Street Street and Repeat Street

Self Portrait for Blog

Player in Disguise… 

On slower day’s a tighter circle is the coin-of-the-realm. Street performers and audiences fit glove to hand. Squeeze the experience tight. Empty space along the perimeter of a circle is a deal-breaker. Street performers plug leaks with live bodies. Success depends on persuasion, stand here not there, the seasoned showman knows what to do.

Blurring the focus, blow a line, miss a trick and like that minds wander, the entire enterprise is put at risk, an audience sees through the framework, becomes aware of the underlying engineering.

Subterfuge, veiling— are the stealth tools of the busking arts. Lighthearted crowd gathering is in fact audacity camouflaged. Stopping people is a make or break business carried out in full view with an undetectable touch. Technique requires concealment— you can level with your audience later, once you’ve won them over, once you’ve proven your worth, now that you are their keepsake. Great acts mate temporary intimacy to the delicate present moment.Blog Me and Me Alone

Another More Transparent Version…

A wise to ways street urchin can look at a sidewalk and predict down to the last Lincoln Head copper one-cent piece how much they’ll earn. Unless the show goes off the rails, good or bad, one way or another they will have converted an otherwise stingy group into a generous free-spending bunch who’ll be unfolding their wallets, moving forward prepared to toss a buck, five or twenty-five cent piece into the hat.

Sidewalk ‘been arounds’ are problem solvers, lived to tell, and know how to steer the experience on the track of the tried and true final destination. This is the practical craft mixed within the mind of a compulsive personality. Enterprise matters but the presentation of a profitable show is foremost. Buskers have only so much time, so much energy. A street show is in some sense a curated list of livewire fixes to prior money-reducing performance errors.

The Dude

A Card in the Deck…

If the new material work’s the busker makes more, if the untested bit doesn’t land the take will be less. Acts stumble onto repeatable nuggets. One guess, one experiment, one positive result after another working by feel, listening by ear and discerning mind to that revelatory moment when critical mass achieves its aim. A veteran busker knows everything there is to know about escape velocity. Laughter is involuntary, applause is synchronous; the experience is irresistible, here and now, unfolded skillfully into the present moment.

The larger goal of a thirty minute show is constructed piece by piece from the fifteen minute act. The whole project is a painstaking perilous journey to the center of a wanna-be-performer’s muster. Weathering a tough day on a sidewalk is a transitory tragic rear ending example of doggedness.

Always be on the move in front of a crowd. Buskers are linguistically kinesiological. Slapstick and pratfall illustrate the foibles of the common man. There is a high minded purpose to the lowbrow comic art. Do things an audience can see. You may trick a mind by word but there is something profitably superior about what must be confessed to the priest. The visual appeal works every time; seeing is believing. You don’t have to talk anyone into anything, they can bare witness with the naked eye —Come along, this way—

Edited Red Star

Sidewalk Show Exposé

2005D 016

Ghirardelli Square circa 2001

Street theater is about profitably stopping people dead in their tracks. Two becomes 4, 4 turns into 8; eight becomes an engaged audience of fifty. Survivors of this hustle have an eye, feel the vibe— know how quick they’ll draw a crowd and how long they dare to hold them. Change the show’s length, alter the pace, adapt and perform to live another day, execution is whole enchilada. Wily buskers got this one word— “survival” tattooed across their chest— there is no second chance, prosper or perish, show up, play big, be present for the only moment that counts. Get real or sit back down, life is short.

Home field advantage is a term of art meaning playing the same space. Fine tuning the act is having a plan when the chimes to the courtyard clock ring. The sharpest tacks in the hunt for an audience can preplan then unload the perfectly timed zinger. Play your hand swift and sure, be on your toes, don’t get caught, stay loose, fresh, act quick while you possess the advantage of surprise. Time is of the essence.

Street performers are premeditated—  Glance around, count bodies— are they older, younger, can you smell the money in the crowd? Intuit mood, develop a game theory— come to the arena of street with a launch strategy. When starting a show make damn sure that you start your show. Is it a slow build or a quick start? Does it feel like you are pulling teeth? Are you slaying? Killing? Shooting fish in a barrel? Time tested material displays prowess. Audiences find a performer’s deft grip reassuring. Your job is to be dead certain they’re buying what you’re selling.

