Kane, Nina R. (2014) Loitering / Busking Bodies / Subversive Singing: Why Street-Theatre is Essential to Our Cities. In: Performance, Place, Possibility: Performance in Contemporary Urban Contexts, 4th April 2014, University of Leeds. (Unpublished)

The paper draws on the speaker’s 25-year history of busking in UK city centres, and notes the increasing importance of playful loitering in the urban space. It notes the changing attitudes of the general public to costumed performance in the city in recent years and considers the role of leisure technology, CCTV and the roving nature of street-policing in influencing public response to live urban performance. It suggests that singing– particularly acapella singing – brings a necessary breath to the streets and is essential to maintain. The paper further argues that costumed performance in the current climate effects a disruptive and transgressive intervention that troubles the British public with an uneasy nostalgia. It considers whether buskers increasingly provoke 'unheimlich' conditions with song, and asks how performers can adapt to changing social and legal conditions that render the simple act of public singing ghostly, subversive and queer. The paper reflects on the history of street-singing in the UK, suggesting that it has always enjoyed an ambivalent relationship to commerce, and brought mixed responses from the public and from city authorities. It considers the recent imposition of £1,000 fines by Camden Council, London on buskers performing without a license. It asks what cultural or economic values street-singers represent and whether these values are increasingly in tune or at odds with the British public’s perception of normalcy, performance and the function of city spaces. Noting Michel de Certeau’s ideas on space, the paper asks whether buskers effect a necessary delinquency to the ‘practiced place’ of the street, and how the singing, busking, performative body can resist marginalisation and ‘inscribe itself into the interstices of the codes’ of the urban space it both ‘undoes and displaces’.


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