Barrio – Hazy Memories from Opening Night

After the last decade-and-a-bit of seeing squillions of Fringe and Festival shows, I’ve come to the conclusion that I love Art. And, because I figure that the best way I can ensure that I’ll continue having the chance to enjoy Art is to patronise it, I feel obliged to put my money where my mouth is: I pay for tickets. I go to fund raisers. And I am a proud Angel of the Festival.

Now, this title has little real impact on things; I receive the same benefits as Friends of the Festival, and a nice little tax deduction. But I feel happy knowing that, in my own tiny little way, I’ve contributed to the running of this most wonderful Festival machine.

There’s other occasional perks: sometimes there’s the opportunity to sit in a dress rehearsal, or a media preview. Pre- or post-show Q&A sessions. All things that I can rarely take advantage of, given my scheduling of other shows.

But this year I’d been sent two gold wristbands for express opening-night access to the Festival’s nightspot, Barrio. We’d been introduced to the concept at the Festival launch the previous October, and it was mighty enticing; I figured it’d be worth a quick look around post-Morricone, and then maybe duck back to The Garden to see Mojo Juju. Such optimistic thinking…

Open Sesame...

By the time we’d applied our wristbands and walked up to the Barrio entrance, the public queue was already looping back on itself three times, and stretching back down King William Street; it was already obvious that Barrio was going to be every bit as popular as its Persian Garden and Red Square ancestors, and it felt gloriously indulgent and audacious to stroll past the impatient masses, wristbands on display, and straight inside. The Gravity & Other Myths crew were controlling the shrine: a brief chat, and then we were off, exploring Barrio’s maze like inwards.

We quickly figure out the lay of the land – the food stalls, the bars, the open spaces – and it’s the second drink that cements the favourite dispensary: I think it was a Dirty Mule, but after three or four of them it was pretty hard to remember. Some more wandering took us into another little mazelet; two girls with thick german accents begged me to accept their offer of a two-dollar makeover. Five minutes later, my hair teased skyward and heavy with hairspray, I left their makeshift salon with a cardboard sign around my neck that screamed “HUG ME”. I thought nothing more of it… until someone hugged me unannounced.

Go on, then...

So I figured it was only appropriate to keep score. By the end of the night, my little sign indicated that I’d received eleven hugs from women, twelve hugs from men, and one hug from someone dressed as a cartoonish shark. And one of those male hugs was from Paul Grabowsky, who had attempted to scoot past me in a narrow corridor, incredulous eyebrow raised. My Event Buddy had summoned him back; “this is all your doing,” I decreed, “so the least you can do is follow the rules.”

The gates are thrown open to the public – our gold wristband exclusivity is over, and Barrio becomes jam-packed, with bar queues approaching silliness. Seb is there, adding colour and wackiness to proceedings. The bands started cycling through my increasingly murky drunken haze. Slumping into the seating in front of the stage, I eventually figure out the indicators for the toilets – a humorous touch.

I got completely pissed.

James Thiérrée is incredible on the dance floor; we wind up talking to a dancer & tour manager of Gardenia, amongst many other people – punters and performers alike.

And I distinctly remember sitting there – on that comfortably balmy night, with my gaudy strands of beads and freaky hair and “hug me” sign and Dirty Mule and sozzled brain – thinking “Yep. This is what philanthropy feels like.”

Barrio – brilliant idea, fantastic execution. And, what’s more, I’m betting it was a tidy little earner for everyone involved.

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