Category Archives: Performances

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Sidewalk Show 1980

“Try not to applaud when I make a mistake, you’re only reinforcing bad habits.”
Jefferson Street 1980
One of the grittiest hand to mouth hustles ever invented in this world of hard knocks is busking. No contracts, no off site gigs— just pure hat and more hat shows. “Hat” is street pidgin for money. Conjuring up legal tender from out of the thin blue is the real magic. Motivating citizens to open their wallet pluck out a bill and voluntarily hand it over never ceases to be anything less than the biggest cardiopulmonary event this side of weeping at the sight of Michelangelo’s frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel . Busking is a spine tingling page turner with the best ending you’ve ever experienced. A reliable pitch works from here to eternity any time, any day, all year long— she’s always there for you. Playing the king’s fool in the public square is life emancipating.
This lightning bolt street performing epiphany hijacked my not yet completed journey to adulthood. Somehow I had come to believe the world I wanted to live in was about running wild and being free. Anxious family and friends thought I was headed toward a cobblestone catastrophe. Destitution and insolvency were bookended plotting points. There is no getting off the road, no lucky breaks, no easy streets on this obstacle strewn unpaid parking ticketed path. You can’t undo what you’ve bet your last glimmer of hope on. An emergent busker is a go it alone type drowning in a world insisting on orthodoxy. There has to be no other way out— this is your fated Tombstone. Conformity is a stinking stalemate. Faith in the kindness of strangers is your North Star. You set out to do so many shows, as far as an eye can see, until you’re at risk of being buried in a sea of nickels, dimes and quarters.
Stalling is what you do when the famous ego induced death spiral—fear of rejection—has you cornered and on the ropes. I’d put off trying my luck on the sidewalks of San Francisco so long that the present moment was now a fresh unused January 1980. Waking pensive with a stomach tied in knots I drove into Fisherman’s Wharf. What I can remember was a crazy early morning— the sky a muted overcast blotted daybreak— a bustling midday Jefferson Street at this hour waited empty— but for the mournful seagulls, barking sea lions, and this one tentative performer preparing to place his great expectations on the line.
Making it to the tippy top of the small time sidewalk show 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 one quarter of one hour’s journey to glorious acclaim or crushing 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 self-claimed constitutionally guaranteed concrete stage. This is the pedestrian’s coliseum. You are an entertainment gladiator.
Raspy voiced, drained— the grinding first day exacted the last bead of sweat. Sidewalk shows are a monument to repetition. Over and over the same routine altered on the whim and the will was retried and refined. Improvement inched uphill— grudgingly.
In a scalding hot-heartbeat the first weekend flashed by. Twenty-four shows reverberated across the pavement like a trumpeting bop infused Miles Davis scorched earth- note perfect- improvised melodic soul-aching out of this world moon shot. Escape velocity sent this one and only into busking orbit. I was a man on a mission.
Gut wrenching images of audiences walking away before I could pass the hat tortured my lean confidence. Curious youngsters begging parents wanted to stay to see what happened next. Preschoolers recognized the infant mortal fragility disguised beneath my thin busking veneer pleaded whining at full lung to see what further trials this odd bit player would be forced to endure. More than a few lovely’s lingered. A beat cop standing in scuffed shoe leather ordered I watch my crowd size. Merchants stood in their doorways half curious, inconvenienced, not yet convinced— smoking cigarettes. Assorted stubborn misfits, the grizzled survivors of the sidewalk scene all too pressed by their own scramble to make ends meet had not even a spare moment to fritter away calculating the odds of my surviving. 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, civilizations westernmost outpost, an emphatic continental end of the line— the leading edge of some one of a kind infinitely-dubious vocational enterprise.
First and foremost street theater is about profitably stopping people dead in their tracks. Two becomes four, four turns into eight; eight becomes an engaged audience of fifty. Practitioner’s of this centuries old enterprise have an eye, feel the vibe— know how quick they’ll draw a crowd— how long they dare to hold them. Change the show’s length, alter the pace, adapt to live another day— execution is the whole enchilada. Wily busker’s 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 you overzealous flame throwing heartbreaker’s or sit back down— life is short.
End One of Ten… more to follow

