Send in the clowns, mimes and break dancers


By Jefferson Siegel

Seaport holds annual auditions for street performers

Another sure sign of summer arrived last Tuesday when an open casting call for summer street performers was held at the South Street Seaport.

“My act is a combination of clowning, miming and statue,” said Dennis Krasnov, speaking in his “CityRobot” costume. Printed circuit boards hung from his gold-hued jumpsuit as he held a sound effects controller.

Krasnov was a hit with the crowd and a panel of judges at the audition, held outdoors in the plaza alongside the ships at anchor. Seaport visitors, tourists and lunch-time strollers gathered to watch Krasnov’s robotic movements, synchronized with electronic aural effects set to a hip-hop beat. Standing on a gold pedestal, his painted red face partly hidden behind sunglasses and a slinky circling his head, “CityRobot” was one example of the eclectic offerings that will entertain Seaport visitors this summer.

Joan Cooney, coordinator of the street performing program for 18 years, greeted arriving performers like friends. “We audition every year because we like to keep the talent fresh,” she said as an Elvis Presley singer tuned-up nearby, “we look at appearance. It’s very family-oriented. We like it to be fun, [and to create] a nice rapport with the audience, especially kids.”

Audience interaction was evident in several of the three to five minute auditions.The three-man “Stunt-kateers” danced through the air with the greatest of one-liners, at one point inviting several children in the audience to stand in a row before one member took a running tumble over their heads.

Brian Richardson, a street performer for 12 years, performed like the figure in a tabletop ‘music box,’ slowly turning to the tinkling of music while conducting his own movements with a baton.

Elvis was also in the house, or rather, on the pier, as interpreted by Raymond Sitar, 63, a tax law attorney from New Hampshire. Sitar channeled The King’s songs “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Love Me” including the requisite hip-shaking and finger-thrusting. “This actually is what Elvis would look like if he were still alive,” Sitar opined. Like a true artiste, Sitar focuses on one period of Elvis’ oeuvre. “I like to do the early Elvis songs. I think those songs project the energy that made him such a talent,” Sitar said.

Like other entertainers at the audition, Sitar can keep his day job since the street performers are assigned specific time slots to entertain the crowds. There are five performance slots, in addition to ballonists, face painters, jugglers and other roaming troubadors. This means at any one time, visitors will be entertained by up to10 different performers.

The crowd, lured by the talent on display, grew as the auditions progressed. Master of Ceremonies ‘Magic Brian’ kept the proceedings moving smoothly, filling in time between acts with magic tricks and some Catskills-themed humor. “Do you like magic?” he asked a pack of youngsters sitting in the front. “Well, I’ll fix that,” he added, eliciting groans of laughter from parents standing further behind.

A definite crowd pleaser was Yogi Laser, a contortionist who twisted, folded and otherwise wrapped various appendages in ways a normal body can’t. At one point he mounted two poles and somehow twisted his legs behind and around his back. Descending from the perch, he then folded in on himself as he packed his body into a small, clear plastic cube.

Among the crowds of tourists, New Yorker Rachel Fox was clearly enjoying the show. “I liked the mime, he’s clever and funny,” she observed of one act. “I came here and saw this and it gave me the idea to come back,” she added. That’s the reaction Cooney likes to hear.

“They love the street performances, “Cooney said of her experiences with Seaport visitors, “I think they add so much to the property. You hear music, jokes, jugglers. The kids are enthralled.” The kids, and everyone else, were enthralled by the John Rich dancers. Their break dancing-themed gyrations brought cheers each time another gymnastic jump or spin was executed.

The afternoon’s performers gave it their all because, if selected, they will be working hard for the money. Daily tips can total upwards of $200 a day. And with an estimated 10 million visitors annually, these talents will reach a sizeable audience.

The Seaport has provided outdoor entertainment for most of the 20 years it has been open. The season runs from late April through December.

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