A Flaneurs View of London: Covent Garden Street Performers
Performance in Covent Garden
In March 2014 I, along with three students from York St John University, travelled to London for the day to act as flaneurs. When we arrived at Covent Garden, a district popular with tourists, we immediately noticed the crowds who were circling different street performers and decided to investigate further. We witnessed a man balancing iced tea on a metal hoop and a girl busking who was selling her own CD for a fee of ten pounds.
Covent Garden is licensed for street performers, making it a popular location for street entertainment. The Street Performers Association, a non-profit organization, works with Covent Garden Management and Westminster Council to ensure that street performance is run smoothly, is safe for performers and audience alike, and is of a high quality.
One of the earliest examples of street performance in this location, dating back to the 17th century, is the well-known puppet show Punch and Judy, which the majority of us have sat through at least once.
Street performing is an opportunity for artists to showcase their talents and for musicians who are not signed to a record label to share their music with members of the public whilst earning small donations. Performers rely solely on the generosity of the public and how much they choose to donate, which is why their act has to impress and stand out from the other performers in Covent Garden. Street performing can also lead to greater success; Bon Jovi and Paul McCartney both started busking on the streets before they became worldwide celebrities. To become a street performer in Covent Garden you must go through an audition process and if the panel enjoy your act they will then give you a spot. For those of you with a secret talent that you want to share with members of the public, you cannot just turn up to perform. You do, unfortunately, have to go through the audition process. However, do not let that put you off, I believe in you!
Covent Garden was once most well-known for its fancy restaurants and markets, but has now become more renowned for its regular street performers. They perform every day for about thirty minutes each and vary from musicians, magicians, fire breathers, jugglers, acrobats to tightrope walkers. The regular street performers have become popular with members of the public such as Rob Roy Collins, who has not only made it into the World Book of Records but is on your doorstep if you live in London. Rob’s act is a mixture of acrobatics and comedy, assembled into a nail biting performance. He locks himself in chains and handcuffs and attempts to escape from them within an allotted time while standing on a ladder, all of which keeps the audience on tenterhooks wondering whether he will manage to escape in time. Of course Rob is highly trained and has been doing this act for many years, so he always does manage to escape. Another regular street performer in Covent Garden is Dynamike who is a trained unicyclist. Dynamike performs numerous tricks while riding a unicycle and gets the audience involved by inviting them to pass him objects to juggle. His most winning performance is near the end of his act, and involves him riding his tallest unicycle while juggling three knives, which often leaves the more squeamish members of the audience looking away in horror.
My visit to Covent Garden convinced me that street performance is an important part of popular culture, providing income and experience for the performers, and entertainment for the audience.