Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On Tour in Europe-part 1

Budapest, Hungary

I am on the road again, for 6 weeks in Europe, touring with Cirque Mechanics' show, ”The Birdhouse Factory.” An ensemble-style performance, Birdhouse Factory utilizes the bodies onstage during acts to create tableaus, stylized after the Factory worker paintings of Diego Rivera, and the styles of Charlie Chaplin and Rube Goldberg. I have worked with this show for the past 4 years, traveling all over the USA, as well as to Europe and Dubai, but this is our first long tour in Europe. The cast and crew are a total of 15-16 people from all over the United States and Canada, depending on the makeup of the cast, which seems to constantly change. (As free-lance performers, we often take a contract, and then find that another one conflicts, so there have been multiple renditions of a cast that does, primarily, the same show.) When we come together for a tour, there are usually a day or two of remembering and reworking the show as we hit the ground running. This time around we have integrated two new cast members, so the first week has been full of rehearsing. <> >

My job on the road consists of performing. I do a synchronized corde lisse, or aerial rope act with another performer, and ground acrobatics. I also maintain the “wardrobe” (costumes). Technically I'm not crew, but my schedule often overlaps with theirs depending how tight our load out/load in time is, and the spacing of shows.

Another part of our job description is the load in and out, primarily the load out, of our set: a big, steel, industrial set complete with I-beams, a conveyer belt, aerial truss, and various other set pieces of machinery which are built to be used for acrobatics. After the last show at each venue, we dive right into our tasks, each of the cast assigned to taking things apart, and the crew bringing rigging truss and lighting gear down. By now, we are all pretty accustomed to the job, and when we have a good crew, we load it out within two hours, everything disassembled, laundry washed, dried and packed, and the truck loaded up and closed, set to drive onto the next town. It's a great way to work off the remaining adrenaline from having just performed for two hours, but can certainly be exhausting.

Our first shows in Budapest were very well-received, with engaged, friendly audiences. This was the first International Show ever to play this theater!! We stayed in Budapest for just over a week, long enough to actually settle into our 'homes' and the theater, and to get out and about during the days, and a little at night. On our first day, I saw the Hungarian State Circus with most of our cast and crew; a good experience having never seen a European Circus, but disappointing in the skill department. On the walk back to our hotel, we cruised through a big fair in the neighboring park, admiring the candies, chocolates, corn, cotton candy, and the statues. I stopped in Hero Square, one of the most visited sites in Budapest. The square is large and cobbled, with a huge statue towering in the center, flanked by bronze horses. This was the first of the many historic sites I visited that week.

From my hotel room, I had a great view of the Danube River, and one of the older buildings on the Buda side of the river. The city is split into the 'Buda' side and the 'Pest' side, with Margaret Island in between at one point. I enjoyed daily sunrises and sunsets on the river, as well as the constant traffic of barges, ferries, and smaller boats.

What struck me most about Budapest was that it was very clean, the social energy was quiet and reserved, but friendly, and the architecture was magnificent! And we had some time to get out and explore!

On Margaret Island, two tech guys and I rented a three-seat, four-wheeled bike! We tooled around the island, both on and off-road, for at least an hour. We took turns actually pedaling and steering, feeling like we could fall out the sides at any minute; almost crashing into trees, the river, and barely missing being sideswiped by a speedy Audi...oops! Loads of fun! So many people over in Europe bike, so the cost of renting is low, and you can make a lot of headway with explorations.

Gellert Hill is another amazing sight: A tall hill across the Chain Bridge, with an old historic building, the Citadel, at the top. From the inside there is a full panoramic view of the city, and we—of course—did handstands on the wall with the city behind us. Three cast members and I hiked across the bridge and up the hill to explore the Citadel; treated ourselves to a cappuccino before making our way down the other side and over past the Old Palace, beautiful and ornate. We probably walked miles that day, but the sun was out and there was so much to see!

One of our other days off, we visited Szentendere, a small artisan village twelve kilometers outside of Budapest; a train ride away, beautiful and green, and full of cobbled streets and small shops. We had an hour or so there to wander, and then caught the last boat down the river into the city. The banks of the river were very green, and a good number of people were parked down by the shore, fishing, with picnics, with little bonfires lit. As we got closer to the city we shared the Danube with the larger barges moving upriver, some of them empty, some carrying scrap metal from the bridge under construction.

I really enjoyed all the walking: it's a great way to admire the sights because you move slowly enough to see your surroundings, something that you can't take in the same way even by bicycle, although there is the advantage of covering more distance with wheels.

That evening I went out with three of the other ladies, early by European standards, to grab a drink and check out the scene at the Savannah Club. This place was founded by a Nigerian man as somewhere for fellow Africans to convene. Hungary is primarily Caucasian, and apparently not as open-minded to cultural integration as other European cities. We started the evening pretty quietly, but ended it dancing to a female DJ who mixed pop/reggae/world/African beats. The dance crowd was great! African culture has so much dance and song involved that it turned into a very friendly, lively mass of young people. I had to laugh at one of our ladies who wondered if the men were gay at first; they are very physical with each other, but when we actually had conversations with them, they were all very well-educated, and generally modern in their views of society and especially in terms of equality between men and women.