Wednesday, 15 August 2012

I learned about stilting from that - A true story that I witnessed

The true story.

Back in 1995 I was a coach driver and for 3 days was contracted to take elderly groups to watch an outdoor stilt/mime performance in a local park performed by 2 men and a lady from France. I was parked outside the park entance next to the performers' transport which was about 300 yards from the low stage where they performed.
The idea was that the performers got ready in their large van, used the bonnet to get on their peg stilts ( about 4 ft high) then walk along the tarmac footpath to the performance area. The stilts were wooden with large smooth rubber stoppers for feet. The path went under many trees and went down very steeply at one point (about a 30% incline). It was late september and the leaves were falling. One performance was mid-afternoon and one under floodlights in the evening. The idea was that the 2 men went off to the stage followed by the lady about 10 minutes later. The first day was fine and dry and both performances went well and were well attended.
On the second day the afternoon performance was cancelled due to heavy rain but the evening went ahead. The heavy rain had brought many leaves off the trees and had made the steep hill rather slippery. The men went off in the sunset but got into severe difficulty on the steep hill due to the conditions. They only managed to survive a catastrophy by hanging onto each other.
About 10minutes later the lady appeared from the van and while she put on her stilts she was verbally taunted by several local kids on BMX bikes who she scolded and chased off.. She set off in the gathering gloom but got into great difficulty on the steep slippery hill. The kids saw their chance to get their own back and started hounding her on their bikes. One kid charged up to her from behind and screamed at her and collided with her while trying to get between her stilts on his bike. Already in difficulty with the slime she fell sideways into bushes and the kids disappeared into the darkness. She then re-appeared from the bushes and went back to the van to put her stilts on again. A few minutes later she set off a second time, nearly coming to grief several times on the slime and only by good luck and a lot of staggering managed to get to the performance. I was outside the fence and unable to help being that there was an entrance fee for the park that day.
On the 3rd day the footpath had been cleaned and gritted and I attended the afternoon performance. As usual the men set off first but when the lady appeared the kids were ready for her at the top of the steep hill. As she stilted towards the hill she scolded them again but was visibly un-nerved by their presence, showing her nervousness by her unsteady walking. Again with no spotter, she started descending the hill and the kids surrounded her, bumping into her and shaking her stilts but she gamely kept on walking as best she could looking very worried and uncomfortable. Suddenly one kid came in from one side on his bike and as she swung her free leg forward, he caught that stilt and took it out sideways, catching her by surprise and causing her to take a very nasty fall headlong down the tarred path, much to the kid's delight who promptly vanished into the bushes. She needed hospital treatment and the show had to be cancelled.

Lessons to be learned - Always prepare for your performance.
Check your route BEFORE EACH performance
When in public ALWAYS have spotters on the ground for your safety
Always be prepared for the unlikely and the unusual
Keep eyes in the back of your head (Know what is going on behind you)
If in doubt ask for assistance on the ground. Never be worried at the reaction of the public. The thought of helping you rather than hindering you is foremost in 99% of peoples minds.
One of my friends in Edinburgh recently had a gig where the tiled floor was wet and very slippery and he could not move on his 36inch pegs without assistance. He spent his whole appearance leaning on various customers. If in doubt ASK!!!

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