Festival Report (2001)
Windsor International Buskers Fest, Windsor, ON
so much love, indifference and sweat been invested in a carpark. Ken sets
it up, his wife Patty's role is to help him avoid a mental breakdown and this
year Robert Nelson's wife Kumi stepped efficiently and unasked into the role
of onsite programmer. It's really hard to vent your spleen at a diminutive
non-paid Asian whose day-job involves serving you coffee at altitude without
poaching your genitals. And really there was nothing to complain about. Same
couldn't be said for various staff members of various service establishments
at various times. We left ashen faced chambermaids, simmering bouncers and
fragile front of house staff in our wake but we tend to traditionally tip
heavily and apologize profusely so it all worked out in the end.
Ken had to stand outside some offices like a naughty schoolboy forging doctors
notes that explained which of us suffered from Tourettes. And that's because
we're all highly strung individuals, so creative, so generous with our gift
of producing laughter in others that we sometimes digress from society's norms.
It has to be understood that this is just a natural side-effect of our genius
and whats more, to be honest, we're really not much good for anything else.
Ken understands this.
Hotnuts and Popcorn
Mad Chad Taylor
Alakazam's subtext and chosen quest relates to physically manifesting an arcane
sexual statistic. It is said that one ejaculation contains enough sperm to
impregnate every female on the planet. Al's chosen hobby is to do the same
thing the long way. Obviously that's a great many people. If any woman reading
wants to bump her name up on the list and get seen in the next 10-20 years
rather than later on when he's all wrinkly and jaded, I've heard he sells
priority sessions on e-bay. Al's act involves juggling, micro bike riding,
pole balancing and being a cheeky young scamp that woman of all ages want
to sleep with.
Checkerboard guy is this guy. And the checkerboard thing is like a marketing
ploy that grew like a particularly vicious virus until it devoured him whole.
He has a great big cuddly juggling show that he can perform in 15 languages
as well as 7 obscure Afghan dialects.
Reid Belstock is a clown who has a rare gift of being as funny as himself
as he is in character. He's a hilarious mass of contradictions too large to
list here. He's the sort of person who, at a meeting, you just focus on the
wall and wait for him to ask a question so that you can be entertained by
the way his brain works.
Dado looks like Zippy the Pinhead and sounds approximately Irish and spends
his career attracting rainfall. Probably a really sad person to be but a really
funny guy to watch.
Davio is French Canadian, and if that weren't strange enough he speaks passable
English and balances on women's bottoms before climbing a pole and striking
impossible poses that last for 10 seconds and take years to master. Sometimes
whimsy frightens me.
Hotnuts and Popcorn: Slick, sick and pass the schtick. Barely clinging to
their sanity, every risk dynamic conquered, the only challenges left being
general social norms and in-jokes. If they don't get rescued and taken off
the street soon they'll either marry and breed or join the foreign legion.
Pulled off a 3 peaker 90 minute late night show masterfully so there's still
gas in the tank.
Stickleback Plasticus. I paraphased them last year well enough. In fact this
paraphasing stuff might well stop soon. Don Kings of ballroom dancing plus
all the spontaneity and guile of street theatre purists.
Cowguys: Brian and John have a sort of bovine burlesque that involves juggling
and the sort of hideous puns that really should only be used in wartime. They
have classical training and it's like Shakespeare and Bozo were put into a
meat shredder and they've made sausages out of it.
Chalkcircle: Bev and Ulla are two Australian woman who sit in the blazing
sun scratching the surface of the planet with coloured sticks. Patterns form
and then they leave. I've never understood Australians.
Anti-gravity theatre... What can I say? A cynical panto-sham with a drinking
problem. The only redeeming fact being I don't have an ounce of self pity
Nick Nickolas is one of those freaks of nature science is still struggling
to understand. When small organisms were discovered living in unbelievably
hot volcanic flues deep in the ocean, scientists actually called them nickyboys
until they were forced to change it to something suitably latin. Nick has
been credited with many things and discredited about twice that often. He
is the reason for childproof caps and also for Mormons' special underwear.
He is a magician and juggler and a sophisticated urbane raconteur. Even so
it is advised that even if he asks you nicely, don't pull his finger.
Marie Claude is a face/body painter whose work and its quality carries her
from major festival to major festival. She unleashes animals from the faces
of small children and then sets them free. And that's apparently a good thing.
Mad Chad Taylor should be an ambassador for real Californians because he is
in fact very real. It's a bit of a shock really; enthusiastic chainsaw juggling,
genuine, upbeat, thoughtful. Freaked me out when I first met him. He's the
kind of guy who can go to a strip club and it doen't seem dirty. He's what
Alakazam could be with the right dosage of saltpeter.
Lee Zimmerman is the other sort of Californian... sort of Randy Newman, rock
and roll show with puppets; deadpan, ironic, self taught, highly skilled and
witheringly articulate. Had this great monologue about being the bottom feeder
of the festival, with the elevated jugglers being the sharks at the top of
the foodchain and him being the only performer who really was risking his
life rather than it just being a line because if he went home with no money
his wife would kill him. I could write what I like because he never comes
to performers.net, but this plus last years paraphrase, I'm done.
A challenge known well in advance that's unique to this festival is that it,
more than any other Canadian festival, (with Halifax coming a distant second,)
is a tourist draw as much as it is an opportunity for a community to celebrate
itself. It's Windsor and it's just over the river from Detroit. Every weekend,
American tourists pop over in large numbers to exploit the slightly cheaper
goods and services of their northern mini-me in a sort of 'living beyond,
but within our means' sort of 'more bang for your buck' sort of a way.
