Biography · Books · Performances

Long Hops and short stops

“I know what you’re thinking, what a horrible way for a chicken to have to make a living. Well, there are a lot of chickens working at Safeway and they’re not having half as much fun.”

In the early 70’s as the counter cultural movement took to the streets the first wave of artists built shows from scratch. We had no templates to work from. By the early 80’s that was over. Acts arrived at venues derived from the first wave shows of the late 60’s to early 70’s. We felt a tremendous sense of freedom in the beginning. Audiences like artists had no expectations. Still it was at its heart a form of theater and as such there were rules. The basic rule was gather a crowd, hold
them together, turn them into an audience, and if done properly at the end when you passed your hat there would be a fair exchange between artist and audience.

Over the span of almost 40 years I have created about 6 different closing routines. These are the best of the best material, the surefire, knock them dead, take no prisoners, this is the one you’ve been waiting to see routines. Perhaps the wildest most talked about stunt I’ve ever devised was to juggle fire while balancing a chicken on my head.

American Airlines Magazine 1988

 

In the winter of 1986 Will Soto brought a lot of us together in Key   West for a festival he’d titled Buskerfest. Talent scouts from Europe and Canada were there; in particular Edmonton’s brilliant festival director Dick Finkel. He imagined our shows not as mere minor additions to a larger show or festival, but instead he imagined our shows as a festival in and of itself. He bet that he could make street theater into a stand alone festival.

With that in mind Dick went about the business of finding out who among the many acts practicing street theater were doing first rate original work. It was this group he believed that he could build a festival from. And with an eye on quality he believed his audience would return the following year. He was right and the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival in Alberta, Canada will present its 28th festival in 2012.

Some of my most cherished experiences have come while performing in Edmonton. In addition to simply performing our shows we also combined our talents and present special productions. Late Night Madness was one, and a late night fire extravaganza another. I had the privilege of writing, directing and performing in some of these larger productions. Some of these audiences numbered in the many thousands. Under such circumstances we were able to test and prove that our material was versatile enough to engage audiences of all types and sizes.

 

Great Canadian Audiences

 

So, this is one small fragment of the whole. Whether on stage in front of audiences that looked something like this or, backstage after a show hanging out with some of the local fans who looked something like this, I can say that working in street theater has turned out to be one of the grand adventures of my life. To all the audiences and to all the artists I’ve shared time with I will always be grateful.

Volunteers waiting backstage..........

 BANKRUPT HEART            THE SECOND NOVEL

Mort watched his best act from the
back of the room. To his ear he was trying too hard. He knew how Ry’s mind
worked. He watched his eyes. It wasn’t the lines, it was what he was thinking,
not what he said, what he was feeling, how he worked the room. Mort could hear
the whirling gears inside his best acts mind.

“I think timing is everything,” Ry
was shifting gears, “fundraiser’s are good things, giving a little is good for
you, good for the world, good for these kids we’re putting this event on for,
but I mean, talk about timing, what’s going on with Wall Street? All the lousy
luck, it’s a bad time for newspapers, they’re getting smaller and folks I don’t
know if you’ve noticed but the news it has been getting bigger.” Ry laughs at
his own line of thinking.

Bankrupt Heart Copyright © 2011 by Dana Smith

 

 

 

Biography · Books · Performances

Life as Transition

The First Show

My beginnings as an entertainer started in 1974 with the Royal Lichtenstein Quarter-Ring Sidewalk Circus. I am on the left and Nick Weber the shows creator is on the right. After a year long national tour with the circus I struck out on my own. Sold my motorcycle and bought my 1967 Ford pickup and packed my first show into the back of that truck and set out on a six year non-stop tour.

I learned to go north and south with the weather. I learned to live out of my pickup truck, how to get book dates for the show, where to park and sleep, find showers, make telephone calls, cook of a tailgate, fix the truck when something broke, and to pursue with passion my vision of what my life should be.

What a Pair Sunshine and Her Performing Juggler Dana

I’ve had many partners. Steve Aveson, Nick Weber and Mari Dempsey were my first. Sunshine and then Lacey were next. Learning to solo perform required learning to be totally self-sufficient when out on the road. Touring alone is a different experience. It is an art. Solitude as defined in those days was of a flavor changed by the interconnectivity of now. Without cell phones and electronic mail my chances of having someone contact me rested entirely on the US Postal Service and a
telephone answering service I arranged for back in California. I would check for messages with the service and then set up and pay a small fortune in coins to contact future clients, friends and family.

Circa 1977 Dana Smith in Harlequin Street Theater

            I fell in love with sailing the day I got off the road and set up shop in San Francisco where I would street perform off and on over the next 31 years. Sailing like shows provided me with the sacred bond I had made to keep in my life a place
where I slept that moved. My 1967 Ford was always ready and from 1976 when I first purchased the truck until about 1997 when I finally junked the rig I put some half million touring miles on this baby. The Chevrolet Suburban 4X4 was
next. Put about two hundred thousand on this rig. Next came my Dodge Cummins diesel dually. And at present I roll with a 2007 Toyota Tacoma 4 cylinder 5 speed stick, twenty-seven miles to the gallon rig.

Where I've Lived the Longest of All....

My life is a story of wanderlust. My life is also a story about being a traveling showman. Then, the writing, always the words, and my plays, poems, songs and lyrics, correspondence, magazine articles, and finally the development and completion of my first two novels. Of course imagine if you will with me the million of random incidences, both large and small, occurrences that last a moment and other events that have stretched out over the decades. Children, marriages,
homes purchased, boats I’ve owned, dunderheaded choices made in haste in the moment only to cost me precious spiritual energy tens of years later, and all the while some part of some of what I didn’t do right whittling away at the
purity of the best parts of who I was until accounted for. This is to say that nobodies perfect and I express and honor my flaws and speak up with some candor for trying to address those now.

Malibu Master Bedroom for Showman

            So, this short narrative explains in capsule form where my experience comes from. It explains what work I’ve done and where and where I haven’t lived. At present I am planted firmly in the hills of the East Bay near San Francisco.
Waiting in the garage my trusted Toyota and nearby in Emeryville our trusted sailboat. I am less urgent at the moment about going out on the road or heading out to sea, but the day will arrive when I’ll want that and seek out the opportunity to go, ride the wind across prairie or sea, and find out what else I can know about this world we live in.