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A black hat with a red ribbon lands on the hot asphalt on Church Street. Gregorio Richter mutters under his breath as he picks it up with a tiny frown.
Every time the hat falls, it brings his mood down a little, he said later, standing on the footpath.
The hat trick kickstarts his act. Richter balances it on his arm or spins it on one finger, and the idea is to land it back onto his head and move on to the main show. But things don’t always go as planned.
And when the hat routine fails, it wastes precious time. He only has a little more than a minute.
“A minute, a minute and 10 seconds, about,” says Richter.
That’s how long it takes for one of Church Street’s traffic lights to turn green for the vehicles headed over and back across the Liffey.
While they’re on red, Richter performs his hat stunt and then juggles three white pins, stood in the carriageway in front of drivers sitting in traffic.
He’s a street performer from Argentina, gigging around Europe over the summer and in Dublin for now, he says.
Juggling isn’t Richter’s only talent. He would like to do more, he says.
But language barriers and unfamiliarity with how things work in a new city made things feel daunting, causing Richter to give up trying to get the right permits to showcase his talents in full quickly.
So, he settled for juggling in traffic.
“I need a job to make money and come back,” he says.
In Monday’s sweltering heat, a young cyclist waiting out the red light on Church Street took out his earphones as soon as Richter’s traffic show kicked off. The biker smiled throughout and tipped him too.
Sometimes, people throw coins. Other times, nobody does. Richter spends up to six hours performing in traffic, he says, so he doesn’t mind occasional audiences like that.
A middle-aged man resting one arm on the car window begins laughing. A young boy takes out his phone to film Richter’s bit.
Two men sitting in their car, sweating in traffic, look unimpressed. Richter quickly fist bumps anyone who calls him over for a tip before running towards the sidewalk to wait for the next red light.
Sometimes, he’ll comb the road once the cars are gone, he says. “They drop it on the streets. I take later.”
Richter hangs back when a garda car hits the brakes at the light. He worries they’d question him, although they probably won’t, he says.
He used to juggle at a traffic light in front of the council’s Civic Offices on Wood Quay, he says, but some people around the area would hassle him, so he stopped.
They’d shout at him, he says. But since English isn’t his first language, he didn’t understand them, so joke’s on them, says Richter, laughing.
When he first arrived in Dublin less than a month ago, Richter wanted to bring his main routines to Grafton Street and perform alongside its buskers.
He pulls up videos of his usual routines on his phone.
In one, he’s inside a giant red balloon, dancing around to music. In another, he jumps through a ring of fire with a tiny bicycle.
On 4 July, he wrote to Dublin City Council to say he wanted to pay for a permit. “The price is €90 if you are using an amplifier,” a council worker wrote back.
All performers, from poets to jugglers, need a permit to perform, it says. He found the system difficult to navigate though.
When he was trying to pay, Richter says they told him he needed approval on his application first.
When he tried to get that, the council said he needed to get public-liability insurance because he was a circus act.
He considered it, he said. But then some Spanish-speaking artists he’d met on Grafton Street told him he couldn’t play music while doing his shtick anyway, because of copyright laws.
The council’s street-performers bye-laws 2016 don’t mention copyright laws.
And it didn’t sound to him like the copyright laws were strictly observed. “The musicians on the street, they sing ‘Stand By Me’,” he says, laughing.
Indeed, Richy Sheehy, a stand-up comic and musician who busks Grafton Street sometimes, says street artists technically need to pay for a licence from the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) to play copyrighted songs.
But “like who on earth is gonna give out about someone playing music on the street from a speaker?” Sheehy says. “I doubt it would be policed if a circus performer was playing music behind them.”
Still, Richter took the Spaniards’ advice seriously and decided it wasn’t worth the investment.
It all just seemed a lot more complicated to him than the systems in places he’s performed like France, Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela.
The fact that he can’t speak English fluently doesn’t help either, he says. “Because I can’t communicate.”
On Church Street, he plays it safe, he says. He just listens to music in his earphones as he juggles, so he can find his own rhythm.
Richter says he thinks things should be easier for performers like himself. “Maybe have subsidies and specific places and festivals for artists.”
But he doesn’t mind entertaining city drivers during this stay, instead of doing a more elaborate act on Grafton Street or somewhere, he says. “I do it with a smile. I see that people enjoy that. I enjoy that.”
He chose a life of tricks and stunts on the road 18 years ago because it’s living life on his own terms, no matter which shtick he’s doing, he says.
“Art was created to give meaning to life, which often goes by just like that,” he says.
He points to his spot right where the cars stop behind the red light. “That’s my frontier,” Richter says.