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The Festival Market Places

Photo Credit: Leif NormanThe Forks Market Place, Winnipeg

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Almost with out exception major urban centres have some sort of Festival Market or Farmer’s Market and for the enterprising street performer these venues make an idea venue to set up and ply one’s trade.

I grew up in the Ottawa area, so for me the venue was “The Byward Market.” Initially I took my show down to the market during the day to play for the day time shopping crowd. This seemed to work particularly well during the spring and fall when the weather was a bit brisk, but sunny days brought droves of people out. At the time I didn’t have any competition for spots and I don’t recall ever being hassled about finding a corner of the market, setting up and doing my shows. I actually credit these early shows for my training as a performer or a sort of apprenticeship and I was extremely lucky to have the opportunity to learn by doing and doing and doing. The fact that there weren’t any other variety acts busking the market at the time meant that I had the chance to earn my chops and develop¬† my show and my stage character in a really organic sort of way. Awesome!

As my show developed and improved I also started performing in the Market in the evening as, not only was it the farmer’s market during the day, it was also a popular area for bars and restaurants in the evening. The ton of the space changed dramatically as evening set in and the street lights provided enough lighting to make evenings shows not only possible, but much more atmospheric. In the evenings people were also out to spend money in a different sort of way and I quickly learned that I could make substantially more money with evening shows than with shows during the day provided the weather was warm enough to entice people out side. For a few years, this represented the bulk of my summer employment.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that most urban centres have some sort of Festival Market or Farmer’s Market. ¬†The Byward Market was the place I got my start, but it’s by no means the only venue of this type that I’ve had the opportunity to play in. Here’s a short list of just some of the different venues I’ve gotten to play at or visit over the years that all sort of fall into this category of space (there are lots and lots more) –

Many of the places listed above are well know, well developed tourist areas and as a result are often governed by corporate bodies who fear the worst from or litigious society and place all sorts of restrictions on what performers can and can’t do. On one hand this protects the public, but on the other hand, it’s a shame that it’s needed. Typically these venues are all well known for the street performances that take place as part of the daily chemistry of the space, and this vibrant performance dynamic often becomes a draw for crowds to the destination. Some administrator’s get this, some don’t, and even though these places are know for street shows which may help attract a crowd, the hoops you need to jump through to do your shows can at times be a bit restrictive.

The trick would be to fine a venue like this that wasn’t either overly developed and over regulated or already teaming with acts all competing to do shows. Not sure where that might be, and if it does exist then there’s a good chance there’s a street performer already there doing their utmost to keep it a secret so they can work the pitch much the way I worked the Byward Market back in the 80’s.

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