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Busking Day: Bringing Life to Downtown Dallas

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In many major cities, street performers are a part of the sidewalk scenery. In Downtown Dallas? Not so much. But that could soon change as local buskers are banding together to bring a vibrant street scene downtown:

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RUSS SHAREK: “There’ll be a bit of music, I will point to you and you will say very heartily …”

CROWD: “Hey!”

SHAREK: “That was pretty good – this is the best audience we’ve had today. This is also only audience we’ve had today…”

On a bitterly cold Saturday night, Russ Sharek is wearing a red, short-sleeved T-shirt, clown pants and a bowler hat. He’s doing his best to warm up a crowd of about a dozen people who have gathered in Pegasus Plaza in Downtown Dallas to watch his motley performance troupe, the Circus Freaks.

Will Schutze and one of his many marionettes. Photo: Stephen Becker

Juggling, magic and plenty of audience participation are part of the show. On the same block, a puppeteer and musician also perform.

“The thing about this is: It’s very democratic. Anybody walking down the street gets to be a part of a show,” Sharek says. “It doesn’t matter what economic bracket, what education bracket – they get art.”

That’s the idea behind Busking Day, a once-a-month gathering of street performers aimed at livening up downtown. The event is organized by Revolutionary Pants, a nonprofit group dedicated to revitalizing life in the Central Business District. In addition to Busking Day, the group is also behind the Friends of Living Plaza events and Chalk-tober. The plan is go have Busking Days on the second Saturday of each month.

“People attract people. So going to public spaces, and trying to create life or trying to give it some flavor, the first thing that popped into our minds was, ‘Why don’t we do performances and attract other people and showcase their talents?’” says  Patrick McDonnell, a co-founder of Revolutionary Pants. “Dallas has a lot of talent here, and it’s not always going to be something you have to go and pay for. It’s something that you can just stumble into on a weekend or a weekday.”

So far, three Busking Day events have been held. Any performer is welcome. In December, more than 100 people circled around the Circus Freaks for a juggling show. This month’s crowd was sparse as most people walking by made a beeline for their destinations.

J.C. Abbott of Plano was one of those who stopped to watch.

“It’s nice, because there’s not a whole lot going on down here. So if it ties together two bars that are far apart, I’m into it,” he says.

That’s one benefit. But the Revolutionary Pants crew has bigger ideas. McDonnell calls their close-to-the-ground approach “do-it-yourself urbanism.” He hopes that giving people a reason to congregate in public spaces will build community.

Amanda Popken, his partner in the venture, says that projects like Klyde Warren Park accomplish that on a grand scale. But she says smaller projects are important, too.

“You can do a multimillion dollar infrastructure investment,” she says. “And that’s kinda what they’ve done at Klyde Warren Park – which is really great. But you can’t always wait for that next bond program or for the organization to raise the next million dollars. So we’re kinda focused on the light, cheap, fast.”

Light, cheap and fast describes the Circus Freaks experience. Wander by, and you might be dodging juggling pins.

SHAREK: “When I tell you to – and not before – I need you to run forward while screaming at the top of your lungs! OK?”

VOLUNTEERS: “OK!”

SHAREK: “Ready. Set. Run!”

VOLUNTEERS: “AAAGGGHHH!”

CROWD: “YAY!”