Carny Ville is a whacked-out, Victorian-themed, 18+ rated extravaganza held over a weekend at the The Island, a former cop shop in Bristol with a beautiful courtyard and surrounding buildings. Hosted by the Invisible Circus and Artspace Lifespace, it’s a brilliant way to spend a night, with amazing performances, mad ‘stalls’ (such as the Pawnbrokers, prop. C. U. Cummings), ‘ladies of the night’ that barrack the crowd from above the stalls at street level, Victorian lamps that spew flame, street performers that mingle with the crowd and stay completely in character even as they’re being ‘arrested’ by the bobbies with flashing helmets, the swing band decked out in pink, the traditional circus acts held in the Carny Grand, it was all a great atmosphere and brilliant fun.
The idea of this blog however, is to to give my ‘deaf perspective’ on the world, and from this perspective, Carny Ville was fantastic. Example; on entering the venue we were given fake money – “five nicker: no gods we trust” – and a clue card, in my case “ask the pawnbrokers about the old times at the Carny Grand”. So I eventually made my way over to that stall, where they were in the middle of a staged confrontation with one of the fake bobbies and waited patiently until they’d finished, signing away with my friend. Bobby left, my turn, I waved hello and showed them the clue card. They’d clearly picked up on all the signals that I and my friend were deaf and proceeded to wave their hands about, pretending to carouse wildly, pretending to get in a fight and hit each other with things, basically doing a very good, very funny mime act of a wild night out, victorian style. Suitably amused and impressed, I moved on, when I was accosted by one of the street performers. Tried to wave him away, but he wasn’t put off and opened his coat to reveal watches and plastic jewellery and mimed offering me these riches. We mimed our way through a transaction and I came away with a plastic ring that he’d placed on my hand himself.
We got accosted by yet another street performer who began by trying to shout at us over the crowd noise. We indicated we were deaf, and far from putting them off, they began to sign at us! Basic level signing, sure, but good enough to tell us there was a knees up at the barn dance and invite us to join them later. It didn’t seem to matter who accosted us or who we interacted with – Carny Ville depends a lot on crowd participation and interaction with most of the acts – once whoever it was realised we were deaf, they immediately adapted, miming or pointing or gesturing to get their act across.
I loved Carny Ville for that.
That and the incredible finale in the courtyard which had fireworks, plumes of flame, two abseiling dancers that twirled around each other and occasionally danced in tandem, a wire act, a dozen fire twirlers dotted around the buildings’ balconies and stonking music.
Carny Ville finishes in Bristol this weekend, then it’s going on tour. I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants a great night out – hearing or deaf!
Rock on Carny Ville!