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Old 08-12-10, 01:03 PM   #1
Daniel Craig
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Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Winnipeg
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Stop A Tale of Two Festivals: Part One- Windsor

A Tale of Two Festivals: Windsor and Red Deer. Part One.

Two weekends this July I had the opportunity to attend the Windsor Buskers Festival and Red Deer's Street Performer Festival, called "Centrefest". If you're feeling like a nice long read, please, by all means, settle in, get a nice cup of coffee and hear this saga of both joy and woe.

Here we go.

A little backstory for the uninformed- Windsor was a once proud busking festival, run up and down the waterfront by Ken Brandes, well attended and well recieved by audiences all over the region. In 2007 the festival missed a year and ownership was passed to someone else, but the festival re-emerged in 2008 and was back on track.

In 2009, I had the opportunity to attend along with Kate Mior, Rob Firenix, Trulee Odd, the Phantastyks, Lindsay Benner, World Famous Brett, Dream State Circus, and Byron Bertram. Brian Wilson had been hired as the performer liason and was taking very good care of us. There were a few hiccups, but because Brian was there to intercept most of the miscommunication and address it on our behalf so we were shielded from most of the disorganization that would soon become evident.

Shows that year were small, but there were a couple nights of the four day festival that made it worthwhile. Byron, the Phantastyks and I had an excellent evening of shows in which we all made some reasonable coin. We had a good group- There was only a little rain, we kept each other's spirits high and felt reasonably good at the end of the day.

The festival ends, and I am pleased to hear that I was the recipient of the people's choice award. Woo hoo- A prize of a few hundred extra dollars is promised and I fly home feeling alright.

Fast forward to 2010.

I am asked to return having won the award. I accept, knowing full well that some of the shows are adequate but there are a couple good ones over the weekend that make it worth it. Kimberly is coming and we are doing our duo show as well, and I figure things wouldn't change that much and that they would have learned from last years mistakes. Brian Wilson isn't working there anymore, which worries me slightly.

I like to give the benefit of the doubt. In this case, it was a mistake.

The arrival: The plane lands in Windsor, we de-board and shuffle in to the airport. A man is standing there, bearing a sign with my name and a festival t-shirt. I flag him down and say hello, and as we wait for the luggage, one of the first things he says is:

"Glad you are here, crowds have been really sparse."

Consider that red flag number one. We collect our luggage and load into his car, driving toward the festival site. I make some conversation, just trying to be a little friendly.

"So, are you staff for the festival? Or a volunteer?" I inquire.

"Well, I was staff until three days ago. Now I'm a volunteer. The festival fired me because they ran out of money." He replies, heaving a sigh at the end.

Consider that red flag number two. It should be noted that in 2009, the Quality Suites were a sponsor of the festival and as a result we actually recieved quite nice hotel suites that were a five minute walk to the pitch. I elect to ask another question hoping that the suites are still ours.

"So, the Quality Hotel still providing rooms for the festival?" I ask, hoping that something has been maintained from the year prior.

"Nope. You'll be at University Place. They're like dorms. About three miles away." he says. I know immediately this is not always a deal-breaker. Kingston and Waterloo have the dorm thing going on, and it's actually pretty good. There is a communal room at those festivals and the performers are all tgrouped, as many of us can attest to, when we take over a floor and get everyone together it's actually quite enjoyable.

"Oh, okay;" I respond, noting the distance. Three miles away. "Will there be a shuttle service provided?" I continue.

"Nope. The festival wants you to use the city bus to take your stuff in."

Red flag three.

"Can we drop our stuff off at the green room before we go to the dorms then?" I ask.

"Of course!"

We get to the "green room". It's an old bar, currently unused. The floor and carpet is unwashed, soaked, sticky with the spilt drinks of many nights past. It smells like sweat and cheap bourbon. We put our stuff up on the small stage of the bar, attempting to not let any material that might absorb liquid touch the floor.

The washrooms are unspeakable. These are supposed to be our "changerooms", without being too graphic, one toilet had looked like it had been used for weeks and nary flushed once. Piled high, so to speak. The smell was repulsive, lingering, gag-inducing.

