Miss Polly Hoops: what it’s like being one of the few women street performers in London’s famous Covent Garden

Polly MacFarlane, better known as Miss Polly Hoops, is one of the very few female street performers who regularly performs in London’s famous Covent Garden. At 25 years old, she is also currently the youngest performer there.

She has performed at festivals such as the Edinburgh Fringe and Hoopla Festival, Dubai and is a regular performer at Proud Cabaret.

Although she loves the thrill of performing in front of a crowd, and typically loves her supportive audiences, she said there is still a hint of sexism in the street performing world. Polly was kind enough to talk to us about what it’s like to be a female in a male-dominated industry.

When did you start performing? What made you choose it as your living?

“I have been performing since I was 3 years old. I trained in ballet and took part in theatre workshops all the time, mainly because my mum taught them. I believe I was drawn to performing because that’s all I knew. That’s what my mum and dad both did for work so that world was always there around me. I then went on to study theatre at degree level and knew I wanted to at least try to make a living from performing once I graduated.”

Why hula hoops? Describe the feeling you get when you are hooping in front of a crowd. unnamed (1)

“I chose hula hooping initially as a way of developing a street show. I loved street theatre and believed that I had the ‘chat’ and ability to create a character from my training in theatre, but I could also see that having a visual trick would be extremely helpful. I saw Lisa Lottie and Satya hooping on the South Bank in London and thought, ‘That looks so beautiful and maybe I could do that with my background in dance.’ Hula hooping gives me so many different feelings. I feel energized and powerful.”

Has anyone ever given you grief for choosing a so-called “nontraditional” career path? Please describe if so. 

“I think yes I have had people talk about hula hooping in a way that I’ve felt was somewhat patronizing, as if it isn’t a ‘serious’ career. I understand in some ways, because essentially people know it as a child’s toy.  But it’s a form of dance when you really look at it. You have to be so disciplined and motivated to learn how to do it, especially if you want to be good enough to earn a living from it. So I find that quite frustrating.”

Do you see yourself continuing being a street performer for a while or do you have other plans? 

“I see street performing as an amazing thing to do whilst you’re young. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done! And it’s given me so many other opportunities too! I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from street performing. However, I wouldn’t want to be doing post 30 to be honest.  So I think during my twenties great, after that no more for me.”

unnamedWhat are some of the unique problems/challenges women face in the street performing world? How have you dealt with these challenges?

“I find my audiences lovely, but I do think there can be a lot of sexism within the street performing world. I think sometimes it can be harder to be a female street performer because society still doesn’t really expect women and girls to be loud or assertive or funny, especially on the street! We’re told as women to be cautious and careful, blend in don’t stand out on the street it’s too dangerous, so when you go out to perform a show you’re really rebelling against everything you’ve been taught as a young woman! This can feel quite scary!”

What about work/life balance, is this a struggle at all? Explain.

“There is a definite weirdness in regards to a work/life balance. You work when everyone else is on holiday for a start so this can make it really hard to actually spend time with friends and family, which is rubbish! Also street performing is so weather dependent so you can feel so guilty if you take day off and it’s sunny!”

What is your favorite “relaxation” hobby or what do you do at the end of a long day to relax?

“To relax after a show I treat myself to some delicious food and take a walk!”