I have been completely unable to dress myself for work over the last couple of days. I’m a robot. Yes I hear you say “So are we all.” But I’m an old fashioned robot. I’ve been a tin man, encouraging commuters to help me learn what it is to be human. It’s back to Oz. “Help me have a heart.” It takes a few people to get me into the costume, which strongly reminds me of a suit of full plate mail. It makes me think that the early cybernetic engineers might have had armour in their minds when they thought about how a metal man might look.
It has been lovely how deeply people have engaged with my foamy metal man. It’s for a branch of Merge Festival in Southwark called “Time to be Late.” The point of it is to bring momentary play and joy to people on their ordinary day in rush hour. No more than that. Frequently people just get on with their day despite a huge robot-man trying to be their friend, but often those same people come back later to play, once they realise we aren’t selling anything. When it becomes clear that the purpose is nothing other than to bring joy, even the most guarded London people tend to thaw. Performance art mixes with begging in this town, so people are automatically wary. There are guys I’ve seen with fake blood on their faces or hands, working the same spots week in week out. “Help, I got mugged.” One time, outside my flat, a Glaswegian dude told me he had been “knocked out and robbed by a load of black people” and had woken up in the hospital near my flat with nothing. (It’s a private hospital for orthopaedics, gynaecology, dermatology, gastroenterology, ophthalmology and plastic surgery, there is no ITU). Apparently they had stolen his ticket back to Glasgow. As it happened I was driving to Scotland that day. “Brother, it’s your lucky day. I’m driving to Edinburgh in an hour. I can take you home.” I meant it. I showed him my car. “All I need to do is finish packing my bag and you’ve got a free ride. ” He told me he preferred to take the train, which was only 60 quid but he’d reimburse me three times over because he is very rich and runs his own company. I said the lift was on if he wanted it.
I sat in my car reading for 20 minutes just in case before leaving, despite the implausible story. He didn’t show. I was left with the impression that he was a liar and a racist.
Anyhow, back with today, I wasn’t the only one doing random shit. There were three Charlie Chaplins, keystone cops and Marilyns, some bizarre helmeted cyclists, dancers, silent disco on the streets.
People often forget to play. Having been an actor for years, I’m pretty good at it. I enjoy getting people to have fun when they aren’t expecting it. This whole festival has been joyful for that reason. It’s remarkable to have found multiple outlets in my life where people are willing to pay me to play. I’ll miss Time to be Late now it’s done. Like so many jobs around my skillset it has been a glorious fellowship of delightful people having ridiculous fun. I’m so glad that I agreed to do a 3 page iambic-pentameter monologue in a car park a year ago. Often, saying yes can lead to loveliness. Now I’d like to do some straightforward theatre, but we don’t get to choose. It’s time to make my burlesque drag show, or something.