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  • Jia Sharma

Sidewalk Spotlight: The Stories Behind Wellington's Street Performers

Words by Jia Sharma (she/her)


I always get a feeling of excitement when I begin my hike up Cuba Street and hear music playing. My pace quickens in anticipation for the performers I’ve come to recognise by ear. They add a layer of excitement to our daily routines, boring errands, and even more boring classes. The Wellington CBD is brimming with talented performers on every corner. From bands to magicians, the streets are one giant variety show. There is a strong network of street performers that have become familiar faces to a lot of people. 


Street performance is an excellent gateway for emerging performers, and many popular artists such as Tracy Chapman and Robin Williams started off busking. After taking a minute to get a licence online, anyone can do it. It’s an accessible and cost-efficient way to showcase your talent without the struggle of having to secure a venue and sell tickets. Foot traffic on the bustling streets provides a pre-sold-out show. 


Street performance is an underappreciated part of history. It builds the social and artistic climate of a city. In addition to providing accessible entertainment, street performers are the unsung heroes of an urban landscape, helping create vibrant public spaces that make cities and communities more dynamic and enjoyable places to live. Most times, the focus is primarily drawn to the big artists playing at Spark Arena when your next favourite artist may have been right under your nose. 


Hopefully, the next time you encounter these artists on the street, you'll not only appreciate their talent but also know a bit more about the incredible people behind the performances.


Tree: 

Instagram: @woodybansuri


For those who roam the CBD regularly, I’m sure you’ve come across Tree at some point. Adored by many, Tree sets out to spread happiness through his performance, with the initial goal of cheering the city up after the pandemic lockdowns ended. Myself and many others have often wondered what inspired the iconic tree costume, and Woody, the face behind Tree, kindly provided an answer to my question. “I lived in India and Nepal for 14 years from 2005 until 2019. There, trees are treated as magical and sacred beings. [...] I felt that it would be nice to make people in Wellington feel that they have a nice tree friend that loves them walking around on a daily basis.” As someone who basically lives on Cuba Street, I always appreciate Tree’s friendly waves and amazing saxophone tunes. 


Unfortunately, the Wellington City Council doesn’t seem to have the same appreciation and have been rude and disrespectful to Tree on several occasions. Fortunately, Tree doesn’t let this get to him and remains undeterred, as at the end of the day, the overwhelmingly positive reaction is what matters most. Woody doesn’t aim to market or establish Tree as a brand, saying that it’s enough that people enjoy his performances. If you want to witness some of the joy being spread by Tree, just take a walk around the CBD on a good day, you’re bound to run into him. If you do, make sure you give a wave back. 


Matthias Goed:

Instagram: @circus.dude


Matthias is a second-generation circus performer who can be commonly found near the bucket fountain or by the waterfront. His main goal is to make circus more accessible to everyone and make the world a more fun place. Matthias’ performance journey started in 2016 when touring around Europe. He noticed a gap in the entertainment industry when it came to live circus and people’s awareness of it. By using the streets as a stage, Matthias ensures that everyone can enjoy the art of circus. He also says, “There is a certain freedom that comes with it. I am able to travel pretty much anywhere, bringing something positive to communities wherever I go, all while doing something that I love and (mostly) being able to support myself.” 


I’ve come across Matthias performing a few times near the waterfront, and one of the most remarkable aspects of Matthias' performances is the awe-struck crowd of children gathered to watch. Going to the circus is something I’ve always wanted to do, but it’s such a rare event. Having someone sharing the art of circus spreads awareness of something that would otherwise be out of reach for most people. Matthias’ social media is the best place to find where and when he’ll be performing next, see some cool circus tricks, and open yourself up to an underappreciated art form. 


Caleb Cameron:

Instagram: @caleb.cameron

TikTok: @LebtheTapDancer


With the bold ambition of being "bigger than Michael Jackson", Caleb freestyles to a variety of songs, using tap dance as a way to express his authentic self. Caleb has an interesting story when it comes to what launched his street performance career. Due to Covid-19, Caleb had to leave his Musical Theatre scholarship in Melbourne and move to Wellington. “The day I moved into my flat, my flatmate offered up a slab of wood, as I had mentioned tap dance busking. The rest just fell into place after that.” Through busking, Caleb met other people to perform with and was able to build meaningful connections with others. In the many times I’ve seen Caleb performing, there has always been a lasting audience that sticks around for a few songs. My friends and I always look forward to seeing his performances and anticipate running into him the second we start walking up Cuba Street.


Caleb said, “The support I have had from the public who walk past and those who have made effort to make contact has been phenomenal, and I know it is obvious when I say it but the busking culture could not survive without the generous and supportive public. So thank you Wellington.” Caleb is currently working on a couple of overseas projects, one of which is performing in a cabaret show on a cruise ship and the other takes him all the way to the United States. Because of this, it might be a while before we see him tapping on the streets again, but make sure to keep up to date on his socials and follow him on these exciting new projects. 

Kozo Komatsubara:

Instagram: @kozokaos

Website: kozokaos.com


Comedy, danger, and rock and roll come together in the performances of Kozo: a juggler and magician that can be found on either Cuba Street or the waterfront. His journey as a street performer started 14 years ago when he attended the Auckland Buskers Festival and saw a performer who did crazy tricks with a skateboard and a ladder. Kozo said, “I had seen street performers before who played a character, juggled, or rode a unicycle, but this guy had a real chill, 'normal person' vibe and all of the tricks he did [were] something I'd never seen before. Until I saw him, I didn't know it was okay to just be yourself.” Kozo has since developed a large following and has earned the title of 'New Zealand's Fastest Juggler'. 


Kozo has just returned from a three-month summer tour in the UK and is in the process of planning his NZ and Australia tour for the summer, which is definitely something to look out for. Kozo can also be found regularly performing at The Fringe Bar, doing both solo shows and taking part in cabaret and stand-up comedy shows. You can find Kozo’s schedule and tour dates on his website and social media, so make sure you check that out to find your next magical experience. 

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