By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The Saturday before last, at the John Anson Ford amphitheater, 75 minutes into what was supposed to be a one-hour kiddie show, clown Jeff Robinson was onstage with his feet strapped to five-gallon buckets. Along with three other clowns, Robinson was masked by a tarp for the cast’s costume change (the buckets precluded easy access to dressing rooms). As planned, the tarp dropped, exposing the clowns to the sellout crowd for the show’s final scenes. The performers then waited for their sound cue. Nothing. They waited some more. And waited, for Godot, as it were.
“We were running a little long,” Robinson says. “Apparently the [Ford’s] managing director, Martin Kagan, told [the show’s director] Jennifer Furlong, to stop the show. She said, ‘No, we have eight minutes left.’ So he instructed his crew to stop running the sound. We were [left] hanging on the stage in awkward silence.” Finally, Furlong bounded to the stage, seized a microphone and thanked the crowd for attending. The play Hats, presented by Virginia’s Circus Millennia, had exceeded its allotted time limit, she said, and therefore was being stopped.
The audience was almost as stunned as the performers. Laura Zucker, head of the County Arts Commission that administers the facility, described watching the moment as “an out-of-body experience.” For Robinson, a professional actor, juggler and clown for over 25 years in film, television and live theater, “This was one of the worst moments of my performing career.”
The children were simply confused. Hats,not a mere clown variety show, has a linear trajectory that follows the story of Sarah, who cannot graduate from clown school until she finds a proper clown hat. In the final scene, she builds her own hat, which is acceptable to the clown school, and sends the audience home with the message that there are creative solutions to life’s dilemmas. Without the ending, Robinson laments, the children were left with the more skeptical notion that “if you’re a misfit without the right hat, you’re screwed.”
We asked Robinson why an actor of his experience would volunteer to dance upon a stage with buckets strapped to his feet on a Saturday morning, at his own expense and at an hour when most thespians ä worth their salt are still scraping out of bed.
“The lead clown is a close friend of mine,” he explained. “We thought, gee, this would be kind of fun. Plus I’m a juggling junkie. I didn’t ask about the pay. Like actors in L.A., we’ll do it for free, and if we get paid, it’s like icing on the cake. You know how actors are.”
No, but we’re beginning to.
Meanwhile, the very chastened Kagan insists that he merely informed the director that the show was running long and asked her if it was possible to “transition to the end,” as the next show was scheduled to start loading in.
“I heard [Kagan] say to stop the show,” explains Furlong, a bit defensively, clearly drawing a distinction between what she heard and what Kagan might actually have said to her on the amphitheater’s concrete steps. “On hindsight, I might have misunderstood what was being said.”
“In the end, people just want love and respect,” Furlong explains with the wisdom of the ages. And that’s the moral of this story. —Steven Leigh Morris
Utopia: Burning Down the House
Since 1995, a sub-community called “M*A*S*H*: The Ladies Militia Forced Aid Camp” has been the locus of gay activity at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. The brainchild of Ggreg Taylor, a.k.a. “NAMBLA the clown,” the camp was designed as a gay-male ghetto amid the sprawl of the temporary city, which now accommodates 25,000. It’s a place where women straight, gay or bi are not so much unwelcome as irrelevant. When two friends of mine, a straight woman and a gay man, ventured in to check out one of its tents — the Jiffy Lube Lounge (“Get in. Get Off. Get Out.”) — they were gently discouraged. “What goes on in here?” the man asked a guy inside. “Um, just hanging out.” Later, my male friend went back alone and observed men having sex. Not surprising: Outside Jiffy Lube, participants had erected a 15-foot-high, motorized cardboard cartoon of two buff and grinning naked men, one on his knees, one standing up and thrusting in rhythm. My gay friend screamed with joy when we ran across it. “Look!” he said. “They’re butt-fucking!”
As of Wednesday night, the art in front of Jiffy Lube was the wittiest thing in Black Rock City, subversive and raw. It stood as a slaphappy expression of identity, the likes of which were hard to find on this year’s playa. The official Burning Man theme of 2001, Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man,” proved too cumbersome and abstract to yield much ingenious art. In contrast to last year’s theme of “The Body”, which set large roving heads loose to roam the playa among alimentary canals made of PVC and looming plaster testicles, this year’s art smacked of state-sponsorship — the state being the Burning Man organization itself, which awards grants to promising participants. Impressive installations, from a maze to a mausoleum, seemed formal and goal-oriented. But the Jiffy Lube scene was blissfully free of messages about faux-spirituality or community building. It was simply funny, nasty and defiantly frank.