Then, a volunteer chastises us for missing our first show, which apparently was when we were on a plane. I show him a printed letter from the festival producer (who also later chastised us about missing the show) saying we didn't start until Thursday (tomorrow). Things are off to a great start.

We get to the university dorm, and we check in. The process takes over half an hour. Apparently they have booked Kimberly and I in two seperate rooms on seperate floors. We told them from the beginning that we were sharing a room, and apparently it was never communicated to the hotel. When we asked them to give us a room with a larger bed, we were told the best we could get was to have another mattress dragged in so that I could sleep on the floor beside her whilst she slept on the bed.

We decided to squeeze onto the single bed in our room.

Oh yes, our room. It didn't even have dorm room furniture- It looked like someone's grandma had died and left a mish-mash of old tables, desks, dressers and beds to be jammed into the space. We look at the contract for our accommodations and quickly learn that the following things cost money.

Towels
Soap
ELECTRICITY. There is a warning saying "If you use too much electricity you will be charged."

The room is shabby, and the bed has that plastic sheet underneath it to protect the mattress from all sorts of bodily fluids. It's like lying on a piece of aluminum foil. We don't unpack, and head down to the desk to figure out our options for getting around. Electing to rent bicycles, we cycle the three miles back to the pitch.

Guy Collins is performing, one of five acts hired this year. His crowd numbers in the high teens. The pitch is on one-half block of closed street, there is no signage and no indication as to what is happening. Thirty metal folding chairs circle Guy Collins, about a third of them vacant. Also there is Liqueur Flambe from Australia, and a local magician named Wayne Teller, both watching. Guy finishes his show and pours his hat into one hand.

Liqueur Flambe is there because they saw pictures of the festival on the Windsor Buskers Festival website and were totally misled. The pictures of the festival on the website are from years back, and you see a waterfront filled with people. You see Julio commanding his breakdancers, Checkerboard Guy scooting excitedly, helmet flailing in the wind. You see Sylvain biking vertically, big goofy grin on his face. As a kicker, you see the ACROMANIACS STILL PERFORMING. Liqueur Flambe came from Australia based on this, and it was a lie. That festival, the one that was once down on the waterfront is no more. It is a broken husk of what it used to be.

We talk and we also find out the festival has been extended to ten days, like Halifax. The only problem is there are nowhere near enough people to support it even for just a weekend. We are informed by Liqueur Flambe that the festival is being kind of shady in paying them, wanting to use PayPal instead of certified cheque or cash. Guy informs us the schedule changes daily and also recounts how when it rained they were forced to perform in a shopping mall (also for no one), and were moved to the "rain pitch" which (and hopefully Guy posts a picture of it) was a broken down, abandoned old bus station inhabited by mostly homeless people. To quote him:

"It really reeked of piss!"

We also find out that the producer also works for the Windsor Fringe, and is attempting to use the buskers to increase foot traffic for Windsor's tiny Fringe Festival. It's not working. After seeing this debacle unfold the idea that staying here might not be the best bet starts to seep in. We bike back to the dorms and I pass the producer on the way back. I wave at her, she waves back but she doesn't put down her phone. No biggie. We get back to the dorm room and I get right to work. I whip out the laptop and pen this to the producer.

"Hello there-

I was hoping to chat with you this evening but you were on the telephone and we were trying to bike home quickly in case it rained. In any case, I feel it necessary to send you an email regarding a few things that have come up and, naturally, in a candid manner.

I understand and respect that as a festival coordinator you have an immeasurable amount of things on your plate. However, last year the buskers were let down by the administration. Messages and schedules were lost, details were unclear, and from what they told me, Sophie and Jacob made an effort to help create what we all hoped would become the world class festival it once was, and could be again.

It seems that the buskers have once again fallen by the wayside as an afterthought. Crowds and communication are non-existant, and the schedule nebulously changes from day to day. We must adapt to these changes when they occur but it should be the exception and not the rule to do so. The buskers are being used to promote the Fringe Festival and this is sabotaging the busking by attempting to jam it into a space that doesn't aptly accommodate it- even Charles Clark square eventually filled out nearly every evening last year.

