This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
In a world where you can experience all there is to life via the medium of lo-res pictures lifted from Instagram and arranged into a listicle, it seems important to have real-life experiences—to have your mind blown by things you can touch and feel. It's why immersive theater events take $24 million in ticket sales over their three-month run, it's why gigs are a growing revenue stream for bands—and it's why 80,000 people applied for tickets to You Me Bum Bum Train.
You Me Bum Bum Train is the brain child of Morgan Lloyd and Kate Bond (they refer to it simply as Bum Bum)—it's the hypnagogic brain fuck that happens every couple of years somewhere in London. The set up is this: You enter. Stuff happens. You leave elated, buzzing like you're retroactively coming up on a super-strength Mitzi. The "stuff" in the middle varies from Bum Bum to Bum Bum—highly detailed, absurd real-life scenarios following one another on a nonsense high-paced narrative. The cast of actors often includes up to 300 people and full bands, and the set can include airport equipment, glitter curtains, and bobsleds. Maybe. The pair are slightly cagey when talking about the scenes, because the less you know, the more you get out of it.
Starting out as a club night in a shitty working men's club off a grimy East London street, Bum Bum's purpose on this earth was for people who found themselves being a little misanthropic on a night out.
"It was about being silly and free," Morgan confirms when I meet him. "It wasn't about being cool or stylish. There was an old pram and people had an amazing time with it. It ended up with my friend being starfished on top of it and hurtling down the road at 40 miles per hour." When did the experiential stuff come into it? "It was a secret of different worlds, for the fist one," Kate chimes in. "We wanted to do something creative and spontaneous with other creative people, and to give people a nice experience they might not otherwise experience."
The pair—both former art students, natch—don't see Bum Bum as part of the ever-expanding "immersive theater experience." They look a bit baffled when I say those words. "When we started it, we had just finished our degrees and were looking for something to do," Morgan says. "And it's evolved to where it is now from the realisation that the more real a scene is, the more impact it has. It's all in those tiny details." Kate finishes his sentences off—she often does, there is an air of married couple about them. "Each show gets us to the next platform. But it's all down to the volunteers."
Unlike many things in this life, Bum Bum is not run for vast profit—it's not sponsored by energy drinks, there's not corporation dinging a bell at the sound of every ticket sale. "It's a volunteer program," says Morgan. "They are often ex-passengers—they go on it, love it, and want to be a part of it for the sake of blowing someone else away. It's a community of people who love doing it and making it and working really hard."
Because there is no nine-to-five mentality, people put 100 percent in; they are there because they want to be—figuring out how to make something fantastical work, whether it's counterweighting a trap door or collecting wood or vacuuming the carpet.
"There's a sense of freedom for volunteers," says Kate. "There's no structure—people can have as much or as little input as they want, it's not a job." People are devoted to them, though. "We had one guy who was a passenger years ago—he's postponed his wedding and moved from Canada for seven weeks to work on production. It makes everything more meaningful."
Of course, the pair have had offers to monetize Bum Bum. But this, of course, does not come without compromise: "We lost all motivation when we realized it would be compromised. Even though we could have made a lot of money from it, it brings so much to so many people that compromising it didn't seem like a good idea."
Bum Bum really is bigger than it's parts—it's provided people with a change of career; volunteers have met, fallen in love, and got hitched; and, more importantly, it's provided people with an insight to an experience they might never have had. "We went to the locals who lived on the estate near where we did our last show—we had to convince them to go on the Bum Bum Train," says Kate. "One of the scenes involved a full orchestra. This lady burst into tears—she was so moved. Afterwards, she said it was better than bingo. And she fucking loved bingo."
The pair clearly get a huge amount of satisfaction—creating a world full of silliness where people come together and form a community—and as with any creative thing there are troughs and there are peaks. "Definitely the admin side is a drag," confirms Morgan. "And afterwards, when Bum Bum is finished, you feel depressed. But it's a huge privilege to do them."
I've thought of the feeling that Bum Bum train gave me—it's like trying to explain a dream: impossible, and never quite the same as actually being there. "It's always the demographic who aren't supposed to be there that get the most out of it," Kate smiles. "That old lady who crowd surfed, your friend's mother-in-law who was just so ecstatic after the foam party scene." Kate laughs at the memory. "She ran up to us with tears in her eyes; she was so happy."
Tickets for London's You Me Bum Bum Train go on sale at 6:30 PM on Sunday, June 21. Join the mailing list at bumbumtrain.com for a chance to win tickets to this year's show.
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