Fire-juggling, hula hooping performers ply quirky skills at Seaport Village busker festival

Dressed in black and white striped pants and suspenders, with a cartoon villain mustache drawn above his lip, Derrick Gilday fastened a plunger on his head before a crowd at the Seaport Village Spring Busker Festival on Sunday.

“I’m letting you know there’s no business like show business… except plumbing,” said Gilday, who appears under the name Dango.

After strapping on the unorthodox headgear Gilday grabbed a plunger in each hand, and enlisted the audience to throw hula hoops at him, acting as a human ring toss. Before starting, he explained his rules for performance.

“Rule No. 1, always face the audience,” he said. “Rule No. 2, make them think you know what you're doing. Rule No. 3, let them know that you know that they know that you have no idea what you’re about to do.”

With a medley of magic tricks, acrobatic stunts and slapstick humor, the busker festival drew crowds at Seaport Village Saturday and Sunday.

In a subsequent stunt, Gilday climbed atop five stacked chairs to juggle flaming torches and execute handstands.

“This is literally burlesque," said Danny Kneer, a San Diego resident who said he has attended the event for three years and has gotten acquainted with Gilday by being called up from the audience as “one of the dunces who hands him stuff.”

“Part of the audience is waiting for the guy to fall off the roof and the other part is clapping,” Kneer said. “It’s genuine vaudeville.”

Other performers waltzed on wine bottles, skipped on stilts or swallowed swords while narrating their acts with a mix of kid-friendly humor and off-color jokes. Their quirky skills ranged from tying a tie with one hand to performing contortionist tricks with hula hoops to riding a 10-foot “coconut tree” unicycle.”

“Do you have a magic wand?” magician Extreme Rahim asked a young volunteer whom he drew from the audience, to help him magically add drawings to a coloring book. “No magic wand? What’s wrong with this family?”

When Gilday called a girl from the audience to assist in his plunger trick, he told her “Stand over there, on that Hep. A smear. If you’re from San Diego, you’ll get that.”

Eight of the buskers, including Gilday, were competing for the 2018 People’s Choice Award. Others showcased specialty skills such as didgeridoo music, rock balancing and performing as a silver statue.

For Gilday, busking is part of a repertoire of off-beat acts that include a show about an “absurdist cook,” and another about a gay, Buddhist bullfighter. He began performing at the Ocean Beach farmers market, traveled with his act through Mexico and South America and studied at the Sophia Isadora Academy of Circus Arts.

“I played all around Europe and told myself I would never get another job,” he said.

As a result, he reminded audience members, he relies on their generous appreciation to make ends meet.

“I’m a grown man, and I would one day like to buy a house,” he said. “Unfortunately, it will probably have to be in El Centro.”

deborah.brennan@sduniontribune.com Twitter@deborahsbrennan

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