Erik Stephany

Erik Stephany

Buskers to draw downtown crowds

Busker Erik Stephany could hardly wait to bring his magic act to the streets of downtown Chilliwack.

Busker Erik Stephany could hardly wait to bring his magic act to the streets of downtown Chilliwack.

Dressed in a lab coat, over-sized sun glasses and a bike helmet, he was doing his thing yesterday as Dr. Smarticals, a “magically entertaining” character he created.

“Has anyone seen my invisible dog?” he mugged for the wide-eyed crowd of kids gathered at Salish Park.

Several were mesmerized by his schtick, and dropped coins into the black hat at the end of the show.

The 16-year-old performer is one of only three acts that applied this spring to be part of the city’s brand-new 2011 street entertainment program.

The pilot program for buskers was approved by Chilliwack council in April and runs until October.

Street performers pay $40 for a seasonal permit that allows them to perform in four-hour shifts at one of the three locations: Salish Park, Central Community Park and under the Clock Tower at Five Corners.

Stephany is trying to earn enough money through busking this summer to take him to the Canada’s Got Talent auditions in Vancouver on Sept. 19-20.

“It’s been really fun so far,” he explained.

He heads out to Salish Park most mornings for 10 a.m. and then hits Central Community Park in the afternoon.

“It gives me a chance to perfect my routines, and watch people’s reactions,” said Stephany.

Rather than sitting around and waiting to be booked for birthday parties, he figured he could get a busking permit, go out and greet his audiences on the streets. He’s been plucking items out of midair with some sleight of hand ever since.

But getting enough foot traffic is the key to really making it.

“In big cities, it’s the tourists you want to attract since it means a fresh crowd every time. But in Chilliwack we hardly have any tourists, and they’re not found in just one location.”

So how are his audience driven revenues going?

“It’s going pretty well. I’m not making as much as I originally thought I would. But when people see my show, they often throw a handful of change or a bill in.”

It’s been like a good testing ground for the teenage performer.

“I’ve seen how some magicians make their living in places like Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa, by performing in the street,” he said. “There were some amazing performers doing it.

“I decided I wanted to get out there myself and perform for the community of Chilliwack.”