Wednesday 21 December 2011

Halfway Across the World

After an already stunning tour that had taken us all over Ontario to British Columbia, Washington State and Oregon; we were driving to the last state/province in North America to tick off our list - California.

We set up in Blue Lake and drove into Arcata to put up our posters in the independent cafés and shops. Vid was pretty surprised to hear people asking us: 'Spare a nugg?'; you just don't hear people begging passers-by for weed in the UK.

All set up for our gig at the Arcata Playhouse, with a week to spare, we drove further south to some old friends of Tess (now new friends of Vid) in Oakland. The comfortable 18°C (64°F) in mid-November was a bonus.

Here in Oakland was a phenomenal Burmese restaurant, one of the best meals so far on the tour. Although going out for nice dinners with nearly all of the friends we stop with gets expensive, it comes with something that you cannot buy. With the value of friends in mind from before the start of the tour, we had to make sure that we had a separate 'eating like kings' budget to make sure that money never got in the way. Maybe we'll take a little less money home with us but touring is different to working in one place and saving up to go on holiday. We might as well spend some of our 'holiday budget' while we're here, rather than going crazy and eating only gruel.

From Oakland, we head into San Francisco for our next performance at Café International. The gig itself went very well and we had a great response. Walking through San Francisco was shocking. The streets we walked down had the highest concentration of homeless people out of anywhere on our trip so far. Every third person was pushing a supermarket trolley with their belongings. Sure, there are homeless in the UK but it was clear very early on that the UK do a much better job of taking care of its poorest. Though the Brits get a lot of criticism for 'allowing free-loaders to milk the system', you can at least rest assured that, if you do go crazy (or join the army), there are institutions in place that at least aim to help out when you're left with nothing.

Now, we had hit the southernmost point on our entire trip. Generally, on tour, you never find yourself in one place for too long and, after one evening performing in San Francisco, we were already turning around for the long drive back to Vancouver, BC. Still, plenty of stops left on the way.

We spent a couple more nights in Oakland before heading back to Arcata for a beatbox workshop one night and our full show the next. The workshop was hilarious. You have to hand it to the theatre types for taking the improvisation and characterisation to a new level. Every so often in beatbox workshops you get a nice surprise when one or a few of the participants can already beatbox. We had a girl turn up to this one and, what's more, she came alone. You know that somebody has the potential to succeed when they go at it alone and that's something that is a fair bit rarer in teenagers. Props to her. The performance was a hit too, possibly the most laughter we've gotten so far. This time, we'd decided to put the loopstation on the stage, rather than its usual place, out of sight behind the curtain. This added a really nice, honest and open feel to what we do and proved not only to be a great way to show that there are 'no tricks' but also allowed the loopstation to be an intriguing part of the set. If we find the loopstation interesting enough to use, there is always a way of making it interesting to watch too.

Two great nights doing what we love, mountains, redwoods and friends all around us and a quirky yet peaceful town with a logger's bar that has gigantic chainsaws on the walls and a piano made from saw-blades and other logging equipment (that Vid played on to entertain the bar for a good while). We truly have the best jobs in the world.

We head out to a park in Berkley for a day to find dozens of gophers running around. What we didn't expect to see around the corner was a great blue heron feasting on one of them.

From there we drove back up to Portland for a trip to the beach and to spend Thanksgiving with the newly-wed couple we mentioned in our last blog. American Thanksgiving truly is an experience to submerge oneself in. Plentiful in every way, food, friendship, fun and family. Being on the West Coast Vid wasn't left our with his dietary restrictions, there was a gluten-free version of just about everything, even stuffing!

Bellies full we stuffed ourselves into a car and headed back up to Vancouver to re-group, re-pack and gear ourselves up for the seventeen and a half hour flight to China. Movies, check, podcasts, check, scrabble, check, sanity, I'm sure we had it when we left.

The flight was longer than long. We flew China Eastern, why? Because it was cheap. Cheap in every way! The plane was old (there were ashtrays in the arm-rests that still hadn't been emptied), there were two screens the size of match-books right at the front of the plane playing vhs movies from the 80s, the food was inedible and we were sat in the middle of row stench and row shrieking babies. If Tess had had a parachute, she would have used it. Vid as always, cool as a cucumber.

