Rugby: This Guy can wing it

Last updated 14:56 24/01/2014
Guy Langford
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Performer Guy Langford is bringing Bazza: Most Improved Player to the Southland Buskers Festival this month.

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Performer Guy Langford will bridge the gap between rugby and art during the Southland Buskers Festival. He talks to Lauren Hayes.

Bazza has big dreams.

His heart is set on making the All Blacks, and he longs for the day he can take to the field with the greatest team on Earth, kicking, tackling, rucking and mauling in the black jersey.

It's a pretty lofty goal, considering Bazza is not a normal rugby fanatic.

Technically, he's not even human.

Bazza is one of those little golden guys who stands atop trophies, awkwardly stuck in some strange sporting pose, his chipping varnish revealing the cheap white plastic within.

Of all the trophies, Bazza happens to be stuck on the "most improved player" trophy - which, in a slightly wretched way, implies he's perhaps not quite All Black material.

He's still practising though, spending his spare hours on ball skills and trying to track down Steve Hansen's cellphone number.

The ever-hopeful Bazza is one of Guy Langford's street performance personas, the character Langford will bring to the Southland Buskers Festival this month.

Langford covers his body in gold paint - he's got it down to a 20-minute task these days, after a few years of practice - and has a replica trophy base for the act.

He acknowledges Bazza might seem a weird choice for an actor who has never played rugby.

Although Langford, like most New Zealanders, has watched a few games on telly and at Eden Park, the physical side of sport did not inspire the Aucklander to sign up, he says.

"The idea of being tackled by someone twice the size of me is not so appealing."

The character was forged during the 2011 World Cup fever, when Langford capitalised on the event's hype to rake in a bit of extra cash with a topical, rugby-themed role.

Bazza is more than just a cash cow, though, morphing into an exploratory comic venture in the national psyche.

With his chicken legs and slightly feminine movements, Langford turns Bazza into a good- natured mockery of the typical Kiwi bloke, something New Zealanders will recognise and relate to. "I wouldn't be doing a badminton player in New Zealand because it not really our national sport. But rugby is, and we know that guy."

Theatre, not rugby, was Langford's realm, but the world would have missed out on his talents had the performer followed advice from school career counsellors.

Despite enjoying the arts in high school, the teenage Langford decided performance did not have great career prospects and he headed off to university for something more financially secure.

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The experiment of studying for a "real job" did not last long. "Very, very quickly I got bored with it and found myself staying up till 3 in the morning, learning lines and loving it."

University, and the chance of nabbing a "real job", was soon swapped for something less lucrative but more spiritually rewarding.

The performer was selected to study at Toi Whakaari, the New Zealand Drama School, and, later, the prestigious Ecole Philippe Gaulier in Paris. The school was started and is still taught by Philippe Gaulier, one of the world's most famous modern clowns, and attracts students from all over the world.

It's a bit of a mixing pot, both for students and artforms.

Langford recalls performing a scene from Othello with Iago, Othello and Desdemona all speaking different languages, and studying alongside circus artists, street performers, theatre junkies and complete novices.

Other parts of the course are less free-form.

In particular, Gaulier enforced strict rules about how students could interpret clowns, Langford says. "It was very rigid, what 'clown' is and what it's not. A clown is naive, wears a red nose and is funny, and if it is not that, it's not a clown."

Langford spent two and a half years at the Ecole before returning to New Zealand, securing roles in productions throughout the country.

Now, when asked, the performer labels himself a "theatre maker" but he still returns to dabble in street performing.

One of the biggest misconceptions of busking, Langford believes, is the idea that it's a poor man's game. "It's surprising how prosperous it can be. I think some people think they're beggars sometimes but, if you're good, you can do very well."

However, street performing does come with one significant job hazard - drunks.

In a theatre, intoxicated audience members are confined to their seats, escorted out by burly ushers if things go a little loco, but on the street there are no rules.

It was a lesson Langford learned the hard way when he decided to bring Bazza to the Wellington Sevens.

Drunken revellers, in various states of alcohol- induced belligerence, staggered in throngs along the waterfront, and a gold-painted rugby player acting the goat was little more than a lightning rod for their abuse.

"It was a big mistake . . . I wouldn't do it again," Langford admits. "You know, when people are drinking, their way of dealing with other people can be horrible."

The experience was not enough to put him off the artform, and the performer still enjoys taking his skills to the street.

It's a different art, interacting with audiences one on one, and it requires him to shift his performance to best fit the person right in front of him, but it comes with its own rewards.

"I'm all about making people happy, smile and laugh, and it's a family kind of thing. It just made sense to me."

Bazza, most improved player, can be spotted throughout Invercargill during the Southland Buskers Festival, including as host of the ILT Busker Cabaret.

 

- The Southland Times

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