“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the moment you’ve all been waiting for.”
While I have gotten used to hearing that cliched phrase over the years, I wasn’t quite prepared for actually seeing the moment that was about to follow. Especially since that moment happened to be part of a sword-swallowing, knife-juggling, death-defying solo act during the province’s largest busker festival.
Last year, the Scotiabank Toronto Buskerfest drew in well over one million spectators and this year I was one of the many that gathered in St. Lawrence Market to watch the festivities begin on Aug. 25.
As an attentive journalist I wanted to keep my eyes open during the act, but as a worried spectator I couldn’t help but cringe as the performer, The Space Cowboy, calmly prepared to swallow his double-edged 28-inch sword. This was definitely not the moment I thought I had been waiting for.
“Ladies, I’m giving a whole new meaning to the words deep throating,” The Space Cowboy joked before inserting his sword into his mouth, down his esophagus and into the pit of his stomach.
The Space Cowboy, whom I later discovered is an extremely kind Aussie by the name of Chayne Hultgren, started juggling knives at the young age of 12. From there he went on to perform his act in over 30 countries, and earn seven world records including most swords swallowed at 17 swords, although he modestly informs me that his personal record is 27.
“I came to the Scotiabank festival three years ago,” says Hultgren. “It was a great time, I just had to come back. So I applied again and they told me that I was more than welcome.”
I assumed that performing three or four shows a day during the four-day festival would be exhausting and strenuous for any of the buskers, but especially for Hultgren and his poor throat. Upon voicing my concern to him, he simply laughed.
“My favourite part of performing is definitely the reaction you get from the people. It’s definitely what keeps me doing it time and time again.”
While our conversation continued, I couldn’t resist touching the sword he had swallowed just moments earlier, hoping to reveal some sort of false trick. When he saw my confused face as I felt the hard, sharp, steel sword, he laughed again.
“Oh, this is all real,” he assures me. “You don’t get into the Guinness Book of World Records without being real!”
Of course the acts like Hultgren’s were not merely for shock and awe. The four-day festival was created to raise money for Epilepsy Toronto, an organization that has helped people affected by epilepsy for over 50 years.
“This is one of our biggest fundraisers,” says Jodi Maruncic, Director of Children and Youth Services for Epilepsy Toronto. “It’s a really good way to raise money, it supports the programs that we do all year and it’s for a really great cause.”
Not only does Buskerfest raise money through donations from patrons and from selling souvenirs, but the festival’s corporate donor Scotiabank contributes to the cause as well.
“100 percent of the souvenir sales go directly to Epilepsy Toronto and then Scotiabank matches whatever we make, so we get double the donations,” explains Maruncic. “However, all the money that the buskers make is their own.”
While I was really happy that the money I donated was going to a good cause, I couldn’t have been happier when she said that last part about the buskers. In my book, anyone that juggles butcher knives on a 10-foot unicycle while blindfolded surely deserves to keep the money they make.