Here's a riddle for you: what do the sticky floors of New York City subway cars and dusty, musty books on Elizabethan drama have in common? For the answer, just read on....
First clue: flash back to last spring. I'm on a crowded E train from JFK airport when a quartet of performers bound onto the train, loudly announcing their act with no little modesty. More hip-hop popping I'm guessing, ho-hum, which is why I don't bother to whip out my Flip camera. Suddenly these guys burst across the length of the car in a flurry of handsprings and somersaults and some nifty partner moves, all dangerously close to their (truly) captive audience — "if I touch you, I'll give you a dollar." I especially like the peanut rolls (double forward roll holding each other's ankles) because they have to make precise, last-second detours to avoid impaling themselves on the car's vertical poles.
I really didn't think you could do any of that on a standing-room-only subway train bolting along at 40 mph. I was wrong. Unfortunately, at under two minutes, by the time I got my camera out, they were gone. A YouTube search turned up nothing, but inspired by the next act in this post, I searched again yesterday, this time successfully. I still don't know who they are, but this is definitely them.
Because camera angles are a challenge in a subway car, here are two views of the same act:
And then yesterday I noticed a NY Times article on two performers, Paul Marino and Fred Jones, who call themselves Popeye & Cloudy and who are no strangers to subway floors. They have been earning a reputation and a fair amount of loot by doing another form of action drama underground, casting the passengers as groundlings as they perform quick renditions of scenes from Shakespeare, favorites being Romeo's suicide and Macbeth's decapitation. Not only that, but they also throw in some Abbott & Costello as well; yes, Who's on First?
Read the whole article here.
"Not all subway lines are well suited to Shakespeare," writes a reporter for the Wall St. Journal in an earlier article. "The long cars of the N and R trains allow for a bigger audience per scene. And the J,M,Z trains, which cross the Williamsburg Bridge, give riders time to relax for a lengthy performance. Riders who frequent the 4,5 and 6 trains in Manhattan are out of luck: those lines are too crowded for a proper death scene or sword fight, the actors say."
Here's the Popeye & Cloudy website.
Here's that article from the Wall Street Journal and a short WSJ video.
If you want to see more, here's a 12-minute Vimeo video montage that includes some of the Who's on First.
Popeye & Cloudy from Paul Marino on Vimeo.
So speaking of Shakespeare, and hopefully bringing this post full circle, here's some more chapter two material, this time two complete public domain books on the fool characters in Shakespeare's plays.
Studies in the Development of the Fool in the Elizabethan Drama by Olive Mary Busby
Our first dusty, musty book answers that eternal question, "whence came this insistent demand of the English public for the buffooneries of the fool?" Okay, so I exaggerated; it was never published as a book, it's just a 1923 master's thesis. Hard to believe, but it cost money to publish books back in what is now known as the Pre-PDF Era. I'm guessing Olive Mary Busby went to her grave not knowing that this blogopedia would make her famous.
Fools Elizabeth an Drama
The Fools of Shakespeare by Frederick Warde
This 1913 work starts with a chapter on "the fool in life and literature," followed by individual chapters devoted to each of Shakespeare's principal fool characters, including: Yorick, Touchstone, Trinculo, Feste, Launcelot Gobbo, the grave-digger in Hamlet, and the fool in King Lear.
Fools of Shakespeare
That's all I got!
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