I found myself wandering around Stockholm today with a friend in search of princess cake. The most delicious cake ever. And it was surprisingly difficult to find in the Södermalm area. But we were not to be denied. And so we wandered into Gamla Stan. Because if there’s one place you can find princess cake it is in the ultimate tourist destination.
And the first place we walked into did in fact have some. But only one piece. And that just wasn’t going to cut it. So on we went. Into Järntorget. And there we found ourselves two delicious pieces of cake. And sat outside despite the wind. All in all a lovely little afternoon adventure. Little did we know that it was going to improve dramatically.
Because right before us a street performer was setting up. Taking his sweet time. He even stopped in the middle of his set-up to smoke a cigarette. And keep in mind he’s a street performer. It’s not like he has a whole lot that needs to be set-up. That’s kind of the thing with street performers. They can ply their trade anywhere there is a street.
Anyway, finally he managed to get himself ready. He even donned a lovely red and black little costume. He looked like he belonged on a checkerboard. Instead he was on a small fold-out bench in the middle of Gamla Stan. And he started talking. In English. He knew his target market was tourists at least. Good work. Unfortunately, it kind of went downhill from there.
Somehow he managed to convince about 10 or 15 people to stop and stare at him. Seeing as how he wasn’t really doing anything no one came too close. Finally, he lit a torch. And laid it on the ground. Then he picked up two knives and threw them in the air and caught them. He did not juggle them. He threw them up and caught them with the same hand he used to toss them. This drew a few curious people closer. Mostly kids. Young boys to be exact. Who are drawn to knives and fire.
At this point everything went to hell. He began by saying that he wouldn’t perform unless there were enough people who were watching because otherwise it just wasn’t fun and he didn’t like doing it. Because apparently street performing is for the performers enjoyment, not the audience. Silly me. Surprisingly, his threatening tactics didn’t really go home here in peace loving Stockholm. But he then promised to do a couple of tricks to attract a few more people. He even promised a sexy fire show. A good idea really.
But once again, his ego got the best of him. And he demanded that people move in closer. Everyone was still a bit skeptical and staying a few feet back. Possibly because of his threatening nature and the fact that he had fire and knives at his disposal. No one moved. He repeated his demand and a mom and little boy moved closer with a middle aged fellow moving in after them. And that’s it. No one else moved. And that’s when he decided he’d had enough. He said that he only performed for people he liked and since no one was moving in closer and no one was gathering around to watch him he didn’t like them. So he stopped.
Seriously. He packed up his knives and fire. And walked away. It was incredible. Obviously, what little crowd he had dispersed. I couldn’t believe it. A street performer basically was striking because of working conditions. Now having never performed on a street before in any capacity I don’t really know the ins and outs of the business. But on a windy day, with day light waning and the dinner hour approaching, I’m just not sure if the Eric Cartman “You can’t come” technique was really the right marketing strategy.
My friend threw out the idea that, this being Sweden (you know the Swedish welfare state and the Swedish model and all), perhaps he was on the city payroll and didn’t really have to rely on the tips of his audience, thereby allowing him to not have to perform on the street. Despite being a street performer. This seems like a breach of contract and job description. But anyway, this is all conjecture.
We decided to wander on because it was getting windy and cold and sitting watching a street performer pout, while unique, wasn’t really holding my attention any longer. So we moved on and decided we would circle Gamla Stan and return to see if he had decided to plow through.
He did. This time he had an even smaller crowd. Seven people max. All kids. All up close, so at least that part of his demand was met. Apparently he had decided to get over himself. Or maybe he realized that it was about five in the evening and he had to bring in a little income for the day. Whatever the reason for his unwillingness to perform on the street, he was by far the worst street performer I had ever seen.
Welcome to Sweden.