Buskers know the score, the headlines, front page, chess puzzle and constant disappointment of not being listed in the entertainment section. The winners in our world are lauded, the rest is fodder for the comic cannons. What’s the same, what’s different, what’s going on? Maybe it isn’t the size of your audience but it is the type. Maybe there are more children, more teens, or elderly. Read and react. If you can’t figure people out, you’re having an off day, out of rhythm? Pack it in. Do yourself and everyone else a favor, go to the tanning salon.

Offseason I worked Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each day I set out to do ten sets, and depending upon flow and energy settled on at least 8. The real trick was squeezing the 8 shows into an efficient 3 hour work day. You try shorter, try longer but the best money was earned nailing the finale before the fifteen minute mark.

Blog Post Pic One

Closer was a Jack Russell Terrier 

With tourist season in full swing from Memorial Day to Labor Day the sidewalk performers worked full time— 5 or 6 days on, 1 or 2 off. Strike while the iron is hot. By the end of that first summer I’d cranked out five-hundred shows. Once peak season ended I dialed back to 3 days per week again. I’d squirreled away more than half my summers take. I’d nurse my nest egg, make ends meet, and if I’d survived take another run at the big bucks next summer. Sidewalk showmanship is all about staying in the big game of betting everything or going broke trying.

Edited Red Star

Sidewalk Show

Scan_Pic0048

Winnipeg 1987

One of the hardest hand to mouth games ever invented in this world of hard knocks is busking. No contracts, no off site gigs, just pure hat and more hat shows. Anxious family and friends thought I was headed toward a cobblestone catastrophe. The lightning bolt street performing epiphany struck fresh and wild. Destitution and insolvency are bookended plotting points. There is no getting off the road, there are no lucky breaks or easy streets on this path— you can’t undo what you’ve bet your life on. An emergent busker is a tangled soul drowning in a world insisting on obedience. There has to be no other way out. This is your fated Tombstone. Conformity is a stinking stalemate. Life on Easy Street is over. You set out to do so many shows, as far as an eye can see, that you’re at risk of drowning in a sea of nickels, dimes and quarters.

in the round

Small Crowd

Since 1972 I had been stalling. I’d put off the day so long it was now a fresh and unused January of 1980. I drove into Fisherman’s Wharf on a overcast cool dry morning. Crazy early sunrise. The streets were empty but for the sounds of mournful seagulls, barking sea lions, and one tentative soul preparing to put his future on the line.

To make it to the top of the small time  I’d need to find a way of delivering my best razor sharp fifteen minutes. Running too long was too much and too short added up to too little. All in from start to finale was not one second more than fifteen minute journey to glorious acclaim or agonizing defeat. I jiggered the running order, discarded one routine added another. I invented jokes there and then, whipped up wisecracks on the fly. This is throwing it down. Street performing is about owning every inch of the concrete self proclaimed stage. This is the coliseum. You are an entertainment warrior.

2005D 015

A Lifetime of Playing with Fire

Raspy voiced, drained emotionally, the unrelenting grinding first day had taken a toll. Sidewalk shows are a monument to repetition. Over and over the same routine altered ever so slightly is retried, polished and refined. Improvement inches ahead grudgingly.

Like that the weekend zipped by, three days work reverberated like a broken record in my head. Gut wrenching images of audiences walking away before I could pass the hat set fire to my withering courage. Youngsters charmed with wonder in their eyes wanting to see what happened next. They recognized the infant mortal fragility disguised within the busker and begged their parents to stay for the end. More than a few lovely’s lingered. A beat cop wearing out his shoe leather ordered that I watch my crowd size. Merchants stood in their doorways curious, inconvenienced, not yet convinced smoking cigarettes. The other assorted stubborn misfits and survivors of the sidewalk scene all too pressed by their own work had not even a spare moment to fritter away. My peers didn’t need to know, they knew. Those relationships would grow if I could make my sidewalk show stick. Jefferson Street was wide open if you were foolish enough. Here was untamed frontier, western civilizations western most outpost, an end of the line– the leading edge of a new possibility.

Edited Red Star

Popular Vote Total

Bay Bridge old

Mind the Gap

57,434,253 citizens voted for Democrats. 49,594,066 people voted for Republicans. There were 9,840,187 more votes for Democrats than Republicans. This is a 7.2% difference.

We’ve heard what promises were made, what lies were told, what people would do if they won. We want preexisting conditions covered by health insurance companies. We want Social Security and Medicare protected and improved. We want a check on the White House.

