Spent part of the weekend in London at the London Fringe Festival watching my friends the Aerial Angels perform. They do partner acrobatics, aerial hoop, aerial silk and oh yes, they eat fire. The multi-talented Allison Williams heads the company. It’s very thrilling in my mundane little world to know people who eat fire for a living…
One of their shows really epitomized the “anything can happen” tone of live outdoor theatre. The group was performing on a church lawn, as a wedding was getting out. It was really odd seeing the formal, pristine wedding and then to see the circus, freak style elements of the show right beside them. The bride and groom were led down the path by a bagpiper, effectively stopping the Angels show, so Allison and the girls ran over with torches and formed a fire arch for the B and G to walk through. Should be some interesting photos.
Then five minutes later when they were supposed to be doing a bullwhip section, the popper on the bullwhip broke. Four times. The girls have to completely change their show on the fly and head back into fire eating. Just as they’re getting started with their flaming torches held high in the air, a fire truck ambles by, causing the audience to burst out laughing. The girls then ran out to the street and ate fire for the firemen.
I toured fringe festivals for six years and saw a lot of outdoor acts. A number of them just trotted out the same show (and I mean the same show. The same jokes. The same patter. The same off the cuff remarks) year after year after year. Certainly a shell has to be in place, but I always thought the thrill, and the scare factor of doing an outdoor act was the immediate and unpredictable access to the audience. It would seem to me that it would take much more work to hammer out the same show rather than to go with the flow of whatever energy the audience was putting out.
It’s been a lot of fun seeing the Aerial angels develop their act. At the beginning, it was mostly a one woman show with Allison doing all the talking and most of the tricks and other actors not doing too much. Allison also used to be with another group and the patter from the Angels show in the beginning wasn’t nearly as clean because it was pilfered from another show.
Now, the Angels are a well oiled machine. As Allison had to run off and fix the bullwhip during the show, the other girls deftly stepped in and took over. Also, the skills of everyone involved are just out of this world. There’s much more balance. A great way to spend a Saturday.