After several years of procrastination, I finally participated in Beltane this year, as a torchbearer in Nightwatch.1 Various rehearsals and preparatory work culminated in a great performance, only slightly marred by the odd torrential downpour.

The tension behind the acropolis as Neidfire start everything up is palpable – the seconds seem to stretch out, and when the fire suddenly catches, it’s quite amazing – a spinning, smoking ball bursts into orange flame. Similarly, there’s a moment after the first horn blasts as the processional drummers start up that is exhilarating. It’s the same emotion as bringing down the house-lights and cueing a start in a stage production, but amplified by the setting, crowd and atmosphere. 

The torchbearer costume is basically black, with a tabard and hood. All exposed skin is painted black2, with a yellow design, and it’s amazing how this alters your perception of faces (and people) – ‘recognising’ suddenly becomes something requiring focus and concentration, rather than being automatic. It brings home how complex face-recognition software must be (though probably entirely unaffected by paint) and how efficient a pattern-processor the brain is.

It was interesting to see how the production of something like Beltane has many similarities with the theatre I’ve done, from terminology (‘front-of-house’) to risk assessments and Flam-checking clothing to returning the day after to tidy / pack-up gear.

Fotopoint will hopefully have many cool pictures posted soon.

  1. Which thankfully is nothing like this NightWatch. []
  2. which I am still trying to remove the last remnants of []
Posted Friday, May 2nd, 2008 under culture, theatre.

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