Monday, August 27, 2007

Big Balls for Epilepsy

It was Buskerfest this weekend.

It must be the Libra thing in me; I'm both drawn to and repelled by crowds. And yet here I am on a fine Sunday afternoon strolling through...PEOPLE!

Buskerfest had about a dozen streets all cordoned off, with acts, sidewalk chalk artists, and food & vendor's booths. I'm not exactly sure how this thing works, I didn't see too many hats being passed 'round, so I have a pretty good notion that the Headliners actually get paid to perform. These acts are good, serious good; they're not an out of tune guitar player singing Kumbaya while you're standing in the rain waiting to see the Bourne Resurrection.

Buskerfest is entertainment at its most basic, mano-a-mano.

First, you, the audience, have to get off your ass, put down the remote, go there. And by you, of course, I mean me. They don't just come to your house when you push a button. (Well, I suppose they could, there's nothing really to stop them; well, perhaps a restraining order.) Then, there's no buffer zone: just the performer and the audience, up close and personal. Bad breath and all. If the audience doesn't like Koko the Clown, they vote with their feet, and move on.

If the performer doesn't like the response from the audience, the act changes: sometimes to try to win the audience over; sometimes just to amuse the artist.

And the show goes on.

And when you put kids into the audience mix (Daddy, why isn't the Emperor wearing any clothes?) Whoo hoo!

However, let it be known, that on this day, in this city, at this Buskerfest, these acts were damn fine and the audiences appreciative.

Looking over the tops of people's head, I kept seeing a young woman, in the air, doing somersaults: singles, doubles, triples. OK, a trampoline act, but not particularly engaging. Then I got closer and was able to see what was making the crowd go ooh!. No trampoline. She was being launched into air from a beam resting on the shoulders of her two accomplices. Getting up is easy. But landing on a four inch patch of bar? After twirling in the air? I'm impressed. They're the Quebec Russian Bar Trio.

The juggling act that I saw was Pete Sweet.
He has a kind of Emo Phillips voice and wears a bowtie and ill fitting blazer. His patter is smooth and pretty good. He can juggle five balls, which many jugglers can do, but as he likes to put it: he has five REALLY BIG balls.

And that's hard.

The real skill though is when he juggles just one ball. A crystal ball.
Not so much juggling, as ball dancing; just letting the thing roll, fluidly, over his fingers, palms, up his arms, over the shoulders, back down again. At several points throughout, it seems as if the ball is stopped in time and space, just hanging in the air while Sweet moves around it.


It takes courage and confidence to put yourself up front before the mob audience. For a living.

The designated charity, the beneficiary of the event, was Epilepsy Toronto. You can donate here.

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