First Show with the Zapatistas.
High in the misty mountains of Chiapas, live the Zapatistas of Oventic, a magical town of rotating citizens. Once in the main gate, the road is lined with cooperatives and buildings with murals all the way down the hill until you arrive at the basketball court. Not that it can be seen through all the fog, but we know its there. It is where we will be performing this afternoon, a show which we have no clue if anyone will come to, or if they even know about it.
We prep things in the small house that we are staying in, about 500 feet up the road from the court. When we go out to see how many people we have before we make our entrance, we are met with more fog; so much fog that you can’t see more than 50 to 100 feet in the distance. So, without knowing what is going on, or if anyone is even there, we assume the position and dreamily clown our way through the mist to the court.
I am walking on gravel in the fog, decked in black and white stripes and my dirty, dirty fedora. I have a very large, old black trunk in one hand and two identical brown vintage suitcases in the other, one wedged under my arm, and the other grasped firmly in my hand. Rudi carries a small speaker that blasts classical music as we parade down the gravel road of the revolution to our unknown audience.
When we arrive, our audience is small. However, things work differently here, and within 15 minutes, our crowd has doubled to about 80. Then the rain starts…we are wet clowns. The small blue umbrella is used to cover the speaker that rests on top of a suitcase and we continue the show.
A whistle blows from somewhere in the fog and all of a sudden people, kids mostly, get up and leave! We are befuddled clowns. Rudi gestures, “Where the hell is everyone going? Fine, go, we don’t like you anyway!” and stalks away pouting as Michal and I curiously look to see where people are going. We reluctantly continue, though we are losing most of our audience to some unknown plague. But by the time we are starting to get going again, everyone starts coming back! With more people even. Needless to say, this is a culture I do not pretend to understand, beautiful, but I don’t even come close.
So we continue, and lord is it hard to get volunteers. Every time we get close to the crowd they all cover their mouths and run backwards trying to get away. And it’s not just the kids, but most people. Sometimes the teenage boys will try and be tough and not back off, but as soon as you get within a certain distance, their faces melt into young smiles and they scatter behind someone who they think is the current target. It’s hilarious. We got a couple of volunteers, but we had to take it really reeeeaaaally slow. And we skipped pulling the bra out of the shirt because a little girl had ended up being our volunteer, and that’s not really the kind of thing you do to women, no matter their age, in this culture, that much I have figured out.
Our final turn out was about 110. For the first time since we started doing these shows we don’t venture off into nowhere in a dreamy clown exit. Instead, after we have done several “tableaus” (as Rudi calls them) we stop and Rudi introduces us, thanks the crowd and lets them know that we’re going to do a workshop the next day. After this, we walk up the hill in the mist, as regular humans in a magical place to get some rest before our next day.
I arrive to Chiapas on an overnight bus that is far too fancy, and yet I still have not slept. Tired, but excited, I’m greeted by Rudi at the bus station and we immediately go into a chorus of “the most beautiful girl in the woooorld” in the most nasally voices we can muster at 8:30 in the morning. (Singing this song the first time that I saw Rudi was my instruction from Mr. Charlie Brown and I complied.)
So, sleep deprived and hungry I am whisked up to an amazing house far up the mountain just on the edge of San Cristobal. The house is like a small dream, with moons and stars as windows and crafted into the tiled floor. I’m in Rudi’s house, that he designed and built four years ago. We eat and soon after, head to town to meet Michal at the bus station.
As we arrive we find her with a backpack and an old small beat up suitcase, dawning an extraordinarily large hat made from what looks to be banana leaves. We spend the rest of the evening going over logistics and get some rest so that we can start putting together the show…which we have two days to do.
10am the next day we are getting to work, warming up and showing each other what we’ve got to use for the show. All of this is done in the small yard on the side of Rudi’s house.
We were late leaving the house for our first show and so we didn’t get all the set up time we needed. This meant that we ended up performing in the round for 650 school children, and a school in San Cristobal called Angel Albino Corzo, in the round…
It was a challenge to work a circle with new material, but the laughter rang at us from all 360 degrees and we felt good. It is an interesting experience playing for such a large audience with so few adults in the crowd; it changes the energy so much. Not for better or worse, just different. It does help that there will not be anyone asking for their money back at the end of the show if it happened to not go to well.
It is Friday evening and we have played five schools since Tuesday and its been getting better and better. We are learning how to interact and I am learning how to really develop a character in the context of clown theater. Its really challenging and while the stakes are not particularly high, the expectations can be, probably the highest coming from myself. I find that I spend too much time in my head and I need to come into my body more. But I am learning.
The kids are great and its amazing to see so many faces light up at the same time. Perhaps this is one of the differences between crowds of children and crowds of adults…not that adults don’t light up, but its not with the same innocence and truth. The other really fun thing about kids is they just scatter and scream when we walk to the crowd to get volunteers! Its such a beautiful sight as they jump up, smiles slightly covered with looks of exaggerated fear and keep pushing back until someone has the nerve to shake our hands.
The first week has come to a finish and we will head to Oventic, the Zapatista Caracole for this municipality on Tuesday.
Peace from Chiapas,