April Denée’s head is in the editing room, her feet are near Fayetteville (most of the time), and her half-packed bag is all but standing in the front hall of her home, marked “Forward to Texas.” But her heart’s still in the streets of uptown Charlotte.
We wrote about her two Mays ago, when she was shooting a documentary about uptown buskers and organizing Buskapalooza II, a festival of two dozen street performers.
Since 2011, she has married Staff Sgt. Justin Brown, moved with him to Fort Bragg and had a son named Rome, all reasonable excuses for delaying Buskapalooza III by a year.
It’s set to run Friday from 5 to 9 p.m., filling streets around The Square while offices let out and diners and drinkers pick a destination of choice. And “Busk!,” her short film about the people, laws and history of local busking, will get its first screening Sunday at 4 p.m. in McGlohon Theater.
The writer-director will soon move with her new family to El Paso’s Fort Bliss. (Her friends have already prepared a scorpion-catching kit, complete with sticky strips and an LED flashlight to shine among her sofa cushions before sitting down.)
Before she goes, she’ll make this final push in a three-year attempt to educate performers, authorities and audiences about a centuries-old practice.
As her film points out, busking isn’t begging. Performers can’t solicit specific amounts but may accept tips. Though there are rules – for instance, buskers must stay 20 feet from any transit stop, ATM or outdoor dining area – they need no license and may perform in any public space, or on private property with permission. (The film’s website offers a guide to protocol at buskmovie.com/trybusking.)
“Busk!” also introduces us to people we’ve known only as faces or voices, if we hurried by.
Anthony Schrag, who defines himself as an “engagement artist,” notes that “You can’t really stage culture. It has to happen organically.” (In a strange episode, transit cops usher Schrag away from a light rail station for soliciting, even though he is handing out money and not receiving any. He likes to set up an “Advice 5 Cents” booth and pay passers-by in nickels for their input.)
Magician Chris Hannibal, who frequently works at the EpiCentre, says, “There’s money to be made in this city. But for me, it’s still about the art.”
Says Denée, “Chris is an interesting example of the talent we have on the streets. He flies all over the place and just went to Europe for a corporate event. But he’s out there performing for people walking by.
“I’ve found that buskers like to talk; they need to earn money, but they’re not on a stage. They want you to ask questions and interact with them.”
She believes Charlotte conditions have improved over the last couple of years. Center City Partners asked her to round up buskers for a Wells Fargo celebration, a sign they’re held in higher esteem: “Beat cops have started to recognize buskers and realize they mean no harm. They’re an asset.”
Denée also thinks Charlotte is beginning to be considered a stop on the busking circuit that includes Asheville and Columbia. In fact, she says, “Charlotte is better for buskers than New York City right now. New York just passed an ordinance defining them as ‘vendors of expressive media.’ The city is going to place engraved medallions in the sidewalk and require buskers to work near them.”
She’s still figuring out how to get people to see her film. “If the goal was to make money on it, I’d have quit long ago,” she says with a laugh. “I think I must have spent $5,000 on babysitting! But DVDs will be made for (backers), and it’ll have an online presence.”
She’s also aware that she can’t be the busking maven of Mecklenburg County from an army base in Texas, social media notwithstanding. So she’s going west with one large wish.
“Charlotte still deals with busking (under statutes for) begging and panhandling,” she says. “I hope we’ll acknowledge it as an art form, as Columbia has done, and show appreciation of it as an art form.”
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