Church Street blues 

Without an audience, Rade Zone is dead. Zone, a stand-up comic, doubles as a street performer whose act aims to test the limits of audience interaction. But a crackdown by Orlando police has forced Zone and other street artists away from high-profile spots in the thick of the downtown action to dark, lonely patches of sidewalk ... or off the street entirely. In recent months, police have been strictly enforcing ordinances requiring performers who make even chump change on the street to get permission from the City Council, and those inhabiting walkways on private property to get the owner's clearance. Should they forgo the tips, police still are likely to move them along, citing rules about blocking sidewalks. The enforcement, coupled with unwilling property owners, has all but eradicated the street performers, except on the open brick plazas of Church Street Market. "It's taken years to get downtown the way it is. We don't want to lose that,' says Bryant Robinson, acting supervisor of the city's occupational licensing division. (With just four inspectors working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. expected to oversee 17,000 permits covering a multitude of businesses, police have been called upon to handle the enforcement end on the streets.) Part of an effort to press home all laws regulating business in the bustling entertainment zone, the crackdown on street artists was exacerbated by a glut of performers vying for the few prime spots on Orange Avenue, Church Street and the courtyards of Church Street Market. 'They're bickering among themselves,' says Robinson. 'One is fine. You start getting 10 or 12, each wants be the loudest one. It's escalated into a problem.' Certainly it has for Zone, who honed his chops as a performance artist at Venice Beach in Southern California before traveling to Orlando to accept a job with Disney. Unable to act like the character for which he was hired — a 1940s cop — Zone was let go about three months ago and returned to the street to raise food money just as the city began its push. (He also now works at a fast-food joint.) His odyssey through the city's bureaucratic system began at Church Street Market, which is managed by Lincoln Properties. After auditioning for the property manager, Zone says he was told to take his karaoke machine and tool belt of cheap props elsewhere because he didn't fit the Market's profile. 'I wasn't a handicapped folk singer,' he says. Zone uses sounds, music and the props to draw in passers-by. 'There's a lot of people who don't get it. It's cheesy,' he says. In showing him the door, Zone says the Lincoln Properties official, who declined several interview requests, suggested he get a city permit so he could perform on nearby sidewalks. So Zone visited City Hall. After insisting he had no need for a panhandler's permit, he purchased a $67 entertainer's license and set up shop around the corner from the Market. Eventually he was sent packing in favor of a saxophonist and squeeze-box player (both of whom also have since been sent packing.) Then he moved to a stretch of sidewalk in front of the Valencia Community College office on Orange Avenue, where, after several weeks, he was again ejected by police responding to complaints from the school's director. He moved two blocks north to Orange and Central, and was bounced again. Two other building owners have since denied his requests for permission. Zone has now set up on the fringe of the excitement in front of the Cool World store on Orange Avenue near Jefferson Street. Occasionally a few people walk by his dark spot. 'I'm not getting the response. I'm not getting the foot traffic.' But Zone sees no choice: 'At this point, I've given up. They might arrest me.' There still may be hope for Zone and the city's other street performers. Recently the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider New York City's appeal of a judge's ruling that the licensing of street artists amounts to a de facto ban. Fresh from victory over the city in the Fairvilla zoning case, attorney David Wasserman is confident he can achieve a similar court ruling here — so confident, he has offered to represent Zone at no charge. 'If I sue the city, let them pay my legal fees,' Wasserman says. 'The sidewalk is public property. It's not the city of Orlando's property. You don't need Glenda Hood's permission.' Maybe not in a legal sense. But until the court says otherwise, Zone and the other performers are left without a legal stage to stand on.

More by Lawrence Budd


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