Sometimes I paint my face, stand on a milk crate, and stand extremely still. And sometimes, quite often actually, people give me money for it. It’s the best paying job I’ve ever had, and I consider that my hazard pay for dealing with rude people in public. There seems to be this cultural stigma against human statues, which I’m sure stems from humankind’s fear of the unknown. As soon as you get up on the milk crate and stop moving, people don’t know how to act towards you.
Most people just walk a wide berth around where I am stood, a nice ten foot radius. Many will slow down and take a look, but will move on. The best people are the ones who dig into their pockets and put some loose change in my suitcase. I give them a smile, and I bow or tip my hat or play a couple of chords on a ukulele. And then back to stillness.
Some people, mostly people in the 13-21 and 30-40 age brackets, seem to be openly hostile. They react with a poke or a push, sometimes even with a kick. I’ve taken a steel scooter to the shins from a 14 year old, been spat on, and had fingers poked in every visible orifice. A friend of mine who I used to statue with, has been groped times beyond counting.
We have 3-strike system. 1st time, you ignore and keep your composure. 2nd time, you silently, and in-character, tell the person off. 3rd time, and you break character to warn them verbally. Fortunately I’ve only given verbal warnings twice, though in hindsight there have been many times when I perhaps should have.
However, the majority of people find human statues amusing if a little creepy. I can’t imagine how many people have photographs of me in their mobiles and on their Facebook walls. The most entertaining people by far are the children. That ten foot exclusion zone narrows down to three for the kids, but most of them are unwilling to cross it. They find me exciting and funny, until they get to that invisible line, 3 feet away, at which point they usually require parental assistance to cross.
Some cry when I move to thank them. It is simultaneously amazing and saddening to see a child cry because of a painted face. But their few dollars are appreciated, and they move on. I remain still, contemplative and meditative in my stationary hours.
There are a few archetypes of reactions to human statues:
- The Frightened Child – who loves the statue but is terrified
- The Fiendish Parent – Who seems to enjoy watching their child struggle against the barrier at the 3-foot exclusion zone
- The Kindly Pensioners – Usually older people who appreciate the effort and work put into the art of human statuing, who have kind words and give the biggest tips
- The Penny Pisser – A person, usually younger, who finds it amusing to stand in front of the statue with a fistful of 5c coins, depositing them one by one. They receive three bows.
- The Photo Tourist – A group, usually Asian tourists, who take photo after photo after photo, and tip very little if at all.
- The Daredevils – who will commit gradually worsening acts of assault to see how far they can get. On a scale of poke to punch, most get bored before the push-you-off-the-milk-crate point.
- The After School Special – A combination of the photo tourist and the daredevil. They’re groups of school kids who take myriad photographs and ‘selfies’, and push their luck as far as they can go. They tip very little.
- The Wonderers – People who are extremely impressed at the human statue, often commenting about the years of zen-like training that surely must be involved to stand so still*
- The Staring Contestant – People who attempt to out-stare the statue. They usually win, because the statue will not break character to point out that the contestant has blinked.
- The Heckler – The person who insists that the human statue should “get a job”. They often pretend to steal the tip case.
*Of course, no such training is involved. The only requirements are a cash receptacle and a lot of patience.
The hecklers are the most troubling to me, because I wish I could break character to tell them that this is my job. That while the Wonderers are incorrect in their assumption, just because I am not trained does not mean that this job is easy. I shan’t write about how difficult it is, because there are far harder jobs that benefit society much more than a man with a painted face stood on a box asking for money. But I think people often under-value art, and its creation. Most workers have an employer and employees and results more tangible than the vicarious enjoyment that people get from street performers.
It’s true that it’s the kind of job that anyone can do. But I think the fact that not every one does it makes it special, and valuable in its own way.
About the author: Joe is a fledgling theatre technician from England, currently residing in sunny Brisbane, Australia. He enjoys the theatre, writing, long walks on the beach, undermining the patriarchy, and standing very still.