Edmonton International Street Performers Festival
A Fantastic Event!
Where can you see some of the most amazing entertainers from around the world, with performances suitable for the whole family, at a reasonable cost? At the International Street Performers Festival, that's where!
2012 marks Edmonton's 28th annual festival; ten days of fun in the sun, featuring over 1,500 shows. This is one of the first festivals we took in after moving to Edmonton, and it remains one of our favorites - and with over 260,000 visitors this year, I think a lot of other people agree!
The photos you'll see here were taken by me, using a Nikon D80 with an 18-55mm lens. The Youtube video you'll see below was taken with my Samsung Galaxy II phone.
Where the Action Is
The festival takes place in Churchill Square, in the heart of downtown Edmonton. For those who aren't familiar with Edmonton or the downtown area, here is some useful information for you.
Driving: If you're driving in, I'll warn you right off the top; there's not a lot of parking in downtown Edmonton, though there are a number of parkades and parking lots to choose from in the area. I would recommend any of them over the parking meters, unless you expect to stay only a short time. If possible, leave your vehicle elsewhere.
Bus: The area is a major transit hub, with dozens of buses from all over the city eventually making stops either right in the area, or within a block or two. Edmonton has a pretty decent transit system, and many of the buses are wheelchair accessible as well.
LRT: Edmonton's Light Rail Transit has a station directly below Churchill Square (where the 1 is on the map), as well as several other stations nearby. There are some stations with Park and Ride lots, where you can leave your vehicle parked for free while taking the train, which is a great option for visitors driving in from out of town. All trains are wheelchair accessible. The LRT stations also have ticket vending machines.
Walking: Of course, there is always your feet! If you are visiting Edmonton, there are a lot of hotels in the downtown area, suitable for a range of budgets. There are so many things to see and do in the area, it's well worth it to find a place to stay downtown, leave your vehicle at the hotel, and take a walk. I've lived in or near the downtown core for six years at the time of this writing, and I'm still stumbling on new and interesting places during our frequent walks!
Once you're at Churchill Square to take in the Festival, there's the handy map pictured above. The organizers do a great job of ensuring live performances are spaced and timed well, so that they do not interrupt each other, and static displays are easy to find and observe without blocking the flow of traffic. Props to the organizers for doing such a great job!
While You're There...
If you're going to spend a day in the sun, you're going to need some sustenance to keep up your energy. Edmonton's food vendors are sure to please just about any taste or preferance.
Don't forget to check out what some of the other vendors have for sale, too.
For the Kids
There's always something for the whole family, including a Kid's World area. Along with tables and chairs to enjoy your lunch, there's face painting and other performances and activities for the little ones.
Be Your Own Busker
Do you have what it takes to be a street performer? In the Big Tent, a number of workshops are available. Try your hand at juggling, magic or dance. Who knows - the performance bug might bite, and you, too, could be traveling the world, amazing and delighting crowds of viewers!
Want to try your hand at busking?
Years ago, my family tried our hands at busking. My daughters were about 7 and 10 years old at the time, and we did balloon twisting for a couple of summers. We even got a busking license and twisted at The Forks in Winnipeg, volunteered to raise money at the Cancer Society's Dragon Boat Festival, and even for a Harry Potter book opening.
Busking can be a lot of fun, but it's also hard work and requires people skills. It was a wonderful experience, though not something any of us would be up to doing on a professional level. There's a lot more to the life of a street performer than putting your hat out! We knew someone who had been a professional street performer - a very talented juggler - for many years. He described making up to $1000 a day while working the streets in Las Vegas, only to drink most of it away! We also met a local home schooling girl who did balloon twisting for years, saving up enough money to pay for her college education. People's experiences can be incredibly varied.
If you think busking might be of interest, take the time to learn from those who have knowledge and experience to share. If you don't know any street performers in person, these books might be a good place to start.
Not all street performers are jugglers or acrobats. Some are static displays, like this 3D chalk drawing in progress. Visit the artist's website.
