Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Singing, Juggling, Ventriloquising, Clowning, Unicycling and Acting with Ornella and TAC Teatro at the Forum des Associations of Asnières-sur-Seine

September 16, 2018

Brad and Ornella performing for TAC Teatro in Asnières-sur-Seine

Ornella and Brad performing for TAC Teatro in Asnières-sur-Seine

Ornella and Brad performing for TAC Teatro in Asnières-sur-Seine

ASNIERES-SUR-SEINE, France – It is now a week ago, so no longer considered news, but I wanted to get down as a matter of record, the fabulous day I spent performing with Ornella Bonventre and her TAC Teatro at the Forum des Associations of Asnères-sur-Seine. Founded in Milan, Italy, TAC Teatro now also has a base in France, in Asnières. And last weekend was the annual associations forum of this city just outside of Paris. That meant it was time for the local associations to show off what they do, and try to get new adherents. We had the whole stage to ourselves in front of the mayor’s building – the Hôtel de Ville, or City Hall – and had great fun performing a little show as Ornella introduced TAC to the people of Asnières.

I was pleased to find myself on stage for the first time with the newly face-lifted Peter McCabe, my ventriloquist’s – well…o.k., sorry, Peter, I’ll just say, happy to be on stage with Peter after his recent facelift. Only problem was the facelift seems to have gone to Peter’s ego, and he announced to the people of Asnières that he was going to be the next president of the United States of America – saying that he could do a lot better than the current office holder.

We put together a short video of some highlights of our time on the stage, which I paste in here; and we were very proud to find a few days later – and this makes some sense of having not written about this before now – to find that we were picked up in the official city video of the event, very much near the place of honor, in the last 10 or so seconds of the video, at approximately the 2 minute 20 second point of the video. I am pasting that one in here too.

In any case, it was a fabulous day, and thank goodness the weather was great – as it has been all summer, but after the worst winter in recent memory in Paris (and Asnières). I hope Ornella Bonventre and her TAC Teatro are selected to do this again (as not all of the associations were selected to show off their expertise).

A Crazy Side to the Staid City of Milan – And Back to Circus Beginnings for Me

March 15, 2017

Brad Spurgeon in Irreality Mode

Brad Spurgeon in Irreality Mode

PARIS – It is only now after a trip to Milan and back in Paris that I have finally had the time to sit at the blog again and dream about the past…without any jealousy, but many warm memories. I’m talking about yet another night at the Joy bar jam that I have not been able to note; about a fabulous visit to an annual variety show in a very neat theater; and about actually taking part a couple of nights later in another such annual show in a bigger theater and event space. All of which has continued to allow me to dismantle, bit by bit, my feeling that Milan is as boring a city as its mostly boring outer appearance of the streets and cityscape would have us believe.

There IS a mountain of “underground” activities in Milan, you just have to know where to look for them. And how strange and in some ways ironic can it be that it is in this city that I used to classify as “boring” that I would find myself performing for the first time since my early 20s in the area of my life in which I started: In the circus arts!

Yes, it may have been the last of these events, but it stands out first in my mind not just for its proximity in my memory, but especially because I got to dress up as a clown and clown around with a fabulous little troupe of clowns and actors, to ride a unicycle through the event, and even do a little bit of juggling. And, now that I think of it, I managed at one point to gate-crash a musicians’ group and take their acoustic guitar and perform a song – along with them singing along with me.

Brad Spurgeon with Ornella Bonventre of TAC Teatro

Brad Spurgeon with Ornella Bonventre of TAC Teatro

I’m referring to the annual “Irreality Show,” which took place at the fabulous associative theater and event space known as, Arci Ohibo. I was invited to join the troupe of actors and clowns of the TAC Teatro – which I have written about before on this blog – by Ornella Bonventre to clown around during this fabulous event. Naturally, having not done such a thing since my teenage years and early twenties, I was a little bit worried. A little bit reticent. A little depressed at the prospect of looking lack a fool – in the bad sense. Especially next to the fabulous talent of the TAC Teatro troupe.

