The Casual Reporter: Sitting Bull Pole Dances on Chuck Wagon

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sitting Bull Pole Dances on Chuck Wagon

A couple weeks ago, for the first time ever, the Principals in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show (La Legende de Buffalo Bill), Disney Village, Disneyland Paris, were unable to judge the rodeo games from the traditional judges stand.

I was in the production office between shows when one of the technicians arrived slightly flustered and announced in French to the Stage Manager that there would be no judges stand for the second show. The 3 or 4 members of the production staff present looked at each other, raising their eyebrows, grimacing slightly, and puffing their cheeks in concern as they learned the details: one of the wheels fell off and was not repairable. Apparently the wheel had been a concern for several weeks but for reasons unclear to me was not repaired so it finally broke clean off. I asked what they proposed be done for the second show. The Stage Manager's first response was that the Principals would just have to call the rodeo games from the floor of the arena - do some animations and what-not.

I explained, patiently I thought, that standing on the arena floor was an unacceptable solution, that perhaps the Chuckwagon at least could be used. A quick call to the Horse Trainer confirmed what I assumed the response would be: not possible. We the performers would just have to adjust and make do.

The others checked their watches to make sure they weren't running late for their lunch break. That's when I felt my face start to heat and my jaw muscles clench.

Over the course of the next half hour I made my feelings very clearly known. I explained that even though I'd been working at the Wild West Show for 14 years and perhaps should be accustomed to the way things are (or aren't) done, I still felt it infuriating that nearly every technical dilemma, it seemed, was answered not by a flurry of activity, creative thinking, and a can-do approach to solving the problem, but a simple announcement of the problem with the matter-of-fact assumption that the performers could and would simply adapt, adjust, and improvise in front of 100's or 1000's of paying guests who, one would hope, expect a polished and complete show. And when this "solution" doesn't work, as you may well imagine is sometimes the case, we the performers are the ones who risk embarrassment on stage when all goes not as.. not planned... We are the first to be recognized as participants in what may likely appear an amateurish performance. Perhaps most importantly, we are the ones put most at risk improvising in a show where 62% of the cast are very large animals with minds and personalities very much their own - animals not accustomed to unrehearsed changes and not necessarily mentally or physically well-equipped to coping with improvisation. And I'm not talking about the Cowboys and Indians: 48 of the 78 physical beings who make up our cast are of the bovine and equine variety.

Yet time and time again when systems fail, when things break down, when stuff doesn't work or supplies run out, the default response from the production team seems to be "make a note to fix it in the future and tell the cast to make do for now."

In fairness, I seldom witness first hand what tasks the technical staff perform, so some of my barking criticism may be unwarranted. One explanation given for the seemingly nonchalant approach to resolving technical problems is that a quick fix is more likely to fail and could be more disastrous than doing nothing at all. This seems reasonable in some cases to a certain extent, but there are usually compromises preferable to doing nothing and leaving the cast to sort it out on stage.

After shouting, accusing, comparing France to the USA, and apologizing for basing my anger on unfounded assumptions, the Horse Trainer thought of an excellent temporary solution: use the chuck wagons.

Possible after all, I guess.

The Horse Trainer himself drove one of the chuck wagons out with the canvas down and steel support ribs bared, and we used the old Triangle for a bell. The straight legs of the ribs resembled poles so, instinctively, in telepathic unison, Annie and Sitting Bull discreetly mimed a pole dance as I started the rodeo games. I think it's the first time Sitting Bull has done a pole dance, even one undetectable to the public. Annie I don't know about.

Later, on the theatrical front-facing stairs leading up to the open door on the bed of the chuckwagon, where the Principals were standing, Lucas did some step-aerobics. Directly in front of the judges. We watched in silence for a few seconds as he soberly carried out his routine then jogged away, shaking it off. Very amusing. So we had fun.

We used the Chuckwagon for several days, maybe a week - the time it took to fix one hub of one wheel. In one show, frustrated by the lowness of the chuckwagon's bed compared to the judges stand, I stepped up on the rim of the box but, aware it looked less than regal, quickly stepped back down. My action apparently inspired Auguste who subsequently stepped up on the back edge of the box and balanced for several seconds before descending, and Annie, who balanced on the rim during the entire Pony Express Race, clenching the pole with her left arm for balance and somehow, not always entirely successfully, juggling the clipboard, pen, triangle with bar, and four post bags. I shouldn't have started the idea.

The excuse I heard for the delay was that the axle/hub assembly was from a Renault vehicle but nobody knew what year or model. I guess they had to wait for an expert from Renault to come figure that out for them. Or something. Who knows. Now the judges' stand is back, repaired, and the episode has been forgotten. Hopefully the next technical glitch will tend towards the benign, as in this case, and not the alarmingly deadly, like in Adam's case.

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