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Faneuil Hall street performers clash with property manager over sound

Performers like Kilted Colin are no longer allowed to use devices to amplify  performances at Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Performers like Kilted Colin are no longer allowed to use devices to amplify performances at Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

John Higby can make a yo-yo dance in looping circles and sharp straight lines, but that, he said, is not enough to draw a big crowd.

He can light a match or knock a coin off someone’s ear, both with a yo-yo, and still that is not enough.

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To succeed as a professional street performer, Higby said, he needs sound. Specifically, the thin microphone and speaker that for years were fixtures of his show at Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

This year, the property manager at the marketplace told him to turn it off.

A new rule prohibits the jugglers, stuntmen, and circus performers who work in the marketplace’s storied street performance program from using devices to amplify their acts.

“Without the music and without the sound, it just looks like people standing around a car accident,” said Phil Bloom, a clown known as “Rami Salami” who left the program years ago but still works nearby.

The property manager, Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. of New York, sees the change as an early step in revamping the face of the Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

‘Without the music and without the sound, it just looks like people standing around a car accident.’

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Ted Furst, a Boston consultant to Ashkenazy, said the company wants to make Faneuil Hall quieter, a nod to its historical roots.

The desire, he said, “is to just tone it down. It’s loud, and it’s a little pushy over there sometimes.”

Performers said the change hampers their ability to dazzle tourists and make a decent living.

Without an amp, they said, they have to shout to be heard over the thrum of the city, and it’s harder to draw a crowd or tell a joke. Bits choreographed to music are lost.

Microphones, they insists, separate them from everyone else.

It’s “ ‘Oh, there’s a performer there,’ as opposed to, ‘Who is this guy yelling?’ ” said Higby, who added that he might leave the marketplace for good if Ashkenazy continues to prohibit sound systems.

“Amplification makes it so that we can get a crowd easier, we’re heard easier, and we don’t shout for our money,” said Chadd Deitz, whose “Wacky Chad” show involves juggling and tricks on a unicycle and pogo stick.

The artists were reluctant to say how much they make on a good day of performing, but they spoke broadly about the financial impact of the amplification ban.

“It probably cuts the money at least in half for me personally . . . which makes it not really worth it,” Higby said.

Deitz said weekends at Faneuil Hall have remained relatively profitable, but one Monday this spring, he made one-fifth of his average haul.

He is one of about a dozen variety entertainers who have guaranteed performance slots in the spring and summer, their acts playing out on broad pedestrian avenues between the shops around Quincy Market and behind historic Faneuil Hall. Since the speakers were muted, some of the performers have turned to whistles to draw audiences.

Not all performers are subject to the no-microphones edict: Musicians in the performance program can still use speaker systems.

Furst said he thinks some shows have actually improved since the new rules were implemented in the spring. “We understand how they’ve typically been operating on the property, but the goals for the property require us to do these changes,” he said.

On a recent Sunday, one performer sighed as people left before her finale. Another made staccato sounds on a whistle to call attention to a show.

Brent Eden McCoy, a stunt comedian who performs as “The Real McCoy,” said he cut a couple of jokes and two signature parts from his performance, a choreographed juggling scene and an audience participation dance.

“The civic space, the appeal, and the draw of live street theater in Boston — I’m worried for its future,” McCoy said.

“It’s like taking the swan boats away,” said Bloom, the veteran clown who now ties balloons at the edge of the marketplace.

Kate Norton, spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh, said the Boston Redevelopment Authority owns the land, but the management company determines how it is used.

“The City absolutely recognizes and appreciates the value of our street performers in all locations, but unfortunately we are not able to change the policies of this particular location,” she said in a statement.

Ashkenazy took over the lease for Faneuil Hall Marketplace for $136 million in 2011 after the previous manager, General Growth Properties, clashed with merchants and the city over the property’s future. Company officials have promised to redesign the marketplace, but the plan is far behind schedule.

At the end of May, the jugglers and circus performers sent a letter to the property manager asking for repeal of several rules. As for amplification, they said, they “are willing to work with the marketplace to find a suitable guideline to follow.”

The performers suggested a limit roughly akin to the noise generated by traffic or a vacuum cleaner.

Carol Troxell, president of the Faneuil Hall Marketplace Merchants Association, said in a statement that business owners support the street performers, but “are also sensitive to our local merchants at Faneuil Hall,” including restaurants and push cart vendors who share the space.

But without full-fledged street acts, Faneuil Hall will lose its allure, said Jim McCombe, a stunt comedian who left the marketplace about eight years ago.

“It’s just going to become a mall,” he said. “And who wants to just go to the mall?”

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at zachary.sampson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZackSampson.
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