Tag Archives: Busker

Talent’s Lending Library

We say good morning from Sonoita, Arizona. I was overnight 15 miles west in Patagonia. Dinner hour was shared with an 88 year old poet, a modern day vaudevillian, the showman’s stalwart wife and pair of Golden retrievers.

Creative personalities are not rare. I’ve a broader definition now, the club isn’t so exclusive, a great many belong, many unaware how and where their special talent fits in.

I know painters, potters, jugglers and writers all producing good work and a living wage. They are explicit and their role has been perfected.

Picasso’s work is singular, there is not a second painter of his kind. Martha Graham is a one-off without any other choreographers influencing the world of dance with the same force. Frank Lloyd Wright set down a remarkable body of work through the buildings he imagined then had built.

Martha Graham lived to 97. Picasso and Wright died at 95. I would argue Wright’s work remained vital and only got better. Picasso did not shatter convention in the latter part of his career. Graham too possessed an intensity but had choreographed her most important work in the first half of her life.

The young and untested Burt Bacharach caught his first break playing piano, scoring arrangements for Marlene Dietrich. Then after he began writing music for Hal David’s lyrics. Then, they found Dionne Warwick in 1961. The talented trio produced some of the best popular music of the last century.

Elvis Costello teamed up with Bacharach and released Painted from Memory in 1998. The landmark album advanced Costello’s songwriting craft. What is worth noting is both Costello’s songs and lyrics benefited from Bacharach’s editing and revising. The collaboration passed the test, each made the other better, together the work verges on the best either has ever done.

Creative people are not rare, a great many fit the description. Fred Astaire, Charlie Chaplin, and Frank Sinatra were forceful performing artists of their generation. Sinatra, once he began recording in high fidelity seems to have left the world with the more durable body of work. Chaplin’s films are brilliant but unlike a Sinatra’s music the cinematic style of Chaplin is from another time. The best of Astaire’s work is there to see, but again you have to take the time.

Some of William Shakespeare’s work requires no special training to enjoy. Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Nights Dream and Othello are quite accessible. The breadth and depth of the plotting, characters and dialogue of all 36 of his plays is the best writing ever composed for theater. The productions Shakespeare mounted at the Globe Theatre on the Thames in London for the Royal Court is an intoxicating display of creative genius.

Creativity happens in the foreground, the present moment, and the creative types that are self aware know that in the background there is the body of work left for posterity by this pantheon of brilliant artists. Sondheim, Steinbeck and Coltrane all scaled the heights leaving the world singularly brilliant work.

The talented Carrie Schnepf with Lacey my Performing Dog

In 2000 I embarked upon a decade of shows, each October I would play the month at Schnepf Farms. Five days a week, five shows a day, performances ran 30-40 minutes. I worked for Carrie Schnepf. Carrie had a background in music and theater, she knew she wanted to produce something like what I had come up with, and together we took much time and effort figuring out how to make what I was doing work for her audiences at her farm.

Carrie’s husband Mark possessed less show business skills, he was after all a farmer, but Mark was supportive of our introducing the particular experience my show provided.

Much of my background was pure street theater. I’d come off a 20 year run in San Francisco. I was rebuilding the act. My target audience remained the same as ever, anyone of any age should be able to watch my show and enjoy. But, to fit into the family festival market in Arizona I needed to dial down the urban edge, bring a more open heart to the work, allow for the audiences to have a less bang-bang inner city show.

By now I had become a father, my daughter was 7 years old. She had retaught me how to see the world through a child’s eyes, something I’d promised myself I would never forget but by dent of time had slipped from my grasp.

Most of my work on the streets was aimed at the adults, not that children didn’t enjoy the show, but they were not my focus until now. Understanding the children and making more of an effort to be attuned to this faction in my audience changed everything. The changes I made were met with fresh bookings, new clients, a great many venues were suddenly eager for what I was doing.

From the start I had the pleasure of becoming a favorite with the Schnepf’s youngest son. Between shows I let the 6 year old play with my juggling equipment. The kid gravitated toward playing with the Chinese yo-yo. He picked up a few moves by accident as he interacted with the juggling equipment less as a student and more as if he was a mere child lost in a flight of fancy, he had no goals or plans, he just wanted to play.