But I decided that part of my new life approach over the last decade with its philosophy to do “everything” (except destructive things), I really ought to give this a try and hope that I could have a George Plimpton moment again, of the kind that I had the first time I dared go on stage with a band at the Jazz-Si open mic in Barcelona of 2009. And man, was I right to try.
more of the TAC Teatro clowns

more of the TAC Teatro clowns

It only took entering into the Ohibo space to see that I loved it immediately and would feel at home. The Irreality show consists of multiple little shows and events spread throughout the space, and performing at the same time. Spectators pay 5 euros and get to walk around all night from room to room, stage to stage, space to space, and take in the various acts and activities. The TAC clown troupe were just about the only ones who had the luxury of being itinerant within the space, an free to roam all over the place. What better way to see everything and take part than to be part of that roaming troupe.
Brad Spurgeon unicycling TAC show

Brad Spurgeon unicycling TAC show

So it was that I could see it all, and take part in what I wanted, riding my unicycle, clowning, juggling and playing music while also remaining a spectator of the amazing collection of acts: An Irish harp player, a mermaid, three or four actors and actresses doing one-person shows, a band of traditional musicians, a folk music trio, a body painter, a marionette act, a cross-dresser, a musician playing a saw, painters, photographers, and performance artists like the depressed man who sat in the same spot all night looking depressed, or the other itinerant one, the Andy Warhol with his head in a picture frame.

There may have been other acts, but the point is, this strange evening of drinking, socialising, and watching the acts through the very hip and cool, sprawling Ohibo, did as I say, renew my faith in the coolness of Milan – once you find it. And while I felt somewhat rusty and ever so inhibited at times as a clown, I also felt amazingly liberated in returning to my own personal roots for an evening. I’m hoping to do much more of it in future, too….

And then there was the skit show at the Scighera Teatro

A few days before that, I found myself the envious spectator at the other space I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Scighera Teatro, where the stage and space was given over to an annual kind of clowning competition show. This is a fabulous space with a bar in the front part of the building, and the stage in a vast room off the back, which includes the performers’ dressing room/off-stage in a kind of bird’s nest above and next to the stage.

The show consisted of several clowning skits, a Mexican trapeze artist, musicians and a storyteller. And it was entertaining almost start to finish. My two favorite acts were, first, the pizza dough chefs with their battle with the dough – this was so Italian and yet so universal, it was crazy. It could be understood in every country in the world, since I think every country has its pizza chefs! And yet here we were in Italy.

And the other act I loved was the incredibly skilled, mind-boggling one of the man who threw and caught paper airplanes in a kind of paper airplane ballet. Hidden behind the dance was a skill of a kind I could not even imagine existed. Unfortunately I had problems with my camera throughout, and particularly during this act – but I did manage to get a little bit of video of the paper airplane guy, as well as the pizza chefs. So check out the videos.

And then finally back to the Joy Bar jam…and then a return to Ligera….

Finally, I’m a little late on getting it up on the blog, but I’ve got a video or two or three of the latest Joy Bar open mic/open jam that I attended. In one of the videos I show the atmosphere as you approach the bar, with the music blaring inside, and the outside, dull, dead, depressing Milan environment from which springs this…joy….

And now suddenly, I remember there was another night of a fabulous, interesting discovery. This was at the great Spazio Ligera, which I have also written about several times on this blog. I was attracted this time to go to a concert in the large and cozy vaulted cellar room with its magnificent stage and regular music concerts, thanks to the appearance of an interesting story in the form of Julith Ryan, of Australia. This is an Australian musician who by complete freak happenstance ended up recording a CD with a bunch of Italian musicians in Italy, after a career in local Melbourne bands.

Julith was on a mini tour of Italy with the release of the album. When I heard the recordings on youtube and soundcloud, I was very intrigued to see her live. I didn’t put it all together until I did see her at Ligera, but that is when the parallel finally came to me: There’s something of the Marianne Faithful to Julith.

But it was the open act soloist on acoustic guitar and vocals who really blew my mind: That was the intriguingly named Jennifer V Blossom. A very powerful mix of strong rock vocals and nifty rhythmic guitar with a mesmerising delivery. And the sudden, surprising rendition of Edith Piaf’s song about regretting nothing. I sure did not regret this discovery….

Playing the Unicycle Game According to the Vagaries of the Law

August 11, 2012

bike path indicator

bike path indicator

It is a cliché and a banality to say it, but sometimes I feel like laws are just excuses for cops to bully people. This was driven in to me last night as I was riding my unicycle around my neighborhood at 3 AM, which is something I do for cardiovascular exercise as often as I don’t have something better to do at 3 AM….

