From our Artistic Director: Never Work with Animals!

In the depths of winter, the Bell Square events take a break.  On these cold, dark February days, my mind often wanders back to the balmy days of summer when we were out on the Square, remembering some of the shows, having chats with the audience, and working with some truly lovely artists. And it also wanders back sometimes to the little things that, just occasionally, didn’t go quite to plan….

Never work with animals… ‘Never work with animals’ is good, sage advice for anyone working in the arts.  It is a lesson which should be absorbed as soon as possible by anyone starting out in the arts.  Whenever I have digressed from this advice, it has always ended badly.  A donkey falling off the stage into the orchestra pit.  A bat flying loose above the audience.  Diana Rigg, playing Cleopatra, wrestling with a hot and feisty snake as she prepared to thrust the ‘asp to her bosom’.  I could write a book on this topic, never mind a blog post.

This sage advice, though, never mentioned animals in the audience.  When we’re not at Bell Square, we all work at Watermans, the arts centre in Brentford.  In a venue, only highly trained and perfectly behaved guide dogs or assistance dogs generally come to events.  (There are odd exceptions, of course.)

But out at Bell Square, things are different.   Alongside the audience gathered for the event, passers-by often stop to watch what’s going on.  And sometimes furry passers-by stop to watch, too…

Dogs There have been many dogs at Bell Square events over the years – large, small, young and a bit giddy, some old and just glad of a lie-down at the side of the Square whilst their owner watches a show.  Some join in with a few barks when the audience cheers a circus artist for an impressive performance.  But none has put a foot wrong - or a paw.

Cats Cats.  I know cats.  And I know they have their own minds.  Four years of regular events have proven to me that cats do not like outdoor arts – there is never a cat in the audience.  Alternatively, there are no cats in Hounslow town centre.  Only once did a confident black cat turn the corner onto the Square, hesitate barely a second, then stroll nonchalantly across the performance space – whilst the actors just had to wait.

And others…. But it’s not just cats and dogs.  Hounslow is way more interesting than that.  The blue and yellow macaw, often seen on the shoulder of its owner walking around the town centre, has been to events sometimes, watching intently.  And thankfully silently.

Not all our furry and feathered friends are quite so welcome, however.  At the opposite end of the avian spectrum, pigeons make a nuisance of themselves in most urban arts venues.  Pigeons alone would fill a chapter in that book I could write.  Pigeons just walking straight through the front doors of the venue and up to the bar – regularly.  That was in Manchester.  Pigeons moving into the roof space and setting up an instant colony.  And creating the most shocking and appalling sight of my entire life when I went up to see what was making ‘that strange noise’ above the ceiling.  That was also in Manchester.  They are particularly bad pigeons up there.

At Bell Square, the local pigeons have generally not been much trouble. There was just one occasion, when a performer, as part of the show, threw handfuls of rice all over the Square.  And within seconds, every pigeon in Hounslow descended, en masse, Hitchcock-style, over the audience and the Square.  I suppose you could say we brought that (s$*t) on ourselves.

When I write that book, though, I’m sure it will only be Bell Square that has produced a ferret.  It was on a lead.  It came up to the edge of the performance space calmly, quietly, creating no fuss at all.  The show was about to start and a hush had fallen over the audience.  The music had started and the quietly enigmatic dancers of Akademi had walked onto the performance space to begin their show, Sufi Zen.  Yes, a show about Zen.  As the small, creamy coloured weasel paused to watch, a palpable wave of anxiety spread through the audience.  All focus on the dancers was lost, and the first person to scream unleashed an unimaginable cacophony of horror and fear from the assembled crowd.  The ferret, and its owner, sensing their presence was unwelcome, shuffled off up the High Street.  After some time, a suitable calm prevailed and the show could begin…again.

What next? So, Hounslow, who else are you going to bring to the shows this year?  There must be some rabbits out there who might like circus?