Busking a legal human right, Freedom verses Regulations

Thank you for visiting my blog,
If you have come here expecting to read ‘Putting a Show Together part 2’ then I have postponed  it until next week.
Right now friends in Vancouver are having their livelihoods threatened and that has pressed upon me to write of my thoughts in regards to Freedom of Expression verses Regulation.
Freedom of expression is at the very heart of busking and theater and is at it best when it is not curbed by boundaries – in other words:
Art has No Boundaries
The very essence of this statement attracted me to busking.  The freedom to be able to travel and perform and to come and go as I pleased. I was already a world wide traveller before I became a busker.
In my early years I made jewelry but I gave it all up to become a busker – as I see it,  I evolved into a busker. I have been to some great festivals  as a street performer.   My very first visit to the Edinburgh Fringe back in the nineties  was educational. I was blown away by what appeared to be freedom of expression back then. No permit system that I can remember and we   played to the wee hours of the morning. Nothing like it is in the present day – the whole street is regulated by a very approachable, friendly, committed team!
It goes without saying with regulations comes restrictions that just grow after they are first introduced. Do I favor being regulated by a body of people?   Not at all. On the other hand if one is in place and if they are approachable and fair and friendly enough I will work with them as I do now when I visit the Edinburgh Fringe! At festivals you can expect regulations.
Streets are  a whole different matter.   Let me begin by stating my stance. Each and every one of us have the right to express ourselves  on the streets as long as we do so in a peaceful way.   Regardless of any law –  if it infringes on this basic human right, if you are not allowed this is an act against basic human right.
My heart goes out to performers in countries where that is the case and to break that law could lead to you being dealt with most severely. In the UK busking is legal and in most European countries. In the USA they have the First amendment that defends the right to express your self in a public place. As in the UK and Europe these rights are often overlooked and ignored and it takes a brave few to stand up for their rights or should I say to educate local authorities.
I have lived in and have visited countries where I have stripped down to my pink lycra  pants and then escape from a Straight Jacket – basically I can do what I want for the most part.  I count it as a great privilege to have traveled the world performing magic and my cup and ball show with a unique side show twist.
I love just turning up into a city, town or village and  setting up my show and performing my show.  More so I enjoy going into places that have little or no history of busking in place. I have often worked towns and cites that do have other performers in town.
Basic human engagement becomes central for performers to work together.   Communication – the simple act of ‘hi my name is Mario Morris whats yours?’  is key. You work out what is the best thing to do  – very simple – in an ideal world. ‘Ok you’re working here and  I am going to work down there, or lets go back to back‘   You simply work it out. Street performers have being  doing that for centuries.
The problems will only arise if  there  is a break down in communication and some one does not intend to be respectful. They may have a large set up and they intend to blast you out with their amp. This is an increasing problem on the streets, the war of the amps. There is ways of dealing with it.  Again the most effective is first talking, then talking to other buskers who are more swayed by universal peace and justice. And you persist  –  talking them around – making it clear if you can’t work neither will they.
I had an instant like this the other day.  I was sharing a pitch with my pal Little Arif and along comes a musician with an amp the size of a sub-trunk and blasted into my show. I was able to finish my show because I had my audience in the palm of my hand by this point. I finished and  then went up to this chap and  I politely told him the score and asked him firmly  never to do that again. He apologised and said he wouldn’t.  I guess we will have to wait and see –  if anyone ever gets violent towards you I would not put up with it and call in the police. That is crossing the line.
I have visited cities councils that have introduced a voluntary code of practice often without consulting a single busker. In my opinion –  this will not work.

  • Number one  – there is already an unspoken code of practice in place  and its called – performers talking!  Mmm thats it  – talking!  I recommend that city officials and city councils to  talk to us.  Remember busking is a legal right in the UK;
  • These codes of practice are often ill thought out and restraining and can cause more arguments on the streets than they solve.   Often misunderstood that it is the law but it is  not  enforceable, so buskers can override it and talk and come up with their own solutions.   But you where already doing that I hear you say.

The thing that I dislike most of all about Codes of Practice is that city councils introduce them rather than adopting the code of practice of the street which has  already organically grew into place. Call me suspicious or  old fashioned.
Instead they set up their  Codes of Practice in one of their offices and it is doomed to fail.  And so months  or perhaps even  years later they either abandon it, or  they go down the long route of trying to introducing a permit system. Can you see where all this is going?  Well someone has to pay for it all. To me this is madness, Okay there are some places that have had these permit systems in place for some time and its on private land. Okay –  fair enough!   I guess like Convent Garden in the UK or Granville Island in Canada to name just a few –  this is where you have to audition and pay to perform. The relationship between the performers and the organisers are totally dependent on  – yep – you guessed it – communication – talking.
It is essential that the performers have a united voice when dealing with an organisation  of some sort! You can guarantee there  will be a  misunderstanding  and disputes along the way. You have got to bare in mind we are talking about performers livelihoods here.
Right now for example and in fact inspired me to write this in the first article in the first place.   The performers at Granville Island in Vancouver are  in dispute with Granville Island organisation  because new regulations have been introduced without consulting a single performer!
We are not just talking about a tweak here  and there.  Here is just one example – from May 1st there is to be a complete ban on fire on the Island. Their is never been an incident with fire in the years since buskers have taken to the Island. Now they have introduced their plans to ban it. At least 5 local acts use fire as major part of their shows and that is before you think of the hundreds of performers around the world that will now be excluded from the Island.
My hope is  and know it first hand from the performers of GI is that we hope that Granville Island will come  to reason. For the first time Buskers on GI need to stand together and defend their rights of freedom and expression and their livelihoods.  Power to them!
Coming back to the street i.e. regular non private land, I cannot think of a worst thing then  to grant  a permit system to allow me to do what I have the right to do in the first place. Don’t get me wrong –  I have had them in some places that have had them in place for some time – like York or Bournemouth for example. It may even suit local performers.  The point is, you really don’t have to pay –  you have a legal right to busk. I don’t think we should allow this  to continue to grow. Its like a form of extortion and it all come down to our right of freedom of speech and expression.
If street performers are to be governed –  let them lead the way, listen to them and empower them. You see Art is very powerful and has changed societies and perhaps that is why authorities try to control it. Yet Art has no Boundaries
I will finish what I have said are my thoughts based on my experience.   I am open to dialogue and learning.

I am going to include links to The Buskers Project, for more school of the thought I like how these links are presented in a some what joking manner
Space – The best permit in the World
The Perfect Permit – Round Two: Guidelines

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