That. The district of Westminster has been trying to regulate open-air shows next to the iconic London market since 2021.

Who is it. The Covent Garden Street Performers Association (SPA) has rebelled against the restrictions and prefers to regulate itself.

Because. Magicians, jugglers, mimes and singers have been performing for four centuries in the ‘open-air circus’ next to the West End and have made it a major attraction in London.

In 1662, the popular Samuel Pepys, the greatest chronicler of daily life in London during the English Restoration, already reported on the first puppet show in Covent Garden. For four centuries, the spaces surrounding the popular market have been something of a popular alternative to the West End, the oldest open-air circus in the world.

Sword swallowers, fire breathers, jugglers, unicycle tightrope walkers, mimes, magicians, street singers and aspiring sopranos have been displaying their best arts for time immemorial and captivating hundreds of tourists every day of the year in exchange for the applause and voluntary donations from young and old (micropayments with cards are accepted).

“Don’t let the show stop!” is the slogan with which a hundred artists gathered together in the Covent Garden Street Performers Association (SPA), which ensures the freedom of artists and guarantees a minimum of self-regulation so as not to interfere with businesses and provide security to the diverse public.

After the pandemic stopped, artists took to the streets again with renewed enthusiasm, but suddenly they ran into the wall of the Westminster district and were in the position of requesting and paying for licenses and adhering to very strict rules to be able to perform. .

Among others, the prohibition of setting up stages of more than five square meters, a space far exceeded by almost everyone. Or the limitations on the use of amplifiers, which would leave singers without a microphone. Or a list of dangerous objects that very directly affects the performances of magicians and jugglers.

Given the complaints from the artists and the lack of action by the police, the district called the parties to a meeting on December 4 to find a meeting point and in any case introduce “small changes.” The meetings will continue in 2024: the artists will be able to get at least as much juice as possible from Christmas in Covent Garden.

“I’ve been juggling knives for 15 years and I’ve never had an accident,” emphasizes Australian Richard Filby, one of the most notable voices against the municipal offensive. “What they are asking of us is a total disregard for our professionalism. There has never been a complaint that I know of from the public towards what I do.”

The climax of Filby’s performance comes when he throws three sabers into the air while maintaining an impossible balance on a makeshift tower of boards and pipes. The audience cheers the performance and keeps a safe distance. Despite instructions from Westminster, Filby assures that the police have left him alone with his knives for the moment: “They have enough work with criminals.”

Not far away, the Polish Daniel the Magician instantly makes any object that falls into his hands disappear, be it balls or wallets. Daniel has been in Covent Garden for more than seven years and assures that the only problems have been created by “singers with a municipal license who set up shop with all their sound equipment.”

Sammie Jay is precisely a street singer, but she swears and perjures that she has never had a mishap in the eight years she has been playing outdoors or indoors at the market when it rains or is too cold: “We are like an extended family of artists: we We are enough to feed our dreams and take care of each other.

“The best thing is to continue operating as we have always done,” concludes Gabriel, the mime. “People want authenticity, and that’s what we give them. If we start with restrictions, they will end up clipping our wings.”