Almost 60 million people voted for hope and change. Ten million more people than voted for what the other side had on offer. We won and now it is time for us to lead. The climate isn’t going to play nice and wait.

 

 

 

 

 

Micro Mini Street Riff

 

dtla-olive.jpg

Stopping for Nothing

Buskers have to keep the experience growing. An audience will notice this increase. Success depends upon demonstrating that the performance is getting better right before their eyes. Emotions intensify, the number of people watching is larger, a trustable decorum arises, we can laugh, we become more and more confident that this is worth the time and that waiting to see what happens at the end, the unexpected surprise will be worth being interrupted. Buskers start with nothing, then like that appears something that is perishable, delicate, barely existent, an audience can see from out of the blue there is an accumulating phantom energy and it is getting bigger. The pace begins at tempo, rhythm is steady, this is boilerplate, comedy is timing, starting at one rate and speeding up to the final rate, a show nearing a finale moves quicker. That was good but this next bits even better. A street show can’t go back. Get off on the right foot then you’ll run without losing your breath to an emotional summit that will motivate an audience to come forward after your best trick and drop a tip into the hat.

Edited Red Star

Spaceship Earth Protector

Arms and Feet

Democratic Party: 44.9 million votes Republican Party: 32.9 million votes

There was a lot on last nights ballot and nothing was more important than taking back the House.

About my Spaceship Earth Protector Credentials. I am an artist. I’m a creative. I was a success. I bought houses, had kids, got married-divorced-married, I’ve made money, spent money, had cars and have had headaches. Same as millions of other spouses out there I  love my wife.

Maybe you’re unclear about how it feels to watch a Republican majority get their can of whoop-ass out and kick the living daylights out of the National Endowment for the Arts? Maybe insincere budget cutting hysterics doesn’t bother you. You see zeroing me out makes me want to zero you out. People don’t roll over in Tombstone and Californian’s from Oakland do not play possum with anti-government libertarian program bashers.

Now about the crown jewels of our democracy. Social Security needs to have its cap on taxable income raised. We need more revenue not less. Medicare works fine Medicare for All would work better. Private health insurance is an insurance program to nowhere. Pre-existing conditions and bankruptcy need to be eradicated from this earth same as stubbornness or willful stupidity.

Want more? Let’s follow Seattle’s lead and raise the minimum wage. I’m zeroing out objections until the minority that votes to keep the working stiffs pinned down as paupers read the University of Washington study just published. I’ll summarize for those who missed the real news. Seattle’s economy has never employed more people, never started more successful new businesses. Never!!!! Transactional relationships don’t have to be an authoritarian head trip fake out. We can actually lift all boats!

Water Poster

Agriculture Wants All the Water

You’ll find me afterhours dancing until dawn with my wife at the local Vegan Speak-Easy. I’m getting hammered on hibiscus tea celebrating the one hundred plus women heading to Washington to slap some sense into the heads of the men that voted to strip access to women’s-reproductive-health-care. If we are going to defund anything it is the freaking subsidies for the oil industry. Any tax cuts for the middle class must be paid for by tax increases on corporations. We have way too many stingy capitalists. Put those white collar criminals in jail and let the pot smokers out.

We’re going to need to get the Chamber of Commerce to seek forgiveness for their mischief. Much has been made of our immigration crisis and much less would have been made of this had we insisted every employer verify their workers citizenship. No proof then no work. That simple. If the employer cheats they get deported. End of story. We don’t need no stinking wall. Chamber of Commerce lobbied against this. People we are a nation of immigrants! Come on we can get this right.

goldfish pond

Islands in the Sky, Sidewalks Brimming with Fish

First of all, last of all, and most import of all we need to get to work on the world’s existentially most urgent crisis. No more time to waste trying to curry favor from a Crown Prince MBS of Saudi Arabia who prefers chopping his critics into little disposable pieces. Barbarism isn’t policy.

We keep the eye on the prize. That eye and that prize will be doing something every single day about halting the rise of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Climate change can be addressed but the threat it poses to humanity, this very real threat cannot be ignored. The problem isn’t going away, and a hotter world won’t suddenly make nice, but it will provide chaos, crisis and a stinking unfixable hot mess.

Let’s get all those fine women to the House and let’s go!