Watercourse Weaver

High latitude summer nights are short. In Grand Prairie they come near midnight. Dawn is visible by four. 
A dusky summer sky at latitude 55 germinate latent spirited seeds. All is ever so fleeting. Brevity of darkness strikes a chord.
There is an urgency to drinking evening in up here. I went walking the trails along Bear Creek in the heart of town. Found elms, blue spruce, magpies and scrub jays all hustling about.
After a whirling dervish of a festival in Edmonton the chance to go bounding lost along a watercourse unburdening my pent up store of memories and emotions was much needed.
Tricky footing this terrain. Not giving up on shows, that isn’t the aim, but giving back hard won physical skills to the passage of time that waits for no man, that asks us to find grace realizing a piece of what we can do has been merely loaned to us for a moment. 
I walk soaking in all the twilights meandering steady as I go. Promise me, I said. Whatever chance you’ve had, whatever luck you’ve found, added all together, holding this fortune of memories is to bow to the indelible rules. Previous moments are my waterway— my slipstream. My aim has been to appreciate that living out the life of a street performer would be misspent if I’d not thought it would be enough. Here is an end in itself. I am complete. Busking is enough
 

Time Whispers

I am no longer at the intersection wondering how much further I have to go. The cast playing the Edmonton International Street Performer’s Festival needn’t say a word. Time whispers in my ear.

Street theater is physical. The quickest wits, the sharpest reflexes, these gifts on loan from the gods are asking to be returned. Another season in our life arrives, another page to our story is written.

I have wanted to be a street performer for more years of my life than I have wanted anything. I’ve wanted to be my best version. That is enough.

The kind audiences here in Edmonton allow me to slip into my show. Gracefully I am allowed one more sip. Obey the unwritten rules. Go about the work. Be kind to the children, be comfortable in your own skin. Have an unshakable faith that what you have been put on earth to do is exactly what you are doing. You are enough. You are fulfilled.

I lean into the wind. Hold my wife’s hand. Piecing together next steps. I hear it is wise not to keep holding too tight to yesterday, to not look out too far ahead to tomorrow, to spend most of what you can on making good use of today. I’ve two shows. For today that will be enough.

Running with the Road Dogs

Backroads landed me hard on a saloon in Shelby, Montana. Had my pick of near a dozen gin joints in this Jack Johnson Championship Prizefight site. The joint that promised dancing- she’s the one.

Pawn shop two blocks down had a line at the counter. Most were turning their rifles in for Fourth of July party money. Hand tools were offered for a song. I’ve been shopping for a vest. No luck.

Embarrassing at the border. Immigration welcomed my rolling north to juggle in Edmonton. Officer, female, tattooed, Blackfoot (pretty sure) tongue lashed institutionally by the book, learned the juggling heart of the matter and sent me northbound destination Edmonton International Street Performers Festival.

Ghosts of festivals past roll like thunder in my swirling inner monologue. I’ve got giants of street inside my chest just bursting at the seams. OJ, RJ, B-Fly, Waldo and Woodhead… Big boss Finklini, Hokum, Ned Kelly, Tomas, Murph, Shelster, Soto, Love 22, M.M.Michael, Troutman, K t’ Great, Mildred, Pavarotti, O’Shea, Palmer, Hanson, Kristi, Jeanie, Blackman, Condo, Ruth, Abbey, Felicity, Shakespeare Bros, CB, Angus, Mr. Elliott, Nick Nick, Berky, Rhys, Lee’s both Lee’s, F’ing Ferguson, Alex, Dewey and Gazzo…

Running with the road dogs while they go nipping at my heels.

Thermopolis, Wyoming’s Hot Spring

Deeper into the journey now. After Fort Collins, Colorado’s leafy college town coddling I am back in the sprawling lost world we know as Central Wyoming.

