One of the things I missed the most from my student days is watching street performance in the city.
In Boston, there are two places for street performance (maybe more, but these are the places I know): Harvard Square and Quincy Market. Harvard Square is smaller than QM, so there are fewer performances there. In fact, there is only one place for large audience, reserved for stunt shows with big crowds. I only remember that the place is near a comic bookstore where I usually buy anime, and that it is a wide pavement with red bricks (I can’t recall more). There are many smaller sideshows, usually some Bohemian chick with a guitar belting out Joan Baez tunes, or some dodgy looking guy doing street magic, which is the worst form of street performance (seriously do these people really think they can fool people with card tricks in the fucking twenty first century? :P)
The big shows only take place on weekends, and during non-winter months only. The mainstay act is by one lanky guy with a deep voice and the ability to repeat the same jokes every show. He usually wears a beret. He would start by a warmup juggling act, and some medium level diabolo tricks. I remembered once when he threw the diabolo high up in the air and couldn’t catch it — the diavolo bounced off the string and hit a young kid in the head (poor kid, but LOL). If you don’t know what a diabolo is, Google.
After that he would move on to the main act, where he would call on 4 or 5 strong persons (always white males) to pull one end of a rope, which would prop up a makeshift ropewalking device. He then would mount and walk on the rope, about 2 meters off the ground, and then start acting twitchy. It’s just an act, I know, but I like the way he makes people gasping and making “oh god be careful” faces. It’s called being entertained. As for me, I have seen the tricks so many times I can recall all the jokes that are part of the act. In fact, I probably could stand up for him if he happens to be sick on the weekend, except I can’t juggle for shit, and also that the ropewalking act would become a bouncing-meat-on-the-brick-pavement act.
Sometimes there are other acts, like a skateboard or BMX act. While these are more entertaining than roadside circus, the guys are usually younger and less skilled on crowd psychology. Also they tell terrible jokes. I remember when I was called as a volunteer during a skateboard act, where me and three other guys would lie down next to each other. I lie on one end, and I would hold a long knife (like a parang) perpendicular to the ground. The trick is that the guy would jump over the knife and across four of us. Which is lame, and stupid. What a waste of time. I only dropped spare change in the collection box.
Talking about money, I always give to street performers whenever I enjoy one, even to the sucky ones. I knew one fellow student who stayed in my residence hall who did a human statue act during the weekends and he told me that the real street performers (as opposed to college students who moonlight) have no other jobs than performing on the roadside and it’s a really hard job. Nobody owes them a living, so fuck them, right? Maybe so, but I dont think a couple of dollars could dent my monthly budget, and so I insisted on paying people who entertained me.
That said, Boston street performance scene is not that great. The best performances I’ve seen are at NYC and Madrid. I’ve seen one guy on NYC juggling 9 balls. I don’t know whether that is common or mad skillz, but it was amazing to me. I talked to him after the show, and he told me that he performs in Boston sometimes. Can’t remember his name, though. Inspired by him, I enrolled in a juggling club at college and attended meetings weekly. But I was born with a hand-eye coordination of Jabba the Hut, so I never went beyond three-balls and a few simple tricks.
There are street performers in Malaysia as well — I saw a human statue act on my way to Pavilion (can’t remember where exactly). But unlike their brother performers in Europe and America, they are largely viewed negatively or simply ignored by the public. One of my friends remarked that she saw a street band in Pasar Seni, and she almost threw up in disgust. I smiled and thought it can’t be that bad. I don’t know, I have not seen them, but I don’t mind throwing a RM or two if their performance is OK. Don’t just be a Mat Pit with a guitar, and sing like you just got stoned off your ass. That would be public indecency (but who am I to judge).
Why do I write all this? I don’t know, maybe nostalgia. And maybe a humane call to help our street performers. In other countries, street performance is a treasure and a tourist attraction. I once gave 5 euros to a human statue in Madrid — not because her act is exceptional, I think she moved and blinked too much, and she’s not that hot. I just happened to have money to spend and I was feeling generous that day. Another guy who was with me, predictably said “ish buat apa ko bagi dia sampai 25 ringgit, baik bagi aku buat makan”…kekeke ape la mentaliti dunia ketiga
Finally, some street performance on Youtube. Enjoy!
TONG pon jadilah (Boston):
Tengkorak menari (Barcelona):
Philip Glass’s “Lightning” by creepy gliding musicians in black robe with fire on top (France):
Any more street performance stories / videos you’d like to share? Comments below.