Monday, 14 October 2013

Going BIG parade style!

‘Go Big’ was the catchphrase for the MTN festival held at Monte Casino this past month. And part of ‘Going Big’ was a parade, held twice on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. 

The Pink Acrobatic Clown
The casting brief sent out by the entertainment company who put the parade together just asked for an acrobat. So when I auditioned I had no idea what my character would be for the parade. I knew there was going to be at least 2 saxophone players, and I knew there was going to be a Charlie Chaplin (the people I saw at my audition) but that was it. And when I arrived for a costume fitting I was presented a very large, and as it would turn out see-through, chequered clown costume, complete with ruffles. Now I don’t mind being a clown. As an acrobat one does sort of expect it, but I could not do acrobatics in a suit with ruffles tumbling over my head, hands and feet. I explained the lack of safety and visibility to the producer, who kindly said there would be another option for me at our rehearsal. What greeted me was an explosion of pink. Pink leotard, pink tutu and pink curly wig. I think many off my friends would imagine I chose the costume because of my personal obsession with the colour, but none this less, this was a lot of pink. And the pink puff of acrobatic clown came to life for the parade. I joined a host of other characters, all relating to the various special events which were being held at Monte Casino. For the kids there was Spiderman, Batman, a generic mouse to avoid copyright infringement and a large clock. There were showgirls for the entertainment, beer maidens for Beerfest, there were hip-hop dancers dressed as chefs and sports players and a mobile drummer keeping the beat. Our mad-cap group of diverse and interesting characters, and even more diverse and interesting people, danced around our parade route.

Preparing for the parade we had one rehearsal, before final dress and showing the client. There wasn't really time to learn names as we dived into our first rehearsal, and generally we were referred to by our characters. I was known as ‘Clown’ for the first few days, my friend Herman who portrayed Charlie Chaplin was called ‘Charlie’ right up to the end. Names only came around later, when you got to know someone. I did not know the two saxophone players very well, when during our first week of performance I lent one of them my shoes as she had forgotten hers at home. And a pair of sandals wasn't going to work with her costume. In our tiny dressing room space (you would imagine there would be bigger facilities) chaos always ensued once the second parade of the evening was over as everyone got out of the costumes as quickly as possible. I saw the saxophone players leave together, and about five minutes later, once I had wiggled out of my leotard I realized that my shoes had not been returned to me. I didn’t fancy a walk through the casino and its parking lot bare footed. Our production manager gave me her phone number and as about five people listened I said to her voice mail:

“Hi, it’s Chandré…the clown. I think you may have left with my shoes.”
Show Girls Caitlin Clerk and Bryony Whitfield
I think what I enjoyed most about the parade was watching the people in the casino. The different characters joined the parade at different times as we walked through the casino. Being a clown, I had to wait in a small vintage car until the parade came along. Then one of the other characters would open the door and I would, unexpectedly, pop out of the car and do a few tricks before the parade moved on. So, for about ten minutes before the parade I would sit in my clown car watching the patrons. Often children would notice me, and frustrated parents would drag them along without paying attention.  It was also entertaining as many people wouldn’t notice the ball of pink sitting in the car, and then get a fright upon realizing that there was an actual person in there. I also heard a young boy yell, as loud as he could when Charlie Chaplin came walking around the corner:

"Look Mom! It's Mr Bean!"

That was until I hit the pre-teens/teenagers.

As I was stationary in my clown car for a while the pink clown seemed to become the object for a group of teenagers to ridicule one evening. Sitting in an old vintage car, which I realized was quite fragile when seeing it from the inside, I did not want to give anyone permission to climb into it, especially while I was there. So whenever someone asked if they could climb into the car with me I would say with great enthusiasm: “It’s a clown car! It’s made for clowns!” This usually did the trick, and the passers by would laugh, take a photo and move on. This did not work for the teenagers, who stood around the car, pulling faces at me, and preventing me from interacting with the little children and eventually shaking the car (which did not help my slight claustrophobic tendencies). And as it is my job to be an eternally positive, happy and progressive clown there weren’t many options available to me. Eventually the beer maidens who were across the way saw what was happening,  stepped in and engaged with them. Essentially transferring their attention away from me. But interacting with the younger children, or people who got into the spirit of the parade was a lot of fun.

Caitlin Clerk, one of our Show Girls

Charlie Chaplin, or Herman Vorster and myself

Our drummer, the well-known Paul Ditchfield

One of our Beer Maidens, and Charlie Chaplin

There were children elated to see Batman and Spiderman, and a few that were brought to tears by the sight of them. In these instances our mouse was quickly called in to cheer them up! And many, many photos were taken of us. It’s part of our job to be friendly, and to take photos with children and tourists.  That’s what we’re paid to do. But now and then it gets out of hand, like when a group of non-English speaking tourists decided to keep me occupied for about five minutes as our parade moved on. Each wanting to take a picture with me. I was very relieved to see our amazing production manager and a member of the casino staff waiting patiently, and keeping an eye on me as the rest of the group moved along with the parade. Or when, as I walked past a possibly drunk older lady she grabbed me and pulled me into a bear hug (or perhaps more accurately 'beer' hug). Thankfully I was released quickly enough.  She was in the spirit of the parade. She was going big.

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