Edited Red Star

 

Code of Street Performing Conduct

2009SPF07842.jpg

Love Your Audience

There is no getting off the road, there are no breaks— you can’t undo what you’ve bet your life on. One of the hardest hand to mouth games ever invented in this world of hard knocks is busking full time. No contracts, no off site gigs, just pure hat and more hat shows. You do so many you’re at risk of drowning in a sea of nickels, dimes and quarters.

To take the edge off, to stand just that much further from the abyss some acts blend the footloose street show with the paid for hire show’s. For the sake of profit and efficiency contracts and appearances need to be packed tight. A good act is infused with an evangelical enthusiasm. The paid gig, as sweet as that payday might be, is never more than a prayer and a hope whereas a first class street pitch opens the door to pure worshipping at the altar of the almighty unseen mystery and miracle. It is not exaggeration to claim street theater in some spontaneously combustible way is as near to a religious experience as you will ever behold.

wife with front row seat

Running with the Wild and Free

A street act is either in town or on the road, behind the wheel or on stage. A day off with no show is an odd unwelcomed event, something worrisome and undesirable. Fairs and festivals are all performed by binding contract between the producer and artist, the agreements are simple fee for service agreements. Some entertainers might forward stage, light and sound requirements, but a grizzled street act, tested by parkway and boulevard, the hardcore bust your butt busker urban take no guff kind, are most times pure point and shoot types. A veteran street act is accustomed to possessing the chops to walk on steal the show. “Hand me that mike. Is it hot? Let’s roll…”

Buskers are all about squeezing the light out of the red dawn and gold dusk, there is no tomorrow, there is this opportunity right here, this show, this crowd, what are you waiting for? In the vernacular of the street, “Throw it down, and whip it out…” a racy phrase that means to set down your prop case and do what you do— perform.

gold and red.JPG

Skylight before a Starry Night

Street veterans eat the scenery. The Grand Canyon would be lucky to even be noticed. Empirically this may not stand up to factual analysis but by size of heart and willingness of spirit— this kind of zeal is customary. Buskers are all great infinite expectation unexpectedly seized by ‘I never saw it coming’ heart failure. This is the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. We are trained by sidewalks to talk our way into anything and get out of more corners and tight spots than an average Joe might know was even possible to be caught in to begin with. Buskers worth their weight in copper coins are charmingly eccentric hybridized brightly packaged one part con and two parts escape artist.

I’m sorry to say that a good many of the world’s most rational sisters and daughters couldn’t help but toss all caution to the wind and go all in on our outlandish shows and offbeat lifestyle. The gutsy best of them became our wives. And all those women who ought to have known better, the women who have seen a thing or two, the wives and mothers? Countless numbers of these firebrand beauties in the most unexpected next chapters of their lives entangled their fates with ours, some for a night other aspiring free spirited souls have had the course of their wardrobes irreversibly changed, abandoning suburb and former friends forever and go full wanderlust while vowing to never look back. Love is as unpredictable as a street show. Strap a heart to a buskers grit and you’ve got a life worth riding down the unforeseen future boulevard of unbroken dreams. Neither Hells Angels or street performers want for women. Charismatic outlaws got nothing but magnetism, unpaid parking tickets and access to real happiness.

2009SPF07828.jpg

A Star is Born

Being a busker is handcuffed to having no more excuses for why the impossible isn’t even an excuse. Rainy days and lonely nights catch no sympathy or slack from our kind. We hold self empowered destiny hostage. Our sidewalk show pitch—the pavement stages we concoct is a no strings attached low budget self-inoculating wide open wild as the west dream vaccine. On the ride to the top of the small time a busker’s prop case is near at hand, in our veins, at the tip of our tongues. We don’t go buy costumes- we come costumed. We’ll have plenty of time to relax after this brawling life has been chewed up, satisfaction and self-contentment can come later. Easy Street has got its own sorry location. That useless boulevard is just the other side of the mortal coil.

2009SPF07898.jpg

Fire Dreamer

My money is on a bunch of the best I’ve shared stages with who I believe are working hard out there in the afterlife, and even if there is no for sure I have to hope they’re all killing up there, even now, in the rose bowl of eternal laughs… Wayne Condo, Vince Bruce, Hokum W Jeebs, Butterfly Man, Johnny Fox,Rob Torres, Dick Finkel, Steve Hansen, Gary Schnell… that is a tough lineup to break into. There you go, now you’ve been given a taste, from the barrel.Edited Red Star

Author-Entertainer