Busking pilot scheme kicks off with 80 applications for 12 slots

First weekend of live acts sees between-set sanitising, QR codes for gratuities

Ventriloquist and magician Patrick Wan performing at *Scape yesterday. The 62-year-old said he was excited to be performing for a live audience again after nine months, and that virtual shows cannot compare with real life. The trial busking scheme began on Friday and runs till Dec 19. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

There were 12 slots available in the first weekend of a busking pilot scheme, but over 80 applications, with buskers eager to return to performing for a live crowd.

Ms Koh Jau Chern, assistant director for access and social participation at the National Arts Council (NAC), said there are more than 350 performers on the list of endorsed buskers. Of those, about 90 per cent of them are solo or paired acts, which is a criterion for participating in the trial.

The trial began on Friday and runs till Dec 19. The first weekend's sessions were held at *Scape on Friday and yesterday.

From next weekend, there will also be acts performing at The Central in Clarke Quay.

"We make our best efforts to ensure that every available busking slot is occupied by a different busker," said Ms Koh, speaking to the media at *Scape yesterday.

Buskers will be able to play hour-long sets, inclusive of a 15-minute period of sanitising between each set.

The performers have to wear masks and maintain a safe distance from the audience. They can talk to the audience but cannot physically engage with them.

Spaces have also been marked out in the sitting areas surrounding the stage, so that audience members can maintain their distance, and can hang out in groups of a maximum of five.

The traditional way of dropping cash as gratuities to the performers has been replaced by QR codes which audiences can scan to make contactless transactions.

This digitalisation initiative was a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, said Ms Koh. NAC will also assist buskers to pivot to this e-collection method if they need help.

"For these trials to take place, we have had to ensure that a robust set of safe management measures are in place," said Ms Koh.

"We also ensure that the venue partners are able to actually carry these through. And of course, from the perspective of the buskers, that they are comfortable in presenting their performances and are still able to engage their audiences."

Mr Patrick Wan said that during the down time, he did virtual shows once in a while to keep his skills sharp, but the experience could not compare to performing in real life. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

When asked about the plans for the busking sector moving forward, Ms Koh said NAC will collate feedback from the buskers and venue partners after the trial, and also discuss with the relevant government authorities, before deciding on the next step.

"I think we definitely hope to be able to gradually see the return of live busking on the streets, of course with safe management measures in place," said Ms Koh.

Mr Patrick Wan, 62, a ventriloquist and magician, said he was excited to be performing for a live audience again after nine months.

Mr Wan, who has been busking for more than 30 years, said he has been doing virtual shows once in a while to keep his skills sharp, but the experience cannot compare with live performances.

"You see the interaction, when the audience clapped and they danced - it's just a marvellous experience," he said, after his hour-long set yesterday.

Guitarist Alan Ang Moncayo, 21, said he prefers street busking to virtual shows as it is easier to attract an audience among passers-by than requiring people to search for a performer's live feed.

However, the Nanyang Technological University first-year student, who also performed yesterday, pointed out that buskers' income might be hit, as those who are not tech savvy may not be willing to take the trouble to figure out how to give digitally.

"I think it is more convenient for people to just drop money... into a little basket or whatever you have," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 06, 2020, with the headline Busking pilot scheme kicks off with 80 applications for 12 slots. Subscribe