Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Muncaster Reveries: Meal With Mascots

Muncaster Meal With Mascot, originally uploaded by Phoole.

I'm hoping to return to Muncaster for Festival of Fools 2010, as a walkaround character, and in the best of all possible worlds, I'd love to be there with so many of you who've raised a glass with me in the past couple of years, saying, "Next year, in Muncaster!" But that means More Adventure. And I haven't finished the chronicle of the LAST adventure yet. So let's journey back to the 2007 adventure and recollect the tale.

In another blague, I've talked about my training as an interactive environmental edu-tainment character, and the long performance day I grew up accepting as normal: The day begins when the event's gates open, often at 10:00 a.m., and continues, non-stop, until the event's gates close, often at 7:00 p.m. or later. A handful of years ago, that kind of schedule began to wear me down, even while pacing myself between large-scale look-at-me big-crowd happenings and what we call "hit-and-run" encounters, making brief exchanges with large numbers in moving crowds. For many years, I prided myself on being able to be "on" for a close-to-ten-hour performance day, with little to no time "offstage" or out of the performance area -- I would take all meals with the audience, and spend every minute of the day with patrons. But four or five years ago, I suddenly couldn't do that without having extreme consequences at the end of the day, where I'd crash very, very hard, often needing to be completely isolated from other people. Too many faces, it felt like. I'd need to be a complete hermit on the weeks between gigs to recharge.

So I started to take a break once a day, right in the middle of the performance day, usually after a large-ensemble number or parade or other spectacle. I take an hour to be very quiet, eat a little something, rehydrate, recharge. When I first began doing this, I felt incredibly guilty, particularly while performing at shows where there were few or no other lively walkaround characters. The sense of responsibility, as twisted as it may have been, was simply too deeply ingrained.

So at Muncaster, the first day I appeared as Jane the Phoole, I emerged around 11:00 a.m. I wasn't on a schedule at all -- I was doing it simply because it delighted me, and because I couldn't bear to not be Phooling at the Festival of Fools.

At noon, Sadie, our kind and indulgent go-to person, plucked at my elbow. "Don't you want to take a break? You've been at it for a whole hour!"

I grinned at her as if she were making fun of me. "I'm fine! Cheers!" And I was off entertaining another family, letting the kids jump on me and tell me the very silliest of jokes. And so on for the next few hours: Sadie or Becks would find me every hour or so and say, "You've not taken a break yet! Are you sure you're all right?"

I thought, "I'm in England, it's bright and sunny and cool and dry, and there's A CASTLE HERE. I'm perfect! NO WAY am I stopping!"

Finally, about 4:00 p.m., Sadie put her foot down. "You're having a meal now, no question." Jiggins fetched me a sandwich, and, reluctant to be away from the lovely kind people visiting that day, I plopped down on the castle lawn.

Inevitably, a small crowd formed immediately. (Phooligans know what happens at a festival when I stop moving for too long -- eventually the whole world ends up gathered around me, conveniently enough.) At first, a choir of towheaded kids chirped nonsensical riddles at me while I nearly choked from laughing, and then along came this charming woman with her labrador retriever dog, and just when I thought the company was at its most delightful, along came Muncaster's Owl Mascot, and we THINK Peter Frost-Pennington himself was inside the thing! It was too fabulous. Muncaster Castle is the headquarters of the National Owl Trust, and the mascot costume is made of thousands of owl feathers moulted and otherwise shed by the hundreds of owls resident in the castle's owlery. "Chouette!" the French would say.

Later, Max the Meadowvole, another mascot of Muncaster Castle, joined us for a chat and a chew too. I felt truly honored that my humble repast should be host to such noble guesties.

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