This is a contest where performers share their worst and/or most hilarious performance experiences. In some cases the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Entry By Martin Ewen
One of 26 stories from my book, ‘Panto Damascus’
Call me deluded, call me a muckety-muck, but the Scottish and I have this thing. I was at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, working off the main pitch, down a small lane. I had a corner. Just down from me was a four-piece jug band whose music I used from time to time to wiggle about to, as I temporarily overcame my ‘Lurk’ character’s utter boredom.
After a couple of hours, the jug band stopped and passed me on their way to a pub across the road, inviting me for a drink when I finished. I finished immediately and hurried inside. The band and I got on famously—I liked beer and they liked beer, I have a mouth like an un-tethered firehose and they were probably sick of listening to each other anyway.
They hadn’t finished for the day, however—they had a gig later on in the evening at a club and they invited me along to dance for them. I was into it, so we got ready to leave by buying about another six rounds, then left.
The club was large, holding about three hundred people. We got there early and met the cool and casual management who bought us all a drink. I checked out the dance-floor in front of where the band would play and the surface was OK, not too slippery when wet and the ceiling was high enough for my stilts. There were two rows of ceiling fans that were not yet turned on and I marked out their positions with gaffer tape on the ground, but it still left me lots of room to move.
The night wore on and the place started filling up a bit. The band only had to do one set, so we waited till about 10PM before going on, by which time the place was pretty much packed. The Edinburgh Festival was in full swing. It had been a long day, so I arranged to come out for the last ten minutes of their thirty-minute set. I dutifully pranced out and wiggled and waggled and kicked my legs about and generally simulated being groovy wearing my white face and tank helmet until about halfway through, when for reasons still a mystery to me to this day, I strayed into the territory of the now rapidly whirring metallic fan blades.
The first blade merely dug superficially into my tank helmet and flung it from my head, thankfully without damaging the blade or slowing the fan down at all.
My reactions (which is why I could have been a fighter pilot or game show host) were lightning quick and I tilted my head back as I moved forward so that the next impact only broke my nose at the bridge sending a minor torrent from both nostrils and the gash at the top of my nose itself. All this paled into insignificance with the third strike, which carved a six to eight inch slash right across my forehead.
Now as some of you know, head wounds tend to bleed profusely, but even with my prior head-bleeding experiences this one immediately impressed me.
I staggered blind ‘round the nightclub with blood pouring down my white face and cascading from my chin. I think people found it hard to ignore me, which was a shame really, and there were loud screams and panicked footfalls as people tried to avoid being bled on (I did hear later that at least three people fainted). As a true professional, I stayed upright, eventually found a wall, and sat on a ledge, where I peered curiously through my scarlet veil at the enormous pool of blood forming in the lap of my stilt trousers.
A barman holding a huge handful of sodden tissue appeared and pressed it to my face as I wrestled with my stilt-trousers and then my stilts. Towards the end I could hear the wail of an approaching ambulance. I was led through the crowd pressing a red soggy mass of toilet paper to my head. I can remember seeing a few sympathetic looks my way by pretty girls, and had it not been for the medical professionals I might have stayed.
At the hospital I spent three hours getting stitches across my forehead and having my nose plugged. I also seemed to be a source of entertainment to a constant stream of nurses who peeked into my cubicle while trying to keep straight faces, then departed giggling down the hall.
Released at about 3AM, I faced a choice: I could wander back to my hotel and wake the next morning all streaked and swollen and potentially embarrassed, or I could return to the bar.
I walked back in and ordered a beer. The barman said,
‘You were really good. If we’d known, we’d ‘ve turned the fans off.’
I found the next day that my helmet covered the stitches on my forehead nicely, and my whiteface covered the mess of my nose (only bleeding a bit when I removed it) so luckily I wasn’t without an income.
It was years later other performers told me that everyone had been calling me ‘Frankenstein’ behind my back and laughing. I didn’t care then and I don’t care now. The best memory I’ve kept from the affair was walking into some bistro days later and having a table see me, stand and clap. I must have given them a dirty look from underneath my stitches, and one of their number approached quite gently and explained that they weren’t taking the piss, that their ovation was sincere, that they were all staff at the bar I’d gotten my head chopped up at and were applauding me for having returned to the bar from the hospital.
As I’ve said, the Scottish and I have this thing. Call me deluded, call me a muckety-muck, but alcoholism can sometimes possess a certain brittle dignity.
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