Monday, July 25, 2011

The Copper Cowgirl

Throughout the cities of the world, there are probably many hundreds if not thousands of talented people who gather the tools of their craft and head out into the streets and public spaces to make their living by entertaining, and hopefully brightening the day of some of the people who pass by. Collectively called buskers or street entertainers, they come in a variety of artistic categories. There are musicians, jugglers, mimes, human statues, poets, dancers, clowns, balloon artists, and the list could go on.

Up to this point, mainly because I myself am a street musician, my posts have been stories about the musical aspect of busking, relating a few of my busking experiences, and those of some of my fellow musicians. While I will no doubt continue to have more stories about street musicians, in this, and I hope future posts, I will interview other buskers that fall into some of the aforementioned categories.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down and do an interview with Claire Bezuidenhout (pronounced bĕ-zādĕn-hōt), who makes her living as a “human statue”. Claire was born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and moved to Canada when she was a teenager, and has been living in Victoria BC, ever since. She began busking in 2007, and as the Copper Cowgirl, she has become a very popular attraction for visitors to the inner harbour causeway.

At first sight, as she stands silent and motionless atop her copper pedestal, one might think that the Copper Cowgirl was one of the local art installations, but then she’ll make an unexpected movement and elicit shrieks of surprise and laughter from her audience. Sometimes when someone takes the opportunity to stand next to the Cowgirl for a photo-op, they might suddenly be caught off guard when she places her hand on their shoulder. With each tip that is deposited in her copper coffee pot, she comes to life and commences into a “wild-west ballet” of robotic movements and friendly gestures, before drawing her copper pistol from her holster for an imaginary shoot-out, after which she slowly winds down to her original statue-like position.

Over the past four years, Claire has spent her “northern hemisphere summers” busking in Victoria, and in the off-season, has taken her act overseas where she has also busked in Melbourne & Perth [Australia], Auckland & Wellington [New Zealand], London [United Kingdom], Malaga [Spain], Paris [France] and Berlin [Germany].

In fact, it was her interest in traveling that inspired Claire to give busking a try in the first place. She explained, “I wanted to find something that could help me earn money while I was traveling, so I thought I would become a human statue, because I can’t play an instrument. I think it’s a really great way to travel, I feel like you really get a feel for the city [that] you’re traveling into, as opposed to just visiting it for a week and doing touristy things. You really are on the streets meeting real people and seeing the day to day activities. So, I feel like I get a really great perspective of each place I travel to.”

I asked where the inspiration for the Copper Cowgirl’s character came from and Claire said “I’ve been around horses all my life and I’ve grown up riding horses, so I guess I always felt like I had the cowgirl spirit. And I have a lot of the clothes already, so that helps.”

On the topic of the Copper Cowgirl’s outfit, Claire said “I have a lot of fun making my costume, as much as I have performing. I did paint my outfit, and I’ve made my chaps and several other articles of [the] clothing as well. That’s one of the fun things, to make the outfit and try different things. I have a few different outfits now, different chaps, a different jacket. and a few different versions of the cowgirl, so it’s as much [about] creating the character as it is performing the character. I have a Viking outfit as well, which is what I use in Europe, ‘cause they’re not as in tune to cowgirls there.”

Claire told me that what she enjoyed most about busking was making people laugh. “I really enjoy playing with people, having fun with them, getting them to play along with me and surprising them. And I love having fun with the kids as well. It often kind scares them, but [it] excites them at the same time.”

Out of all the places that she has busked, Claire said that Melbourne was her favorite. “I don’t know what it is about that city, it feels kind of like Vancouver, and kind of like Victoria I guess, but, yeah, I love Melbourne. I always have fun with the people there [and] I always meet really friendly people there. There’s a big arts scene there as well, so I like going to the theatre shows and stuff after, or going to the beach right before I busk, and then I’ll go to a theatre show.”
“In Melbourne, I busked around the South Bank area, everyone called the strip along the [Yarra] River, the South Bank. Apparently, the Bourke Street Mall is really good to busk at, but you have to busk at least six months along the South Bank before they let you audition for the Mall, so I was never there long enough to audition for that.”

When I asked Claire what her most memorable busking experience was, she mentioned performing in downtown Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics. “It was a really, really wonderful experience for me, because everyone was ridiculously happy the whole time. Everyone was there to have a good time, so it was fun, tons of people every day and it was one of the greatest ten days of busking I’ve ever had.”

As the decision to be a busker would probably not be very high on most people’s list of career choices, I was curious to know what Claire might’ve said when she was 8 or 9 years old, if someone had suggested that one day she would be making a living being the Copper Cowgirl. “I would have said they were crazy,” she said, and then laughed. “I wanted to be a real cowgirl when I was a little girl, not a pretend cowgirl. I would’ve said ‘Close, but not quite what I was looking for’.”

And for anyone who might be thinking about trying their hand at busking, what has Claire learned in her four years as a street entertainer, that she would pass on as helpful advice? She said “I think that it’s important that you enjoy what you’re doing, because if you don’t enjoy it, you can’t expect other people to enjoy it.”
“Don’t take things personally. There’s always gonna be one or two people that aren’t very nice to you, and you can’t take that personally, you just have to brush it off and keep on going, and don’t let those little things get you down.”
“What else? Just be open to explore with your audience, don’t just present things, but always be open to do more and see more with them too, if that makes sense. Play with it, ’cause you’re on the street and unexpected things happen, and you just have to go with it.”

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dave,
    I'm just catching up on my reading and went through the last bunch of posts. These are really interesting and well written - bits of insider views and history of an important but little known aspect of public life in Victoria. I hope you will continue to add to this.