Thursday, August 30, 2012

Stage Dirt

Photo by Ivan Phillips
This past weekend I have come to realize the importance of Tamora's dirt. 

I put her on in stages, donning the dingy layers of her costume, slipping my hands into her ragged gloves, stretching her massive hat over my dreadlocks so it towers lazily above me like a deflating hot air balloon. But I don't feel like her yet. Every faire day I put the garb on, and before I complete the look, I get comments from fellow performers about how weird it is to see her fresh faced. I look in my feather fan mirror and I don't see Tamora yet either. I see myself with odd clothing. 

It's only when I line my eyes with smeary eyeliner and apply my beloved stage dirt that she really comes forth. She smiles through the filth and dirt (made up of "the cleanest dirt you'll ever find", lovingly handmade by the town's "Rat Catcher") and suddenly I feel like her again.

No one told me Tamora's face needed to be dirty. I was fascinated by the Rat Catcher's stage dirt and on a whim decided I would try it out. I started with a small amount and as time goes on she has gotten grubbier and dirtier and by now it is one of the major and defining features of Tamora. 

How odd was it then to take it all off in the middle of the day.
I decided to take a half day off on Sunday and patron the faire. I cleaned my face, put my glasses back on and changed  into street clothes. This experience was unreal to me, walking faceless through the crowd as the other patrons looked right past me. The rest of the entire summer season had been spent as a larger than life individual who gets stopped by strangers to have their picture taken with this odd woman. I felt invisible then, wandering around as myself. I was an observer, watching these other larger than life characters who did double takes when they saw me and tossed out side comments like "You look wrong!" 

That invisible feeling was somewhat liberating as I could step outside of the world of performing and appreciate the hard work and efforts of the other big and cartoony folks that roam the Streets. I had come to know these loud and hilarious characters as actual people and I enjoyed being able to take in their shows and antics as an outsider for the afternoon. 

But as much fun as it was to play the role of the patron, the entire time I kept feeling the urge to fall back into the dialect, to spin my modern umbrella the way Tamora spins her parasol, to let my hands float around me the way Tamora lets hers. She won't be kept at bay for long. I both long for and dread this coming weekend.   Being the final weekend, I can't imagine how much it will hurt to say goodbye. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mid Season Epiphanies

photo by Jenny Badame
I began this blog to be a place to share the stories and adventures that I collect during this journey and here it is now suddenly five weeks later and it has all gone by far too fast for me to capture any of it. I will try harder from now on  to grab on to the pieces  before they all pass by and the best summer of my life thus far comes to an end.

This past weekend was one of the most memorable despite the fact that Saturday began so awfully, with a migraine gnawing at me throughout the whole day and a sudden weather shift that chased the majority of patrons away. But those that held in there were witness to rare and fabulous sights such as Robin Hood and his men fighting with imaginary weapons and Tamora getting advice on how to be a proper lady by Maid Marion herself.  The gates closed and we sang our finale song to a sparse few dedicated patrons who truly seemed to appreciate the efforts more than ever.

Being the middle of the season, Saturday also included a quiet moment sitting with my director and assistant director to evaluate my work so far. Still battling my massive headache and the heat, this meeting was daunting until it actually began. I was delighted to hear their thoughts and I babbled about how very much this has all come to mean to me. I can't say enough how big of a place Bristol has in my heart. The kind words I was given during that meeting gave me the strength to carry on that day, and fueled the rest of the weekend.

Sunday morning I had the inexplicable feeling that it was going to be a good day. I felt confident, the weather was wonderful and the people were all in good moods.  No matter what, I was determined to make it a good one.

My vegetable cart has broken in some manner every weekend thus far. Some part of my beloved shabby old girl always inevitably needs adjusting, reattaching or downright rebuilding. So when the only thing on the entire cart that needs fixing that whole weekend was a postage stamp sized piece of leather that covers a sharp screw end, I'd say its a win.

I had more pictures of me taken that day than any other it seemed. I could not go more than ten or twenty feet before another family called me over and begged for a portrait with my filthy face smiling in it. I loved each one, happily declaring "Now at the count of three, everyone say "SKUMM!" and throughout the day I had some of the best interactions ever. From spirited impromptu didgeridoo concerts with my pretend wooden straw didgeridoo to having someone ask me quietly, "Are you american? Or are you really from england? You sound really REALLY convincing..."

 But the one that I will never forget, the surreal one that threw me so much that I look back on it and wish desperately that I would have spent more time with her and been a bit more eloquent, was when I met what was basically myself about ten years ago.

