Started from scratch

Sometimes you get wet. But other than that, playing in the street only has benefits. After playing the whole of the Winter season indoors, in the theatres – with a posh distance – it is a relief to learn that the street still belongs to everyone. Away with the conventions of ‘I paid to sit in the dark and watch you, on stage and in the light.’ No, now we’re back on the street: ‘So if I don’t like it, I walk away and you’ll hear my opinion immediately; right then and there.’

It’s not that these opinions are in any way original; after all, we’re still human beings. And opinions are liable to fashion. A few years ago, influenced by the summer hit in the Netherlands named ‘Busje komt zo’ (meaning the bus will arrive any minute, AU), my attention was invariably drawn to the fact that the bus would arrive soon for several months. And more recently, due to an award-winning TV commercial and my teeth that stand out of true, I was asked the question whether I was born in Dommelen. But I regard any comment given as a confirmation of the direct contact that is the result of playing in the street. Moreover, it always says something about the person who gives a comment.

The historic city centre of Innsbruck, Austria, baths in sunshine when I am there as part of the Festival of Dreams, playing under the famous Golden Roof. Unbelievable that I can be a part of this: Herman van Veen (a well-known Dutch artist, AU) has played here, as has Jango Edwards. And now I’m staying in the same hotel as the world-renowned circus clown Galetti who is also playing at the festival.
People come from every corner of the world. All clichés are confirmed when they pass by in buses: arrogant Americans, nice Canadians, anxious Japanese – I would love to stay and watch but you must understand, I have to stay with the group – and of course, loud people from the Dutch city of Helmond, near where I live. It’s almost like coming home when you hear the comments on your show given in such a familiar dialect. Especially when elder people have so much fun doing it. When I pack my things and pass by them, I almost give myself away. ‘The leader of the Helmond-pack’ makes an attempt to try and speak some foreign language as he utters, gesturing wildly, “…..You….finish….?” When I solemnly promise him that he can continue to speak his own dialect, as I can understand him, he almost faints. As does the rest of the group because of the humiliation of their, probably democratically chosen, dictator. Moments later, when the pack passes my bus – which says that I live in Someren, near Helmond – it appears that ‘the leader of the Helmond-pack’ has restored his authority and that the magic is lost: he asks, in his hideous Helmond-dialect, whether I live in Someren-Eind or Someren-Heide.

When you are playing, you can never disavow yourself without your audience noticing. That is one of the golden rules in theatre. On the other hand, because you can look your audience directly in the eye, they cannot hide. When you are not addressing their powers of reason, but something else, hardly expressible in words, your audience must be willing to join you into this unknown world. It is up to me to find the right frequency. In children, this is easily, sometimes too easily, done. And in the last few years I also found that elderly people are prepared to have an open mind to something new. No, the high-risk groups are in between. Initially, the young father with children reluctantly stands in the audience. When I manage to break down his wall of defence you can almost see his mind ‘open up’ while watching. Moments later you can ‘read’ everything I play in his eyes. Unfortunately, when the show is over they degenerate to the brisk moneymaker saying in an exaggerated deep bass voice: “It is the kids who love these kinds of things. And I must say, there were some very nice parts in it! You certainly know what you are doing.” Bang goes bubble!

The other way around also occurs.
The show has ended some time ago as I walk with the local Dottore who had organised everything, also my show. We are on our way to a rich farmer’s lunch in a Portuguese mountain village. I performed on the village square and all villagers saw me. Five tiny women are leaning against a typical ‘quirky little Portuguese house’. I don’t want to be demeaning but they just aren’t very tall. One of the women calls something out in quirky Portuguese and the other four confirm by nodding their heads enthusiastically. While we continue our stroll the Dottore explains to me in English that the women loved my show. Because I have no other means at hand, I suddenly turn around and – in the middle of the street – I make a deep bow before them. As if on cue the five women make a deep bow for me. A pleasant and perhaps for that reason indescribable feeling of solidarity arises.

Theatre theory teaches that theatre has to raise questions. But do these questions always have to be asked? Most of the time, questions are asked for the sake of asking, or you feel embarrassed because you don’t have an answer. But despite of that there are moments where you wouldn’t have wanted to miss the question.

The boy is about ten years old and dead serious. The festival takes place in the depths of Germany and lasts a few days. Yesterday the boy followed my every step as well. He won’t show any sign of happiness but he will not abandon me. His arms are crossed before him and he has a pondering look on his face as if he is about to have a eureka-moment. He observes my every move. His pose reminds me of an old childhood picture: a far too serious and priggish little boy but raised to be polite. When I am packing my things he asks whether he can ask a question. Out comes the only question that actually matters and to which he may never gets a proper answer: “Warum machen Sie dass?” (“Why do you do this?” AU)

Rarely is a question of such beauty that you are afraid to ruin this beauty by answering it. After all, real questions don’t need an answer.

An elderly man is sitting on a bench and perfectly calmly, but also very chicken-like, observes the storm: my inept clumsiness. After looking each other in the eye, longer than is accustomed, he declares our solidarity by saying ‘Started from scratch, didn’t you?’

Someren, 27 March 2001
Toon Maas.

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