From 1989 â€“ 1992 I toured with the Queensland Arts Council to primary schools around the state with a production called â€œWorld Gamesâ€. The company- Footloose Theatre Company was mine and was named after a suggestion from my father â€œTwo young unmarried blokes touring around the state, what else could you call it?â€ It was an apt name. A two-hander production “World Games” had a quiz show format and relied heavily on audience participation and lent itself to a good deal of impro.
Looking back these were some of the happiest days of my life. I loved life on the road and the guys I toured with were awesome both as people and performers. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
The Story of Julie Hips
To commence each show when I had a guitar playing touring partner (ie with Anthony and Dave) we marched the kids in (see School in the Sugar) then played a couple of songs – New England by Billy Bragg and (I’m gonna be) 500 Miles by The Proclaimers were particular favorites – may I add our version of New England sounded exactly the same as the link – yup thats me singing; and had exactly the same atmosphere as The Proclaimers link provided). You should’ve seen up to 300 kids singing and clapping along – “I don’t want to change the world – I’m just looking for another girl” That was something to behold.
We’d finished the pre-show show and we’d begun the show proper when a young girl, who had Down Syndrome, at the back of the audience clearly had something she wanted to share, her hand was raised and she was calling out to us. A teacher was trying to stifle her cries but she was not to be denied.
“Ok what do you want young lady?” I asked. The teacher replied “She wants to dance ..its ok… carry on.”
“No, no… its fine” I said, following our judo modus operandi “come on down the front Miss.”
This caused quite a stir, some of the older kids groaned; there was a general atmosphere of unrest.
Anthony, picked up his guitar again as she started moved through the audience. “Whats your name?” I asked.
“Thats a lovely name Julie… and how old are you?”
“Awesome. So… you can dance Julie?”
Without any further ado or introduction – Julie wasn’t one to stand on ceremony – she began moving. Her head swung from side-to-side, her long hair streaming behind, her knees bent swaying, her feet rooted to the ground. The motor driving her entire body was her hips – which were flying. I’m talking supersonic speed, Im talking hula hero, I’m talking in a blink they’d have done 5 or 6 revolutions. Anthony’s strumming was so fast he’d have to break to shake off hand cramping every now and then. The crowd was cheering. The teachers were laughing. Julie was gyrating and beaming ear-to-ear. Julies happy dance went on….. and on…. and on.
When she’d finished – and we are talking a good 5 minutes at hand blender speed here without respite – the audience gave her the seated equivalent of a standing ovation which lasted as long as it took Julie to return to her seat at the back. The whole return journey she received back-pats and high-fives. She was in her element. And not one of the kids at the back was groaning.
At the end of the show we’d bumped out, packed the car and were ready to travel to the next school, when the school bell rang for lunch. We had an hour to get to the next show when a group of kids stampeded us – occasionally we were asked for autographs by the kids and we would always oblige – so sweet. Just as we’d signed the last autograph and were about to head off, Julie spotted us – she ran at me, calling my name and wrapped her arms tight around me.
“I love you” she said.
I love you too” I replied, “it was so great to have you in the show, you’re fantastic! But we’ve got to go now- we have to go to another school.”
“You’re not going” she said.
“But I have to”. I explained.
She didn’t reply or release her koala hug.
A teacher spotted my predicament and came running to the rescue. “He has to go now Julie,” said the teacher attempting to release me from Julies vice-like grip without success “come on Julie let him go”.
“No” said Julie.
“C’mon man we’ve gotta go” Anthony reminded me.
“I know” , I said, giving him my best ‘what am I supposed to do’ look.
As insistent as Julie was about dancing, she was equally adamant about this hug. “Hey Julie, honey, we really have to go, we don’t want to, we just have to,” implored Ant. She wasn’t having any of it. The more I tried to move away, the tighter she squeezed. She was strong too, a couple of times she squeezed the breath out of me.
Then a thought struck me, something that should have been obvious to us all. This wasn’t really our day anyhow… it wasn’t the schools’ day. It was Julie’s day.
“Let it go” I said to Ant.
“We’re going to be late” he said.
“I know… who cares? She wants to hug.”
“We can get her off you,” the teacher offered.
“No, its okay, ” I said, thanking the teacher, “she’ll let go… sooner or later.”
“Well, I have to get my lunch” the teacher said.
“No worries” I replied, “I’m not going anywhere. Thanks for coming to my aid.”
The teacher wandered off to the staff lunch room. Anthony sat in the car impatient to go.
So there we were, nine year old Julie and me, locked in an embrace beside the Arts Council car in the middle of the school playground.
Eventually Julie did let go. I said goodbye and broke a golden rule and kissed her on the cheek as we parted – sometimes rules have got to be broken. She skipped away as though nothing unusual had happened.
I thought at the time that we were making Julie’s day and perhaps we did, but here I am nearly a quarter of a century later and as I recall her story I can still see her beaming face and feel her monster hug. Was it Julie’s day or was it mine? Or were we all touched by Julie Hips that day?
We were late for the next show – not by too much, nobody was dreadfully inconvenienced. But even if they had been – it would’ve been totally worth it.