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Impact 0423: Building a circus and busking community in Singapore

Jonathan Goh · 4 March 2022
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Jonathan Goh, 26, is a circus artist and street performer. He is the founder of Buskers’ Association Singapore and one half of the street circus performing duo, The Annoying Brothers. He has been heavily involved in the growth of the circus and busking community here in Singapore. Today, he shares more about his journey being in the arts.

Tell us more about what you do!

I have been performing since I was 11 years old. I was an at-risk youth – my parents were going through a divorce and I was hanging out with bad company. I was on the verge of making very bad decisions, but was introduced to the world of circus by a group of fire performers. They ended up keeping me away from the bad company I was in. 

As I grew older, I started working with a social circus group called Bornfire. We ran a local circus festival and played a role in growing the circus community in Singapore. In 2014, together with another circus artist Edwin Ong, I created a street performing duo act called The Annoying Brothers. 

When we performed in the streets, I realised there was not much of a community and most of the buskers do not even know each other’s names. That was when I decided to start a Facebook group called Singapore Buskers in 2016 to help Singaporean buskers connect with each other.

As the Facebook page grew, there was an idea for a buskers’ association, so I decided to take it to the next level and formed the Buskers’ Association Singapore in 2019.

What motivated you to do this?

I believe that if we work together, we will grow even better together. Throughout my experience of running a festival and travelling around the world to perform, I saw how a strong community that was closely knit could benefit the entire landscape of an industry. 

One such example would be the self-managed busking community in London’s Covent Garden, which is one of the oldest street performing sites in the world.

Have you faced any challenges so far? How did you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges I faced thus far would be how busking was suspended due to COVID-19 as the Buskers’ Association Singapore had just been formed that same year. This resulted in many buskers not knowing what to do or where to go for help. So, I used the Facebook group to disseminate information on grants to help buskers stay afloat.

At the same time, Buskers’ Association Singapore started a few online initiatives to give the buskers a platform to perform and make some money. One of the biggest highlights was a programme called Buskers’ Lab that we started by tapping on the self-employed persons grant by the National Arts Council. This programme pushed buskers out of their comfort zone of street performing and encouraged them to collaborate with other buskers.

If you could share one piece of advice with your fellow youth, what would it be?

Sometimes, things may not seem like they’re going well. However, with a little bit of patience and thinking outside the box, things will fall into place.

What are your hopes or plans for the future? What do you want to see or perhaps do?

For myself, I hope to push the boundaries of how a circus performance can be presented in Singapore, and to create a circus performance that reflects the identity and culture of our country.

I hope to see Singaporean buskers going to the next level and hopefully one day, busking can be recognised as one of the major street cultures in Singapore.

Banner Image Credits: Ben Matchap

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