Hot Springs State Park is set against a northern flowing Big Horn River. Half the town’s businesses are in dire circumstances the rest boarded up.

You come to Thermopolis to avoid the bumper to bumper buffalo watching quagmire.

Still as far as rural Thermopolis goes the idea of leaders in Cheyenne or Washington nurturing its citizens here is apparently not on the agenda.

It is this gutted, forgotten, exploited and neglected kind of isolated (super far from anywhere) community we need to help. Coal mining, natural gas exploration and logging operators need not apply. This whole top down Wall Street siphon off the profits leave the locals with crap wages and post industrial cleanup bills won’t cut it.

Best as I can tell they do have a pretty good hospital and health clinic. Highway in and out of town is in good shape. Probably too geologically interesting but not quite enough trees for most of the accidental tourists that unwittingly land here.

Nearby Northern Wyoming Shoshoni Tribal Lands play into the economic direction made visible here. Of course capitalism, democracy and the deal cut with the Shoshoni might have more than some fraction of the whole reason for why here has been so overlooked..

Bolt of Thunder water slide is an attraction.I took my chances last night and lived to tell, not before seeing my life flashing before my eyes just prior to my parachute popping and slowing me down after one terrific 30-40 second corkscrewing hot springing gravity induced flight of this able bodied bumble-he.

Lightest Most Mighty Touch…

Playing the least visited towns allows for escaping the travel services industry. Instead of finding more of the same; Marriott, Hertz, Southwest Airlines and Denny’s there is this other original entrepreneurial economy to be relished.

Globalization, climate change, digital technology and economic inequality account for the lion’s share of the changes to sweep across the globe since I first began touring.

Fort Collins, Colorado suffers from a dearth of good paying jobs and the blight of unaffordable housing.

In Emeryville, California there are tent cities filled to the brim, hundreds and hundreds of displaced citizens living without shelter. Inequality expresses its unnecessary and unequal disbursement of productivity and profit to a smaller sliver of our most affluent citizens. This is entirely preventable.

California and New York stepping up in the fight against the release of greenhouse gases gives us all hope. Regenerative farming practices may lock into our soil vast amounts of heat trapping carbon. The development of energy storage systems- pumped hydro, thermal heat storage and solar powered hydrogen making systems all provide humanity with the tools we need to fend off disaster.

Multigenerational entertainment in some fraction of some way advocates for the hopes and dreams of our children, the sage entertainer attempts to give voice to responsibility. Our heart’s desires touch. Laughter and applause can be purposeful.

You know things you can’t bring yourself to even imagine like an uncontrollable climate emergency that might threaten the world’s civilization. The stakes are that high, but not so dire we cease to laugh, no longer make our best efforts. We can do this with the lightest most mighty touch.

The Kindness of Strangers

Variety show preparation continues. Physical skills practice is one piece of the puzzle. Another piece is adding new material. In this instance it is woven into the opener and closer.
 Most of this material is now memorized, but the jokes require context, setup and then let the line go. If the lines were merely recited things would be infinitely less difficult but they are not. A street act has to fit the line into the moment. That is the unmistakable mark of showmanship.

I’ve got several edited musical pieces to physically improvise. Being visual is street performing.
Performing at the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival is an anxiety making prelude. Surrounded by the best of the best takes some steeling of nerves. All of us want to believe we belong. Performers take their material place it into the moment and proof their blueprint by testing its merit with an audience.
Then, there is a laugh, maybe an audience applauds and all of a sudden you’re over the worst of the thing and ready. 
To meet the moment there is a madcap dash backstage when then all at once you hear the stage manager make that fateful call for all of us to take our places. The stage manager under the direction of the producer signals the start by wave of hand.
A thousand performers and more in the last 35 years have waited standing on their mark anticipating this Shakespearean surge of love, laughter and madcap playfulness. North America’s premier street performer’s festival comes to a roiling boil in the living, beating heart of North America’s most populous northernmost city this July as it has every July for the last 35 years.

Like the time of your life, there is no other better moment to make the most of than this one moment we have all been given.