Auckland International Busker's Festival
Have you ever watched a man juggle a 10lb sledge hammer? Or inflate a hot water bottle until it explodes? Have you ever seen a man balance on top of a 17 foot pole with one hand, whilst rotating? I assume for most of us the answer is no, unless you live the odd life among buskers.
I was given the opportunity to witness all of the above, plus many more amazing acts of human skill this weekend as the Auckland International Buskers Festival was returning to town. Ten of the world's greatest street performers were descending onto the waterfront to perform, entertain and to display their unique and sometimes frightening skills and talents. I packed my camera bag and headed to the waterfront with the intention of photographing all ten performers.
Mulletman, as his name might suggest, boasted an impressive mullet, the likes I have not seen since my time at the Mr. Mullets Hostel during my travels through Guatemala in 2013, I assume there is no relation between the mullet related businesses. Mulletman had a circus ringmaster charisma about his presence. He started by standing on top of his box cracking jokes and a whip to attract a crowd. After a sufficient number of spectators had been rounded up he performed a juggling masterclass, finishing off his show by riding a giant unicycle whilst juggling a knife, a spanner and a flaming torch. An act that is difficult to even imagine. Whilst he is not entertaining crowds of people, he teaches his craft in Christchurch. His personality of being a teacher really came out in his performance as he narrated and explained each of his juggling techniques, all whilst being thoroughly captivating and entertaining. This made his performance very engaging and it made me want to buy some juggling balls and take up juggling myself.
Chris started his show by laying out his arsenal of sinister looking tools of pyromania. A collection of batons, staffs, spinning chains and something that looked like a demonic hatstand. After preparations were complete and each tool fuelled up, Chris performed a series of high energy routines demonstrating his amazing skills with each of the tools. At one point, he was spinning the demonic hat stand (actually called a dragon staff) on the sole of his foot whilst lying down. These routines were impressive enough on their own, ignoring the fact that everything was on fire. Chris then slowed the pace down to perform the insane act of transferring fire between two sticks using his mouth.
Originally a construction worker, Chris discovered his obsession with fire whilst attending a performance workshop on the Gold Coast of Australia. After training extensively and touring with a local group, Chris decided to take his pyromania international and is now based in Estonia. Chris will be touring Australia over the next few months before returning to Europe for the summer.
Mike is bringing back the famous strongman shows from the 1920's, complete with his classic Victorian bathing suit and fetching handlebar moustache. During his show Mike performed various impressive feats of strength including; juggling bowling balls, ripping a full deck of cards in half and bending a horse shoe over his leg. There was also plenty of comedy and even some dancing thrown in. Probably his most noticeable act, and the act that received the loudest round of applause at the evening show, was when Mike took an ordinary hot water bottle and inflated it until it exploded.
Before becoming a strong man, Mike did have a relatively normal career in insurance, before he decided to throw away his desk (something I am sure he could physically do) and travel to Texas to be trained personally by Dennis Rogers, a Grandmaster Strongman. Mike now travels the world with his bowling balls, a surplus of hot water bottles and a generous airplane luggage allowance.
The Atari Show
Juan (Goma by his stage-name) begun his career as a juggler busking between traffic lights in Buenos Aires. With the busy junctions as his stage he started to incorporate and experiment with improvisational comedy which he perfected over the years to create; The Atari Show. This show involves himself, a portable speaker and a battered chest full of everyday objects, each with their own comedy routine. He also often grabbed unsuspecting passersby and plucked random members of his audience and performed routines with them. His show was excellent and was very popular with both kids and adults.
Goma now lives in Germany and will be returning to the Edinburgh Fringe this year.
Are a four-piece break dancing group from France who have ventured into the world of street theatre. Together they travel the globe delivering their high octane show full of break dancing routines, comedy and an overwhelming surplus of back flips. Each member of Surprise Effect contributed equally to the show with their unique talents and feats of athleticism, but what really made their show as a whole so special is the amazing chemistry and positive energy they all shared. It was impossible not to get drawn in by their enthusiasm and energy. If you would like to feel this energy for yourself Suprise Effect will be performing at the Adelaide fringe this summer.
Reuben is an Australian performer with Chinese and Polish heritage. He originally trained as a gymnast before pursuing computer science at university which he dropped to continue following his passion of performing arts. Considering he is now an award winning performer and has the world renowned Cirque du Soleil on his performance résumé, it seems like a move well made. What made his performance so special was his ability to make the most difficult feats of strength and balance, such as balancing on top of a 17 foot Chinese pole with one hand, look so easy. He joked about his heritage saying he was a Chinese Pole on top of a Chinese pole. Cool, calm and collected, Reuben is a true professional.
Reuben will be touring Canada and Europe in the near future.
The Silver Starlets are a US/Canadian aerial acrobatics duo who met at circus school in Toronto. After graduating they begun touring the world, bringing with them their own giant 20 foot portable aerial rig which they carry around in snowboard bags (a good example of Canadian ingenuity). Before each show, the rig is quickly assembled, a process that itself is enough to start attracting a crowd. After the rig is assembled the duo perform a series of aerial acrobatic routines spending most of their time upside down, spinning dizzyingly fast or just generally defying gravity, all done with effortless elegance and style. I assume they graduated with straight As. Audience participation, dancing and comedy is also very much included.
The Starlets and their rig laden snowboard bags will be touring New Zealand for the next few months before returning to Canada.
Hero is a very well travelled Japanese performer. His show was mostly based on his amazing strength and balance which he demonstrated with such feats as supporting the combine weight of himself and an audience member using just his arms. The audience member was more than twice his size. Hero also had a particularly dry and quick sense of humour. I could easily see him doing stand-up comedy if he ever decided to give his audience lifting arms a rest.
A local from Auckland, Kozo is one of the newest members of the international buskers community and is already immensely talented. His performance mostly centred around juggling which included such feats as juggling flaming torches whilst balancing on an unsupported ladder and juggling large knives whilst walking over a nervous looking audience member, an act I assume he has never got wrong. I'd like to think his skills will take him far in the world of international busking.
At this point of the day, I thought I had seen everything from the world of juggling, that is until the German juggling duo Opus Furore showed up to close the first day of the International Buskers festival. They started with the classic two person baton routine and then increased the difficulty, first by adding more batons, then by adding an audience volunteer who they positioned between themselves, in the middle of the flow of flying batons. For their final performance, they performed their infamous juggling strip show, in which they both strip down to their underwear and then get fully dressed again, all whilst maintaining a three baton juggle. After seeing this hilarious and really strangely captivating routine, you can never really see juggling the same way again. If you too would like your perception of juggling altered, Opus Furore will be touring Germany throughout this summer.
This isn’t YouTube
An important point that was emphasised One point that all acts wanted to emphasis was that their performance was live and real. "this isn't YouTube" I remember one saying. I agree with them.
An important point that was emphasised by all the performers was that street entertainment, or street theatre as it was sometimes referred to, was real. "This isn't YouTube, this is happening right in front of you" I remember one act saying to the crowd. I do think that many of us derive too much of our viewing entertainment from the screen of an electronic device. It is more convenient to watch something on a screen than in real life, but it is never the same. Watching someone juggle flaming torches on a ladder or lifting someone twice their size, via a screen is not the same as seeing those amazing feats happen in real life, by the actual people in the flesh, not in the pixel.
If you do ever come across the opportunity to see a busker's show, or any entertainment spectacle performed live, I would urge you to at least consider it. Because real entertainment, is real entertainment.