Juan Estuardo Tacen Perez knelt down on his left knee and reached for three charcoaled-colored fire torches. On the uneven cobblestones, he poured three inches of gasoline into a cup and plunged each torch in one at a time. Eyes of tourists, intermixed with local Guatemalans, stuck to Tacen like street cement. He ascended into an upright position, grabbed a yellow Bic lighter out of his back right pocket and positioned each torch over the flame until they roared into existence.
Tacen has worked as a mime on the streets of Guatemala for eight years. He drags one green suitcase with him wherever he goes and relies on tips from his audience to support himself. According to Elizabeth Bell, atour guide at Antigua Tours, street performing is illegal in many areas of Guatemala. “About 11 years ago, restaurants and hotels got together and decided to close off Arch Street on Saturdays and Sundays,” Bell said. “We close the street because these cultural activities are special.”
Although this was a prior concern, Tacen decided to pursue his passion regardless. He wanted to be more than a nuisance to local businesses or even a sideshow for tourists. He had bigger dreams. Growing up, Tacen’s family struggled economically.
“Like every Guatemalan kid, I needed to look for a job,” Tacen explained. Tacen could have chosen a job similar to what other kids his age were doing, such as construction, but instead he participated in urban theater within his neighborhood. “There is a certain beauty that only the body can express,” Tacen said. “This challenge excites me.”
After being interested in street theater for many years, 24-year-old Tacen created his own street theater company called Maleta de la Alegria, which means joy suitcase. Now, eight years later, Tacen, 32, devotes his weekends to performing as a mime. “I want to travel, eat and live off of the art,” Tacen said. His weeks are spent training Monday through Friday by practicing scripts, listening to music and looking at clown videos on YouTube. He performs nine to 11 acts, including juggling fire torches, balloon animals and tricks with the diabolo, which is a juggling or circus prop. “He draws a big attraction,” Bell said. “Everyone loves him.
Tacen strives to stand out from other street performers in Guatemala by intentionally not painting one quarter of his left cheek. “Normally a mime has a white face,” Tacen said. “I want to stand out by doing something refreshing and different than what already has been done ... (I hope to) transport people who are not able to afford going to a theater, by using street theater,” Tacen said.