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Sydney's street performers put on world-class show
The thrill, the glamour, the agony of the feet
SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Aussies Gazza, Shazza and Bob have a dream. They want to represent their country at the 2004 Olympics in a sport they're petitioning to have recognized: dry water synchronized swimming.
Yes, dry water.
"We're going to win gold for Australia," they assert.
Sound crazy? You should see them in action.
The trio strips down to skintight green-and-gold swimsuits to reveal physiques that are, well, less than Olympic. Seals basking in the sun have more muscle tone than these three.
But folks don't mind, and they roar with approval as Bob, one of the performers, hits play on his portable stereo. Elevator-style music fills the air while he and his fellow Olympic hopefuls step into a waterless, inflated wading pool.
Their routine unfolds as they pirouette, balance on each other's shoulders, and flail arms and legs about. They look like an octopus auditioning for the Bolshoi Ballet.
The crowd gets into it, too. The natives' chant that has rung out in every Olympic venue across Sydney rises in the air -- Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Oi, oi, oi!
Jugglers! Fire eaters! Drag queens!
Cheers aside, Gazza, Shazza and Bob are not Olympic athletes; they're actors. And the crowd is not poolside, but harborside at Darling Harbour, one of Sydney's busiest hubs during the Olympics.
The three are part of "Going for Gold," just one of many street-theater acts that have added to the color and fun of the Sydney Summer Games.
The city's bustling streets and precincts have come alive over the past nine days as an array of street performers amuse, impress and shake up hordes of Olympic visitors. They strut and fret from early in the morning to late at night.
The harbor area has it all, from acrobats to fire eaters, from live statues to men in drag on stilts, from guitarists to didgeridoo players. This small part of the city has become the backdrop for an ever-changing, cataclysmic scene of poise, play and performance.
And the crowds are lapping it up.
"The street entertainment has been fantastic," says Californian Cheri Swatek. "It really adds to the atmosphere of what's going on with the Olympic Games. Anywhere you go, there's something happening."
At Circular Quay, a fairy with painted face and flapping wings blows streams of bubbles at passersby. Two men on stilts dressed in drag tower above crowds as they pose for photo after photo after photo. Twelve-year-old Eddie Bright cracks whips and jokes and juggles knives, all the while straddling a 6-foot-tall unicycle.
Two characters clad as British policemen, equipped with noddy hats and batons, march in unison, their heads thrown authoritatively in the air. Shoes clicking, eyes flicking, the two spy a couple embracing on a street corner.
"Come on, separate, you two!" says one, interrupting the twentysomethings' tender moment. "For the love of God, keep it at home!"
'Taking the mickey'
Crowd involvement seems to be the order of the day, with Aussies and others getting roped into acts, suckered into singing and perhaps, above all else, getting picked on.
Australians never miss their cue when it comes to "taking the mickey," which is Aussie-speak for teasing. Good-humored and usually well-intentioned, the ribbing is central to much of the performances, says a battle-ax juggler working a street here.
"The best thing for the Australian crowd is to (take the mickey) out of people," says the juggler, who identifies himself only as J.P. "They just adore it."
J.P. likens the atmosphere and numbers of visitors to national Australia Day celebrations (January 26), which he considers the busiest time for Sydney's street thespians.
"Every day through the Olympics has been Australia Day," he says. "It's been awesome."
The street shows have been pretty impressive, too, as performers have zeroed in on an international set of fall guys walking their streets. J.P. stops two Hong Kong tourists. "How much of Sydney do you own?" he demands. To "make the Americans feel at home," he waves a knife in some visitors' faces and orders them to hand over all their money.
The crowd laughs through it all.
Performers targets, too
But the performers aren't the only ones packing punches in their lines. Aussies in the crowd can give as good as they get.
"If you've just joined us, five minutes ago we were all naked," an acrobat calling himself Hamlock cries to pedestrians. "Sorry you missed it."
"I'm glad we missed it, mate!" a burly Australian bystander in an acubra hat fires back.
But the antics can be too much for some folks -- even the performers. One fellow, who poses as a statue, can't get over the amount of attention he attracts.
"A strange profession, this one," he says. "I don't understand it myself. I just go along with it."
Exhausted from posing motionless in the relentless sun, he sits hunched on his platform, taking a break -- but only for a moment. He's quickly surrounded by fascinated children and adults. They poke and prod, watch and wait for the statue to do something.
They fill his collection tin with coins, but even the clang of wealth isn't enough to keep the statue from wondering why he chose such a peculiar livelihood.
"It's too much," he says. "I could never be a rock star."
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