Kate Mior joins the more than 100 artists at BuskerFest this weekend.
BUSKERFEST from today (Thursday, August 25) to Sunday (August 28), at various times. In the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood (Front between Church and Jarvis). Pwyc. torontobuskerfest.com. See listing.
Kate Mior has performed her mime-based living statue act for thousands of people all over the world, but she'll never forget her encounter with Rob Ford.
Last year in Toronto, then-candidate Ford pushed through a crowd she was entertaining and then joked to everyone that she doesn't pay her taxes.
"There is a certain stigma against street performers," she acknowledges, "but in Toronto that's changing."
Mior appears in character as part of BuskerFest, a three-day celebration of street performance. Over 100 artists from 14 countries - including Yoshi, an acrobatic juggler from Japan, and the Space Cowboy, a sword swallower from Australia - take over the area around the St. Lawrence Market to raise money for Epilepsy Toronto.
Started 11 summers ago, BuskerFest has entertained millions of revellers, but it's also served as a way for buskers to demonstrate that their sometimes marginalized craft is a legitimate form of art and employment.
Some people see street performers as a nuisance, or as charity cases unwilling to find other work. In Mior's case, this couldn't be further from the truth.
"I can't even remember how many countries I've toured through," she says, noting that she's performed on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
Her international tours, big-name corporate clients, slick website and blog are proof that people like Ford have the wrong idea. She makes enough to live off her passion, and yes, she pays her taxes.
Mior got into busking nearly a decade ago while studying film at Ryerson, then spent years developing her unique movement techniques both out on the street and under the tutelage of corporeal mime master Dr. Giuseppe Condello. Her array of elaborate characters - Mary Antoinette, a stone angel, a traditional mime, a living portrait and her newest creation, a wind-up doll - each required months of hard work to create.
"I like to let the characters explore themselves," she says of her creative process. "With Coppelia, the wind-up doll, I'll be experimenting at BuskerFest. Will I be a robot on the fritz? Or a mechanical Stepford Wife performing tasks for people? Or a wind-up ballerina? I'll see what gets the best audience reaction and build on that."
When she's not on the road ("I performed in Singapore three times last year!"), you can find Mior wowing crowds at Yonge-Dundas Square or Harbourfront.
Despite those like our current mayor who make assumptions about street performers based on where and how they choose to earn a living, things have been improving for buskers in Toronto.
Mior credits legendary Toronto veterans Peter Jarvis (aka Silver Elvis) and Dave Johnston (aka Chalkmaster Dave) with shaping the city's licensing system and for fostering an important sense of community among buskers. In 2009, the Canada Council for the Arts officially recognized "contemporary circus art," a category many street performers fall under, as fit for funding.
"We're recontextualizing street performance," she says.