Amber Rowlett has a few different names. Her friends and family know her as Amber. Her hip-hop dance crew, Venus Fly Trap, knows her as Pringlz. Her fellow buskers know her as Robot Girl.
Robot Girl comes in a few variations, and this year she's evolving. In the past, she has donned a shimmering metallic silver exterior with a “Silver Moon” inspired dress and “Predator” style dreadlocks protruding from her head. This year, Rowlett is unveiling a handmade human-android hybrid character that takes the term “Robot Girl” almost literally.
People can meet Robot Girl and witness the creative vision developed by local and regional artists and performers during the fifth annual Downtown Improvement District's BuskerFest, a celebration of street performers including musicians, stilt walkers, fire dancers, jugglers, living statues and more. The event is from 4 to 11 p.m., Saturday at One Summit Square on the streets of Wayne and Calhoun in downtown Fort Wayne. It's a family-friendly event and free to the public.
Rowlett landed in Fort Wayne after she married her husband, Josh. Originally from Kansas City, she spent much of her 20s as a dancer traveling and performing around the world. She is known for her popping skills -- a talent not many women in the hip-hop world pursue -- and said it takes a lot of discipline and practice to learn to pop.
“You have to learn how to flex all the muscles in your body," she said. "You need full control over the muscles. It can be hard to find those muscles. You have to get in touch with your muscles, understand them and how they work. It takes real isolation. It takes a lot of patience because it's not a real graceful dance, it's more hard-core. It can be intimidating for women."
After 18 years, she's got the pop down. Switching it into a robot dance was simple, but she only needed a costume.
The silver robot costume was a joint effort between Rowlett and a fellow performer, but this year she's on her own.
A lot of effort is put into the costume for street performers. She uses items creatively, pairing a laundry basket with air ducting, duct tape and other household items to develop her iconic robot look.
“I don't want to look like a typical robot," she said. "I want to look like an android or a human and robot hybrid. The dancing I do is not what your typical robot dance is. So I want to look like a robot imitating humans dancing. My costume ideas have to revolve around that. It's futuristic.”
Now, she's happy to call Fort Wayne home thanks to events such as BuskerFest that celebrate a talent typically seen only in big cities.
“Some people around here don't even know what busker means, but I think it's good that the city is promoting such a different and positive event," she said. "It's the type of performances you'd see in LA or Hollywood. From belly dancing to juggling, it's a fun and exciting outdoor circus."
Frank Howard, director of marketing, environmental and business services for DID, said the event started five years ago thanks to the perseverance of DID President Bill Brown. At the time, busking was illegal because of a panhandling ordinance. Since then, the idea of busking has been turned into a cultural feature of a thriving metropolitan city and the ordinance has been changed, Howard said.
“We want to cultivate more of this creativity, not discourage it," Howard said. "Buskers are not just people trying to get money, they're providing a fun and legitimate service at the festival. It's OK for them to be compensated. For them, it's an elective, but they add color, energy and art to our streets.”
BuskerFest is sponsored by the DID; PNC Bank; WMEE, 97.3-FM; J.K. O'Donnell's; Hanning & Bean Enterprises Inc.; Office One to Go; Fort Wayne Tincaps; and The T.A.G. Art Company.