Garrett Backs Covent Garden Street Busk ProtestDate: 27 March 2008
Opera star Lesley Garrett - who recently made her musical theatre debut in The Sound of Music at the London Palladium - joined an army of singers, jugglers, magicians, unicyclists and string quartets today (27 March 2008) in a “Big Busk”, a one-off combined performance to protest against threatened cuts to live street theatre at London’s world-famous Covent Garden Market.
Fifty performers drew a crowd of several hundred spectators as they sang a medley from Carmen in the piazza of Covent Garden, bordered on the north side by the Royal Opera House, where soprano Garrett (pictured at today’s event, photo by Thomas Bowles) made her Royal Opera debut in a 1997 production of The Merry Widow.
Earlier this month, just days after Mayor Ken Livingstone released a report declaring London to be the world’s cultural leader (See News, 11 Mar 2008), the owners of one of the city’s most famous cultural and tourist attractions announced proposals to cut live music by half. Capco, a subsidiary of global property developers Liberty International, and landlords of Covent Garden Market, told the various street entertainers who regularly perform on the premises that they are to lose 50% of their licensed time slots. Capco says the cuts are necessary because potential new retailers in the shopping mall in Covent Garden are worried about the volume of music and street theatre in the arcade.
While Capco says it has no plans to remove buskers altogether, performers are worried about the long-term impact of the proposed cuts and that they can be imposed at a month’s notice without consultation. Viola player Bertie Anderson explained: “Many of us are highly trained, full-time professionals. Cutting our performance time in half will mean that we’ll have to take on jobs that are less flexible, so we won’t be able to busk anymore. This proposal could kill live performance at the Market.”
Covent Garden attracts 30 million visitors a year, with live performance, which can be traced back to the 17th century here, a major part of the area’s atmosphere. In a recent survey, 66% of respondents stated that would be less likely to visit Covent Garden if there were less entertainment. “Today’s Big Busk shows people what’s at stake,” said Anderson. “We are the little people who make Covent Garden such a big place on the map.”
Paper and online petitions launched by the street performers have attracted over 5,000 signatures globally in less than a fortnight. Capco initially said the new reduced performance schedule would be implemented from 1 April but has granted an extension until mid-April. A meeting between Capco and performers’ representatives is due to take place this Monday, 31 March.
- by Terri Paddock