Bravery and beautiful madness

Tahu Mackenzie will manifest in a cloud of tulle. Photo: Gregor Richardson.
Tahu Mackenzie will manifest in a cloud of tulle. Photo: Gregor Richardson.

We can all take heart from the fringe dwellers, the risk-takers, writes Lisa Scott.

I am not edgy. I am not, nor ever have been, cool, except for half an hour in 1984 when I owned a pair of gold glitter rollerskates and set off down Forbury Rd, not a small girl in the chesticles, wearing a white crochet boob tube and shorts with tassels.

In the movie house of my mind, I was a wheeled renegade, a free-spirited risk-taker, and you can be sure the residents of St Clair had never seen anything like it (and wouldn’t again, until I broke my leg roller-skating home from a party at the surf club almost 20 years later wearing a tight red cheongsam. Appropriate clothing is everything, children). Unfortunately, I only got about 10m down the road before I fell over in front of a bunch of surfers, one of whom I was desperately in love with, though I never spoke my feelings (or to him, ever), and took the skin off my knee. The surfers laughed. Bastards.

Limping home in my socks, dripping blood and mortification, I knew I was not destined for the cosmic glade where uncertainty rules, the place where life is lived on the edge. That I would not be a fringe dweller. Well ... I am at the moment, just not on purpose.

Quite frankly, Port Chalmbers, where I am renting a thespian Eden (a garden of earthly delight full of figs and apricots, apples and pears; every morning a glory of birdsong) while my Purakaunui bach is being made fit for human habitation, is like the Wild West, just without the hats and syphilis. Oh, hang on...

Voted the second-least desirable Dunedin suburb in which to live in 1989 (Careys Bay was the least), Port is chock-a-block with outrageous characters with amazing backstories: nobody just decides to come here, it seems, they are fleeing or pushed, on the run or retired from the kind of lives you only see in magazines.

Crazy s*** happens constantly. Scorned women run amok, former boxers smile, exposing teeth like fence posts in a muddy paddock, drink is taken and cars are driven into shop fronts. Goods trains heading north punctuate the night with their rattle and clack. The sun rises on broken hearts and beer bottles, logging trucks shake the historic buildings, ghosts sigh and cruise ships loom above it all. It’s marvellous. But I digress. The point is, I’m not a risk-taker. Or, so I’ve always thought.

When I worked at the Fortune Theatre, it was this chicken-heartedness that meant I became enamoured of actors, set designers and directors. Because creative types are the riskiest of all risk-takers. They live their truth, put their hearts, reputations and futures on the line every day. They tread a hard path, and I love them for it. Being around actors: larger than life, brave, able to recite pages of Shakespeare at the drop of a hat, pull something terrible and wonderful from their imaginations and place it in front of you with modesty and grace, I dared to dream of making a go of it as a writer. So much so, one day I said to my boss, "I’m going to write a novel."

"Are you?" she said.

"Well, go on then."

So, I did. I had to, really. Even though the doing part made me come over like one of those little dogs that shake all the time and have to be carried around in a handbag. Don’t think I don’t know that if I’d just kept my mouth shut, I might still have a proper job.

Speaking of proper jobs, the Fringe Festival is on again from March 9-19. From small beginnings, this annual showcase of ingenious fruitcake has become a highlight. A limelight, a spotlight, a flashlight, a strobe light: letting us see how wonderful we are.

The aurora of awesome, Dunedin’s Tahu Mackenzie will manifest in a cloud of tulle and sprinkle fairy dust over the city, things will get silly. This year’s programme is jam-packed: from a history of Scotland with knob jokes to a multimedia reimagining of the Dunedin Sound, to a three-night stand with Jeremy Elwood. Each and every one of the acts has one thing in common: they put themselves out there. Had the courage of their convictions, instead of just convictions.

We can all take heart from the fringe dwellers, the risk-takers. Their bravery and beautiful madness is contagious. It might be steep, hard to find a foothold and it certainly is a long way down, but there’s a marvellous view from here, the edge.

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