All these years later I know Grayson as a grown man. He remembers the Chinese yo-yo, can still do a few moves, and has watched enough shows to have enough savvy to be sure to sell his moves with clever patter when he fools around with the juggling equipment.

I’m still swinging for the fences, trying to knock the ball out of the park. Whether it is writing a new show or finishing the next novel I remain in the hunt of expressing myself hoping that what I’ve come up with will resonate with my audiences.

Then, I saw a 27 year old Grayson Schnepf last weekend. It was a fine reunion. I had come out to the farm to walk around there in my old digs. In 2000 when I had come out to Queen Creek to perform on the farm it hadn’t been in my mind that I would have the opportunity to influence a young budding child’s imagination. That my creative process, also in some sense a spiritual process, an interpersonal process of call and response, where if I was to succeed I would need to connect to everyone and every opportunity.

What the young Grayson imagined was that my itinerate life of traveling town to town working with people, spreading laughter and intrigue, sharing my particular knack for pulling people in and how this happiness was authentic, infused my life through and through, that the young son to a farmer recognized close up how even a less celebrated, less famous, less acclaimed performer could forge a viable creative life.

I’d imagined I’d created memories for a thousand audiences, that essentially what we call a show was an experience that can be many things, good or bad, easily dismissed, forgotten or remembered, or perhaps even something singularly formative, something that may change the course of another person’s life.

I’ve spent the week thinking about Grayson, how my being simple, uncomplicated and open to the young man while he was still in his earliest chapters of his childhood I had provided an unguarded glimpse into the creative process, that I was content, that my work had made for a fulfilling life, that not anything else on the farm, not the petting zoo, the carousel ride or the fire roasted corn could duplicate the experience I was providing for the farm’s audiences.

Grayson I know as an extraordinary talent. Whatever he does with his life a good portion of his success will come from his creativity, his imagination, his playfulness and in part because I had by accident given him a firsthand glimpse of a performer in pursuit of a life of authentic self expression. Last weekend I struck creative pay dirt, I got to see how I nudged one young man a little further down the road to living his best (creative) life.

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
 

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.

Crumbs of cinnamon buns

“Well, I’m excited to be here and by excited I mean I want to do something, and by something I mean I want to give you the best 20 minutes of entertainment packed into 60 minutes that you or any audience has ever seen.”

Backstage before the show goes up our one man solo production team is bounding about fleet of foot and fogged of mind. As ever I am prepping for one more swig of the unquenchably intoxicating elixir of performance life.

This present decade proceeds at a more measured pace. The previous decade each year I made some 500 appearances before my audiences.  

There is a backward and forward command of your material when working so incessantly. In place of such a regime I am now deploying a more rambling-rollercoaster-improvised style. Like a pesky fly the improviser dashes from one near death like moment to the next dodging the swatting like silence while awaiting another sure laugh to land. The beloved house fly dodges web and window sill while dreaming of succulent crumbs of cinnamon buns. Authentic laughter is no less delicate and uncertain a fated final end.

While working with my show-dog Lacey our five thousand performances once developed was ‘error’-tight with minimal variation between any two performances. Improvisation demands that our work be fueled by cognitive super powers. We live and die by such gambits. Rare is the performer that can rise to the occasion 500 times each and every moment of every show across the timeline of a year. There must be such a talented soul buried out there in this sea of performing humanity.

Between June and July I’m figuring I will launch somewhere near one hundred shows. By the end of July the audiences and performances sent into mayhem, mirth and orbit will then return to earth. Instead of landing the shuttle in the Mojave it will be a Prius motoring southward over and around the Canadian Rockies, pondering life along the Grand Ronde River, lingering on the backside of The Sisters, Oregon and finally safely back in the hangar where we make our home in this sprawling sea of high priced real estate famously named California.

It’s one thing to be the world’s great lover and it is another thing entirely to be the world’s greatest lover’s lover.

Listening to their every word, laughing at their every joke and then it’s back into the bedroom.

All the cards, the flowers and chocolates… and then its back into the bedroom.

This isn’t just about love, this is about the championship of love, you hear that inner voice that says, “go on kid, you can do it, take one more for the team.”

Now you know that there is no way out other than going all the way in.

She’s perfect and you’re perfect. The whole thing is perfect even though you know there is no such thing as perfect and even that’s perfect.

