Claire Bezuidenhout performs on the streets of downtown Victoria.

Local woman travels the world as Copper Cowgirl

Claire Bezuidenhout successfully merges art and performance with her western routine

When painted bronze and dressed in chaps and cowboy hat with gravity-defying pigtails, Claire Bezuidenhout is unrecognizable.

The 29-year-old Sooke resident works in the unorthodox profession of street performance art.

Usually seen in downtown Victoria as the Copper Cowgirl, Bezuidenhout pulls four to eight hour shifts as a statue that comes to life with the drop of a coin.

“I’m coin operated so I’m really still, and then if you put a coin in I kind of come to life,” Bezuidenhout said.

In robotic type movements, Bezuidenhout playfully enacts western scenes like quick draws and stare downs with random strangers.

“I love it. It’s a lot of fun to kind of amaze people, and it’s so much fun being able to make people laugh,” she said.

After honing her craft for about four years, which includes a two year stint studying theatre in Paris, Bezuidenhout can remain so still that many passers-by don’t realize she’s a living and breathing human.

“I scare a lot of people a lot of the time because they don’t notice me right away, because they think I’m a statue, and then I’ll move and they’ll freak out,” she laughed.

Bezuidenhout stated the best part of her job is interacting with the crowd — sometimes unbeknownst to the victim.

“A lot of the time they’re not expecting it, they’re just going about their daily lives and they come and have this random encounter where they get to be silly and fun.”

The idea behind the Copper Cowgirl, who was modelled after Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane and Jessie from Disney’s Toy Story, came from a desire to live out a childhood dream.

“I always wanted to be a real cowgirl when I was a little girl,” she said, adding the adventurous western wrangler spirit and her love of horses drew her to assume the persona.

Down-to-earth with a hint of eccentricity, it is almost befitting that Bezuidenhout entered the performing arts circuit upon her graduation from the University of Victoria with a bachelor of arts.

After having marvelled at statue street performers as a spectator, Bezuidenhout decided to travel the world in the profession.

“I like the blending of art and performance, those are two things I really like. I thought it’d be a really nice way to be artistic and travel at the same time.”

Her act has taken her to New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Germany.

When in Europe, the Copper Cowgirl is retired, and Bezuidenhout assumes the role of Ulla the Viking — just to fit in with the culture.

In the Canadian winter months, the Copper Cowgirl travels with the summer and moves to Australia.

This summer, Beizuidenhout participated in the Victoria International Buskers Festival, Halifax International Busker Festival and will appear at the upcoming Scotiabank Buskerfest in Toronto from Aug. 23 to 26.

Epilepsy Toronto runs the event, which serves as their largest fundraiser for the year.

 

“I feel really great about all the proceeds of the festival going to them,” Beizuidenhout said.