Sunday, 5 April 2009

Street Acts on The South Bank

London has always been a place for street entertainers to perform. Certain areas, such as Covent Garden or the South Bank, have earned a good reputation for street acts and I went to the South Bank last week to watch the acts (again). There is a mix of good and bad, as there is in any place that has street acts, but in this case the bad are truly abysmal.

The trend for living statues seems to be prevalent in most cities; South Bank is no different, the problem is that all but three acts were living statues. That is where the truly abysmal were to be found. Some people who, judging from the way they were behaving, were obviously not performers of any kind were simply wearing fancy dress and standing by a bowl or container waiting to be given money. The downside to people doing that is twofold. Firstly, it uses a location that should be filled by a genuine street performer. Secondly, the somewhat less than friendly and sometimes very direct demand of ‘give me money’ when there has been no talent or performance on display to reward, undermines the ‘good will’ that has to exist between street acts and the general public; without that good will, people are less inclined to stand and watch an act and less inclined to give money if they do stay and watch.

A genuine performer doing a living statue act remains immobile when approached. If money is dropped in the money tin or hat, the performer may then do some form of movement in acknowledgement.

Here is a photo of a performer who does just that.

She remained absolutely still while people queued to have their photograph taken beside her. If someone dropped money into her bowl, she performed a series of bows in a robotic fashion, as if she was some kind of Victorian mechanical automaton. If no money was given, she stayed motionless in accordance to the role she had given herself. There is no attempt to badger people to give money. (I have referred to this performer as ‘she’, but under the very good quality costume and make-up there might have been a man!)

In contrast to this, the ‘fake’ performers immediately draw attention to their money bowl when anyone goes near them or looks in their direction. They can also be awkward about letting someone take a photograph if they have not been given any money.

Another good performer was dressed as Charlie Chaplin. He drew quite a crowd and gave an entertaining, humorous show. Not far away, three men gave a slightly unstructured performance of juggling and contortionism; nevertheless, they put on a good show which attracted a large audience. A forth crowd-puller was a living statue, a wizard, who moved in response to fun music.

It is in watching the good street acts, the genuine performers who have put effort and talent into developing an act, that makes me wish that the ‘waste of space’ performers, who are merely begging in disguise and not performing, could be moved on; that would make room for more genuine performers – which might provide more variety of acts on the South Bank.

Here is a selection of some of the photographs I took when walking along the South Bank.

Here are two members of the juggling and contortionist act. The majority of the people watching them were next to me on the pavement. Bizarrely, no one chose to stand on the grass to watch them, despite people jostling each other trying to get a good view. The large metal bowl that the contortionst is being carried in, was the same bowl used after the act to collect money.

Here is another picture of the excellent street performer mentioned above. For the first photo, I had to wait ages for her to be alone so I could take the picture. Tourists were gathered in front of her, waiting to have their photograph taken with her. I held my camera in position, hoping for a moment long enough to take the photo as one person walked away and another stepped up for a photo. After that, I gave up and just took pictures with the crowd in shot.

Here is a photo of someone wearing what looks like an outfit from a fancy dress shop and hoping to be mistaken for a street performer. The body language says it all. Do you consider this a performance? Would you give money to him?

Far more effort went into this; I did not have an opportunity to see how the performer interacts with a member of the public.

The 'Rocking' wizard who danced to some very pleasantly weird upbeat music. He is situated very near to the London Eye.

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