Cor, blimey. Tried something new today and took a rollerskating lesson. Two hours later, I’m leaving RollerStop’s weekly session sweaty legged and high as a kite.
I was exhillarated, on some other plane and compeletly stress free. “This,” I thought, stupid grin slapped around my mug, “is flipping brilliant. I wish I felt like this more often. I wish I felt like this leaving the theatre.”
So what can theatre learn from rollerskating?
It’s better than sex.
Okay, so maybe it’s not quite as intense as sex but this skating lark releases some serious endorphins. Five hours later I’m still wandering around my flat proclaiming “I’m so happy!” to my cactus. I love theatre but the number of times I’ve been bustled out to the cold night air wanting to kiss everyone I see, hug the ground and crow like Peter Pan is close to zilch. It’s a rush I imagine passengers of You Me Bum Bum Train experience.
The theatre I love best is the stuff that makes you feel like you’ve been given a good shake and there isn’t enough of it. Theatre Delicatessen‘s Mercury Fur did it for me, as did Elmgreen & Dragset’s Happy Day in the Art World. Often at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe I’ve experienced something close to that high but that may also down to the feeling of being part of something communal that roller skating offers.
It’s a genuinely communal experience.
One of the great frequently touted qualities of theatre is being part of a shared experience. But when you chew into it, its really just a two way conversation between you and the stage. It isn’t an open assembly. In the theatre we all sit shoulder to shoulder. Where’s the fun in that? Whilst skating, you’re shoulder to shoulder too but one slip up and you’ll find yourself arse to arse with your neighbours too.
Families galore! All enjoying the same thing, laughing together, helping each other out, meeting other families. Young couples, bundles of middle aged pals. It’s a brilliant atmosphere. I don’t often get to spend time around young children. They’re at shows made for them. I’m at the shows made for me. Aside from panto, there is very little theatre that an entire community can enjoy together and feel equals.
There is risk involved.
The greatest risk I’ve experienced in theatre was that I might fall over my glittery high heeled boots whilst mildly drunk and running away from an alien or having raw fish spat in my face by a mermaid. I might have been a wee bit out of my comfort zone but there was never the danger that someone would go home IN AN AMBULANCE as someone did at the skate rink today. I’ve watched someone being wheeled out of a theatre on a stretcher but that was before the curtain had even risen so their heart failure couldn’t be attributed to the shocking content of the play. Fainting is common at The Globe, but if you do crumple at the knees you’ll be cushioned by the German school party packed around you. It’s the heat that will bring you to your knees, not the power of Henry V’s Saint Crispin’s Day jaw-gnaw.
Though the ambulance incident at the skate rink did seem to be for a rather over dramatic older lady, it did add a bit of fear into the proceedings. Maybe we should install trap doors and tanks of piranhas under the plush velvet seats in theatre. Maybe spike the half-time G&Ts and play a bit of Russian roulette. Even with the danger that you might go home black and blue from the skate rink, you get are instilled with a kamikaze daredevil streak thanks to the wrist guards, elbow and knee pads – you’re pretty secure.
You’re pretty secure.
A beginners skating lesson was available before the hordes of the family afternoon session began. Teaching eight people, there’s plenty of space, time and sympathy to spend an hour being shown the ropes and how to keep your bum tucked in. When do you get the lesson of how to be an audience member? Often, your first visit to the theatre is with a school group, a crocodile of Primary 1 pee-wees not giving two hoots about the trip other than hoping the P3 boy who shared his Chewits with you on the bus is going to hold your hand on the way home. You don’t get taught how to behave unless you do something bad and earn a barking at from teach. You don’t get told how it all works, why those people at the other end of the room are pretending that they can’t see you and when do you get to go to the toilet?
As we get older, our openness to try new things lessens. Is there a potential bank of middle-aged wannabe audience members hold back from experiencing a night at the theatre because they’re nervous that they don’t know the rules of the game?
Everything is glittery, covered in streamers and rainbows.
So we do this pretty well in theatre but at the skate rink, everything little detail has been attacked with a can of glitter spray and screams “fun”! Often at the theatre, I’m impressed by the opulence on stage and let down by the dull, yawning boring functionality of the place. Toilets that need a good lick of paint, a bar that makes you long for the interval bell. A night at the theatre, even a cheap night, will cost the equivalent of five pints of beer but have five times less atmosphere than a good pub and a bucket less than the simple transformative glitzy glamour of some tinsel around a sports hall at the skate rink. Theatres could learn something the energetic commitment to detail when creating an ambience that extends to every inch the experience.
I loved it.