Buskers: We’ll Pay You! … Well!! … Maybe!?

I am from Halifax. Halifax is in Nova Scotia. Which is Canada. Which is on Earth. Which is in Canada. There is no such thing as SummerWorks or Luminato in Halifax. We do not have the largest Fringe Theatre Festival in North America. But, don’t cry for us, Argentina! We do have the largest, best, annual International Busker Festival in Canada and one of the best Busker Festivals in the World and it is ongoing on the Halifax Harbour waterfront until August 16th. 44 performers. Six stages. Over 500 shows. In its 23rd year, the Buskers Festival is the summer event in Halifax not to be missed.
Since the late 1980s, I have attended the Buskers Festival here, ice cream in hand, wonder in my eyes, as the usually sparse waterfront downtown is suddenly as crowded as Disney World on March Break, packed tight with locals, tourists, artisans selling their wares, dogs, strollers and people playing violins, guitars and the spoons. The water dazzles bright blue (but don’t let it fool you, it’s not nearly as lovely as it looks!), the sun (often) shines overhead, melting ice cream cones, as people crowd around exuberant performers pitching their shows and blasting ‘80s tunes.
There are few things in Halifax as hot as a cute, talented busker. The question is always: which one to choose? On Sunday evening, around dusk, I happened upon a duo who hail themselves as being “cute, flexible and strong”—they are called Phantastyk and they come all the way from Ottawa. According to the website, “The Phantastyks are a graduate duo from the National Circus School. Their show is a high excitement circus show which includes five ball juggling, roué cyr, hand to hand acrobatics and good old clowning around.”
Paul and Joey are young (Joey, indeed, doesn’t look a day over eighteen) acrobats clad in red shirts, blue kapris, red soccer socks and red suspenders. Paul has the microphone and Joey does not, which means that the entire routine seems somewhat suggestive of an old Vaudeville routine—the clown and the mime. Paul seems to set Joey up, and then wryly finds himself the victim of his own joke (amid delightful giggles). I have heard that Paul’s banter has a penchant toward awkwardness, however, on Sunday at dusk, I found him quite charming and in command of his audience. Maybe his first few shows in Halifax have taught him some new tricks.
Paul and Joey are extremely talented circus performers. Firstly, Joey juggled five balls to music, catching balls behind his back, between his shoulder and his chin, with the back of his head and at rapid, rapid speed. Paul then spun around in a gigantic hoop, which sounds like it might be a simple endeavour when written down in print, but it is actually, I’m sure, a defiance of gravity. It looks as though he is inside a ride at an amusement park, although the hoop is freestanding (er… freerolling?) and without a seatbelt of any kind. You expect Paul to smack head-first into the concrete, but he keeps in control of himself and the hoop while spinning from side to side and upside-down all around the stage. At one point Joey drives down boldly in front of the gigantic rolling hoop to insure that it does not roll into the audience and smoosh the small children. Danger! Chivalry! Sacrificial mimes! This is the true heart of the Busker Festival.
The Grand Finale of the Phantastyks was absolutely the most impressive. Joey did a one-handed handstand on Paul’s hands, high above Paul’s head, and then Paul let go, sending Joey plummeting toward the ground! If that doesn’t make your heart race in the face of our own blinding mortality and the thin line just before death where Buskers dance, you must be made of tin.
If you’re wandering around the Festival within the next week, I would strongly encourage you to stop and take in the Phantastyks show. Tricks that would astound you in a circus ring have a distinct rebellious edge when performed on concrete outside in the elements without a net.
I would caution you, as well, to please be courteous. The Buskers Festival is a public event which attracts thousands of guests every day, crammed into a small, small space. If the performers ask you to please sit down if you are in the front to insure those behind you can enjoy the show, please heed this suggestion. If there is some reason prohibiting you from sitting down, please let those willing and able to sit go in front of you. Please make way for young children, and please don’t smoke in the midst of the crowd. The Buskers is a family-friendly event, please respect your fellow audience members and the environment.
All Buskers Events are Pay What You Think the show is worth, via a hat, or other such contraption after the show. Thus, the International Buskers Festival is the most affordable, most entertaining, most unique and legendary event to happen in Halifax this summer. So hit the streets… you might just happen upon a hot busker.

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