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Natural Theatre Company

Being Funny Can Be Hard Work

by Ralph Oswick, Artistic Director, NTC

From when the Coneheads first landed, full of trepidation, on the streets of Chelmsford – and as a former local grammar school boy – I paid particular attention to the team leader’s report for that particular gig.

Everything seemed to have gone well apart from the littlest Cone at the back having received a slap on their pointy bonce from an over enthusiastic Chelmsfordian.

This is not an uncommon reaction. Some people think that performers in masks are cartoon film characters and detached from real pain-feelinf humans! In one town (which shall remain nameless) we actually had a parent holding a child up to one of our Flowerpot People’s heads, saying “Go on. Hit him, hit him!’ The little darling!

All in a day’s work for our long suffering actors.

We’ve even had serious workshops back at HQ on how not to be kicked/slapped/poked when at the back of the Conehead queue!

Who would have thought that after that somewhat inauspicious beginning the dear Cones would become the much loved symbol of the festival, along with a myriad of other comical characters and scenarios from the Naturals stable. That’s not to say people have got used to ‘in yer face’ street theatre. They can still be stirred up or even shocked. But thanks to the tireless work of the organisers and programmers and of course our own good selves and other groups, the Chelmsford crowd have become connoisseurs of the art of street theatre.

I asked the actors which scenarios had been particularly memorable. They seemed to think that most things had gone pretty well. One said the Leopard Skin Tarts had been especially appreciated. Hmm, not sure what that says about the populace! Lifting the 50 ton weight* was fondly recalled by another (I think you have to have been there!)

*this was a health & safety parody commissioned by Liam for an early Streetdiversions Festival.

But, as ever, it’s the Conehead incidents that constantly come to mind. Daisy, a regular teamster, remembers a one-to-one Conehead workshop and performance undertaken by a local journalist. A sort of Coneheads work experience session. She said he emerged from his mask sweating, black-eyed, exhausted and totally freaked, looking, as she put it, like a refugee from an all-night heavy rock concert… He later said that he never realised being funny was such hard work.

For the tenth anniversay we commissioned a mass of Coneheads to perform, most of whom were members of the public who had attended multiple workshops under the direction of the Natural Theatre Company
The Coneheads became the peculaliar face of the festival
Members of the public, trained as temporary NTC Coneheads, get ready to go out and perform the show