Taking it to the streets … While strolling in a piazza in Florence, an oddly-dressed, colourful little man brushed hurriedly by – conspicuous amongst the other stylish Italians, he captured our attention.
As he loudly slammed down his small suitcase and clicked open the clasps, it was obvious his every action was pre-determined, purposely exaggerated and designed to attract attention.
He mumbled, sang and whistled to himself as he unpacked an array of items and placed them in a circle. A small crowd began to gather as others, like us, watched his antics. As he continued in his busy-ness, more and more people gathered and this busker had the audience he desired.
Numbers continued to grow, as he re-shaped the circle of people into a square, then a rectangle then, with a show of pleasure, back into a circle again. He blew whistles, honked horns, extracted money from trusting on-lookers and confiscated mobile phones. Shy adults and terrified children were dragged into the centre, where they were made to do things they would not normally do, chastised, rewarded and released again. Shutters on surrounding buildings opened and people attracted by the sounds of laughter watched from above.
Amazingly, this whacky character – without uttering a coherent word – attracted a huge audience, and even more amazingly held them enthralled for what must have been almost an hour.
Street theatre like this is quite magical and harks back to ancient Greek, Roman and Anglo Saxon times. Then audiences boo-ed, hissed and threw things at the performers who, if not pleasing enough, were at risk of losing their heads rather than simply having a hat empty of money at the end of their performance.
As Coffs Harbour approaches its annual International Buskers and Comedy Festival in October, we asked Festival Director, John Logan, how do buskers captivate their audience so?
“Street theatre is full of spontaneity,” said John. “The audience never knows what to expect – that’s what makes it so exciting”.
“People love the relaxed street corner setting and being able to interact with the performers. They love seeing other people being put on the spot.”
Street theatre is like no other form of theatre – so much can go wrong. Buskers don’t have the safety net that conventional theatre provides. They not only have to be talented and good showmen or women, but they have to be versatile and quick-witted enough to cope with whatever the street throws at them – hopefully not literally.
And what makes a talented entertainer choose the streets as his or her stage?
According to John, buskers are like their audiences and love the spontaneity and excitement of performing on the streets.
“They also love the challenge and the freedom. Being in direct eye contact and being surrounded by their audience enables them to create the mood and get the right reactions. No two shows are alike – that’s what’s so great about street theatre.”
And what has this year’s Coffs Harbour Buskers and Comedy Festival got in store for us?
John Logan just bubbles over with excitement when talking about this year’s line-up.“It’s very exciting and very diverse – each year the Festival just gets bigger and better,” he says.
Each year all acts are hand picked, and festival organisers scan the world for acts that are entertaining, professional and above all, different and a bit crazy. The international acts this year are from as far away as Israel, Japan, the West Indies, the United Kingdom, U.S.A. and New Zealand, and there’s some fantastic Aussie talent as well.
Jugglers, clowns, aerialists, acrobatics, contortionists, award-winning classical musicians and stand-up comics are amongst this year’s whacky line-up.
“We have the beautiful Lili La Scala, an opera singer from the UK who is described as the ‘Songbird of Trafalgar Square’. She will take opera to the streets and dispel any belief that it is only for the elite. While a pair of wild Aussies, called ‘Freestyle Football’ will perform such amazing tricks with soccer balls that even David Beckham would be green with envy.
“There’s the ‘Calypso Tumblers’ – a team of 6 strong, fit acrobats direct from Trinidad, whose show is pure energy. And we have ‘Strings on Fire’, a combination of award-winning classic violinist and ex Circus Oz performer.
“From Israel, ‘Cirque No Problem’ is like a love-story unfolding on a trapeze. And there’s also ‘Clown Loto’ from Japan, who threw away his businessman’s briefcase to perform mad, slap-stick humour. And there’ll be some brilliant stand-up comedy and heaps more … we even have a 70 year old granny who raps,” says John.
Over 120 shows will be held during the 9 fun-filled days of the Festival. It will kick-off on Friday, October 2 with a ticket-only gala dinner at the Coffs Harbour Ex-Services Club followed on Saturday, October 3 with an intimate cameo of performances at the ‘Laughter on the Terrace’ dinner at Novotel Pacific Bay Resort. Then the Festival will take to the streets and various locations or ‘pitches’ throughout the city and surrounding towns.
Most events will take place in the tree-lined café precinct within the heart of the city, and on two Sundays, shows will be held under the shade of the casuarinas on the harbour foreshores amid the colourful Sunday markets.While kids will rule on Tuesday, October 6 when the annual kids’ day event takes off at the International Sports Stadium.
In the evening, two family shows sponsored by NAB will be held in a picnic atmosphere under the stars, with the lush green setting of the Coffs Harbour Botanical Gardens as its backdrop. While audiences will roar with laughter at the adult-only comedy shows in the clubs and pubs around the city. There’ll be something for everyone.
Each year the Coffs coast turns on its usual brilliant weather, and the festival gives the local people and visitors an opportunity to enjoy street theatre, comedy and adult entertainment in an easy, relaxed atmosphere. And according to Logan, “Some acts will have to be seen to be believed, as they are of a calibre not often seen in Australia.”
With 40 kilometres of pristine coastline, magnificent beaches, rivers, rainforest and heaps of natural beauty, combined with what some say is the most temperate climate in the land, who needs more reason to visit the Coffs Coast?
But arrive in Coffs Harbour during the school holidays, October 2-10, and you’ll be doubly rewarded. And if you see people doing the strangest things, don’t worry … the place hasn’t gone crazy. It’s not some unusual local ritual – it’s busker time, and that’s entertainment.
The Buskers Festival is a community event offering something for the whole family. It is free except for the two dinner shows and the kids’ day. But remember, this is street theatre, so bring something for the busker’s hat.
For more information: www.coffsharbourbuskers.com or phone 6652 8266.