We arrived in Beijing to which would be our home for the next three weeks. A luxurious embassy apartment smack in the middle of the centre of Beijing. Our jet-lag worked in our favour seeing as we woke every morning at the crack of dawn. We were ready to hit the ground running, seeing parks, markets, temples, palaces, hu tongs and oh so many restaurants!

Coming from the West Coast of North America and on the last leg of our trip we decided there is no holding back. From taking a rick-shaw from an old man who giggled as he grazed by every obstacle so close we had to close our eyes from fear. To getting clothing hand-made, made to measure.

Through looking up juggling clubs in Beijing, we met a group of circus fanatics to swap tricks with and made fast friends with one of the organisers. Less than a week later and we're gigging at an event with the Beijing Performers! We both feel so fortunate to have a show that can make a noisy room fall quiet. It was doubly comforting to see that this can work in three continents. Bring on the next three!

One hell of a venue to have performed at is The Temple of Heaven. Vid stood in the emperor's spot outside, overlooking the temple buildings and performed a beatbox juggling skit. What ensued was a frenzy of Chinese tourists swarming around him and taking photo after photo, each person wanting a shot with just them and Vid as well as big group photos.

Beijing is like any other big city, lots of people, tall skyscrapers and pollution... Except the pollution here is more like a brown fog that can hang in the air for days until there is some wind to give us a glimpse of the blue sky. There were four straight days where we were told it was hazardous to breathe in the air and one or two where the pollution rating topped 500. For it to reach 150 is unhealthy. >500 is 'Beyond Index' the current name that has replaced 'Crazy Bad'. Good thing our apartment has high enough ceilings allowing us to juggle and practice without much problem.

There has also been the saving grace of Beijing Hikers. This is a group that every weekend gets out to the mountainous countryside and lead hikes. We were lucky to get to the 'wild wall', a hike on The Great Wall that was on the ancient part that hadn't been restored. As well as to Dragon Cloud Mountain, a mountainous hike along a beautiful river, this provided a welcome break from the city. It is winter here so we were fortunate to see a few frozen waterfalls for the first time in our lives. You wouldn't know Beijing has such beautiful, mountainous countryside if one didn't go on these hikes. It is almost impossible to navigate around the city asking directions to people who don't understand you. Let alone trying to get any information on the Internet that has been completely controlled and censored by the government.

The control of government here is real and scary. For fear of not saying too much within the country itself, lets just say this: Juggling in Tiananmen square, we were surrounded by three cops, a police van and an officer on a segway after four minutes. We weren't juggling to perform, let alone asking for money. It seemed that the issue was really any sort of crowd gathering around the same point.

I don't know how we're going to find some of the food we've eaten in Beijing when back in the UK. Most of it has been great - bullfrog, bee-larvae, duck, ox tongue, chicken kidneys, super-realistic-vegan-faux-meat, snails, sushi, a few mystery meats and sushi with ice cream to name a few.

Our last performance of the whole trip was a guerrilla glow-beatbox-juggle scene in downtown Beijing. We managed to gather a decent crowd and get all the way through before being shut down. It helped that the security guard was willing to wait and watch the last few minutes of the show before coming forward. You know you're doing something right when your show is well received by the people that are employed to move you on.

Tonight is Vid's last night before a twenty-four hour journey back to Bristol. We spent today bargaining in the markets for the last few Christmas presents and seeing a fantastic Beijing acrobatics show. Sure, we're on tour but it's nice to be the audience too. We finished the evening with one last indulgent, 'eating like kings' meal. Nobody does duck like Beijing.

What a fantastic first world tour! Tess is staying on in Asia for a while heading south towards warm weather and warmer art scenes. Vid is back to winter indoors working on a new solo set. We'll see you in March and beyond when we bring Beatrick to the UK.

Happy holidays and thanks for following. A post or two of bonus material may just be in store!

