Company: Friends Roadshow
Interviewer: Susan Croft
Robert Hahn’s (RH) family background – born South Africa. German family left Germany in 1938. RH job to help support Mother as theatre usher. Went on tour with theatre company in late 1950s; toured with Athol Fugard – Hello Goodbye + another play; was doing Stage Management; worked Market Theatre and University Theatre in Johannesburg. Underground political activities at that time. Called up to army. Deserted and fled to Holland where he met Jenn Ben Jackov (JBJ) who was working in radical theatre company there. RH had lot of Black friends [in South Africa], police would come around; multi-racial free festivals; kidnapped and had head shaved. 6 of them lay a charged and went to court; left SA because no justice there. Rifle story from his army service.
JBJ – born USA, was quietly rebellious. Developed own ways out of the boring 1950s and aspiring middle class. Alone a lot in New York growing up. Played in playgrounds, elevators. Was pushed towards academic career; got scholarship but turned it down and went Martha Graham School of Dance instead. 1963-64, got scholarship but realised dance was not career for her. Applied for Yale drama school and got in – beginning of journey. Worked for 5 years as actor in States. Interested in community theatre; listened to jazz people locally; did substitute teaching to cover bills. Also trained with Joseph Chaikin who gave her link into the surreal away from naturalism: non-verbal, inner/outer way of communicating that was less visible. Went from one job to other from then. With Open Theatre – toured Europe in 1968 which ended in Netherlands and she stayed (The Serpent was show). The boat crossing was paid for crossing by performing on board ship – story of performing for 1st Class passengers.
They joined a Street Theatre group in Netherlands; RH was technician; Jenn was hired to give workshops and perform when she could; bit about the company – Theatre Group Sater – did political theatre – read the headlines, put piece together very quickly and did it the next day. They’d go to where action was happening and do Street Theatre.
Talks a little bit about learning Dutch and differences between Dutch and English.
Jango Edwards (JE) [American clown] came and did a workshop with the theatre group. In that workshop he spotted Robert and asked him to his clown workshop – RH a techie to that point. Began performing; it took time to feel comfortable in this new role. They left Sater at the same time. Robert was invited to join Friends Roadshow in England.
Friends Roadshow: at that time a combination of the London Mime Company and Black Theatre Company. London Mime – Nola Ray, London Black Theatre – Jeffrey [Stevens] and Johnny Plumber. There was a Magician called ‘Swandini’, who was Alan Porter. Alan Porter and Jango were on the same bill at Oval House and that was beginning of Friends Follies. They squatted a house in Crystal Palace. They moved in together and started the bigger Friends Roadshow; 12 clowns and 1 kind lived there; bought a doubledecker bus – the garden was big enough to park bus. Bus story about their bus getting stuck under a bridge outside Amsterdam and being escorted to Melkweg by police.
They performed on the bus. Took roof off and made it lower; gave it a proscenium arch. Description of the bus interior; had a lean-to. Living together, sleeping on bus (could sleep up to 20). Early one toured to Amsterdam for one night gig and then drove down to South of Spain, busking all the way to pay for their tour. Touring without bookings – heart of Roadshow policy.
JBJ learnt a lot from clowns in the company and admired their extrovert skills. 2nd show was called Friends in High Places. First show developed out of sketches from the original Follies show. Describes the evolution of this. Finally arrived in Amsterdam in 1976 at the Festival of Fools, with Saga of the Temples of the Odd Fellows – a tribute to their life on the bus and its survival. After that, some stayed in Amsterdam others went home to UK. Back in Crystal Palace the honeymoon was over. Friends Roadshow lasted 4 years’ an extraordinary experiment and opened up an universe of possibilities.
RH got a job in Sesame Street on TV as a clown in Holland and continued on in TV, JBJ stayed working in studios and theatres.
More detail on everyday living on the bus and the practicalities involved – would book into hotels to take showers. Recounts a ‘deal’ with one hotel to give a performance in exchange for a meal and what happened.
They did a 2 month festival in Tunisia – description of it. Big names performed there. Audiences and performers changed all the time except for Friends Roadshow who were there for the whole 2 months. Also played hotels along the coast.
JE returned to Detroit. Not all Friends Roadshow wanted to go to US so company split – Friends Roadshow English and Friends Roadshow America. RH deal a with 3 French festivals (La Rochelle, Avignon, Rennes) to provide them with 30 clowns. The payment for his allowed them to get all the Americans back to Europe; the American company members were struggling to get bookings in the US.
Originally JE had come over to England from the States with musician, Davey Norkett. How ideas for the shows came together. JE had a lot of the ideas. They used stock characters – eg The Schnozzers – description of how they looked and what they did. The bus was a visual delight. JE combined forces with Tony, Matt & Mick, 3 students from London Design School. It was their visualisations and his clowning that the Roadshow work developed out from. Matthew Rideout worked and lived with Nola Ray. Mick [Farrell] and Judy joined Friends Roadshow until it became International Roadshow. Tony Merchlin is in Barcelona. Everything came out of their magnificent imaginations.
Thoughts about the children from JBJ and bringing them up in the Friends Roadshow environment. They got a lot of attention from the company members but not always, when needed, for their individual parent’s. Jury is out as to whether it worked for kids or not.
Tony Mechlin has a lot of Roadshow material.
RH had several years in Sesame Street. Sesame Street – how it worked and the performer’s contribution to its creation. Robert did a character called DJ Cat on Sky Channel [post Sesame Street] that got a lot of fan mail. Story about Sesame Street management thinking Robert was too untidy but children watching loved non-verbal work. DJ Cat lasted 6/7 years, began end of 1970s. More about that character and the show content. Eventually Sky Channel wanted changes and control which RH didn’t like [RH gives egs] and he left.
RH was in one of JBJ’s play in 1980 – Naglam (Reverberations). How Jenn develops her plays and description of Naglam. More about how JBJ works and the themes that interest her. Other plays. Managed to get enough money to survive – some funding and some teaching. Each play individual pieces. Worked with themes personal to her – love, anti-military. RH always involved in some form.
JBJ involvement with Scarlet Harlots – We Who Were the Beautiful and Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers (she has it on video) . Bit about that and working with Sharon Landau on the show. Toured Holland – a Mickery production.