“If you build it, they will come” was the mantra that Desireé and I were chanting to ourselves throughout the backbreaking eight full days we spent constructing our latest marvel. And now we have it: our very own magic street theatre tent! It’s a portable home for our beloved double-act of magic, acrobatics and singing: Norvil & Josephine.
The show’s been touring for over ten years. So far though we’ve always played our comedy magic act in theatres and indoor venues. Putting together a routine for the magic street theatre, we had to hone a repertoire that’s happy with breezes (or gales) and the ever-so-occasional ‘misty’ summer days in Britain.
In the days we were building our sideshow theatre tent, I read somewhere that many performers these days who would have made their living in the first half of the 20th century working in variety theatres, music halls and in vaudeville, now often perform professionally in the many well-known street performance areas throughout the world. I had never thought of variety being forced onto the streets in that way. With our act being inspired by the vaudeville era, it seemed to make sense to find ourselves building our own portable music hall to take our magical characters to the wide open audience of street theatre.
Having said that, street theatre’s of course been around since long before the age of the music hall. It’s arguably the oldest form of theatre in existence and can be traced back to ancient Greece and Egypt. In fact most mainstream entertainment mediums can follow their origins back to street performing. The famous painting ‘The Conjuror’ by Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1530) certainly lays claim to an early magic show taking place on the streets. Then fast-forward to the 20th century and you’ll find many entertainers including Harry Anderson, Robin Williams and David Bowie all had careers ‘on the streets’ – not to mention Dynamo running around in a hoodie doing close-up street magic.
Following in all of their footsteps, we knew had to do it our own way. So to bring our magical pleasure dome to be, we imagined, sewed, measured, celebrated, trialled, ‘errored’, sweat, laughed and proudly avoided tears. The relentlessly advancing calendar hurled us toward our street theatre debut. Before we knew it we presented our theatre to Norwich crowds this month at the Lord Mayor’s Celebration 2017. The many implacable days of hard work paid off when the streets were full of laughter and applause so we quickly remembered why we were doing it all…
…So yes, we built it, and yes, they came!
P.S. If you’ve performed street theatre before say ‘hi’ in the comments below, share your links and say what you do! Together we’ll keep variety entertainment alive and well.