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Goodbye Ontario - Hello West Coast

Montreal was on our list from the moment we planned the tour. It was the coldest few days so far but that didn't stop us from hiking up Mt. Royale twice - Once to look over the city during the day and again after-dark to check out the night lights. Juggling in the cold on a windy mountain top is rough but so worth the photos of LED props against the skyline. It was a good thing we have thick skins to stick through the brisk night because we ended up meeting a couple of film-makers who wanted to get some footage of Vid and his instrumental beatboxing for a web-series. That night we head over to the open-mic at Brutopia to blow their guitar strumming minds with our glow-juggling beats. Our performance went really well, it was a busy loud bar before we started and we had a silent gob-smacked audience on the edge of their bar stools by the end of our set. We especially impressed MC Puzzle, a inebriated rapper who was enamoured by Vid's beats. He asked Vid to accompany him on stage so he could spit some rhymes... or er... sporadic profanities floating on his drunken haze. The duo evoked many emotions within Tess, she went from feeling sympathy for Vid, to amused by the awkwardness, to cringing over the lyrics and finally the undying urge to find a giant cane and pull them both off the stage. To Vid's credit he tried so hard to end the set with beats that had undeniable finality to their rhythm. Yet MC Puzzle had more to say than Vid had bargained for. It was a fun experience and that was not the last of the amateur rappers that flock to us UK beatboxers.

After this we drove back to Ottawa, excited to busk on Halloween night. Halloween, in Ottawa on a Monday. Despite very little traffic, the people passing by were very generous. A few straggling costumed amateur rappers and a handful of people who loved us and threw us some cash kept our energy levels up and made up for the over-excited Tim Hortons employee (a Canadian coffee chain) dressed as a 'Tim Hortons Zombie' hugging Vid and smothering the shoulder of his suit with fake blood. All in all, it was worth our time and a good warm-up for our performance the next night at the Rainbow room. The Rainbow room was our toughest gig yet. From the limited amount of people that we know currently living in Ottawa, everybody that we'd asked to come showed up... all seven of them. The bar did absolutely no advertising for us not even a status update on Facebook. It was a great venue and a nice big stage and, even in the quiet environment, the performance went very well. It's just a shame when promotion is one-sided because, come on, this supposed to be one of the best jobs in the world. If you can't be bothered to let your regulars know, what hope is there for an underground scene?

Our last full day in Ottawa involved a workshop for a TV network, Mountain Road Productions. We worked with a group of four kids ages ten - fourteen who were funny and really up for playing. We played games, beatboxed and improvised giving them tons of ideas for their webseries, Totally Random. This show is co-written by the cast of kids and the amazingly talented Chelsea O'Connor. We had a blast guiding them on the workshop and can't wait to check out the show when it comes out at the end of the month.

The next morning, it was off to Toronto. We used a ride share that we found on the Internet and, somehow, the driver had forgotten that there were two of us. We turned up to seven people needing to fit into a six seater car for a five hour drive. It was cosy.

Toronto was a definite highlight this time around - Anthony's wonderful hospitality, jamming with Tess's high-school friends, learning the rest of Bach's Prelude in C major from Anthony, busking with mask and recorder - This is why I don't do 'shopping holidays'; there's more fun to be had. My favourite part was smashing it at The Supermarket, a swanky yet still quirky and alternative venue in Kensington Market. It was heaving in there and the entire crowd loved it. You could hear a pin drop, if it weren't for the bass noises coming from our mouths. The glow-juggling scene could not have gone better.

From Toronto-Pearson airport, we were finally leaving Ontario. We arrived in Vancouver after a 5h30 flight with no meal and picked up the rental car that will take us down the west coast of North America. This was the first time in British Columbia for both of us. Here we performed at Cafe Deux Soleils, again managing to transform a noisy bar into a captive audience without saying a single word. This is always special. During the day, we hit some good luck and found out that Tess's friend had a tourist pass that got us to Vancouver's Suspension Bridge and a cable car up Grouse Mountain. It's pretty important to fit in some downtime between the emails, admin, performing and teaching. We kept enough time back to make a showreel from some of the Ontario Footage (See bottom)

Finally we fulfilled a goal that I have had for the last three years: Attend a wedding of two really amazing people in my life, Martina and Noah. I lived with Martina in California and we went to Dell'Arte together. She inspired me in so many ways and I truly aspire to be as happy and beautiful as she is through and through. I vowed that, no matter where I was in the world, I would make sure to be with them on their special day. 

