As inadvisable as it may be to dose up with hallucinogens for a stroll through the Fringe – there are rabbit holes you might never again climb out of, and a tunnel packed stroller-to-fannypack with the sunburned faces of Edmonton’s mass-affluent might be one of them – I can yet imagine how literally awesome a holistic, transcendent, mushroomy view of this scene might be. The Fringe as vast machine, cosmic clockwork, wheels within networked wheels grinding out Festivity: the intricate gearing of administration and volunteer politics; the mechanisms of management; the hundreds of ticking backstage production dramadies behind every show in every venue, and the apparati of the plays themselves… an infinite, whirring, whirling mandala… the Mind of the Eternal…
…whoa. See? Even wide-eyed and arrow-straight, my mind’s bent by this scene, the surface of the Machine, the street sensorium of the milling midway that is the beginning and the end of the Fringe experience for many or most. Searing solar radiation and the smell of salves that stop it; close-pressed bodytides against (or with) which we waddle awkwardly, familiar streets and sidewalks forgotten; scent of samosa and sausage, fried whatnots, sharp B.O., hair conditioner; the grotesque and the gorgeous, heads and tails of the same ugly coin; idiot commentary and bratty mewling passing in half-heard snatches, drowned by drumming and – worst of all, wosre than the shrieking of the PAID IN FULL sticker-hawking girls -- the endless patter of street performers.
I’m not quite ready – or, my curmudgeon quotient is not yet high enough – to say “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” Charitably, I offer that if you’ve seen some, you’ve seen many. Most. The majority. Magical busking is an ancient art; I don’t doubt that medieval groundlings and the spectacle-loving citizens of Rome before them would be instantly (after translation and localization) familiar with “Anybody here from Calgary? You, sir? OK… I’ll… speak… very… slowwwly!” Hyuk. The same jokes, the same tricks, the same rhythm and “ladiesngennlemin” cadence in every circle, on every stage. Get all voodoo about the holiness of street performance: the Sacred Fool speaks with the voice of the god. True… but the god needs new material.
Very rarely, he gets some. I didn’t know what to make of Montreal’s Raphael at first – other than thinking he was kind of an asshole – but by the time his routine wrapped with some of the most direct, pointed, no-nonsense money-guilting I’d seen on site I was as much a fan as I could be. First, his look: weightlifter build, Medusa inked on tanned skin, square jaw and swept blond hair, prop-filled toolbelt over dark jeans – about as far from the shabby pseudo-vaudeville of the linking-circlet circuit as you can go, and light-years away from the insufferable motley of the Wacky Fellow ghetto. His tricks n’ gimmicks weren’t all that special, off-the-shelf Ye Olde Magick Shoppe illusions, but his delivery… well. If there’s one place that needs a menacing magical macho-man telling mouthy brats to shut up and humiliating ringside celphone chatters, it’s the Fringe. Bravo.
Elsewhere, the same old story – scraggly strummers and Doug “Push-Up Man” Pruden, hippie bongo beaters and still more Wacky Fellows, not one but two purveyors of the mystical pan-flute. You’ve been down there, right? The height of entertainment, for me, was seeing a trio of space-age dancing girls, head-to-toe in silver lame and bodypaint, freaking the hell out of some dude’s Boxer. Moving slowly in time, swaying like metallic Venusian foliage, alien and inhuman, that poor dog didn’t know what to make of them, barking and growling, scared and confused and frantically questioning the very nature of human form and movement. I imagine that, theoretically, that’s the reaction their art is meant to cause in the souls of their human audience. Instead, they got bemused frowns, and little kids waving hands in front of their faces. We’re all Philistines, space ladies… next year, put Captain Kangaroo noisemakers in your mouths and do the Funky Robot.
© Arthur Davis Broughton 2000, used without permission