The 2012 Festival had almost 40 artists and performers from around the world, and they are all top-notch professionals. With the crowds surrounding them, it can sometimes be hard to see the performers at all!
An Amazing Show
This is one of a number of photos I took of Pancho Libre, before switching to video (see below). He was an amazing performer, and I was so glad we caught his show from start to finish! We were especially enchanted by how he handled a small child who wandered into the performance area, as you can see on the left of the photo. He made her part of the show, and she was thrilled!
An amazing performance by Pancho Libre - more information about him is at the end of the vdeo below.
Dollars and Cents: One of the amazing things about a Street Performers Festival is that there is no charge to take in the shows. It is all by donation. Unfortunately, that can also make it easy to take the entertainers for granted!
It's important to remember that all the performers are professionals. This is what they do for a living! They work hard to be the best in their field of expertise. It's always somewhat discouraging, at the end of a show, to see so many people walk away without donating anything to the entertainers they just enjoyed watching. Thankfully, many people do give. It may not be much, but when taking in a show, please remember to drop something into the donation box, whether it's at the end of a robust live performance, or for a static display that slowly develops over several days. This is especially true if you take any photos or videos! Just remember; if you were to take in some of these shows in a theatre, you'd probably be paying quite a lot for a ticket, so please be prepared to give as much as you can afford to these fine entertainers!
For parents and pet owners: A good performer is a professional who can handle all sorts of unexpected things thrown at them. That includes children or pets going into the performance area, or objects falling/getting thrown in. Sometimes, they can work with it, as Pancho Libre did with the child pictured above. As fun and exciting as that can be, please make every effort to keep your children or pets close. When performers are doing acrobatics, using props and generally flinging themselves bodily all over the place, they will not always be able to stop themselves from running into someone or something that shouldn't be there. It is potentially dangerous to all involved. Unless the performer actually invites someone into the performance area, like in the video above, it's important to keep the performance area clear. If you're with children, please don't allow them to wander in or throw things, and if you're with a pet, keep it close!
Visibility: There are often a lot of people crowding around to see the performers. Many will ask that children come to the front and sit on the ground, but even if they don't, try to do it that way, anyhow. This way, the children can see while still being safely outside the performance area.
If you're a taller adult, please be courteous and allow shorter people to go in front of you. I'm rather short myself, and I've missed many a show because I simply couldn't see through people's backs or heads. Even if you're not particularly tall, be aware of the people around you and try not to shift or tilt back and forth too much, as you might be obstructing someone's view. Also, if you see someone taking a photo or video, try not to walk in front of them or otherwise block their view. As I was taking video, a guy standing beside me kept shifting closer towards and in front of me, even though he wasn't being crowded, nor was his own view obstructed. I had to hold the phone out and try to aim around him, making for some shaky video!
Photos and Video: Having said that, if you are taking photos or video, be polite! Don't force your way to the front, obstructing other people's views. While you don't have to ask anyone's permission to use photos taken in a public place, try to keep in mind that some people may not be comfortable with the photos you take being published online. I had several photos I did not post because, after I uploaded them to my computer, I realized I had caught a woman in unflattering postures as she moved around. If I really wanted to post those photos, I would have tried to crop her out. Her face wasn't visible, but there was still potential for embarassment. Please be respectful.
More photos and information
Would I recommend this event?
Before writing about The Works Art & Design Festival, I had been asked what I thought of it. In the end, it wasn't something I felt I could whole-heartedly recommend, for a variety of reasons.
Not so with the International Street Festival!
Yes, to the shows and displays: I have yet to see a bad, or even mediocre, performance. These folks are among the best in the world, and it shows!
Yes, to the vendors: There are always an eclectic variety of items available for sale, so there's bound to be something of interest to pick up as a momento of the festival. The food vendors are also always great, and again, there's something to meet all tastes.
Yes, to the big tent: A great way to have a professional helping you try out a new skill!
Is it worth coming to Edmonton for? Another enthusiastic yes! At ten days long, this is a vacation worthy event. Though there are many other things to see and do in the area, the festival alone is worth the trip. I heartily recommend it!