We woke up early on the morning of the wedding to make the quick five hour jaunt over to Washington State... We were greeted by a longish line of cars to the border; that was frustrating but not off-putting. We had given ourselves plenty of time before the ceremony and our performance so we were only worried once we were directed to the 'security inspection'. They took our keys and threw them on our windshield and militarily directed us to the looming building that makes Gotham City seem friendly. We heaved open the giant glass doors to reveal roughly two-hundred people as disgruntled to be there as we were. One giant line in front of a bunch of poker-faced officers. Two hours later we left after paying a mere twelve dollars to have a stamp put in our passports. Needless to say we were very late for the wedding, the journey ended up being ten hours and we arrived after the ceremony but just in time to perform. We blew the guests away and rocked the house! It was a wonderful audience of happy hippies who were really appreciative for our performance. My soul felt all warm and fuzzy after.

The wedding was phenomenal! If you are ever invited to the wedding of two really talented performers, make sure you don't miss it for the world. The cake cutting and the first dance were two stellar comedic, slapstick performances that were classy, graceful and tear-jerkingly hilarious. Vid and I were gobsmacked as we watched Noah lift Martina above his head during the dance. They are so talented and their chemistry is explosive. Their love was palpable, it is true and real and I wish the both of them the best in every facet of their lives.

The next day we had a little honeymoon of our own. We took a winding road through the mountains to a little secret hotspring nestled in the woods. There were baths carved out of cedar and a tap from the ground directly into the tub. At a hundred and thirty six degrees Fahrenheit we had to cool it down with buckets of spring water, one more day to stop and breathe before the 7h30 drive to California.


Friday 28 October 2011

Shaping young minds and exploring Lake Ontario

During our time in St. Catharines at Brock University, we had performed our show Friday night to a receptive crowd and taught a masterclass on Saturday and Sunday. Our character rhythms workshops could not have gone better. The students were like sponges and they took the work to a level that was impressive for us to observe. Seeing the groups create scenes using sound effects they had just learned has been a definite highlight.

We finished our three days with a talk to the first year students about working as a performer. Vid unleashed proverb after proverb blowing their minds with revelation and I made them laugh telling them about all the lessons I have learned while creating work.

We managed to fit in some downtime between working. After leaving the university we head over to the beautiful nature that surrounds the Niagara peninsula. We juggled at the falls and were offered money within two minutes of juggling even though we weren't busking. We'll have to fit in a trip back to busk at the falls. We also made a visit to Lake Ontario to have a jam on the pebble beach with an old friend and to watch the sunset.

Toronto was next. We spent most of the time jamming at a friend's place, with all his fun instruments and our mouths (that sounds kind of wrong but remember we are beatboxers). Inspired, we made a spontaneous decision to perform at an open mic. It didn't seem that full when we got there but little did we know it was to be hijacked by a band of god-awful brothers, one of which being the night's host. Don't get me wrong, I think that open mic nights should not have any pressure or 'minimum standard' for performance and the first few songs, though not our cup of tea, we had no problem. It was a gradual wearing of our souls brought on by wave after wave of the same substance-lacking and rainbow-sucking lyrics, orgasmically contorted sex-faces and three-chord-seven-minute-song after three-chord-seven-minute-song, peppered with self-righteous pap about how much they forgive everybody else because they've found their own nirvana 'flow'. After three hours of enduring the painful family showcase, including noticing the brothers eerily massaging each other whilst off-stage, we decided that it was time to go. Still, there was plenty of good stuff between the brothers' sets. Next time, maybe we'll plan our spontaneity a little better and turn up in time to get a decent set time.

