‘That was a troublesome present’: Avenue performer escapes tough scenario in Saskatoon

Stand-up comedians, musicians and actors are used to being heckled, but the disruption faced by a street performer Monday afternoon in Saskatoon was rare.

“That was a difficult show. I was quite shocked,” escape artist Tianna the Traveler said in an interview after her show.

Tianna had just begun her performance on Broadway Avenue when the trouble began. The crowd of several dozen people was standing just outside the circular rope border on Broadway Avenue when a seemingly intoxicated middle-aged man staggered inside.

The Edmonton-based performer tried to ignore him. This proved impossible when he walked to the center of the stage as she was about to crack a long whip. Tianna also appeared to be protective of the young female audience volunteer next to her.

I escaped cable ties, straps, ropes, chains and pulled off this show despite the drunk locals.– Tianna the Traveler

Tianna gently held the man’s hand and encouraged him to take a bow. She tried to lead him off stage but he wouldn’t let go of her hand. He tried to slow dance with her. She was eventually able to walk him out and sat him in a chair.

He returned with the chair and sat down in the center of the ring, scowling at her.

This pattern continued several more times as he’d return to try to hug or touch her. After roughly 15 minutes, she called for two other street performer friends to help. They talked the man into leaving with them.

An official with the Nutrien Fringe Festival said they try their best to keep performers and audience members safe, and they’ll be reviewing security measures following the incident.

An audience volunteer winds straps, chains and other bindings around escape artist Tianna the Traveler in Saskatoon Monday. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Despite the disruption, the show went on. Just after the finale—escaping from a binding of industrial strength ties and locks—​Tianna had a message for the audience.

“I’ve met people for all over the world and I’ve learned things from all of them,” she said. “I escaped cable ties, straps, ropes, chains and pulled off this show despite the drunk locals.”

The appreciative crowd rushed forward to thank her and put money in her collection bag.

Fringe communications manager Sara-Jane Keith said there’s a new organizational team in place this year. She said private security and police teams are present, but not at all times.

She said they’re aware of the incident at Tianna’s show and are “learning to deal with these challenges.”

It’s vital to keep performers and the audience safe, she said. It’s also important to get help for those with addictions or mental health issues.

“This is a bigger, broader issue,” Keith said.

Dealing with disruption

In an interview after the show, Tianna said a small minority of spectators can be rude or disrespectful, but it’s extremely rare for anyone to step over the rope line.

It’s almost unheard of for anyone to do it repeatedly.

She said these situations require quick thinking and empathy. She also doesn’t want to stop her show because it’s how she earns a living.

“I wanted to be gentle with him. I wanted to respect him, but to keep everyone safe and still move the show forward,” she said.

“I think it’s important to de-escalate the situation.”

As a solo female street performer, she’s heard every possible sexist remark. She said she works hard to build a rapport early with her audience, so they can help her if things get malicious or dangerous.

For example, one man in London, England, walked up from behind and grabbed her buttocks as the show ended.

“I told him, ‘I am a street performer, not a street worker. If you enjoyed the show, put your money in the hat.’ And I stared at him until he put money in. The whole audience clapped and cheered for me. Then I said ‘Now get off my stage.’ And he did.”

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