In 1929 the Perry Bros Circus and Zoo arrived in NZ and toured the country by train. In Wellington they set up camp at the top of Cuba St. Imagine that elephants and tigers in the CBD!
The animals were kept in line by Captain Wizard the wild animal trainer and performing artists with fabulous names and entertainment options that drew in the local crowds. The Flying Dunbars, the Jingling Jumpers, Miss La La Selbinie the contortionists, Mulldoon & Freddie the clowns, Henry Arco Troupe with their balancing act, Miss Doreen the trapeze artist, Alva Zalva and Alva did somersaults and Ridiculous Gordon made the crowds laugh as he was a cycling comedian.
It almost reads like a programme for performers who entertain in the street today, though today the options are numerous and have split out into specialist areas and venues. Magenta Diamond the burlesque and circus performer has performed at Mighty Mighty, Comedians can be found at the San Francisco Bath House and the Fringe Bar. There is of course the man with the circus top hat who entertains with card tricks in the mall, as well as the acrobats who grab the crowd with audience participation. The music scene is another huge entertainment sector in Cuba St (another blog)
It’s great that today Cuba St still has acrobats and performing artists entertaining the locals and visitors to this creative quarter of Wellington. During summer we are lucky to have artists who use the mall as an open air stage. Though it seems these performers have to really sing for their supper. They offer the gathered crowds entertainment and ask at the conclusion to the show for people to put some coins into their hats. I have seen the majority of these crowds not even drop a 50 cent coin. I suspect that in 1929 people had to hand over the money to the Perry Bros circus before you could see the entertainment on offer. But times change and what worked as a business model yesterday does not necessarily work today.
I am really looking forward to the International Festival opening this weekend, and of course the Fringe is happening right now. Thankfully a few free activities are on offer, I am sure they will be enjoyed by many . If you watch someone on the street performing think of the coins you toss into their hat as support for a self-employed artist but only the price of a coffee.
I hope that Cuba St in 20 years’ time still has a place where performers can entertain out in the open and that the changes that we will see in the street over the next 20 years are planned enough to incorporate some spaces for obscure entertainment indoors and out.
Post script; re the elephants, I have been thinking that they have metaphorically migrated down to the bottom of Cuba St and are now residing in the council chamber. The elephants are starting to apply some pressure and will come out from hiding for discussion this could be one of the most important issues that the council and the city will need to deal with, earthquake prone buildings.
Below ref Turnbull library for the 1929 posters
J J Miller Printing Company. Perry Bros’ huge circus & zoo. Coming by special steamer for a short season, commencing Fri[day] Feb[ruary] 1st . J J Miller Ptg Co Pty Ltd, Melb[ourne. Printed 1928 or earlier].. Ref: Eph-E-CABOT-Circus-Perry-1928-02. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/23204323
Cabot, Charles Henry, 1890-1978Cabot, Beatrice, fl 1912-1978J J Miller Printing Company. Perry Bros new circus and zoo; a revelation in the amusement world! Coming by special steamer for a short season, commencing Fri[day] Feb[ruary] 1st . 1928 season. J J Miller Ptg Co Pty Ltd, Melb[ourne].. Ref: Eph-E-CABOT-Circus-Perry-1928-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22727649