Category Archives: Performances

I perform all over the world- check out what I’m up to now!

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.

Change Changed Newport

A Place Named After a Floppy Hat

Busking was salvaged from the dictionary some years back and put to work again as a term describing street performing. I visited Newport,
Rhode Island and while strolling the waterfront walked past this joint. Not that busking would go down very well in Newport. I make it my business to know about where buskers play and Newport appears closed for business. When looking for situations that might be right for the game we play we are first looking for a space that we could make work. I didn’t see that space in Newport. Second we look for a situation. The situation looked promising. People appeared as if they could use something to do. Finally, we look for the kind of people who might react favorably to the offering. That looked hard to read by my eye. I’m not sure I saw a kind of visitor to downtown Newport who might be inclined to spending some impromptu moment engaged in a bit of mirth and diversion. I did see a good city sponsored music presentation in a
local waterfront park. And of course the legendary jazz and folk festivals are both in Newport. I didn’t really know what Newport, Rhode Island would mean, didn’t know what the vibe was in that town, but having been there now I kind of got my first taste. The legendary Andrew Potter of High Street Circus lives nearby in Jamestown with his wife and daughter when she’s not away in college. We walked the historic district, drove past the mansions, the New York City Yacht Club, and slipped the line off Andrew’s sailboat and took a good romp across her legendary sailing waters. Newport is a great place for buskers to go sailing is what I’ve learned. Some things will never change, even in the face of the fact that nothing remains the same forever. When the New York City Yacht Club lost the America’s Cup that is when change changedNewport.

Bankrupt Heart                              The Novel

“Nick had a nifty side job using a power washer to
clean hauled out boats. This morning he was flogging the pull chord trying to
get the machine to start. While Ry was sanding Nick was cussing, and this
wasn’t just simple cussing, this was existential cussing, this was cussing like
when Picasso was painting, this was Nick putting the fear of the gods into the
inanimate object of his unfulfilled wishes cussing, this was Nick flipping the
whole mess on its side, pulling spark plugs, replacing spark plugs, changing
gas, trying again until the power washer after ruining his whole day in spite
of all his impatience and cussing at long last started.”

Changing Ground Rules for Teens

One Hundred and Forty-Four Feet of Consortium Change The Lovely Artemis in Nantucket

It is hard to read the paper and have the headlines not change your mind. What the heck is going on? All I want to do is a show now and again, get a book published, and enjoy the good things life has to offer. I think Syria is easier to understand than a credit default swap, but then is the tyranny of a dictator all that much different than a financial sector that runs amok, blows up, reconstitutes itself and in its wake destroys the wealth of so many millions and millions of the worlds citizens? Now, on top of what appears to be revolution across the Middle East we have social unrest (polite term for revolutionary action) popping up in London, Liverpool and Manchester… It appears to me that capitalism left  unfettered, unrestrained, to its own devices will do whatever it is allowed to do to maximize its share of the opportunity. If we allow it to pollute it will. If we allow it to compensate its executives unreasonably it will, if we allow it to smash unions and diminish wages and benefits it will. It doesn’t do this with emotion, or with ideology, it doesn’t do this necessarily with any evil or malice. It simply does so by using its guidance system…profits. Giant profits beget enormous
profits. Money captures politicians, then regulators, then think tanks, then public relations firms that concoct messages that attempt to capture the people. If they can’t win with a message then they will attempt to muddy the waters, obscure the issues, raise doubts to the facts of the situation, and regroup and then once more the organization will reintroduce its new message and try again to prevail. It isn’t a black and white world. Yes, there are corporations that seem constrained and well controlled. But, when one of these really big behemoths breaks out of the cage, and many do, a great deal of a corporations goal’s are met at the expense of the will of the peoples. It isn’t binary. Do you understand? It isn’t either/or. It is a matter of good governance. We create frameworks for these institutions to function within. They don’t set the framework, the people do, through their governments. Here’s an idea! Let’s say I’m a teenager and I want to date your daughter. Instead of the parents setting the ground rules I get to. I tell you what time I’ll bring her home, tell you what you can and can’t know about what we are going to do, and when it seems like something just doesn’t seem right about all of that, I’ll
flood your house with phone calls, emails, and messengers to your front door all raising doubts about rules you thought you might enforce. It is possible I might just get away with it for a date or two, but then nine months later? I think the parents might regret having ever changed their minds, but by then it’s too late. That’s what I like about a good idea, its fool proof, why a really big idea in this day and age as come to be know as “too big too fail.”

Bankrupt Heart               The Second Novel 

“Dad,” she said with a question in her voice.

He echoed her tone, “Sophia,” Ry continued washing
the dishes, drying them, finding their place in the cupboards.

She sat down at the dining table.

Ry used the dish towel to dry his hands. He sat down
next to his daughter.

“What?”

She didn’t know the answer to her question. Finally,
she gave it up, she said, “Sharks!”

