Here’s another piece from my 2000 Bath Chronicle archive. I’ve retired from Natural Theatre now, but I’m pretty sure those highly imaginative bods are still dreaming up bonkers characters to suit the even more bonkers client requests!
My friend has a very handy book entitled ‘On This Day’. In it you can look up any day of the year and find a list of obscure historical anniversaries and birthdays as well as contemporary events of importance, such as Red Nose Day or Children in Need.
A quick browse through can be most useful , because you can bet that a couple of weeks before Darwin’s Birthday, say, or the Anniversary of Man’s Landing on the Moon, the phone will ring at the Natural Theatre Company office. As likely as not, a panic-stricken P.R. person from Parties United or Corporate Bash Associates will be on the line.
‘Yah, um, I‘ve got a presentation for a client, um, tomorrow actually. Could you give me a quote…it’s for a themed corporate event next Thursday’. ‘Ah, yes, will that be Virgin Islands Liberation Day or the Anniversary of Alfred burning the cakes?’ ‘Gosh! How did you know? Yah, all the staff at this really big internet company HQ are going to be given cookery lessons actually in their offices. Yah. It’s a kind of incentive thing. Something different from the usual paint-ball fight! Can you supply a team of performers to dress as …um… King Alfreds?’
I made that last one up (though it could actually be a goer!), but some of the real requests are just as bizarre. Our job is to invent something theatrical, funny and original to make the event go with a swing. For example, we get booked to do lots of Hollywood themed parties to coincide with the Oscars, with us arriving as starlets and film directors. We specialise in Non-lookalikes, with sound-alike names. A weeping Gwyneth Poltroon or a rather plump Marlene Monroe perhaps, or a whole team of James Bonds in various sizes and shapes.
National Give Blood Day seemed like a challenge, but their slogan ‘Don’t forget to give blood’ gave out ideas person a clue. Thus, Victoria station was invaded by a team of bowler-hatted city gents who hadn’t forgotten to give blood, but had forgotten their trousers.
Lewisham Anti-Smoking Litter Day was the cue for brown-coated Jobsworths carrying eight foot long foam cigarette ends to turn up in the town centre. The huge fag butts were deposited in awkward places, such as zebra crossings, in Woolworth’s window and even through the sun roof of a passing 2CV!
We kept these giant Woodbines for a couple of years but as Anti-Smoking Litter Day never really caught on as an annual event, they finally ended up in the skip. On hearing a kerfuffle, we went outside and found a man squeezing them into the back (and front) of his Volvo. ‘For my daughter’s bedroom’ he explained.
Lewisham, a hotbed of radical Event Days, also holds an Anti-Chewing Gum Day, an Anti- Takeaway Litter Day and an Anti-Dog Muck Day, all of which we have graced but none of which has so far made the pages of my friend’s Almanac.
Sometimes a variation of our standard scenarios will suffice. Our Coneheads are in great demand at Easter for egg hunts and the like…and also for some reason, National TV Licence Day (Scaring people to pay up presumably)
‘Environment Day’ crops up with monotonous regularity. This can mean traipsing round a dreary shopping centre with our actors dressed as recyclable cardboard boxes while some earnest council workers give out reams of leaflets (later to be found scattered everywhere or thrust into bins). A variation is an appearance at a rather sad rainy event in a park, with the organisers not expecting us to need a changing room (we are street theatre performers after all)
One thing is certain, ‘Environment Day’ always means our performers being kicked to bits by middle-class children, hot foot from the Face Painting Workshop, while their beaming liberal parents look on.
Walcot Nation Day in Bath is an anniversary we’d never miss of course, if only to prove we haven’t entirely sold out to the corporate sector. The whole neighbourhood declares independence from its parent city and presents us with a challenge to think up something new for this cynical crowd of seen-it-all (i.e. our friends). This year we attended as shell-suited Sharons, complete with fake tans and bubble permed Waynes. More used to weekends away in Majorca, they were not at all happy to find themselves at this rather hippie event. Naturally they got into a lot of lager-fuelled arguments with innocent passers-by.
Back in the real world, a few days ago we got a booking from the organisers of the Indigestion and Heartburn Awareness Day (yes, really!)
My friend’s Almanac has, however, stumped us for today, Wednesday 15th November. According to the book today is the fifth anniversary of Monica Lewinsky’s first fateful day at the White House. Luckily, no eager PR person phoned asking for ideas on this particular theme. Though if they had, I’m sure we would have approached the project with our customary flair, vigour and dignity!
Bath Chronicle November 2000