Skinny’s Say

Feature in Issue 5-3 | Autumn 1993

Street clown, Skinny Bean highlights some of the benefits and pressures of performing in the street.

If theatre is an act of communication, a relationship between those performed to and the performer, that exists only in the moment of its creation by adapting to real time space, then the form known as street theatre is one that cannot hide from this principle – for street theatre exists purely in real time and space!

I am now into my third summer as a street clown: Skinny Bean. It is this demand upon me as a performer that I find most fulfilling, because as a clown I rely entirely upon what is happening in the immediate environment in which I perform to find the substance of my show. I constantly put upon myself the need to adapt to this time and space in order to capture each moment of comic communication. It is difficult, sometimes dangerous, yet in three summers of experimentation I have come from being an unemployed unfocused actor to being a professional performer with the realistic prospect of earning most of my living from performing.

The street has allowed me to learn and develop. It has given me the opportunity to create and play and polish a character over and over again – how many actors get that chance? It has given me personal and professional confidence and allowed me to learn about the art of Performance, by actually performing. The unfortunate thing is that the streets I am talking about are not in my home, London, but Amsterdam, where the liberal policy of allowing street entertainment to flourish practically anywhere that a performer can find an audience means that everyone, from humblest beginner to international artist, can find their place.

I spent seven weeks in Holland this spring and survived pretty well, but to do so I had to sacrifice my home life and friends to go there. After seven weeks I found this sacrifice too much and grew angry that the trip had been necessitated by my feeling that no possibilities for street performing exist in London: the licences, the lack of encouragement, the police, etc etc. Yet Amsterdam, without the security of my normal life, was not an easy place. This insecurity affected my ability to perform and so instead of a practical functional relaxed attitude, I found myself at times performing from the motivation of anger and desperation. This led to randomness and mistakes. I was hit once and insulted on other occasions – all I believe due to my inability to approach the performances with relaxed concentration – an essential quality of any good performance but not one that stems from insecurity.

I have now returned to London and continue with my professional work as a member of the E-Team, working at festivals, theme parks and a world famous wax museum. I wish I could continue to develop my solo street clown show but do not feel confident about finding a safe environment to experiment with in London. WHY? What are they scared of? Do we live in a society that is afraid of allowing creativity outside of its control? Of course we do.

I am still very much a beginner and need to practice regularly if I am to continue developing. The street should not only be open to a few established performers but can and should be a place where anyone with the desire can go and experiment. This would bring the street to life and give the tourists something more to look at than the splendid buildings steeped in history. The very same history that has always included street theatre. Good or bad, street entertainers are part of a rich tradition. How much longer are we going to allow the dwellers of those buildings, the shop owners and high rate payees to buy off our councils and police and destroy our street culture?

Referenced Artists

This article in the magazine

Issue 5-3
p. 6