Street performers, magicians and jugglers have been a fixture on city streets since the Middle Ages, but that doesn’t mean the terms between these performers and their venues are always agreed upon.
In Boston, street performers started striking June 1, instead of beginning a new season at Faneuil Hall Marketplace as they usually would, in response to new protocols they say are both burdensome and nonsensical.
“The new regulations are … an insult to every busker at Faneuil Hall, and an abuse of both freedom of speech and freedom of expression,” an open letter from The Busking Project to Faneuil Hall reads.
In mid-May, the Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation, which manages Faneuil Hall Marketplace, backed down from a plan to charge street performers fees for performing at the venue. The area is considered quite prestigious, but while performers are required to audition for spots there, they aren’t paid by the management company. The fees would have ranged from $500 to $2,500 per year.
But the list of regulations that have been left in place would still dictate performance schedules, prevent buskers from canceling shows except under certain conditions, and forbid “hat lines” asking spectators for the tips that comprise their income. Performers could also be banned after just two infractions, down from four in the past.
“This is part of a global trend of criminalizing the traditional way of street performing,” Busking Project founder Nick Broad told Boston.com. “It’s part of a privatization of public space that’s happening everywhere.”
The performers are encouraging Ashkenazy to negotiate and come up with a solution that is acceptable to all parties involved.
And, of course, the history of Boston as the birthplace of American independence is playing into the tone of the debate. “Boston also happens to be the city in which Benjamin Franklin himself took to the streets with his poetry,” the letter adds parenthetically. “Nobody told him what he could say.”