Lawrence Busker Festival offers free fun from performers all around the world
- Aug. 23, 2012
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Five years ago, Richard Renner, a graduate of the University of Kansas theater department, founded the Lawrence Busker Festival with the intent of opening up the streets of downtown to performers of all kinds, from all over.
The festival, a free event that highlights the talents of street performers, or “buskers,” will be held along Massachusetts Street this weekend, Aug. 24 to 26. The buskers — performers who entertain in public places for gratuity — will line the streets, attracting crowds with their unusual acts.
“You can walk within the space of two blocks and see four shows all for free, and however much you want to put in the hat is entirely up to you,” Renner said. “This is the purest form of business. These people know they are only going to get paid what they’re worth.”
Renner said about 15,000 people go to the festival each year to see the musicians, sword swallowers, fire breathers, jugglers, aerial acrobats, mimes and dancers who come to entertain.
When the festival was introduced in 2008, Renner called various performers, asking them to be a part of the event. He was able to schedule 20 acts on three stages. This year, Renner received about 60 applications from entertainers throughout the U.S. and overseas. He cut that number down to 25 acts on four stages.
In addition to the scheduled acts, Renner said some street performers just show up and choose a spot to set up and perform.
“Those are the unscheduled entertainers, and I have no idea who they are or where they will be,” he said. “Anybody could show up and play, and many do.”
In 2008, one of the unscheduled acts was Sarah Glass, a University graduate. Glass, who now performs under the name Miss Conception, went to the first festival in 2008 to hula-hoop on the street. As she performed her solo act, Glass was inspired by the other busker acts all around her.
“I wanted to do more and work harder with more people. Instead of just me out hula-hooping in the street, I wanted it to be more choreography, more magical things happening,” Glass said.
Glass evolved her hula-hooping into a larger performance. She, as Miss Conception, along with the KC Tribe of Vibe, mix hip-hop with dance, poetry, singing, dancing and juggling. The act will be the finale on Saturday at 10:15 p.m. on the Plaza Stage at the corner of Ninth and Massachusetts Street. This will be Glass’ first year performing on stage.
“I’m super excited. I love the idea of artists being out on the street doing what they love and ideally making somewhat of a living off of it,” she said. “I like what it means to busk: It’s interaction, not just a passive show, and that’s one thing that I really strive to bring. As a whole we want to break that line between audience and performer and empower everybody,” Glass said.
Renner said that the festival has been successful, and he hopes to further promote an atmosphere for more out-of-town performers to stop in Lawrence.
“If word gets out that Lawrence is OK with street performers, we’ll get more people just stopping by,” Renner said. “It will add to the unique culture we have downtown.”
Renner said the festival is targeted toward a family crowd in the afternoon and a younger audience in the evenings. He recommends coming downtown, having a beer and grabbing some dinner before enjoying the nights’ festivities.
“It’s just another typical night in downtown Lawrence,” Renner said. “That’s all.”
— Edited by Allison Kohn