Posts Tagged ‘bicycles’

Several weeks ago I attended a play at the National Theatre called Travelling Light, and it was a wonderful production. But the interesting thing about my experience with this play was not the any one aspect of the production, but how it – as a whole – affected me afterwards. Which is not to undervalue the qualities of this play: despite an unnecessarily sentimental ending, this is a strong and witty script about the creation of film, stemming from small-town ambition, complete with endearing Jewish personalities, a neurotic young film director, and his beautiful assistant turned silent film actress. And it had Anthony Sher, who is a fantastic stage actor.

My experience is not something I can explain in objective terms. I suppose the best way I can describe it is that it had this intoxicating, contagious energy that stayed with me the entire walk and tube ride home. I found myself walking so quickly I was practically skipping down the street with nervous excitement. I just wanted to keep moving. Even waiting at a crosswalk, I could barely keep still. I took out my iPod touch and started filming my route, paying close attention to the quick turns in the road, observing small details as I passed. Similar to when I became acquainted with Harriet the Spy and immediately bought myself a spy notebook just like hers; but, in this case, I thought I could be a film maker. Granted, the little video I created was far from imaginative, and it is, in fact, so boring to watch, that I won’t even bother sharing it. But the point is, at the time, something electric happened, and it felt fantastic.

I mention this only because sometimes going to the theatre can be an exhausting experience, which is why, I think, it isn’t as popular as it once was. Watching videos at home requires far less emotional sacrifice. But if a play is poor quality or simply ‘not for you’, the effort it takes to watch and stay engaged with a live performance can feel wasted when the experience is not gratifying. Still, once in a while, during or following a performance, you find yourself in a similar state to riding down a steep hill at full speed on your beloved bicycle (sometimes more therapeutic than therapy, I recently discovered…) or flying down a particularly lush snow hill with a sharp wind hitting the parts of your face not covered by ski goggles. And those moments are somehow magnified, multiplied by the closeness of theatre, by the intimacy of sharing the same space. And that’s why I keep going back – hoping to renew my acquaintance with that feeling.

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I planned on returning home early this evening, but I was politely accosted by a Australian busker in the Byward Market who was looking for an audience for his show. Soon I was called up to be a volunteer, and thus began one of the most painful experiences of my life.

Bicycle Busker

Bicycle Busker

I know this busker. I’ve seen his show, and it is good. He has been training and performing for decades. In addition to being quite talented, he also has a charmingly dry sense of humour. Audience members always walk away from his show having had a really good time. Unfortunately tonight there was something a little off-balance. The busker was not in a very good mood (I’d heard later that he’d had some of his stuff stolen the evening before) and the audience was as dry as… I don’t know, your mom. It was a bad combination. People would literally just stand there, arms folded, and stare at the guy as he tossed chainsaws and fire torches in the air while riding around on his bicycle.

And I suspect that not one person in that entire crowd has successfully juggled a handful of oranges, let alone a chainsaw.

Long story short, thanks to the lack of audience response, the busker decided to cancel his show. Actually, there was some response – but only from a couple of guys who decided to shout out obscene remarks that were not even funny. I do think the busker should not have taken so much offense to these hecklers. In this profession, a sense of humour and the ability to rise above such inanities is essential. With street theatre, everyone is welcome to watch and respond. Even if the response is not welcome or tasteful, these spectators have a right to it. It was clear that the audience sensed the busker’s general unease and were turned off by his bad mood. Nobody wants to watch an ill-tempered performer, much less participate in his show.

That being said, this audience was truly terrible. Usually I don’t expect much from street audiences. Most of them aren’t planning on attending a busker show, and just show up by accident. Besides, people are so accustomed to watching television that they don’t know how to react to live entertainment. In some sitcoms, even the laughing is done for them. But when you’re watching a street show, it’s almost like you’re onstage, too: you have to participate, to react, to laugh, to clap, to cheer, to follow orders. If you are not doing those things, then you’re not really engaging in the performance.

Lately I haven’t enjoyed going to buskers shows because I find that – excluding the performer, of course – I’m doing all the work. I’m one of the few people in the crowd who is actually cheering and clapping and being enthusiastic. I’ll look at people around me, as if to say: “Why aren’t you clapping, too?” Most people just stand there with their arms crossed, wondering if they should change the channel. Even when the performer says, “Please clap when I do this trick,” most people stand there as if they heard nothing, as if “clap” is a foreign word. Children look at their parents, as if to ask permission to clap. One child this evening called something out during the show, and his mother covered his mouth to shut him up. I wanted to tell her, “No! He’s got the right idea! Why don’t you try it sometime?”

Maybe I’m preaching to the choir here, but I’d like to write a short list of etiquette for watching a street performer’s show. Here goes.

  • Respect the performance space: if you can’t stay for the show, then do not walk through the performance area. It is indicated by a rope, and it is very obvious. It is disrespectful, much like walking through someone’s backyard instead of going around.
  • Answer questions: even if you’re just passing by, don’t be shy about answering a busker’s questions. He is not hitting on you, nor is he trying to harass you. He probably just wants to try a joke. Ignoring people is rude and unnecessary.
  • Follow the lead: if you plan on watching the show, come as close as possible to the performance area. Or when the busker tells you to come closer, just do it. The rope on the street is in place so no one gets hurt. He would never ask you to stand in harm’s way. He is asking you to move closer because it looks like he has a real audience instead of people just standing around doing nothing.
  • React! Respond! Rejoice! In other words, when the busker does something impressive (like a back flip) or tells a mildly funny joke, don’t just stand there looking at your cell phone. Please laugh or clap or holler. This puts the busker in a good mood and makes him more likely to put on a better show. There’s no such thing as “just watching” street theatre: you have to be an active participant or else you risk bringing down the overall energy of the show.
  • Give money: these folks do this for a living. Their lives depends on the few dollars you toss at them. Even if you can’t afford that much, just a few quarters is appreciated. If you have to leave before the show finishes, try to slip him some money before running off.
  • Give thanks: if you don’t have any money on you at all, then tell the guy how much you liked his show. He’ll appreciate the effort.

If these rules are common sense to you, maybe pass them along to a friend. Spread the word. Street performing is awesome, as long as the audience keeps giving the proper support. Don’t let it die. Clap if you believe in fairies, people. Seriously.

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