In July 'The Adventures of Don Quixote by Bicycle' is being premièred by Burn the Curtain as part of Exeter’s Ignite Theatre Festival. A series of performances will take place at Exeter’s Historic Quayside with audiences and performers taking a short promenade ride along the Exeter Canal Cycle Route. In August, Don Quixote will travel to North Devon where a further series of performances will take place on the Tarka Cycle Trail between Fremington Quay and Instow.
We talked to Joe Hancock;
How have things changed for you in the last year?
'The Adventures of Uncle Lubin' put a lot of smiles on a lot of faces right across Devon, and it gave us a chance to talk to many people both inside and outside the theatre community about making more work outside of theatres for people who don't usually go into them, and for those who regularly attend theatre, but are looking for something different.
Why Don Quixote?
Several things attracted us to the story. It is about a journey, and friendship, and it is about creating a world for yourself that others do not truly understand. I also really like the metaphor for the creative process. Just like Don Quixote, you begin as a lone mad voice in the wilderness, doggedly seeing only what you wish to see, and trying to convince others that your visions are true.
Don Quixote exists in popular consciousness in a mythical manner- most people know the character without knowing the whole story. As we started to research we discovered that the density of the original text means that each film and theatrical interpretation is markedly different from the one before, as different interpreters extract the bits that mean the most to them.
So how does it work?
You bring a bike, or hire one. We help you to transform it into a beautiful horse, and then you ride away for adventures with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. There will be things to do along the way, and some colourful characters to meet. Just like our other performances, we will need your help in creating the show, and you will have some small roles to play. Though you'd better hurry, as due to the nature of the show, spaces are limited, and already selling quickly...
In practical terms using bicycles seems to us like a really good way of taking an audience on a journey of proper distance, and Devon has plenty of beautiful cycle routes. It also fits in with our thoughts about theatre being something that performer and audience can share – something simple , instinctive, physical and fun.
So many people remember learning to ride a bicycle- it is a child's first taste of freedom, and we want to celebrate this. Riding a bike seems to me something that Don Quixote would do - just as he needed no particular reason to leave home in his 50's and go on an endless quest, most cyclists also don’t require an end goal - the ride itself is enough ! I particularly love the fact that on any Sunday afternoon across Devon you see groups of elderly gentlemen and ladies peddling their way into the twilight- the spirit of Don Quixote lives on in them.
Who have you worked with on this project?
The show has been commissioned by Beaford Arts and funded by Arts Council England, Devon County Council, Exeter Quay and Canal Trust and Exeter City Council. We have also been generously supported by lots of volunteers from Bike Space in Plymouth, the Bicycle School of Art in Bristol, Sustrans and CTC Exeter.
In the early stages, we worked with CTC (the UK’s National Cyclists organisation) who helped us understand what an audience of family cyclists would want from a show and who also helped us find some of the weird and wonderful cycles that we needed. I ended up in all sorts of places including a Motorway Services where I met Kevin from DTEK cycles, who came all the way from Ely to deliver us a 'Victorian' , and the Bristol workshop of 'Spoke n Chain' , expert decorators of bicycles. An amazing team of young people at Bike Space in Plymouth helped us find and transform cycles- our fleet now contains a penny farthing, some tall bikes, mountain bikes and cruisers, all of which have been transformed into the sort of creatures that the characters from Don Quixote would choose to ride.
The cycling community is a strong one which is happy to offer advice and get involved, whether it is finding us a strange and rare 3 wheeler in a shed in Ely, helping us weld and paint a tall-bike, lending us a penny farthing or helping us to plan and risk asses our routes, we have been bowled over by the response and interest. Special thanks should go to Zsolt Schuller from DCC for his great support all though the project, and to Alistair Cope, the true Don Quixote of Devonian cycling.
Over the last few weeks we’ve started to develop the show with the cast taking their personalised cycles out on to the cycle trails in Exeter and North Devon. The response of passersby has been inspiring, people stop to chat, cyclists clad in Lycra come screeching to a halt to find out what we’re doing and more importantly why..... It’s really interesting for me to see how this show is connecting with and reaching an entirely new audience.
So is this a show for enthusiasts?
Not at all- the routes in both locations are short and flat, and very easy to ride for people of any age or physical condition, and while you can bring your own bike, you can also hire one at the start . Cyclists, just like artists and performers, are often identified by others by the odd clothes they wear and the apparently strange things they choose to do, rather than being allowed to be simply people on wheels, or people with creative ideas.
How many bikes are used in the show?
I don't know. I have lost count. In fact if anyone attending cares to take a guess, they could win themselves a deluxe puncture repair kit...
What does the future hold for you?
After 2012, we plan to take Don Quixote on some more exciting adventures across the UK and into Europe, if we’re lucky perhaps all the way back to Spain, his country of origin. If you have a length of beautiful cycle path near you that you think an errant knight might like to wander through, please do get in touch - perhaps we can bring the show to you next year ?