Stephen Duncan, Central Park Bubble Man
While it may not be the most conventional career, producing enormous soap bubbles in New York's Central Park is Stephen Duncan's passion.
By Sarah Khuwaja
It's not like Stephen Duncan planned on making a living as a "bubbler." After all, he is young, college-educated (a few credits shy of a sociology degree at Brooklyn College) and a New York City resident; opportunities abound.
But after losing his job at FAO Schwartz in 2008 and living off of unemployment benefits for awhile, Stephen fell into the art - and job - of creating large soap bubbles for passersby in Central Park, making him the first known bubbler in the area. His interest was initially piqued by a vendor who sold him a small bubble toy for $5. After garnering interest from adults and children alike, he created his own bubble-making contraption that is made of some string and sticks. Simple enough - but the resulting bubbles are stunning both in their size and whimsical beauty.
Although his mother covers the majority of his bills, Stephen can make up to $160 for about four hours of work in the park. And while he is passionate about making bubbles and entertaining people, especially children, Stephen is serious about his chosen career path and views it as a viable business. Generating bubbles of a high quality, according to Stephen, is a science; it involves trial and error before settling on a soapy formula (which is kept under wraps, so don't ask).
One might think that with all the street performers concentrated in Central Park, there is a lot of competition among the entertainers, and among the bubble artists themselves. But Stephen insists this is not the case. "I’m not out here to compete with anyone. Everyone brings something different, something unique to the park."
I think the thing that gets people is not just the fact that it’s a bubble, but the size of the bubble. I mean, if you're walking along, just minding your own business and you see this giant bubble floating past you – what’s the first thing that you’re going to do? You’re going to investigate. Where did that bubble come from? And why is it so big?
Most people in the park, most of the guys who know me, consider me to be the first. I was the first one to bring this to Central Park.
I do have a secret recipe which I'm not at a liberty to divulge.
Before I started with the bubbles, I was at a toy store. Shortly after I finished working at FAO Schwartz, I was looking for a job. At the time I was operating on unemployment, which was kind of tough.
I started just going around the park at random, just making bubbles and entertaining the kids, making people smile, and people responded very well to it. That’s when I realized, “I think I’ve got something here.”
It’s a passion. It’s something that stirs your soul. Something that gets you up in the morning.
Behind The Scenes:
Stephen is unique among Central Park's many entertainers. Most of them are loud, outgoing, even aggressive. In some ways it's understandable; they have to stand out in order to survive as performers. But Stephen is silent. He is a large man who breathes heavily when he walks and speaks. But he is completely muted when he is in his element, gently waving the apparatus made of sticks and strings through the air, forming bubbles.
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