As a wisp of wind blew across the city sidewalk, a slightly out-of-place "birch tree" swayed back and forth. It was in the middle of a growing crowd of about a hundred people. When the wind died down, the tree stopped moving, and all was still. The only thing was, the "tree" was not a real tree – it was Joe Pari dressed up as one. It's his job – he is a living statue.
For more than seven years, Mr. Pari and longtime friend Eric Auger have been entertaining locals and tourists on sidewalks and in city squares from Providence, R.I., to Boston by dressing up as trees, gargoyles, and warriors – and standing still.
They're street performers, but they're not like entertainers who perform magic tricks or play musical instruments. You're not going to see Pari and Mr. Auger juggle a ball, ride a unicycle, play a horn, or swallow a sword. But if you put your spare change in their collection bucket, you may get some written words of wisdom on a tiny piece of paper from an ancient Spartan warrior "statue."
That's what Pari was pretending to be in a popular tourist spot in Boston one day recently. Beforehand, it took him about 30 minutes to paint his face gray and put on his costume. It's kind of like getting dressed up for Halloween, he says.
Then it was out to the street, where he'll perform for a few hours – or until it gets too hot or starts to rain, he says.
In many cities, street entertainers, sometimes called buskers, need a special permit to perform. The spot where they set up their acts is called the pitch. Buskers look for large public areas with lots of pedestrian traffic. That's because the more people who see the act, the more money a busker can make. Some make as much as $300 to $600 on a weekend.
On this day, Pari found the perfect spot to make his pitch. It was in front of a large outdoor eating area.
Not long after he began his performance, he spotted a young girl out of the corner of his eye. She was tugging at her mom's arm and pointing at him. Then, tentatively, she stepped away from her mom's side and inched closer for a better look. In her hand was a crumpled dollar bill. Her eyes were firmly fixed on him, but he didn't move. After all, he was pretending to be a real marble statue.
After dropping the money into his bucket, the girl turned to him and whispered, "God bless you, statue." It made Pari's day.
"The kids are just awesome," he says after his "performance." "It's fun to see them warm up to you."
It's also fun when they get the courage to walk up and say hello.
Pari wasn't always a living statue. For many years, he was a social worker. But he loved making costumes and dressing up in them. So when an opportunity came to perform at WaterFire Providence, an annual summer festival, he and Auger jumped at it. They dressed up as playful pretend gargoyles. They didn't speak, but one of them would occasionally steal a baseball cap from an unsuspecting passerby and put it on his own head. It was just for fun, of course. They didn't keep the cap.
Their reception at the festival was "amazing," Pari says about that first performance. "We caused quite a crowd."
Today, most of their work is for corporate events and birthday parties at hotels, where the productions and costumes can be very elaborate.
But Pari says he still enjoys performing on the street. "There's nothing better than when kids fall into the magic of it all," he says. "You get to interact with people, even if you're not saying anything."