OpinionStage

An Ode to the Street Performer

Sammi Elefant ‘15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Everyone can agree that the theatre is a subjective industry, and we all experience it through different lenses. However, there is one commonality, and that is that all theatre-goers, actors, directors, producers, and designers are in the theatre business to be entertained. By definition, entertainment is the action of providing or being provided with amusement, divergence, or enjoyment – and this doesn’t necessarily need to take place in a theater.

Boston has a thriving theatre district that is growing bigger and bigger, but when compared to a place like Manhattan, there are so many more variations on what, exactly, theatre can be. Boston simply cannot compare with the amount of theatre that is put out over there; whether it is a big-budget musical or a street performance. A lot of people classify street performance as “casual theatre”, but this is not entirely true.

Street performance (especially in New York) is highly specific in its strong correlation to the theater community at large. Performers position themselves in areas where they know large amounts of people will pass them by, thus creating a higher probability that they will make money. With its incredibly high tourism rate, New York performers know that more tourists make them more money and that’s why Times Square, 42nd Street and the subways are filled with dancers, musicians, and actors. You can’t walk down a street in New York’s theatre district without seeing a chorus line of girls singing “All That Jazz” in an incredibly entertaining promotion to direct people to the Tix Booth to boost ticket sales.

In Boston, the street performers are definitely entertaining. Where they might lose credibility is in their major disconnect to the rest of Boston’s theatre community. Although they may be limited in numbers compared to performers in Manhattan, they can attract larger crowds in less time than some of the many empty houses often seen today. Some even prefer street performances to ones in a theater. The expectations of a Boston audience aren’t quite as high when it comes to talent – standing ovations are more common than not. However, the only outstanding “big show” in Boston that as of late is the A.R.T’s production of “The Glass Menagerie”.

The street performers get it right when it comes to entertainment. They are so interested in what they are doing as well as the relationship they have to each other that the theatricality comes out in spite of itself. The passerby can’t help but stop to see a group of guys having fun break dancing, or a self-proclaimed Australian wonder slip his entire body through a tennis racket. These performers are committed to their task, and so is their audience, who entertains the performer just as much as the performer entertains them. The only thing street performers want to do is entertain, giving whoever stops on their way to wherever a chance to divert from the everyday if only for a few minutes. Isn’t this the intention of theatre? Street performance can be just as entertaining, if not more, than a commercial show. They create a better, more logical life than a lot of the incestuous conceptual installations put on stage today.

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