For 30 years the Bread & Circus World Buskers Festival has added a melting pot of international creative flair to central Christchurch’s summer celebrations. Festival performer ‘Piano Man’ Trevor Jones talks to express about the Bread & Circus’ internationally renowned reputation and how it gives nomad buskers a chance to find their chosen family.
Since 1993, the World Buskers Festival has provided Cantabrians and visitors to Christchurch the chance to feast on a buffet of uniquely talented street performers whose skills range from cabaret to circus to stand-up comedy. Many combine all three. Shows range from free family-friendly to ticketed R18 attractions, performed at busking pitches across the city, including at The Green at Te Pae, Scott Statue Park, and The Bridge of Remembrance.
Held, this year, from 13 to 29 January, the festival’s highlights included: juggling Argentinian identical brothers, The Twin’s Trip, saucy Australian magic show The Purple Rabbit, where ‘sexual psychologist’ Harper Jones, gets an audience member to guess what colour her butt plug before removing from her bottom in a dramatic reveaL; and unicycle-riding, chainsaw juggling, unicycle rider Space Cowboy.
Over 100,000 people turned up to take in these shows, giving the central city a European-esque energised atmosphere as awed festival goers pile into Christchurch’s packed riverside restaurants.
Musician Trevor Jones first experienced the World Buskers Festival in pre-pandemic 2020. He tells us, “I had heard so much about it before I arrived in Christchurch from performer friends who always raved about it. Being able to see it for the first time was huge – there were so many legends from the international cabaret.”
For Trevor, whose demanding schedule leads him to live a nomad’s existence, the festival provides a grounding chance to connect with other performers and build a chosen family.
“In the next 2 weeks I am performing in Brisbane, Melbourne, Bendigo, Ballarat and on a cruise ship out of Auckland before heading to Adelaide,” he tells us.
“Bread & Circus provides the chance to connect with each other as artists – we are on the road so much of our lives that the families we build are with other performers, so there’s a real sense of family reunion as we all come together – many of us staying in the same accommodation. We learn from each other and share ideas with each other, in a way that isn’t possible outside of a festival like this.”
In 2021, clips of Bread & Circus went viral around the world. With border closures and Aotearoa’s Covid-free status, it was the only festival taking place in the world at the time. Trevor was tasked to create the New Regent Street Spectacular, a site-specific concert that combined: opera singers, a live band, a local choir, circus, jugglers, drag, and one of Christchurch’s famous trams!
“I was determined to focus on things specific to Christchurch. The architecture of New Regent St is iconic, so to be given free rein by the brilliant tenants of the street to use so many different elements of the street, including the balconies, was brilliant. I love the element of surprise in the show. The audience is often people having dinner or just exploring, so they don’t expect this high energy, joyous happening to emerge around them. I love watching their faces as they realise there are opera singers up on the balconies or that a band and some jugglers are arriving in the street playing banjo and accordion on the back of four-person bikes! There is so much joy and connection that when they are all encouraged to sing along it actually becomes incredibly moving… That’s what a 20-minute celebration of Split Enz’s music does!”
2022’s performance, again helmed by Trevor, enhanced the narrative of the performance by telling the romantic tale of an introverted man who adores his extrovert girlfriend but runs from their love, before returning as his authentic self (a drag queen) and is able to freely express his passion for her.
“It is completely unique,” says Trevor with a smile. “The way the people of Christchurch and beyond come out in droves with cash to put in the hats (of buskers) is so brilliant.”
For Trevor who has performed all over the world that uniqueness gives Christchurch a magic touch that he has yet to feel elsewhere.
“This festival brings Christchurch alive to celebrate the extraordinary feats of people that have learned to do the seemingly impossible to bring joy to an audience. It connects the artists and the people of Christchurch in a way that is unique around the world.”