Street performers are artists, not objects

I am a street performer in downtown Asheville — one of the statues/mimes. I love doing it, but it is not without its challenges. Mostly, I am fortunate enough to not have people disturb me, but I have been groped, fondled, screamed at and had objects thrown at me by adults.

On Friday, Sept. 17, I had an encounter with a gentleman and his young daughter. I have seen them before, and every time they pass, the father encourages his daughter to “touch me” to make me come alive. Children often prod, poke, punch, or pinch me, and I let it slide because they often do not know better. But since this girl has repeatedly touched me at the encouragement of her father, I decided to ask him to please not tell her to do that any more.

I expected an apology and for the incident to blow over. Instead we ended up in a yelling match that involved another bystander (not good conduct for a mime, I admit). The man insisted that if was going to stand on the street, that anyone should be able to touch me however they like. He added that if I didn’t want to be touched inappropriately, I should get “a real job.” The whole incident disturbed me as a woman, because the message these men were giving their children is that it’s OK to do whatever they like to others, and especially to entertainers or people in costume because they aren’t “real.” I was called a fraud and a scam artist, and accused of destroying the magic that his child believed in.

I would like to respond that no one has a right to my body, and it is not my responsibility to create a fantasy world for anybody at the risk of my own safety and comfort. I know that I take a risk posing as an inanimate object, because people will treat objects like objects. But I am not an object. I am a human being.

Women are not dolls that can be touched, and when you harass me in public, it sets a bad example for everyone else around us, especially the children. I am referring to the adult males that repeatedly think it’s OK to make physical contact with me. Even small gestures can be very unsettling. I’m not asking for a miracle, but it would be nice if we all worked together to make our streets safe for everyone, especially women and children.

Please parents, teach your children respect for others, even if they don’t look “normal.” And for the sake of all of the street performers in Asheville, keep in mind that we are very aware of our surroundings and will not tolerate behavior that infringes on our rights as human beings. For the rest of you lovely people, thank you so much for making my life a brighter, more magical place.

— Bullet Miller

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17 thoughts on “Street performers are artists, not objects

  1. the zoob

    As a robot statue, I had kids come up and beat on the fragile foam panels of my costume while their lame parents watched with loving eyes. I told the kids repeatedly not to beat on the panels. When I asked them to leave, the parents got mad at ME! Ha ha! Of course, I no longer perform this act because of goofy parent’s refusal to discipline their bratty kids. Too bad kids! You’ll never get to see my act!

  2. Cheshire

    That just blows my mind that people that look like adults would be so…wow…that just blows my mind. I’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere of the living statues and other performance artists downtown, but I had no idea the crap they put up with.

    You and others like you add a touch of magic to my meanderings around Asheville. If I ever witness such displays as mentioned, I won’t be one to stand by idly.

  3. UnaffiliatedVoter

    you asked him ‘not to tell her to do that anymore?’ huh?

    we love the mimes too, but how bout a costume change?

  4. msholin

    That is so disturbing! In Miami one of my friends was SILVER MAN and performed in Bayside all the time. I saw things similiar to this happen and I know how hard he worked on his “character” to build is with his modeling career.
    Parents should be teaching their children you are performance ART and that there is a place for everything!
    Sorry you had the screaming match but supporting you in standing up for yourself!

  5. lb

    That is horrifying, no one should ever be touched against their will. This is a microcosm of how women are treated in our society, and in our community.

    I think you wrote a very poignant letter and I hope people, especially those who have committed these disrespectful and scary actions (and those who stand by and let it happen) take note and reevaluate their behavior.

    I think you do a wonderful job performing, and hope people will treat you with the respect you deserve in the future.

  6. ashevillain7

    This is really unnerving. I’m so sorry this has been happening to you. I’m sure you know that you are appreciated by people who respect you as an artist, woman and entertainer. It’s unfortunate that some people have to see you as *their* fantasy. I don’t know exactly which street performer you are but if you’d like a bodyguard (someone to remain discreet in the area but be there in case of emergency), I’d be happy to help out on occasion.

  7. Wow. This is horrifying, but thank you for sharing your story. I would never let my child harass a street performer, let alone encourage that behavior. If I ever see anything like this in person, I will also stand up to that kind of abuse. The street performance artists (including the mimes, of course) are part of what make Asheville magical for both me and my daughter. Anyone who would say “get a real job” is obviously underestimating how taxing this work could be.

  8. Bullet

    Just for the record, I am not the “silver drummer”…Thanks for your support, everyone. It’s much appreciated.

  9. Bullet

    Just for the record, I am not the “silver drummer”…Thanks for your support, everyone. It’s much appreciated.

  10. The Trolls Troll

    I’m not really into living statues, but the type of behavior described in this letter is absolutely despicable. Too bad we don’t know the identity of the man.

  11. AbraCat

    I’m not sure I understand why any sane parent would direct their child to touch a stranger– in particular an adult, female or not.

  12. Barry Summers

    It’s inappropriate behavior, that’s for sure, but there’s always a risk when you make yourself an object of attention. You can’t always predict people’s reaction. During the 2000 Bush inauguration, I was part of the protest in front of the Supreme Cort building. I was dressed in a ‘Supreme Court’ costume, one robed body with the five conservative Justices ‘heads’ on top, and a giant middle finger for America. Most people thought it was hilarious, but one older African-American woman wasn’t laughing – she started whacking the Clarence Thomas head with her cane, with a couple of good shots landing on me, inside the costume. If my girlfriend hadn’t been there to pull her back, I might’ve been seriously hurt.

    You take a risk whenever you ‘challenge’ people’s view of reality. Perhaps you need to have a friend with you while you do this sort of thing…

  13. brebro

    Instead of using silver paint, try vomit. No one will touch you again.

  14. Lavinia

    In my younger years, I was a street performer/mime in NYC. I can claim the dubious distinction of being part of the first wave of “statues” back in the ’70’s. At that time, being a statue was not the act, merely a way to attract a crowd to do the real art – be it mime, juggling, or clowning. A statue in NY would attract attention for about 30 seconds before people shrug and walk off or start throwing things. You need to grab them and then hold them with magic. Street performing is a two edged sword: instant gratification, tax free dollars, a kind of gritty Felliniesque glamour. I was privileged to learn the “tricks” of busking from some of the greats, including Philip Petit (my competition down the road) and Paul and Mike who eventually went on to form Big Apple Circus. However, you are risking your dignity each time you take your pose. My colleagues were banged, poked, one even got a bucket of paint poured on him. Street performing is the art of thinking on your feet, of being quick witted and charming. The people passing by have not paid to see you, you are, in fact, interfering with their day. Sadly, many people are boors. So if you want to perform on the street, you have to be ready. You have to be funny. You cannot expect respect, you have to earn it. I’d also like to clear up a misconception. While statue posing is also a time honored form of entertainment, it is not mime. Mime is the art of communicating that which cannot be said in words. It requires years of dedicated training, like dance and music. Just wanted to clear that up. Good luck with your challenging choice of a career and if you need any tips on handling jerks with panache from an “old pro” let me know :-).

  15. Bullet

    Thanks for the comments. Again, I am NOT the silver drummer, and although I do stand still, in between I do mime acts, give out candy, and do some simple magic tricks.

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