IMPORTANT NOTE: some of the performer’s info has been changed to protect their identity. As “producers” we have a much louder voice than he does, and we therefore have more power, so it’s not fair for us to name them while giving our side of the story – they won’t be able to as effectively give theirs.

Stopping their hat was probably a very stupid thing to do, but we weren’t sure how to handle the below situation, and still aren’t. So, I’m going to explain everything that happened, and we’re asking for performers to let us know how they think we should handle this kind of situation.

In March 2018 we organised a 2-day buskerfest: Boroló, Festival de Arte Callejero in Bogotá, Colombia. It was our first festival in Colombia, and it went pretty well… apart from one incident with a performer. Here’s that incident in full.

(All photos here are from our festival, but none of the photographed performers are talked about below)

Head counts of our two best audiences (350 and 380 people shown here)

The Festival

The shows were 45-minutes long, with a 10-minute gap between them. Those 10 minutes were supposed to help clear the crowd between shows, and give the next performer time to set up.

We were paying the performers more or less the same amount as they’d expect to earn here in a good hat. It wasn’t much, but they could also hat their audiences.

No busking is allowed in the park where we held the festival. We had to pay permission to get two pitches in the park opened to busking (i.e. opening it up to free, public, outdoor shows where the performers can hat the crowd).

The Rules

We sent a 3-page guide to all the performers, which stated that if they went 10 minutes past the end of their allotted 45 minutes, they’d be stopped from doing their second show (and therefore wouldn’t be paid for their 2nd show). This incident happened during the performer’s last show, so in effect there would be no punishment for going over by 10 minutes. We didn’t say anything in the guide about stopping their shows, other than for emergencies.

During the shows, we had one staff “volunteer” on each pitch (not to be confused with a volunteer member of the audience). The volunteer would display signs showing 30 minutes, 15 minutes and 5 minutes remaining, then “Time” when their time was up. Those signs were intended as much to keep the festival running smoothly as it was to help the performers time their shows, so they had enough time to hat at the end.

Carlos Cuate
Carlos Cuate

Before the Incident

We were ecstatic. It was beautiful to see our two pitches full of people of all ages and backgrounds enjoying free art, and to see just how talented the Colombian performers are. I was guilty of not expecting the Colombian performers to be as good at structuring their shows as the international performers I know, and it was brilliant to find out that I was mistaken.

Unfortunately, Day 1 ended with rain, so about half the performers didn’t get to do a show. We told them we’d pay them for the show anyway, and if they wanted they could also do a show the next day, earlier on in the day, so that they’d get to do two shows the next day.

The performer we would come to have a problem with said he’d like to do two shows on Day 2. We gave him a time in the morning, which he agreed to.

An hour before his morning show, he messaged us, saying “I forgot I had to do something, but I’m giving you an hour’s notice that I won’t be there, so you can use the pitch.” We didn’t have a performer ready to use the slot he missed, so it was left empty for a while.

Danny Perez
Danny Perez

The show play-by-play

The performer arrived at the festival and, having missed his first slot, got ready to do his second show of the day.

The previous show stopped 5 minutes early. So, we asked the performer if he’d like to start setting up 5 minutes earlier, and told him we’d start the clock at the normal time. In other words, he’d get 5 minutes extra on pitch at the beginning of his show. He had a lot of props, so after setting up for 15 minutes he ended up starting performing more-or-less on time.

Our pitch volunteer told the performer that she was starting the 45 minute countdown. “No.” The performer replied. Our volunteer said “I have to, it’s in the schedule, I’m starting the clock.”

The volunteer then showed the performer the 30 minutes remaining sign, the 15 minute sign, the 5 minute sign, and finally the “Time” sign, all of which the performer seemed to be intentionally ignoring (no other performer had failed to acknowledge the signs).

The volunteer decided to go towards the front of the crowd with the “Time” sign, so that the performer couldn’t avoid seeing it. He told the volunteer to “chill out” in a derogatory way. And that’s when he STARTED his escape act (he had three different parts to his show, and an escape jacket was the final part).

After 5 minutes passed his deadline, we showed the red card. By that point, the performer was getting someone from the audience to chase him around. He was not in any rush. After 10 minutes passed, we showed him in many ways (hand signals from several people, waving the red card vigorously etc) that it really was time to wrap up his show and stop.

He said to his audience “They’re trying to be punctual in a country that isn’t punctual”. To us, that showed he knew he was late. Also, he was wrong – none of the other performers on either day had run over time, so he wasn’t giving his country enough credit.

Finally, after 15 minutes had passed and the next performer was getting nervous about having his show cut short, we’d had enough, and turned off his mic. He said “turn me back on” to the sound guy, so he did, but we began clearing up his pitch around him. This was in the middle of his hat line. But, with his mic back on, he continued hatting.

Then Lily, the festival director (and the founder of our foundation in Colombia) stood in front of him, asking him to move off the pitch, while he was still hatting. The performer finally stopped ignoring us, and said to Lily, “don’t do this in front of my crowd”, to which the director replied, “we’ve shown you many signs and you’ve been ignoring them, so I’m coming up to tell you to stop”. This was a desperate move!

It took three staff members another four minutes to clean his significant amount of equipment off the pitch – he had a tent, inflatable chair, giant umbrella, suitcases, props etc. All-in-all, he was late by 19 minutes. But he was on pitch for 79 minutes total – 15 minutes setting up time, a 45 minute show, plus 19 minutes at the end.

Okay. By now, you should already have an idea over whether or not we acted fairly, or what you would do differently. That’s what we’d like to know. The rest of this story (below) is beside the point.

The team and our “time” card at the end of the fest

[I’d like to add here that we weren’t getting anything in return for doing this festival. We personally paid the park, the licence to play music, we organised unpaid volunteers that were managing the pitches, and we promoted the festival and got the media coverage to make sure there was going to be an audience. Every other performer had been nice. This performer’s blatant disrespect for our rules and our volunteers made us angry – probably because we’d been so over-worked in the run up to the festival as well. But, there you go, that’s emotions.]

After the show

After the show, he came to speak to different people from the team, saying he’d made 1/10 of what he’d normally make in a hat, and asking for an apology. However, he continued to be disrespectful to the festival, to our staff and specifically to the women on our team. He said things like “I was too busy to pay attention to the volunteer”, “This isn’t the Edinburgh Fringe”, “This isn’t London”, and “Could you make the girls in your team understand that? You know what women are like”.

We explained that although he might not be giving the festival or this country much respect, the other Colombian performers had abided by the time rules, and that we were trying to have the same professionalism here as you’d see anywhere else.

Our festival director, Lily, told him that we wouldn’t apologise, because of his rudeness. He still hasn’t gotten an apology. That’s not to say we don’t feel bad – we’ve talked about this incident a lot, every day this week, and are still discussing how we should have acted (thus this post).

Perhaps if he’d said, in a friendly way, “Sorry, can I just finish this bit”, or had shown any signs of speeding up the act in order to fit it in the time, maybe things would have ended differently.

Yes, there’s some guilt on our side and lots of sadness. And we have decided that we are going to update the performer guide to include language stating that “performers may be stopped during their show if they’re more than 10 minutes late“.

But, what would you have done in our situation?