Friday, September 18, 2009

Spotted at the Performing Arts Festival

What is the most striking element of this picture?

Answer: It's that in the three weeks since I leopardize my bicycle, no one has noticed it.

Well, no one except several homeless people, various of whom have commented positively as I rode by them.

This kind of hurt my pride.

And here I mean the vanity kind of pride, and not the pack of wildcat kind of pride. I'm pretty sure there is not yet a pride of leopard-bike riders in town. But it's Portland, you never know.

I even put in extra miles on the bike, shlepping all over to see TBA events. And by TBA events, I do not mean Traditional Birth Attendant. It's not that I don't know nothin about birthin babies. It's that I know this much about birthin babies: I have no damn desire to be doing it.

I mean Time Based Art, Portland's performing arts festival. Where you can see such inspired creativity as this:

Those are not hip artists doing performance art. It is a bunch of art lovers trying not to drop dead from the heat while sitting in Pioneer Courthouse Square on a ninety degree day, waiting for the performance art to start.

Here are the hip artists:
Or are they here?No, wait, right here! Here is art happening:Not the dude with the Free Hugs sign. He's just a random freak.  Not unlike Bovine of Arabia in the picture above.

The artists are the two short guys, who are part of a theater troupe called Back to Back Theatre (wily buggers, since they are actually pretty much belly to belly in this shot).  Back to Back features actors with disabilities, who perform plays in public spaces.

Spaces that happen to be filled with other people.  And, in this case, with tents, balloons, and free huggers (which now that I think of it are perhaps an inevitable  product of cross-pollination between Portland institution of free box and Portland infestation of tree huggers).  

The point is, none of this stuff was put there by the troupe.  They're just a handful of actors, performing without stage sets or extras.  Or performing with whatever stage sets and extras happen to turn up.

Part of the audience experience for me was watching everyone else in Pioneer Courthouse Square, to see whether they noticed the show.  Which most of them didn't.  Which is a great comment on how much human drama is going on around us all the time, and how oblivious we often are to the emotional struggles and triumphs of our fellow human beings.

Not everyone, of course.  You could see that too:  every so often, someone in the crowd would happen upon the actors and totally notice them.  Go up to them.  Maybe even try to talk to them.

There's a word for these kind of people.


That was my biggest epiphany while watching the play:  we middle class people spend a lot of the time that we are in public space trying to keep our focus as narrow as possible.  Trying not to notice anything that seems a little weird.  Definitely not stopping to soak it up or communicate with the person involved.   Anything too weird might sully us. Or sully our sense of safety.  Or our sense of entitlement.

Homeless people, by contrast, keep their eyes open for anything that might be going down. Might be a boon to them.  Might be a threat to them.  Might just be an animal print-decorated amusement to them.  That's why they're voted Mostly Likely to Notice My Bike.

My second biggest epiphany while watching the play is that their is a reason paper hats have not caught on as a long-term millinery medium.  And it's not just that it's hard to adorn them with cat ears.

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