performers' library

Denver Festival Report (2000)
Denver International Buskers Festival, Denver, CO

Martin Ewen

Denver is the mile high city, the air is thin and dry, the people are that usual mixed-up bunch of races that make America so optimistic and inclusive. Free busses blat up and down an otherwise pedestrian inner city mall, pity that- but its half a mile long and I concede its usefulness, although without them the mall itself could be a showcase for all that is good about the absence of traffic. Add to this, over three days, 32 international street theatre acts and you have the Denver International Buskers Festival.

This was my first American festival, my first immersion into the ranks of those who have carved out successful careers in hard-arsed venues like New York and Key West Florida, notoriously competitive pitches, often ruled by the competitively combative, the egomaniacal single minded verging on the phyciatric.

Festivals like this are as much political events as anything else with the administration having to organize such diverse talents and temperaments so the obviously unmanageable never make it this far, however talented. Some people here tone themselves down for the occasion. I'll give you an example.

An aggressive and parasitic method of crowd gathering is to put yourself at the edge of a crowd already watching a show and bellow your intention to yourself perform and your superiority to the act the audience is watching. A variation of this is to wait until the other act is just finishing and wrapping up with asking for donations before you begin your vocal assault, thus disrupting the end flow of the other act and stealing the audiences attention just when they should be donating at the end of the show.

There's an artist I've seen in action in his home town and he's just an ego bulldozer, yelling 'look at me-look at me' before the end of others' shows and basically living in a combatitive world of his own. I'm a mime so volume is not an issue with me and I have met this guy on a few occasions and as we are not in direct conflict we simply pass each other by with nods and brief exchanges.

I'm merely using him to illustrate the worst aspect of American street performance where solidarity and consensus loses to the loudest and most selfish voice. I'm pretty sure there's a large American sociological metaphor in there somewhere, but I digress.

The festival was run commendably with around 9 stages provided, each with amplification and mics with technicians. Performers were put into different groupings daily and given stages on which to rotate their acts, which is as close to the unregulated street dynamic as is possible.

We had meetings every morning over breakfast at the hotel we were all kept in, and an impressive hotel it was to. Single rooms with lounges, the 5 star treatment. The hotel was one of the sponsors of the event. I believe we were all secretly flattered.

It was a three day festival and the turnout was good, each stage was capable of big crowds and they seemed to pay well, the weather was hot and sunscreen was liberally applied by all.

I've been deliberately sparse with the descriptions of the acts but each was its own unique interpretation of one street format or another. The differences between jugglers can be staggering; personality, projection etc. I believe we all fall between two opposing philosophies. To paraphrase-The exploiters and the ingratiators.

At one extreme is the performer who utilizes hook lines, well known dynamics and standard lines to mechanically construct a show that is boilerplate and treats the audience as infinite fodder used indescriminatly and efficiently in the pursuit of income.

The other extreme is performers whose thrust is more relationship based; their major objective is rapport- their shows being a vehicle for the achievement of a collective warmth. I admit that this second group are the shows I find consistantly interesting. Having been in the business many years, I have seen most of the variations of the 'look at me, look at me' shows and can't help presuming the insecure, overcompensation that fuels them.

And yet I have seen shows soaked in skill where the performer projects a humility and respect for his or her audience that leaves them touched and grateful rather than manipulated and meekly herded up to donate money afterwards.
The exploiters and the ingratiators.
The look at me's and the look at us's.
The overdressed and the naked.

Hilby the Skinny German Juggle Boy, The Scared Weird Little Guys, Misaji Terasawa... I know there are others in this cast just as giving, but these shows consistently give more than they ever recieve and its that sort of generosity of spirit that makes me proud to be a member of this street performing fraternity.

Thanks must also go to the administration who did a great job and also to the many unpaid volenteers who gave of their time to aid the performers, watch over their gear, fix broken stilts, operate the PA systems and all the other small but appreciated tasks that needed doing.

And thanks to the audiences for wanting to have fun.
And thanks to the sponsors for seeing the worth of it all to them.

Martin Ewen

Martin Ewen and his 3-meter-tall stilt character 'Lurk' have been traversing the globe for the past ten years observing the world from a slightly different perspective than the rest of us.

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