Venice Beach Boardwalk performers — who use a variety of unique acts to attract the attention of visitors — have mixed emotions about how the recently approved City of Los Angeles boardwalk ordinance will affect their performances.
As visitors to Venice Beach enter the boardwalk, they will more than likely pass by a few of the seasoned performers who aim to grab their attention for a donation.
William Lee Turner, whose stage name is “Solomon” and a performer known as “Shabba, The Robot Man,” are both seasoned performers who have two of the most popular shows on the west side of the boardwalk.
The two performers have very different ways of creating an audience, but they have similar views in their opposition to the monthly lottery system for designated spaces under the new boardwalk ordinance.
Turner — whose show consists of standing on a small ladder while moving with snakes and who has been a boardwalk performer for 14 years — said the lottery system will be an obstacle for people who want to perform.
“I feel it will block artists from all over the world,” Turner said. “Because you have to wait a month, it’ll block the natural flow.”
Nearly all of the west side performers get along, he said. Some people in the area may complain about the noise from the boardwalk, but the performers should have the right to express themselves, he said.
“Can’t the artists make a little bit of noise?” he asked. “They’re trying to take the spirit out of Venice.”
Turner said he doesn’t mind the lifetime permit charge of $25, but he doesn’t agree with the rules that apply, including spaces being assigned by a lottery system.
Shabba, a boardwalk show performer of 12 years, attracts his viewers by flexing his oiled, well-toned muscles while wearing a pair of angel wings. He said he is also against the lottery system because of its effect on the performers.
“I feel it’s absolutely unfair and insensitive,” he said. “The free-speech performers created Venice to where it’s the second largest tourist attraction in Southern California, and I believe without them Venice Beach would die.”
Visitors come to Venice Beach not just to eat, but also for its individuality, he said. While the lottery system is not the answer, there does need to be some kind of space control on the boardwalk, he said.
“We need some sort of regulation here, because with no regulation someone can take as much space as they want,” he said.
The boardwalk performers don’t break the bank with their shows, but their acts are a way to express themselves and offer something to others, Turner said.
“We don’t make that much money,” he said. “It’s just an expression of something creative, and we’re giving back to the world.”
“The little children refer to me as ‘angel man’,” Shabba said. “It’s beautiful. I love to spread that kind of love.”
Tony Vera, a 17-year performer who is also known as “Fire Man,” is one of the boardwalk performers who uses music for a larger-scale show.
Vera’s performance draws bigger crowds during the 30-minute act, in which he performs various stunts.
He rotates use of a space with Perry Hernandez, another performer of 21 years known as “The Prime Minister of Limbo.” Vera and Hernandez have actual performances, where Turner and Shabba are more like “side shows,” he said.
The lottery system is not really needed because there are not many performers with shows of their size, Vera said. When Vera first arrived in Venice, there were more performers, he said.
“In the ’80s there was a great line of performers, but now we don’t have that many,” he said. “When I came there were 20 to 30 real good acts.”
While Vera said the lottery system is not needed with only about five acts with good-sized crowds, he is unsure of how it will affect the boardwalk scene.
“I love it out here and I hope it doesn’t ruin it,” he said. “Maybe it’ll help us. I support it if it doesn’t ruin the flavor of the beach.”