Friday 8th May. First official day of this year's Norfolk & Norwich Festival, and look at the lovely blue sky. A group of volunteers have gathered outside The Playhouse Theatre in St Georges Street. None of us are quite sure what we will be asked to do, as we have had a chance to see the photographs from the press launch earlier in the week at Norwich Railway Station, in which a member of the Willi Dorner Company was suspended upside down and wedged against the main entrance by a plank of wood. We assume that we are here simply to act as event stewards for a full public performance of 'Fitting' scheduled for two o'clock, but with the Norfolk & Norwich Festival one can never be sure. I have eaten a very light breakfast, just in case.
'Fitting' is an outdoor performance that involves an audience promenade through an urban landscape, challenging preconceptions and asking the audience to examine the spaces through fresh eyes. To facilitate this, the performers position themselves into various nooks and crannies along the route, thereby presenting the audience with the unexpected. At the end of the promenade a choreographed routine examines and challenges the way in which we are expected to interact with architecture. This will be the UK premiere of the work. There are to be performances on each of the first three days of the festival.
Now that we understand what the work is about, it becomes clear why so many of us have turned out on this lovely Friday morning. We are all here for a dress rehearsal, and to familiarise ourselves with the route. We will then accompany the audience on one or more of the actual performances, either later today, or over the weekend. The idea is for us to safely guide the audience, at a leisurely pace, through the streets towards the location for the the finale. At nine points along the route performers will be secreted into unusual and challenging spaces, and hopefully the audience will spot them all.
As the choreographer Will Dorner runs through the detail of the performance with us, there is much mention of planks of wood of varying lengths, and of locations referred to only by number. By the time we have been briefed as to which planks need to be where, by when, and for whom, I was beginning to wish that perhaps I was simply being hung upside down and left to dry. Never fear. Lizzie, our Event Manager, soon had a handle on things and had us paired up as Plank Buddies to move the props around in the correct order. The rest of us could concentrate on shepherding the audience in the right direction without them getting run over.
The dress rehearsal passes off smoothly, and after a coffee and a Greggs sausage roll for lunch, I am ready for the afternoon performance, which is being attended by an audience that includes Festival patrons, local dignitaries and members of the cultural glitterati of the Norwich arts scene. They have apparently not had their lunch at Greggs.
Lizzie announces the start of the promenade, and requests that the audience remain behind her as we make our way along St Georges Street. And so it is that a slightly surreal, messianic procession of our Event Manager, flanked by volunteers, and followed by an audience of festival guests, members of the public, and media photographers meanders its way through the streets of NR3. As each hidden performer is revealed there is much clicking of cameras and excited chatter. Our job is to ensure that we keep the convoy moving, and to protect it from other road users. We do not want to rush anyone, but we are also aware that the performers can only hold some of their poses for a few minutes maximum. To maximise impact, we ideally do not want our audience to see the performers getting into position, or back onto the ground at the end.
As there are still two more performances to go, I don't want to include any plot spoilers, so suffice to say that we arrive at our destination in time for the finale, which is also watched by a number of bemused shoppers and passers-by. As far as I know, all the VIP guests made it to the end of the promenade, and we all followed the Green Cross Code every step of the way.
No doubt there will be some press photographs in tonight's local paper, but here's a few of my snapshots in the meantime:
I might put a few others up after the weekend, when it is OK to reveal the exact locations used.