Year 2 / Issue 18 / Buckers / Mei Shao


Busking - A Public Entertainment
By: Mei Shao

Busking is the practice of performing in public places, for gratuities, which are generally in the form of money and food. People engaging in this practice are called street performers, buskers, street musicians etc.

Street performance dates back to ancient history and occurs all over the world. It is most common among some Gypsies, also known as the Romani people, but it occurs in all cultures across the world, from Europe to the Mediterranean, from America to Far East.

The most popular form of busking is "Circle show". Circle shows are shows that tend to gather a crowd around them. They usually have a distinct beginning and end. Usually these are done in conjunction with street theater, puppeteering, magicians, comedians, acrobats, jugglers and sometimes musicians. Circle shows can be the most lucrative. Some time the crowds attracted can be huge. Most buskers will use their instrument cases or a special can or box to collect the tips. The person with the job of collecting the money may be called the "hat man" or "pitch man".
Busking is an old street art form, but is still popular today, although it is getting harder and harder for a street performer today to make a living out of just busking. Summer time in Toronto, very often you can see various street performances, but the performers, more often or not, are just either trying to make a few extra bucks or performing out of interest.

In Toronto, there is an annual busker festival which happens every August – Scotiabank Busker Fest. 2011 is its 12th wacky and wonderful year. It has evolved into the largest of its kind in North America and a showcase of many of the most spectacular street performers on earth. The last of the major events in Toronto’s summer festival season and a signature event of the St. Lawrence Market Neighborhood, the festival is spontaneous, colorful and full of the unexpected. This year, it happened from August 25 to 28. There was something for everyone: silent comedy and slapstick, daredevils and magicians, high skill circus acts and a variety of music, clowns, puppets, fires and others.

The difference with this fest is, the proceeds from a lot of the shows will be graciously donated to Epilepsy Toronto and Scotiabank will match each dollar donated by the audience member. So this is an old art in a new manifest – street performance for a good cause.