I do not have much to complain about, since I have been doing this for nearly four years now and the police in my neighborhood stopped me only once. There is no real need for them to stop me EVER, but they remain suspicious of a man riding a unicycle around the neighborhood at 3 AM, I think – as the patrol cars sometimes do slow down to check me out. Maybe they are just being entertained. But not the night they stopped me. And that’s where I get to the meat of this post.

At that time I used to take a number of streets on the unicycle in the opposite sense of the car traffic. I did this because it was the safer way to ride down a narrow suburban street at 3 AM when there are very few cars around my neighborhood. When a car did come, I could see it clearly and quickly get off the road onto the sidewalk to avoid any difficulty or danger with the car passing me.

On this particular night, I saw headlights, I pulled off to the sidewalk and I continued toward the intersection. There, I saw that the car was that of a cop … in fact, there were four of them in the car. The guy in the driver’s seat called my attention and I rode over to him and got off the unicycle.

“Just because you are not in a car does not mean you can drive the wrong way down the street,” the man said in a threatening tone. “I could charge you for doing that. Just because it’s a contraption like that doesn’t mean you can go where you want.”

“Oh, okay,” I said with genuine surprise. I was surprised at what he was saying, why he might be saying it, and that he was saying it at all. I had not even thought about the legality of riding a unicycle the wrong way down a quiet suburban road.

But then the cop pointed to my helmet and said: “And don’t think that just because you’re wearing a helmet that you’re safe. If you fall down you will still hurt yourself.”

bike path traffic sign

bike path traffic sign

This too was said in a threatening tone. I had only recently started wearing a helmet, by the way, after riding a unicycle since I was 15 years old. But now I will not ride without one, after I DID fall with the helmet once and hit my head – it was like a backwards belly flop (I had been riding backwards up the street in the direction of the car traffic and I got distracted) and I smashed the rear of my head and was very, very pleased I had the helmet, and did not hurt myself. But now the cop was invading my own private territory, and I realized that he was stepping over the line of what was right and just, and I responded just as sharply to him:

“I am 50 years old, I just lost my wife to cancer at the age of 43 and I have two teenage children to take care of,” I said, “and I need to keep my body in good physical shape and I hate exercise. This is my only way to exercise AND have fun, and no one is going to stop me from doing it.”

The man’s tone changed quickly, he said, “Yeah, well, don’t go the wrong way down a one-way street, you’ll get to your destination just as quickly taking it the right way.”

Obviously he had entirely missed the point of why I took it in the opposite sense…for safety, not to get back home quickly.

He quickly rolled up his window and drove off without another word, and I watched dumbfounded as he drove through the red light at the next intersection without stopping! IE, breaking the fucking law in a car just after telling me I was doing the same and shouldn’t!

So now, let’s fast-forward this post two years later to last night: In recent months my entire neighborhood has had bicycle lanes painted on the roads and I had been very pissed off because since the incident with the cops, I had found myself a great 4 to 5 kilometer circuit that I took, all of which ran in the correct sense of the traffic – as the cops wanted. Well, guess what? I had noticed that the new bicycle lanes all seemed to run in the contrary sense of my personal circuit, all heading into traffic…ie, going the same direction that the cops had accused me of breaking the law with.

I was very happy with my circuit and pissed off that these bike lanes seemed to give me no chance at another logical and cool around-the-neighborhood circuit until last night it suddenly occurred to me that all I had to do was to do exactly the same circuit I had been doing for years, but go in the opposite sense – i.e., face on into the traffic just as the bike lanes did – and I would have the same circuit but now I would not be doing something illegal.

So it was that I realized that, indeed, there had been a 360 degree about-face in what constitutes safe and legal, and here now the same police would no doubt come after me and fine me and accuse me of breaking the law for NOT driving down the lanes in the opposite direction of car traffic.

I laughed to myself and realized the irony of it all. Oh, and I still have to get off the street occasionally when I see a car coming my way because these bicycle lanes are pure fantasy on some of these streets that are just far too narrow to permit a car and a bike – or unicycle – from passing through at the same time.

Still, I’m also still a little confused as to whether I really should be allowed on a path for two wheels with just one…. Oh the trials of being slightly different in life!!!!