Anyone who visits Bethesda Terrace in Central Park is familiar with Thoth, a street performer that has made the center of the park his personal stage for years now. His performances evoke responses ranging from amazement to annoyance – last Sunday’s performance met with an entirely new reaction – his arrest.
The 55-year-old – a Bethesda Fountain fixture whose real name is Stephen Kaufman – was apparently the target of a Central Park Conservancy crackdown on music played at “quiet zones” that include the fountain plaza.
Clad in loincloth, sandals and headress Thoth combines violin, percussions and an eerily eching voice to create what he calls a “prayformance.” He’s in the tunnel by the Angel of the Waters Fountain every afternoon from Wednesday through Sunday, year-round. After park police officers told Thoth to move along Sunday, he and his assistant Zoe Harkin, 21, aka Pink Angel, decided to at least perform their opening prayer, Anya.
Singing in a trance, they ignored cops’ orders to stop. When the song was over, they were summarily hauled off and charged with disorderly conduct, area use restriction and failure to comply with an officer. They’re due in court Aug. 27.
While I can certainly understand the Conservancy’s point, it is a crowded area and the masses of people that collect for the performances make visiting the Fountain much like a rugby scrum on weekends. I also don’t much care for the rather arch histrionics of Mr. Kaufman’s performance. On the other hand – you can’t help but think that there might have been any number of better ways that this could have been dealt with, besides leading the man away in handcuffs. He’s been a fixture in the park for years, surely some accommodation could have been made that didn’t include police intervention. After all, it’s not as if he had a major wardrobe malfunction – that is if you accept the fact that his costume doesn’t constitute a misdemeanor in the first place.