As the summer tourist season begins to peak on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, some longtime street performers say they are frustrated over ongoing problems with the allocation of performance spaces on the west side of Ocean Front Walk.
Under a city ordinance that took effect last year, spaces are allocated in a weekly lottery.
Street performers have been a fixture of Ocean Front Walk for decades but some say they are now struggling to get adequate performance spaces to accommodate their large-scale shows.
A main problem, they claim, is that the larger 20-by-eight-foot performance spaces they need for their shows are being taken by some Boardwalk permit holders who don’t draw large enough crowds or shouldn’t be considered “performers.”
Tony Vera, a performer who has been on the Boardwalk for 19 years, said there are about ten longtime street performers who regularly draw an average crowd of 25 spectators or more during their various shows.
In order to safely accommodate their respective shows and crowds, the performers say they need a space of at least 20 feet.
Of the 36 Boardwalk performance spaces available in the weekly lottery every Tuesday, only ten are of the larger 20-by-eight-foot size, according to the city Department of Recreation and Parks.
But Vera said that when the larger spaces are taken by beach space permit holders with “smaller acts,” the street performers with “larger acts” are either forced to do their shows in a smaller space or not at all.
“We feel like we’re being kicked out of the Boardwalk,” said Vera, who added that he hasn’t been issued a large space in the lottery in four weeks.
“A lot of shows can’t work right now. At this point it’s a scary situation.”
The street performers claim that a main factor contributing to the problem with spaces is the definition of “performer.”
The performers have supported a petition created by Robert Haskin, city Department of Recreation and Parks recreation director at Venice Beach, to try and resolve the situation with performance spaces.
Tim Eric, a longtime escape artist performer, said a main problem during the weekly lottery is that some permit holders, such as tarot card readers and henna tattoo artists, are taking spaces designated for performers.
“For four weeks I haven’t been able to do a show because other people who aren’t performers are putting their tags in our lottery and taking the big spaces away from performers,” Eric said.
“We end up not getting adequate space.”
A performer known as “Huba Huba” who has been on the Boardwalk for 24 years said he puts on a show every day but the recent problems with performance spaces have become “stressful.”
“I love it here, but we need some more space to work,” he said.
But some other permit holders say they enter the performers’ lottery for the larger spaces because they, too, are performers and need a space to work.
“I’m trying to make a living,” said Margaret Dupre, a Boardwalk tarot card and palm reader who also sings in a band. “I’m a performer. This is an art — it’s a performance.”
Dupre said psychic readers have “as much right as anyone else” to use the large performance spaces and are allowed to enter the lottery for performers.
According to the petition, there is currently a “very broad” definition of “performer,” and that to get in the lottery for performance spaces, people only have to say that they are going to perform.
Haskin said that, the way that the lottery is currently structured, there is no guarantee that the large performance spaces will be offered to “big act” performers.
To help resolve this situation, Haskin has written a petition that proposes defining the “big act” performers as “entertainers.”
The criterion for being considered an “entertainer” would be that the act must draw an average crowd of 25 spectators or more, according to the petition.
Under the petition proposal, Venice Beach recreation officials would choose eight to ten 20-by-eight-foot spaces that would be designated strictly for “entertainers.”
The spaces would be chosen with input from the Los Angeles Police Department, merchants and neighbors.
Ten of the “big act” performers have supported the “entertainers” proposal, saying it would help solve the problem of trying to determine who is a performer and ensure that every person gets a fair chance to perform.
“They need to define us as entertainers,” Vera said. “It’s the only way to do it.”
Haskin said Venice Beach recreation officials plan to present the petition at a meeting of the Venice Beach Free Expression Working Group at 8 a.m. Friday, June 30th, at the Westminster Senior Citizens Center, 1234 Pacific Ave., Venice.
While Vera said he is not sure if he has a spot assigned for the upcoming July 4th weekend, he will continue to do what it takes to keep his show going.
“I’ve got 19 years out here, I can’t quit now,” he said.