Sydney’s Joshua Phillips traces the roots of his street performing career back to his time working in the theatre as a child.
“I came up doing youth community theatre. So, doing plays, and acting… I learned how to juggle and stilt walk and a few other things. Then, I saw some street performers busking in Sydney, Australia, and I thought that was such a cool thing to do,” he shared
“You could do it yourself; you didn’t need a company, you didn’t need anyone else to rehearse [with]. So, some friends [and I] started busking, when I was 21,” Phillips said of his early street performing exploits.
Phillips has been busking for the last 17 years, entertaining audiences around the world with his unique blend of comedy and circus stunts. Like many Australian performers, the artist spent much of his early years honing his skills on the streets of cities like Melbourne and Sydney, which made for challenging work.
“[Australia’s] got a reputation for being tough. Or, you know, judgmental… Audiences are hard to impress. So, when you can crack the Australians, you sort of feel like you can perform anywhere,” noted Phillips. “There’s plenty of buskers in Australia. And there’s not a whole lot of places to do it, unfortunately. Which is a bit weird… there’s not many Australian busking festivals.”
While Phillips found an absence of organized events in his native Australia, his time performing there helped him break into markets like Canada, which is filled with many summer busking and street performing festivals. The entertainer said he enjoys performing in Canada because of the similarities between audiences here and those back home.
“I think Canadians and Australians share a common sense of humour. Whereas, you know, you can tell when something’s very American… it’s just they [have] a different sort of style. The Australian and the Canadian sense of humour [are] very similar. So we get on pretty well.”
This weekend, the performer makes his return to Kingston for the annual Buskers Rendezvous, an event he is quite familiar with. Local audiences will recognize Phillips from his previous appearances at the festival as part of the duo ‘Circus Firemen,’ an act he performs with longtime friend Idris Stanbury. In 2011, the pair took home the festival’s People’s Choice Award.
For this year’s event, however, Phillips is performing a solo act for the very first time, under the nickname Rogan Josh, with a show that features a unique blend of comedy, audience interaction, and traditional circus skills — a fine combination that harkens homage to his spicy stage name. The artist’s grand finale sees him perform a body contortion trick while balancing on a freestanding ladder.
This year’s Rendezvous marks Phillips’ sixth appearance in Kingston. As for why the performer and many others continue to come back year after year, he said, “the crowds really come out and support [the buskers]… The locals really get out and be part of it, which is really lovely…. It just makes you feel really good that people are there to support this sort of thing.”
In terms of what he enjoys most about life as a street performer, Phillips noted the ability to travel and visit new places like Canada. “I love coming back here to Canada… For me it’s like an exotic place… it’s so different and new.”
Juggler Richard Filby is another international entertainer who has made his way to Kingston for the four-day festival. Unlike Philips, this year’s trip marks Filby’s first-ever visit to Canada, as he makes his Kingston Buskers Rendezvous debut. “It’s awesome, really cool,” Filby said of his first week in the country.
Filby, who also hails from Australia but this time by way of London, England, got his start as a circus performer in his late teens, almost by accident. “I left high school and I didn’t really know what I was doing with myself. So, I went up to an island resort and I was just working in the kitchens. Because it was an island, there was nothing to do… My buddy [and I] were just juggling all the time.”
It was Filby’s recreational juggling that got him his first opportunity in professional circus: “A circus owner came to holiday on the island, [and] saw [my friend] juggling… and said ‘we’ll get you on board.’ So he came home, told me about it, and I was like ‘yeah, let’s do it.'”
After travelling with the circus for several years, Filby started street performing to address his mounting credit card debt. “I had a credit card and I wasn’t super responsible with it… I was like ‘I’m 20, [I’m] never gonna pay this off… So I’ll just go do a bit of busking on the weekend.’ I went out and did well, [I] stood on a rolla bolla (balance board) juggling five balls,” he shared.
“I was really encouraged and everyone just seemed to like it, so I just kept going. [It] took me about six months to quit the circus and pursue my own thing,” said the performer.
Filby has spent the last eight years perfecting his craft and building a show that features a blend of comedy and death-defying stunts. While he has developed a finely tuned street show, Filby said he is always looking for ways to keep things fresh: “It’s always in the works, there’s a lot of opportunity in my show for new moments and [improvisation]… I [have] a script, but I can follow it as much or as little as I like.”
Like Phillips, Filby said he has enjoyed the experience in Kingston so far, and noted, “it’s unbelievable… the audience is super nice, the locations are great, the organization is perfect.”
Filby and Phillips are just two of over a dozen artists and entertainers participating in this year’s festival. As is the case with all buskers, the artists earn their living from the money they receive from audience members after the show, so attendees should come prepared with a tip once the buskers “pass the hat.”
The 2022 Kingston Buskers Rendezvous continues through Sunday, Jul. 10, 2022, with performances taking place at various locations throughout the downtown core. Scheduling details and other information can be found on Downtown Kingston’s website.