“Sharks,” It was out of the blue.

She’d become more brazen, “yeah, sharks, are there
sharks in the water?”

“You mean big sharks, man-eaters, Great Whites?”

She was growing cranky. She put her hand on her chin.
She stared straight ahead. She thought the question had merit. “I don’t know
what kind of sharks,”

Ry put his arm around Sophia. “I’m not going to die from
a shark attack.”

 “So, if the
boat sank sharks wouldn’t kill you?”

Circus as Change

Tailgate Backstage at Gig

Especially interesting speculation with regard to whether the newfangled cirque is a durable long lasting incarnation. And it comes while finding by accident this other iteration of circus, something that seems to have survived against all odds.

Time will tell. Fortune telling is not my specialty. It seems the era when Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Phil Silvers, Chaplan, Groucho etc… all spawned from vaudeville and in some stroke of change were able to rise and command a place in these new high dollar venues of broadcast radio, the pioneering days of television and motion pictures.

But, in this journey vaudeville theaters withered and closed, those that could adapted their acts to playing fairs, nightclubs, and circus. They had the Catskills and Pocono’s, the senior circuit in Florida and to a lesser extent the winter resorts in Arizona, maybe Vegas.

There are revues still most times you see them on cruise ships. This is what is left of what we’d call vaudeville. Cirque has provided a vehicle for well trained circus artists, but they seem to design the shows to feature the cirque and we never seem to witness the creation of that new  phenomenal individual must see performer or act from the show. Our attention is drawn to the concept, the costumes, the colossal new this or that…

So, I’m
with you, more comfortable visiting the lower rungs of the pyramid of success
and show, where miracles of virtuous skill and rehearsal can be savored at a
graspable level. Of course Disney on Ice, and other large arena spec type shows
seem to endure and remain fixtures on the scene. Cirque with the wind at their
back are likely to remain influential for some years ahead, but all around them
the world is changing and one difficult day they will likely find they are no
longer as synchronized with the trends and tastes of the moment and their scale
and size will shrink to something other than what is happening now.

The East Bay Funky Changes Stylings

Sunset Over the East Bay Hills

I am up for a couple of shows this weekend. One is in Berkeley while the other is in Oakland. The Temescal Festival on Telegraph   Avenue on the Oakland/Berkeley border is an event I played a few years ago. I’m born in Oakland. People at this show get that. It is like cool, the fire juggler is from the East Bay. We’re easy to pick out of a crowd if you know what your looking for. We linger around customized motorcycles. We comb our hair back. We talk in a certain slang style peculiar to people who’ve come up on this side of the bay. We’re lunch bucket types. We drink beer. Feel at home in Hayward. People from the East Bay vacation in Twain Harte, gamble up in Tahoe and for real pleasure and adventure go at the shore in Alameda. Emeryville is a newcomer. Piedmont remains a mystery to us. We all knew someone who had a hot tube up in Montclair or saw James Brown at the Oakland Auditorium back in the day. If you are a true vet of the East Bay you even know that Sly Stone used to play at joint called Frenchy’s out on Mission Blvd in Hayward long before anyone knew who he was. Jason Zazo who does great automobile upholstery rolls a fine Chevy short box big block he’s had since forever… This is a glimpse of the unchangeable changes, a kind of slice of the life, the time machine you don’t have to buy. All you need to do is head to San Lorenzo. My people are there exactly the way I remember them.

Bankrupt Heart             The Second Novel

Ry pushed against the varnished oak tiller. Jasmine’s
bow bent off to the side of the onrushing winds. The mainsail stiffened, she
began to move out at a smart clip. This was a sizable triangular sail rising 43
feet in height up the mast, eighteen feet in length along the boom, capturing a
bellowing breeze the sail created a tremendous force that thrust the hull ahead.
Ry steered a southbound course out into the deeper bay waters playing with the
angle of the mainsail until Jasmine’s most
rapturous stride was dispatched.

Changing Positions

Excuse me there's a dog on your head

It started out as a stunt in the act, then Pier 39 in San Francisco asked if I’d come down with Lacey and do some publicity shots, and the shots were for a long time part of the promo at the Pier, and let’s face it a cute dog standing on a jugglers shoulders is cute. I thought it was a good stunt, gave Lacey one more bit in the show, and didn’t mind the way it looked, thought it looked cool. But, never thought it would be a shot that a major tourist attraction in the United States would think would be just what the doctor ordered to perk up those lagging indicators and sluggish attendance figures. It comes as something of a shock when we find our work changing other peoples ideas of what they will and will not do. With regard to this particular image, but of course……….it’s a help wanted sign. And if you have a dog on your head it is pretty obvious you might need help! And remember that in the midst of all this is a man finishing his second novel. I know the question that is going through your mind right now, your thinking to yourself, does a man who balances animals on his head have a future in fiction?