I’m selfish, and I know it.

I’m going to work. I’m doing my job, and I’m not ashamed of it or showing any remorse. How can I be so selfish? To be honest, yes, it is selfish of me. I’m doing it because I love my job and I want to do it. I’m doing it for the money. I have enough in savings, and as a tax-paying street performer, the government has offered me enough to survive through the SEISS grant. It is only enough to survive though, I wouldn’t have been able to justify any kind of holiday this year even if I had somewhere to go. I haven’t bought more than a few hundred pounds worth of luxury goods in forever. I’m not advancing, but I’m not struggling either. I’m going to work to buy nice things again, eat and drink for the fun of it and visit friends and family in other countries if I want. I’m doing it for kicks, and I’m doing it because it brings me a lot of joy. Suppose I hated my job and couldn’t afford dinner for the night. Would going to work be morally questionable in a pandemic? It would have the potential to cause the same amount of damage, but I would be suffering from not doing it and suffering while doing it. Therefore it is nobler, right? I want to express how my work is a service at the risk of seeming like a self-righteous prick. Despite my personal gain performing in the street, there are benefits with compounding interest to me doing my thing out there.

I wrote last week about the street performers having to decide for themselves right from wrong. Nobody is going to give us permission to go back to work. Not the councils, businesses, or corporations who own the public land through shady deals; none of them would ever say go for it. They don’t want to say (in writing) that it’s okay. I imagine performers who listen to the authorities are going to get jerked around for months, maybe even the whole year. All the while, bureaucrats sit in their offices, avoiding anything that could become a liability. When working as the Covent Garden Street Performers Association representative, I had to be creative about approaching these people. If I ever asked for permission to do something new, it would be refused. If, however, I asked for objections to a plan, they would rarely come, and when the time came to implement them, nobody would pay any notice. It’s the old saying, “better to ask forgiveness than permission”. Street performers are generally very good at executing this strategy. Still, at the moment, we are in a delicate situation, and many are unsure about whether forgiveness will be granted at all. It will. Once everything is back to normal and artists fill the street once again, it will be as if there was no discussion, no transition period. This moment in time will all be forgotten, and it will be as if we never left.

Being one of the first people out there (Me and everyone else willing to at the moment), we create the permission. While a lot of street performers are Bona Fide trailblazers, making pitches and diving into the unknown. Not all of us can be that all the time. It adds stress to the work to always be unsure about our place in the world. This is why I believe we see so many performers lined up on the ‘good’ spots for five hours to do one show. It’s possibly the least efficient way of working, especially when just around the corner there is a perfectly workable square. Maybe it’s not as busy, perhaps the show would be smaller, sometimes the floor isn’t suitable. These are all good excuses, but it doesn’t make sense most of the time to sit and wait for more than an hour or so to perform when you could do three or four shows in the meantime. The real reason for the line up isn’t to use the best spot but because it is much easier to convince yourself that you are supposed to be there if someone has gone before you and someone will follow. You become just another part of the machine, and your personal responsibility is lowered. When nobody gives you permission to work, you need to seek it in other ways. For this, I feel that working now is a genuine service to London’s street performers, hopefully, in turn, the world.

I struggled on my first day back to perform. I psyched myself up in the morning, checked my gear again and again, then put it off for no good reason until finally, I was ready to go. I went to Southbank with the plan of doing one show then getting out of there. It would take an hour and be a symbol to myself that it was possible. I planned on turning up, putting on my music and starting a show without giving myself the chance to back out. This was already the weekend after I told myself that I would go back, so I had already chickened out and lost a week and wasn’t ready to lose another.

When I arrived, though, I ended up stalling for almost an hour, looking around at all the people wondering where my audience was. I didn’t know the order of my show or how I would get to the end at all. I was lost and alone, nervous and a little frightened of all that could go wrong. I managed to switch off my brain for a few seconds, and that was enough for me to finally start my show music, switch on my mic and say “Showtime!”. From that point on, it was easy. I forgot how well I could blag my way through a show, and everything felt good, right and natural once again. If I had turned up to see someone else was performing before me, I’m sure that I had a timeslot to fill. I was just the next performer that day. I would have done my show without a second thought. I was alone that day, and I had to get through it by myself. This isn’t something unfamiliar to me, though. For the next performer, for the new performers, the people whose venues have closed or the artists looking to expand their experiences, I want to be there waiting. I want to show them that it’s okay. I want to say, “It’s your turn”, and give someone else permission to be there when nobody else in the world will.

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