During the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe I saw something that changed the way I thought about creativity. It wasn’t a large-scale theatrical production from an acclaimed European director nor was it a philosophical hour of genre busting post-modern comedy; it was an improvised street show on the Royal Mile by an idiot clown called Jonathan Taylor from The Daredevil Chicken Club. In this blog I’ll be wearing the Green Hat of creative thinking from De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. In my previous blog I explained a little about the De Bono system of hats so if you’d like to flick back and skim the previous one, feel free. However if you want to charge on, the Green Hat is the creative thinking hat and is concerned only with creative thinking.
Most street performances are not very creative; they’re formulaic and creatively hamstrung by the ‘money’ line at the end of the show. If you’re paying the bills with street performing, you need to get paid, and to get paid most adhere to a generic structure. However, every so often a street act comes along that is completely original, free for all and creatively refreshing. Jonathan Taylor’s ‘Collector’ show in 2009 was not performed for profit, profile raising or critical acclaim; it happened once during the Fringe, a perfect example of altruistic creative generosity over the pursuit of notoriety which plagues the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
It was a late afternoon show on the Royal Mile with a smattering of punters. Jonathon appeared in a flasher mac and built a show out of improvised clowning, child baiting and water balloon tossing. Then after throwing himself half naked down a cobble slip’n’slide into an inflatable paddle pool he strapped on a backpack and began to climb a bulging 20ft Fringe advertising bollard. The bollards are not built for climbing so we watched anxiously as he slowly climbed the ladder, obviously exhausted from the previous forty minutes. When he finally reached the top, he paused and tentatively stood up; the bollard was swaying dangerously and five or six guys raced in to support it. Jonathan slowly turned around so he was facing the crowd, removed his bulging backpack, opened it and poured 3,000 multi-coloured super-balls onto the Royal Mile. The crowd young and old went bat-shit crazy with wide-eyed wonder. It was one of the most wonderful, terrifying, brilliant, idiotic, heroic and creative things I’ve ever seen. I asked Jonathan why he did it? After all it was illegal, dangerous, difficult and had zero chance of making profit. He told me “I wanted to do this for the audiences. I wanted to give a gift to the pitch because I had so many amazing shows there. The location, the people, the festival, the other performers, the whole vibe was inspiring and I wanted to add to the inspiration of the royal mile and the craziness.”
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a place where craziness is the norm and it’s surely one of the most creative places in the world during the month of August. For better or worse the artistic creativity of tens of thousands of artists is released onto the public. It’s renowned as the world’s largest open access arts festival, which has its critics and advocates. Some say that the standard of performance drops radically when anyone is allowed to participate, which is true. However the flipside is that Edinburgh is a fecund festival, a feeding frenzy for audiences, talent scouts and promoters alike. If the Fringe allowed only a handful of elite artists to perform then this would stunt the creativity of the arts in the pursuit of a paragon, a single sculpted Bonsai for a rich man to tend rather than a beautiful rambling English garden for all to play in.
There is a famous saying coined by comedian Simon Munnery that is repeated meditatively by comedians and artists at Edinburgh. It’s become something of a mantra that encapsulates the creative spirit of the modern Fringe. As the Festival grows each year transforming gradually into a showcase for ambitious comedians to ‘make it big’ rather than a playground for them to experiment with their work I hope that Simon’s mantra might be immortalized somewhere for all to remember. Perhaps sometime in the future there will be a small bronze statue of Simon Munnery, the size of the Greyfriars Bobby erected in the middle of Bristo Square. I’d like to imagine that passing comedians would rub his tiny hat for luck on the way to work and recite the Munnery mantra.
‘Remember, Edinburgh is not a race, it’s a dance.’