I understand the desire to direct foot traffic downtown and to the Fringe site, but this is coming at the expense of our livelihood. We all spent a good deal on getting to Windsor to participate but this has gotten to a point where something needs to be done. As you are well aware, good buskers take their art very seriously in an effort to display a quality product (the show) and therefore earn a quality amount in the hat.

We left a pitch at home where, based on what we saw today and heard regarding the past week, we could have made more money and performed for significantly larger crowds by staying there. As a result, we are seriously considering forfeiting our travel and perdiem monies and returning to continue working there- and we may do so by Thursday. The monies that we elect to forfeit could perhaps be divided amongst the performers who have stayed throughout the entire festival, or perhaps reallocated into another part of the festival in which a lack of funding has caused it to suffer.

We are extremely professional, but we also cannot forget that our livelihoods, our bills, our mortgages, and our obligations are paid for by our skills that we have worked long and hard to attain, and the current chance of that criteria being met here is rapidly diminishing. Had we known that the conditions would be such as they are, we would have respectfully declined the offer to return and continued to work at home.

It is with great regret that I bring this to you, but there are fundamentally flawed aspects of how the festival is being run that have not changed since 2009, and my hopes that they would be recognized and addressed by this summer have not been met. It feels as if we have been left to "deal with the cards we are given", so to speak, and forage and figure things out on our own.

I do not like to be the bearer of bad news, but I know that being able to share my concerns candidly, respectfully and openly with you will at least open the ebb and flow of communication that should exist.

Respectfully yours-
Daniel Craig"

I get a reply which says "I'd like to talk to you about this in person. Meet me before your 4:00 PM show tomorrow. And please call me." amongst a few other things. The rain doesn't come so we bike back down to the festival to spend the rest of the evening with Guy Collins and the Liqueur Flambe duo.

The night comes and goes, and the next day I try to call the producer several times but they all go to voicemail. So, I show up at the "Green Room" at 3:45. No sign of the producer. I check the schedule, and I don't even have a 4:00 PM show that day. Figures. Four o'clock passes us, and no one is there so we head back out to the pitch and watch Liqueur Flambe split their hat. A truck from a local business comes by and unloads about forty cardboard boxes and bags of trash right beside the pitch. The producer is still nowhere to be found. The volunteers and technical staff all support our decision to make way. I call Air Canada, change our flights home to that evening and pre-order a beer.

No one from the festival comes out and says anything to us even to ask us if we are leaving. I see slight envy in Guy Collins eyes and we load our things into the taxi and go to the airport.

We later find out that after we left, so did everyone else except for the local magician. I picture a broken man dealing cards onto his close-up table, weeping. Every single out of town act left the festival before it was done. Amazing.

Days later, we get an email from the producer with the subject line:

"If you build it they will come, but only for the patient and perservering."

An excerpt of the email reads:

"Tonight we have taken video of crowds of nearly just over 600 people at the corner of University and Ouellette watching one busker work.

Since we actually took video and counted last year's crowds, this exceeds last year's highest crowd count of 537.spamspam

We only wish these crowds had been there for you. It would have taken waiting through the rain on Friday night and for a good part of today. To have great crowds against a breath taking sunset and great weather. It is a regional busker from Michigan who is helping us out at the last minute, and our own local busker who are handling these crowds. And they are succeeding. Video footage to follow..."

It would have taken waiting nine days to do one day of shows for 600 people? That's bullshit, and as we all know, six hundred people doesn't make a festival. The last lines "...and they are succeeding. Video footage to follow..." leave a particularly sour taste in my mouth. If you are wondering, no, we didn't violate contract because we never got one and no, we didn't get paid, nor would we have accepted it if we had.

So: The short of it is- NEVER, EVER GO TO WINDSOR, unless you like hats in the mid-teens, crowds of a couple dozen (up until the last day apparently) and a festival that believes you should be happy for the opportunity to work, no matter the condition. There was even more, but that should sum it up for now... Amazing.

Last edited by Daniel Craig; 08-12-10 at 09:22 PM.
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