Organised pandemonium takes over our city every January as locals and visitors of all ages flock to open-air inner-city malls, the cultural precinct to see the worlds’ very best busker talent: the award-winning World Buskers Festival. Belly laughs, amazement, admiration, and surprise fill our lives for ten days every summer.
“The festival’s reputation for excellence and our great locations here in the heart of Christchurch’s cultural and heritage precinct are big drawcards for both international and domestic visitors, as well as for local residents, and it has become an icon event for the city” festival director Jodi Wright tells me. Such is the reputation of this event that, sitting in her office under the old university observatory, Jodi is inundated with pleas for an invitation from buskers around the world.
Hub of activities for the dare-devils, outrageous comedians, juggling divas, and other mischievous people here to entertain, is the Art Centre, site of Christchurch’s first university and the first place in the British Empire to admit women. When plans emerged for the Gothic Revival buildings to be demolished – in the 1970s when the university moved to a new site – Christchurch residents pleaded for its retention. They finally won the arguments and the resulting Arts Centre is now firmly established as the cultural hub of Christchurch and is one of New Zealand’s most significant historical and cultural attractions: a fitting place for the smash hit the World Buskers Festival has become in the Christchurch calendar. Numbers attending the shows have more than doubled since its inception in 1994.
Each evening the Busker Comedy Club, a cabaret-style, outdoor variety show in the Arts Centre grounds, is packed with people, many of who arrive an hour or so early with rugs and cushions to sit on. Others have booked one of the tables which are well-supplied with tasty nibbles and drinks to enjoy as they laugh at the adult-only entertainment.
Recalling some shows, a word of warning seems appropriate. Some performers may ask you to volunteer as a participant in their show. However, as the festival programme says: ‘please feel free to decline their request (for any reason) and use common sense and caution at all times’.
Nevertheless, the only injury I witnessed was to a friend’s ego when she was surprised by one of the roving acts – at the airport! Just off the plane, she was welcomed to festival city by The Crowd Maintenance Crew when they popped out from behind a wall and dusted her down with their feather duster ‘just making sure you are in tip top condition’ they tell her.
Other roving acts this past January included a pavement artist, living statues, and two local women – The Chick Taylors – who are the personification of improvisation with a range of characters from the Paranoid French or German through to Retro English Geeks: they are up for anything and it’s great to see locals in such a high-calibre extravaganza such as this festival.
Featured on the Discovery Channel programme, “Fantastic Festivals of the World,” this one-of-a-kind event extends out the beach suburb of New Brighton which sits on the long sweep of Pegasus Bay and the Pacific.
Locals claim the Christchurch cultural precinct is the finest in the southern hemisphere. Planned by the city founders – some 150 years ago – to create a cultural heart for the province (Canterbury) it is still a wonderful backdrop to many of the arts and heritage activities of Christchurch.
‘I’ll meet you at the Arts Centre’ or ‘let’s have coffee, dinner, or supper – before or after the show,’ can be overheard wherever locals gather. The old university, with over forty galleries, studios, theatres, cinemas, cafes, restaurants, shops, bars, weekly arts market, fabulous bead shop, and ethnic food stalls, this vibrant place is the perfect backdrop for the World Buskers Festival.
Park your car as this an easy area to explore by foot or tram, and most of the activities are free, and include places such as; New Zealand’s only remaining Provincial Chamber buildings, Our City O-Tautahi with its changing exhibitions, the fabulous glass fronted Christchurch Art Gallery, the Canterbury Museum, and the Centre of Contemporary Art. So when you are exhausted from laughing at the class buskers acts that are spread around the city, complete your stay in Christchurch by enriching your senses with food, fun and culture in this very public heart of our great city. I hope to see you there 20th – 30th January 2011