And before I'm deafened by foaming reactionary flacks convinced in their own
tediously facile way that I am anti- American, I can admit that Windsor depends
on it. It's just another example of the dynamic of a border town. Copenhagen
has the same thing with hordes of Swedes arriving every weekend to drink a
cheaper kind of beer and have sex with a slightly different kind of blonde.
Now at this festival (which, in my opinion, is a two and a half day fest held
over four) the mayor steps up to the mic and in his immaculately kept, politically
astute and faultlessly jovial way, opens it and thanks the sponsors without
whom none of this would be possible and to whom we're all exceedingly and
sincerely grateful. (Sung to the tune of- 'We are the world, we are the sponsors')
He really was remarkable. All the performers were crying and the sponsors
and spectators alike were rushing up and hugging one another. One elderly
woman was so touched she there and then donated all her worldly goods to nobody
in particular and walked naked into the river. Bear with me, I have a disturbing
habit of coming to the point when you least expect it...
My point such as it is, is that the Windsor fest is as much about getting
Americans over the bridge to open their wallets at bars and casinos as it
is to reward the local townsfolk with a festival that brings them together
to celebrate both their diversity and ours. It tries gamely to do both and
I think succeeds to a degree at both. It is sponsored for example by both
the Casino (tourists) and a mental health organization (locals.) Lots of others
as well but those two sum it up for me.
At the majority of festivals, even though there might be significant numbers
of tourists, the performers are generally aware that they are bringing something
to the community and that that is their prime function. While at Windsor (though
good hats are made and undeniably good times are had) there are times when
after strenuous efforts and much laughter, a show ends and at least two thirds
of an audience turn their backs and insensitively head off to the next piece
of free entertainment. Why? Because they're tourists who owe Windsor nothing
more than making their money last as long as it can before they head home.
There was one world class performer who held it in for an hour or more until
safely away from the site before slowly subsiding into tears and as some of
you will understand, it had nothing to do with the money. Just tired and spent
and undervalued and used.
Ken's great; and more than a producer. And it's neccesary that Robert's there
and the locals who turn up year after year as volunteers to support it and
others who bring the whole family to laugh and cheer and celebrate are the
reason most of us attend. But just because we're romantic doesn't mean we're
stupid and the tourist showcase thing just might have to be addressed. (At
this point Martin's name gets scratched from every festival casting list in
North America because it equally can be argued that the performers make as
much as they do anywhere else or else they wouldn't be there.)
Oh but the moments make it all worth while, and really that's our strength.
We can take tired old formulas and create beautiful original irrepressible
moments. I'll just list one or two.
Pee Wee and Em were starting their show with a couple of hundred people gathered
in the daytime, just mucking about creating atmosphere, character and focus
when Em notices three children in the crowd, seated and staring intently at
the ground. So she makes her way over and asks in a stage whisper "What
are you doing?" The children, serious as only children can be, point
to three bugs on the ground and state, "They're not moving." Em
considers this and then asks, "Are they dead then, do you think?"
The kids nod solemnly. After another brilliant pause, Em asks, "Shall
we bury them, then?" They nod. So Em picks up the dead bugs and the kids
follow and they walk through the stage and up onto the grass bank behind the
stage and they dig a small hole and bury the bugs with all the respect accorded
the moment and then walk back down and the kids sit down. The moment is over
and the buildup continues.
The festival is over; cancelled early by a sudden downpour. Performers
have been milling on the covered stage waiting for Robert's decision... on
or off; now it's off. There's another tent in which 100 or so public have
sheltered hopefully. Nick can't help himself. He cobbles a show together in
his head that is not the show he's been doing all season but just bits and
pieces he remembers along with whatever props are at hand and wanders over.
He asks everyone whether they want a show and of course they do although they
don't completely trust him at first because he's a bit loose and weird and
he's standing on a table thats not too stable. It doesn't take long and it's
all ripping along and even though the first two thirds of the show was uphill,
we're over the hump and Nick's juggling three balls while trying to strip
from the waist up and finally he's done it. His slightly less than pristine
body is exposed all sweaty with seismic cutaneous waves sweeping across what
years ago might have been a tight form. He's juggling and exclaims, "Ladies
and gentlemen, the body of a god." and I swear the kid was all of 6 years
old and quick as a flash he yells, "Yeah, Buddha."
John from Cowguys is handicapped by the fact that he's such a nice guy and
such a good sport and just by existing in our midst reinforces all that is
cruel and unfair and hilarious. He comes up to the busker's area from the
public area of the bar and brings with him his dinner and a pint and sits
at a table with Pee Wee (judge), Lee (jury) and Nick (executioner.) One of
them addresses him while he's eating and as he casts his eyes back to his
meal he notices his beer is missing and Nick's suddenly right across the room
with a half heartedly innocent look on his face and a suspicious pint in his
hands. John laughs good naturedly then makes a critical error. He says, "You
won't misdirect me again." Nick returns and replaces the beer, but then
in a rapidly moving, spontaneously planned and co-ordinated series of events,
John, with his arms protectively across his plate, manages to have the contents
of his dinner disappear, item by item (I think it was steak, vegs, mashed
potato but it really doesn't matter) from underneath his eyes while 'never
being misdirected again.' He's befuddled, sitting there with an empty plate
while Nick, Pee Wee and Lee weep with laughter when the unthinkable happens;
food starts re-appearing on his plate. The humour at this point strayed dangerously
close to potential aneurysm and John finally started to get a bit pissed off
as he realised that Nick had actually grabbed his nicely prepared steak off
his plate, in the millisecond he wasn't focused on it, with his grubby little
It may have its downsides, but what we do to the public and what we do to
each other and the skill and laughter that go with it are reason enough to
meet up regularly and Canada really does lead the way in this area.
If I've offended anyone, sorry, if I haven't offended anyone, sorry. Thanks
for the moments.
Windsor 2001 photos by Em
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