chapter  4
Order out of chaos
Pages 37

In 1986 I was engaged to take part in the opening and promotion of a narrow, recently pedestrianised, side street in Exeter, on which was situated the newly refurbished Arts Centre. One of the solo walkabout pieces, that I performed at that time, had a costume with padded belly, extravagant headwear and appendages strapped to my body, mainly in white, but with pink and blue ribbons wrapped around and streaming off, which could be animated with bird-like shimmering movements. This costume had been created for the bouffon genre at Lecoq’s school where I had played a kind of grotesque baby-king. It was deliberately unclassifiable in order to be open to all kinds of interpretations and interactions. I was creating difference to see how people responded to hints of the ‘other’: foreign, gay, mad, vulnerable and foolish people. It strongly suggested a subversion of ‘sensible adult’ behaviour and also of conventional images of masculinity. The idea (tried and tested in a few other contexts) was to encourage non-adult behaviour by naively promoting play, fun and joy in movement, testing how far people would be prepared to enter into this spirit. I also wanted to surprise and mystify, simply asking passers-by: ‘Do you want to play?’ with a light, naïf tone of voice. Although making an offer, I did not make clear whether this was a rhetorical character question or a real offer. If a real offer, it was not clear what I was offering to play, inviting infinite playing in one way making it easier for the invitee to propose a theme, but in another making it harder because it required them to initiate. It was an invitation to step into the unknown and the level of risk was high because of the possibility of making a fool of themselves in a very public area. By mirroring and developing their actions it was possible to enlarge their movements and convert the stress of the first encounter into a laughing spirit of play. I noticed that the carnival principle of inversion becomes apparent in these situations: the more prepared I was to lower my status by being foolish, the more I raised it relative to those who were more fearful. As with most walkabout performance, the encounters were fairly brief, with people disengaging as soon as the question of the duration of the encounter appeared to distract them from engagement in the game. After perhaps half an hour of interacting with passersby, I had become used to the situation and began to feel the power that a performer can have in a one-to-one interaction in a narrow street.