Street theatre is one of the oldest forms of theatre and yet we don’t seem to see much of it these days unless there’s a special occasion or festival, but this it seems is down to councils having decided to cash in the on what was a success of street theatre by enforcing a permit policy for outdoor public performances and these permits are not always cheap for individuals, so hence why you only see them at festivals and special occasions.
When you think about street theatre the first place that may come to mind is probably Covent Garden in London which is the most common place to enjoy it these days. But street theatre as a whole reflects that of ancient world. Back then it was about mocking a serious character through comedy and from this format came the idea of Harlequin was born, a comic who had a dark side deliberately seeking to make fun of others. Today though, its more about an individual just clowning about and getting audience participation.
There are many different types of street theatre from carnival to flash mobs mostly for entertainment purposes. But back in medieval it was all an important part of the teaching communities about issues surrounding social morals and health education as well as religious teaching as the reformation took hold.
Using the streets for entertaining a crowd even today gives a very unique feel and atmosphere to a setting that a traditional theatre or town hall gives, but at the same time, it is a not a lesser version of theatre that that of conventional building known as theatre.
Busking is also something that comes to mind when someone mentions street theatre. It’s one of the oldest forms of street theatre, dating back to well before medieval times, it was the most common workplace for musicians before there was recordings. Busking has been a tradition for travellers and gypsies music, dancing and fortune telling. Today we still carry some of the traditions with the seasonal carol singing and Morris Men dancing in some parts of England.
Carnivals at best are a celebration of community, bringing everyone together in what is sometimes a very competitive event for those who part take in creating floats costumes. For most these are big colourful and loud events like in Brazil. Then at the other end of the spectrum there are the night carnivals, like in the South West of the UK made famous through the Guy Fawkes events of the 1600s and just to think that now there are people who spend the whole year planning and making the floats and costumes for these events.
The latest crazy for street theatre are flash mobs, essentially this isn’t the first time the term has been used. Interestingly it was first used in the 19th century to describe a subculture in Australia of females. The variation of ‘Mob Crowd’ was then used in 1973 to describe what happens in riots as people would just appear from nowhere and intensify the situation.
But flash mobs today in the 21st century has become one of the most respected forms of street theatre as they continually come up with new and exciting ways to excite an unsuspecting crowd. But even this is under threat from councils and governments as they insist that permits are applied for, which completely defeat the point of a flash mob.
Do entertainers really need a permit to do their job when the price the entertainer charges is the price of some a smile?