I was walking quickly to get somewhere I needed to be at a certain time and an awkward teenage girl in big glasses with mousy brown straight hair wearing a baggy tie-dye shirt approached me, looking like she stepped right out of my past. She gushed that she loved my big floppy hat and then my whole patchy and mismatched distressed outfit. Then her eyes went wide and she asked "OH MY GOD! Do you have dreadlocks!? I have ALWAYS wanted dreadlocks!"  This girl was me a decade ago. Everything about her echoed my past and it took a fair amount of focus to stay strong and in character.

I wish I would have said something better to this girl. I can't even really recall what it was that I said for sure, being in a hurry and being just so shocked. But I just know I damn near cried backstage after she raved about my costume, dialect, getting to be part of the faire and my dreadlocks (especially my locks, a feature that Tamora and I share and that have more meaning than a hairstyle probably should), and she said the phrase "I wish I could BE you!!!"

What I wanted to have said was, "Give it time, love. Follow your dreams"

Monday, July 9, 2012

The beginning of Skumm

I've noticed a few of my fellow newbie Renaissance Faire street cast members have started blogs about their new careers and I found that admirable. I considered it, throughout the course of the weeks of training we went through but never got up the nerve to put pen to paper, or fingers to keys as it were. After the opening weekend I have had, I could no longer stay silent  about the incredible experience this has been. So here I am, a bit late in the game, jumping on the bandwagon. I want to have a place to share my journey so here it is. Bear with me now as I take you quickly over a few highlights of my time at the Bristol Academy of Performance Arts and my first surreal experiences as this strange grungy and sunny woman, Tamora Skumm.

The audition went by like a whirlwind. It took a great deal of courage for me to even try and I promise I wouldn't have gone if I didn't have a friend prodding me along, swearing it was where I needed to be. I was terrified in the greenroom, surrounded by legitimate actors, me being the art nerd who never even made it into a high school play. But I took a breath and before I walked into the doors of the audition room I thought, "Just be big, be campy and MAKE THEM LOVE IT"  and filled with that bravado I strutted in there. Honestly, I can't even really remember what happened next but I must have done well, because here I sit, part of the impossible magic I used to marvel at. I still can't believe it.

Walking into the faire that first night at the potluck to kickoff BAPA was a feeling I will never forget. A place I had only ever seen teeming with life, noise and color was still and silent but the structures and the ground itself seemed to radiate the energy and warmth. I knew no one there and thought for sure I'd be an outcast for whatever reason but I couldn't have been more wrong. Every single person I met then and since has been warm, kind and unbelievably accepting.  BAPA flew by for me then in a blur of freak outs and improv nights,  role playing  and reckoning cards, tent camping and flashlight bonfires, meeting more and more amazing people as the time passed.

I've never had any kind of summer camp experience growing up and after high school, higher education was not something in my budget. This felt a bit like both. I was at a point in my life when I never thought I would get to go back to any kind of schooling, much less something like this. I loved every single minute of it and was genuinely sad to see it end, still not really able to process what was still in store. I worked very hard to build Tamora or at least "fake it till you make it" but in sooth, I didn't have a clue what was going to happen when it was showtime.

Once again, I was terrified. In the time between BAPA ending and opening weekend I suddenly felt like I had nothing for this character to say or do. I was desperately trying to understand her; this odd grubby gal who was to peddle horrid food somehow. The task seemed daunting, her dialect was strange and not sticking, and I was certain I would fail.

photo by Steven  Bourelle
Then something happened. I can't explain it. I put my costume on, dirtied  my face up, took hold of my cart and everything clicked into place. I walked out there, opened my mouth and out fell the words of a country lass, right proud of her Skumm foods that made nobles turn up their noses at her wobbly shabby cart.  Somehow it all seemed to work.

Before the gates opened that day, my wonderfully loony director left me with a few words that I'll carry forever, "I'm giving you my favorite game, selling nonsense to people."

As the day passed, I understood more and more what he meant. This game of offering someone something they clearly have no use for and would never want was more fun than I could have imagined. Before I knew it I had a rhythm and a selection of lines that got a laugh just about every time I uttered them. My cart was flocked by people who wanted to see what kind of old and half eaten produce I had to offer. People would make faces and claim "Oh no thanks, I just ate!" Parents teased children by saying "Hey, you said you were hungry? Here's some nice food for ya!"

And Tamora (and I) lived for every second of it.

I may not have known what I was doing but Tamora Skumm sure did. It's only been one weekend now and I feel like I'll never be the same. I never thought I'd be so excited to go play with apple cores and onion peels.