in by the community to make us welcome but really, the inability to gush positively is what seperates me from the rest of society and I like it out here.

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.

support the site