Build another Barsham 6

Build Another Barsham

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Faires give everyone a chance to play and act. The simple device of dressing up in the clothes of another character, style or period means that everyone can be someone else, or at least a larger than life version of what they already are.

Joy A field full of folk draped in weird, strange outfits with funny hats and painted faces is a wonderful theatrical game and a perfect setting for those who want to perform.

At Barsham there is usually one (sometimes two) drama stages where the bigger events are held, usually in the early or late afternoon when people are glad for the chance to rest their feet and sit watching others.

Have someone on the committee who knows the local drama scene, and who can spend the months leading up to the Faire encouraging local drama societies, youth clubs, etc. to come to perform. Rough energetic productions, especially comedy, tend to be more successful in the open air than serious productions which need carefully delivered lines.

Speeches can be wafted away on the wind so it's best to choose things with strong visual action, where it doesn't matter if actors have to shout.

Apart from activity on stage a Faire needs a liberal sprinkling of wandering performers. The worst actor in the world can rise to dizzy heights dressed as a multi-coloured idiot draped with sausages and squirty flowers, banging a drum and pinching fat ladies' bottoms. Try and persuade local drama groups to abandon their usual scenery clutter to turn themselves into a procession of minstrels, lunatics and clowns. It doesn't take any longer to learn how to turn a somersault than to memorise the lead role in ‘Life With Father’.

Create situations and rumours during the Faire as part of the theatre. At one Barsham Faire, Incubus theatre group, nailed up WANTED posters for the terrible Black Bart, who after many dramatic escapes was finally run to earth, arrested by two children and tried on the main stage. Individuals can create and act out characters for the entire length of the Faire. Notable visitors to Barsham are a certain scabrous and foul-mouthed, nameless beggar, the unmentionable Mistress Crabbyquim and her notorious friend Slack Alice, to name but a few.

If you have any money to spend on theatre the best value are any of the itinerant roguish theatre groups or clown troupes who travel the country and continent, with their mixture of street theatre, music and comedy. For about £100 a day they will work from 10 am to 10 pm with wandering events and character roles among the crowd, as well as a couple of main performances on stage.

With good liaison between the Faire organisers and the amateur and professional theatre groups, it should be possible to create things that are specially devised for your Faire. Keep in touch with the groups, let them know of all the other things which are planned for the Faire and give them plenty of material for ideas. Stallholders, too, can be encouraged to get in on the entertainments by learning or inventing street cries, or using their stall as the setting for a situation i.e. having two potters with adjacent stalls and pretended rivalry, trying to queer one another's pitch.

People in masks, people in animal costumes or beneath a simply constructed Chinese dragon, people on stilts or juggling oranges, the more - the merrier the pantomime.

For sheer silliness search the locality. In Suffolk there's a chaotic sport known as Dwile Flonking, involving straw chewing, besmocked yokels who make much of drinking chamber pots full of beer. Another craze which has recently hit East Anglia is Welly Hurling. Every area has its silly sport. If you can't find yours try inventing one.

Friends Road Show (good music and clowning).

Headless Wonder (especially for children) 2 St. Cuthbert's Road, Kilburn, London.

Patrick Redsell, Lowestoft Theatre Centre, Morton Road, Lowestoft (Tel: 0502 62863) for up-to-date information.

Clowns are always a sure winner with kids but there are also some theatre groups that specialise in children's theatre and in productions where kids join in. Puppets and Punch and Judy booths are great for kids and at a small event you could also have a children's story telling corner. Our local Punch and Judy man is Guy Richardson at 2 Standard Road, Great Yarmouth (Tel: 0493 4458) and you can also contact puppeteers through:

The Puppeteer & Model Theatre Guild
18 Maple Road, Yeading, Hayes, Middx

Night event

fire and drama After the fireworks at dusk on the Sunday evening at Barsham a torchlight procession makes its way to the main stage, which is also torch. lit, for a show to round off the evening. Music, dance and visual acts such as fire eating and acrobats work well in this atmosphere. Incubus traditionally contribute a ribald, bawdy affair full of slapstick, chases and medieval expletives. It's a favourite part of the Faire for many people, but it's one of those treats that could easily fall sour. The slow burning torches, available from most firework manufacturers, can be placed in foolish hands. At the time of going to press there is a great debate as to the fate of the evening event for the next Faire, because as the crowds grow the fire risks increase. The only conclusion which can be drawn is that the torchlight event is fairly safe at a first Faire where the crowds are not likely to be so vast and precautions are easier to implement.


Local dancing schools are also usually willing to perform at open air events. June Glennie's Dancers, from Beccles, have plaited the ribbons around the Maypole every year since Barsham Faire began. There are lots of dances which call for grass beneath the feet... Morris Dancing, Highland Dancing, Stick Dancing, reels and jigs are perfect for outdoor events. For the right contacts track down your local English Folk Song and Dance Society.

Zodiac dance

Another idea is for a group of enthusiasts to combine with a few musicians to learn some simple steps and traditional dances. Give a large area to work in they go through the dance and at a given point grab a partner from the crowd. A caller shouts directions to ward off chaos. Within minutes the practiced few have passed on their knowledge to the new dancers, then away they go - all leaping and twirling.


Political theatre with the Oggle-Oggle Box The Arts Council of Great Britain, 105, Piccadilly, London W1V 0AU (01-629-9495) produce a free brochure called ‘GroupVine’ which gives addresses and descriptions of travelling theatre groups.

For clown troupes, jugglers, acrobats and street theatre, contact Oval House Art Centre, 54 Kennington Oval, London SE11. Also for lists of travelling theatres write to your Regional Arts Association (to be found in local libraries).

Theatre groups which have been especially identified with Barsham include:

Salakta Balloon Band (fire eating, breaking rocks on one another's chests and good at getting audience participation) c/o Battersea Arts Centre, Battersea Town Hall, Lavender Hill, London SW11.


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