METROPOLE - Vienna in English - - ON DISPLAY - By Robert Tunn

Since time im­memo­rial, hu­man­ity has been fas­ci­nated with un­usual feats of der­ring-do, turn­ing to jug­glers, jesters, jack­anapes and troubadours for amuse­ment. Their mod­ern suc­ces­sors, street artists, con­tinue their legacy on the high streets, giv­ing relief from the daily pen­deln (com­mute) and this month, some of the very best will as­sem­ble in cen­tral Vi­enna for the Buskers Fes­ti­val.

First ap­pear­ing back in 2011, the fes­ti­val has rapidly evolved into one of the most kalei­do­scopic events in the city, draw­ing crowds up­wards of 80,000 over a sin­gle week­end. Trans­form­ing the mag­nif­i­cent baroque back­drop of Karl­splatz into an open-air cir­cus, out­stand­ing per­form­ers from around the globe will vie for your at­ten­tion with mu­sic, danc­ing, live the­ater, ac­ro­bat­ics, fire eat­ing and per­for­mance art. Fea­tur­ing vet­er­ans as well as new tal­ent, over 800 ap­pli­ca­tions were re­ceived with 40 lucky acts cherry picked to en­sure only the finest get to per­form. Arts and crafts, face paint­ing and jug­gling les­sons round out the pro­gram for all ages, as well as a green work­shop on up­cy­cling and re­cy­cling.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of per­form­ing for an un­sus­pect­ing pub­lic of­ten proves an in­valu­able school of hard knocks for bud­ding en­ter­tain­ers, with many big names cut­ting their teeth on street corners. Rod Ste­wart, and, more re­cently, Ed Sheeran both started out play­ing for tips in cen­tral Lon­don (Ste­wart was even de­ported from Spain for va­grancy dur­ing his busk­ing days). Bri­tish co­me­dian Ed­die Iz­zard first be­gan per­form­ing around Covent Gar­den while Robin Wil­liams was a mime in New York’s Cen­tral Park while still study­ing at Juil­liard. Even Pierce Bros­nan worked as a fire eater be­fore mov­ing on to act­ing and even­tu­ally the role of James Bond. And, of course, Cirque du Soleil re­mains the most prom­i­nent ex­am­ple, founded by Cana­dian street artists Guy Lal­ib­erté and Gilles Ste-croix, trans­form­ing sideshows into

The Buskers Fes­ti­val en­livens Karl­splatz with world-class per­form­ers

big busi­ness with the help of artis­tic sets and cos­tumes.


Busk­ing may be a fa­mil­iar sight in many Euro­pean cities, but way­side per­form­ers are no­tice­ably thin­ner on Vi­enna’s pris­tine av­enues. Tra­di­tion­ally lumped to­gether with beg­gars and pan­han­dlers, un­til re­cently busk­ing was treated with ap­pre­hen­sion by au­thor­i­ties, who ad­dressed the is­sue by plac­ing daunt­ing bu­reau­cratic hur­dles: A street per­former’s li­cence is manda­tory, and ap­pli­cants of­ten waited an in­or­di­nate length of time only to be given a ran­dom plot with very lit­tle foot traf­fic. Un­sur­pris­ingly, many itin­er­ant en­ter­tain­ers skipped Vi­enna al­to­gether, ply­ing their trade in neigh­bor­ing Prague or Salzburg. How­ever, the city’s at­ti­tude has grad­u­ally warmed to the phe­nom­e­non in part due to its on­go­ing love af­fair with pedes­trian zones like Mari­ahil­fer Strasse, promis­ing to make the City of Mu­sic far more


re­cep­tive to street per­form­ers. Most no­tably, Wiener Linien have fol­lowed Lon­don’s lead and be­gun ex­per­i­ment­ing with per­mit­ting se­lect buskers to play cer­tain U-bahn sta­tions, with the pi­lot project launched at West­bahn­hof this sum­mer. Af­ter an over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive re­cep­tion, they are now ex­pand­ing the project this month, us­ing the Buskers fes­ti­val to hold cast­ings for po­ten­tial per­form­ers.

In keep­ing with the lay­out of pre­vi­ous years, there will be six ar­eas dot­ted around the square, fea­tur­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ous on-the­hour per­for­mances. Mo­bile acts will min­gle with the crowd, cre­at­ing a hive of buzzing ac­tiv­ity.

En­try to the fes­ti­val is free. How­ever, please re­mem­ber that the per­form­ers rely on crowd con­tri­bu­tions for an in­come – so don’t for­get to raid your piggy bank in ad­vance! With a lit­tle en­cour­age­ment, some of the acts may be­come fa­mil­iar faces on street corners – or per­haps, one day, stare down from bill­boards.

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