By: Paul Morocco
I remember a cheesy poster in Virginia Beach; it showed a curling, splashing wave and its caption was “Life is an Adventure or Nothing”…This became my motto as I sought a less mundane alternative to the seemingly sane environment by which I was surrounded. Inflated self-confidence and selling of self, the armory of the self- important consumer society. I sought something deeper, something with which to gauge the nuances of emotion that would satisfy the emotional scientist inside me.
Already aware, even alarmed that the usual series of accomplishments…a car, a girlfriend, a part time job, university for a better career and eventually a house and family would be insufficient.
“Papa was a rolling stone, wherever he lay his hat was his home” was to become my mantra. Chance would bring me to the street, a place where time stopped, a place of neutrality…where all were equal in the suspended drama of the show. I found my confidence, my religion and my purpose…a sense of joy and even love.
It began on the cobblestones of the old town, Liberty Bell, Philadelphia; I’d watched two street performers enrapture an audience. Working with nothing but a frying pan, an egg, and a torch; they held us captive. Tom Noddy, seemingly defied our preconceptions of the laws of physics with his square bubbles, another man made drinking glasses sing and time and again I watched as crowds drew to the minstrels of the streets.
I went to New Orleans, the birthplace of my father, where he’d lived in a lighthouse on Lake Ponchatrain… There I saw street theater, the classic “Waldo and Woodhead…without Witlow”. The beautiful orchestration of clowning, juggling, storytellers with a gift for entwining divergent character …I was hooked.
The charm of the Vieux Quartier, the sound of the lone trumpeter, I recalled the days of Louis Armstrong…and to those who’d come before, those unshackled on a Sunday, christening the Congo Square with the rhythms of their homeland. Unlike the savannah, where the cadence seeps back into the soil, the streets echoed with these notes. From oppression came expression. Jazz was born!
My first encounters with the artists of the streets, led me to view them as de facto Gods. Not only were they being revered by the crowds, it was obvious to see that they were making more in one show than was I, working at Sesame Place for a week.
It was plain to see that amongst these Bohemians deities of mine there existed a pecking order. The kings, those who reached the stratosphere, were those with the biggest hats, their crowds were those with the deepest pockets. Those who were quieter, finer, who may later forge a career in the theatre, were not nearly as commercially viable.
In my eyes, these performers seemed to be living the dream, albeit a fragile one and though hard times might prevail, they were filled with life. Like soldiers on the frontline with heightened senses, every minute counted.
It was the jugglers who held supremacy. Not in originality, but in their play with the logistics of space and dimension.
But as a 7-ball juggler, I began to understand the limitations of just fine technique. The true art was not in the manipulation of props, but in the creation of an air of magic. It was Mime, visual, physical caricature that was for me. As multi dimensional as that which drew those crowds to the jugglers, but in the form of the human body.
The way a simple working/shopping space can be transformed into an improvised theater (with in living colour…) is just mind blowing…like sport; one never knows the exact outcome. The stage, a transient space, attracting passersby who, as they stop, unite as an audience, and in turn unite with the performer. The one, living by the seat of their pants, ducking and diving to weave the threads that bind them all.