On to Owen Sound! Bob and Caroline were our hosts for this stop. Staying in Caroline's costume shop, Bob offered us 'the real experience' rather than a cold 'turn up and perform' gig. That's exactly what we got and it really was fantastic to go for breakfast with both of them, have a natter about politics and music and to make a difference to a community.

Bob had come up with a masterplan, we would teach a workshop at a local school, perform a short clip of the show between two volleyball matches and the combination of these two would act as an effective promotion for the full show that night in the school cafeteria. This didn't work. The workshop went very well and the kids loved the short clip; we had kids asking us for autographs and high praise from their teachers. Despite this, not a single kid from the school came to the show. We put it down to a mixture of reasons, not least that there was a school dance the night after our show and expecting their parents to fork out for two events in two nights may have been a bit optimistic. Nonetheless, we performed with our originally planned line-up: Justin Burgess playing bluesy guitar, Jake Chegahno on guitar and FX and our host Bob doing spoken word.

The next day we took a slightly different approach to the same idea. This time we performed first, making an announcement over the school PA (including a short beatbox) we then began beatboxing in the common area and gathered a captive crowd. The unorthodox, confident and surprise elements here made the performance feel much more like we were taking the school by siege, which satisfied the 'stick it to the man', rebellious nature of the teenagers watching (as well as our own). Bob then circulated flyers and we went on to lead a beatbox workshop for the vocal/music class. This sparked more interest for the show that night in the local farmers' market and, sure enough, they actually showed up to this one. We spent the next few hours warming up our juggling in a rehearsal space that was kindly lent to us in return for two tickets to the show. Then, Bam! What a fantastic show! We were joined again by Jake and Bob but also shared the bill with the brilliant Richard Knechtel playing his own upbeat songs and then performing a magic act in the second half. Finishing off the night, our show was very well received and we were buzzing from the laughter that kept going throughout. After the show Tom Pink, the market's owner gave us a bottle of award winning olive oil and a bag of popcorn, which was much appreciated, and we then set off on our three-hour night-time drive back to Toronto. All in all a wonderful experience.

A short stopover in Toronto to a five hour drive to Montreal. We'll keep you posted with how it goes here.

As the tour goes on, I get to see Canada in a new light as Vid sees it for the first time. Yes, you can turn right on a red light while driving and that is pretty convenient. You can get amazing all-you-can-eat sushi for 20 bucks and if it is raining really hard and you are caught in it a man might just roll down his window and give you an umbrella.

Friday 21 October 2011

Ottawa to St Catharines

After a seven hour flight from London, we arrived in Ottawa to a 'green-belt' of yellow and red leafed trees, wide highways through residential streets and strip-mall after strip-mall after strip-mall. This was the Canadian suburbia that would house us for the following three nights.

Tess grew up in Ottawa in the suburb of Orleans. It's changed a lot since she was last there and the barrage of 'superstores' came as a shock. We found ourselves going the scenic route even if it meant it took longer to avoid all the eyesores. At least that is what she said, we may have been lost. 

Being on tour has a nice way of injecting purpose into what you're doing. Personally, I'd want nothing more than to avoid shopping in a bunch of shops for stuff that I can get anywhere. Needing a Canadian phone for the tour got us out of the house without feeling too much like tourists. Nonetheless, it was great to see central Ottawa. The buildings were much closer to my expectations of Canadian architecture and there were some lovely views from the bridge by the Parliament buildings.

A seven hour drive took us to St Catharines, near Niagara Falls, from where we're writing this post. Arriving at Brock University at around 17:30EST (12:30GMT) we spent a good four hours tech-ing. Writing lighting states and cues is good fun; it's like graphic-design/web-design except you're in the environment. That tends to beat staring at a screen!

As I'm sure will be a running theme of our travels, we are very glad to have friends around us. All the favours make this trip possible, the people behind them are the reason that it is fun, even between performing/teaching. Staying at a friend's/family member's house, being given a jacket/phone/food, getting recommendations for people to contact for gigs - these all help to make our trip feel more human and we are extremely grateful for that.

Tonight is our first Canada performance of Beatrick. We are buzzing!