Yesterday I took part in a form of theatre I'd never even considered as such before. Here in Mainz, the carnival season is taken extremely seriously (it's Fassenacht, and god help you if you refer to it as Karneval or even Fasching!), and nothing more so than the Rosenmontag parade (not quite sure what Rosenmontag translates into in English; technically it means "Rose Monday", and is the day before Shrove Tuesday, but there appears to be no mention of pancakes here - maybe most people are too hungover to contemplate them...). Anyway, it's the culmination of several days' HARD partying, the parade is hours long, the costumes and transport are meticulously constructed, several along current political themes, others following long tradition, and it's a quite awesome thing to behold, as I am lucky enough to attest from my previous years here.
However this year I had the opportunity to actually march in the parade - and I pounced on the chance. A once-in-a-lifetime experience, with German friends here asking wonderingly how I'd managed it. The Tierheim Mainz (the animal shelter here) was for the first time fielding a team, in order to "raise awareness", and supporters were invited to sign up, the costume theme being, naturally, pet animals (which might make their way through the Tierheim at some point). My friend Nicola and I put our names down straight away - she went for a British Bulldog costume, I for a cat (she favoured patriotism over vanity, I sadly the other way around).
We had to attend some frankly inane and/or crazy meetings in order to qualify, but we stuck it out, and I have to report it was wonderful!
The day itself dawned (in contrast to today and the day before yesterday, both of which were sunny) grey and misty. And chilly. Damn. I'd refashioned a plush fake-fur coat into a tailored shorter version complete with tail (a tail coat, haha), cat ears and paws. I was hoping for sleek and sexy, but in the event preferred my health to looking slim, and therefore stuffed an extra coat underneath for warmth. Well, lots of house cats I have met have been comfortably padded, so I reckon it didn't detract too much from the costume...
I set my make-up with powder AND hairspray against the ravages of the weather, and set out in costume, with all my key belongings stashed in a "fanny pack" (sorry Americans, that phrase still makes me giggle like a naughty schoolgirl!) which augmented my tail. It was early (for carnival) and in hindsight I would have been better trying for a bus, as I ended up with blisters from having been on my feet in unfamiliar boots for such a long time. That extra three-quarters of an hour, crossing a deserted railway bridge and trudging through a silently expectant city, probably did for my poor toes. But who cares? By the time I joined up with the rest of the gang, the excitement was starting to mount.
The weather was strongly reminiscent of various straggling and half-hearted parades I'd taken part in as a child. Memories of sodden floats and disappointed adults kept drifting in and out of my mind, only to be forcibly ejected by the rousing appearance of a phalanx of burly blokes dressed in orange and black hooped skirts, Venetian masks and mad feathers, marching in as disciplined a manner as soldiers and blowing or beating the heck out of their brass-band instruments. Any reservations I had had about marching stone-cold sober (we were asked not to bring alcohol on the march as it would invalidate the insurance, and besides, setting off from home just after nine a.m. was definitely too early for me to drink, no matter what the parade-watching protocols might be!) were literally blown away, as I felt my energy ramped up by the tangible excitement all around.
This was a gathering of carnival clubs whose entire purpose was concentrated into this moment. They had practised and sewn and hammered and laughed and argued together for the whole year, in order to march proudly out together, showing their city and the world their unity and purpose. I was uplifted by their excitement, and by the time we set off (at the tail of the nineteenth float, in a procession which started at 11.11 a.m. and continued well into the late afternoon), I was hopping about with anticipation.
Well, from the start it was something special. From a theatrical point of view (and when can I ever want to escape that?), the experience was immersive. We were in the middle of a huge potential wave of energy, whose escape relied on us (well, that was at least the way I chose to experience it). For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the experience was learning to trust my intuition on which segments of the audience would respond best to my yowled HELAU!!! (the carnival greeting here, echoed back and forth, a tangible connection between audience and parade). Such a fabulous feeling upon seeing a gathering of those who would obviously respond, drawing breath and engaging my breath support (because those HELAUs and the ensuing miaows due to my costume really needed to be produced in the right manner, or else I would have been voiceless today), and simply calling out in the sure and certain knowledge of a response.
From the inside, therefore, I was breathing the togetherness of the crowd. It was different from my usual appearances on stage, in that there was more OBVIOUS energy being passed back to the "performers", but I felt the same way - an exchange of energy was taking place, and it enriched both sides.
There's normally an orchestra pit and an imagined "fourth wall" between me and my audience as an opera singer; yesterday, these disappeared. I met the eyes of those whom I was stirring up to make noise together, and it was thrilling. For nearly three hours, I leapt around and played and vocalised, and it was glorious. And afterwards, the knowledge that people had taken notice of the Tierheim made it even more worthwhile.
So for once my photo is integrated into the subject of my ramblings. Here I am mid-yowl, belting out HELAU to the crowds... long live carnival!!!