Opener… Street Theater Life

The Small Time Bigger Than You Know

One of the hardest 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. I’m talking about hard cold cash you can count in a hat after a performance. The lightning bolt street performing epiphany struck my not entirely completed journey to adulthood fresh and wild. 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, there are no lucky breaks, no easy streets on this obstacle strewn 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 orthodoxy. There has to be no other way out. This is your fated Tombstone. Conformity is a stinking stalemate. 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.

Pause

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

April 24, ’18 Road Dog Redux

Coast to Coast

the road

What a Juggler Sees

Physical training while touring can be gigantic pain. If there are long jumps between dates you’re going to miss your workout. The best of the best jugglers train every day. The length of a workout varies. Physical intensity is relative to the mental focus the act brings to the training process. The uncommon acts have stellar focal power- they stand out because they’re talents are many and easy to recognize.

We deal with the distraction of touring. If the virtuosity of a stunt is so high that it can only be attempted under optimal conditions then the trick is dropped while on the road. You’ll scale back and include only the stunts you can do drop dead stone cold one hundred percent every time. Your audience only sees a fraction of your best work.

Trailer 1

My Beautiful Reward

Driving, eating and sleeping are all scheduled around performing. Your day is framed by the stage time. Maybe Lenny Bruce walked on but variety acts have to get ready. Props have to be set. Costumes, even casual what might at first appear to be street attire is worn because it can accommodate the range of movement the performer expects to make during the show.

You go out on ten coast to coast national tours and perform a few thousand shows across the entire lower forty-eight and you are bent by such a process. Gas stations, rest areas, hotels and convenience stores become habitat. Once in touring mode you become the student of regional patterns. There is a contrast between how a local person’s schedule is all caught up and tied to the concerns of their immediate surroundings.

Troy small

Between the Long Hops and Small Town Stops

While touring the performer is painting a story of human attachment to place and people. We are invasive species, foreign objects—curiosities. How we can survive without the familiar comforts of our own home is hard for a local to understand. Why we train so hard is to give form to that emptiness. We are working not just for a living but for our psychological survival. The best jugglers exercise many talents.

Buy a book, book a show. Tell a friend. Share my blog. Be in touch… Best of luck and love

Edited Red Star

Four-Seven-Eighteen Saturday Californian

Buy a book, book a show. You can find things out just by clicking around. No mystery, no hyperbole, just straight prose and performer as unmasked and as native Californian as is appropriate.

Misty Saturday Morning,

Bay Club- San Francisco

 

I’ll begin with a quick dispatch from Fox’s Tucker Carlson dissing us this weekend via his tweet cage.

Yes, real estate is too expensive but it isn’t the fault of the lunch bucket crowd. Those card carrying Teacher Union members don’t buy houses and don’t set policy.

For starters California is widely popular. We have beaches, mountains and desert. We have Hollywood and North Beach. We have redwood trees. We make many of the best wines and movies in the world. Facebook, Google and Apple all make their home offices here. We make the world’s most important automobile  here. It is called Tesla.

But, come on dude, Dana buddy what? You going full provincial on us? Not at all. The entirety of the West Coast, my favorite Left Coast has shown the rest of the country how. Work opportunity, education, health-care, social security and Medicare are all supported by large majorities. We want clean air and water. We want to solve anthropogenic climate change. We want nuclear power shuttered and a 21st Century renewable energy system deployed.

That’s us in a progressive nutshell. We want to make good on our promise. We want to weave our citizens into a unified patriotic mosaic. We want peace, freedom and women to have robust access to equal pay, family planning services and the best education we can provide them.

This kiss up and kick down thing doesn’t work. Massive tax cuts to an out of control elite  invited most of the kicking. Tucker bites at California’s progressive wave. We are a cleansing wave of purer purpose. We advocate for a more fully empowered middle class. A busker knows a lot about playing his act to a lunch bucket crowd. They’re known as the people. Let’s rock blue wave friends and roll… time to take back our country.

From California with Love

April 5th,’18 Blue Corn Blue Vegan Shoes

Starting Here Starting Now

Here you find yourself- things have come to this… if you click around you’ll discover information about my shows and books. Buy a book, book a show. Be sure to surf all my digital frontier. You can always message me, our password protected switchboard is open.

Busker Believing Navajo Blue Corn 

Private Investigator

You’ve Got to Look Into Things

There is a connection between a street show and eating a whole food plant based meal. You can eat more, better, new or same. Like many of you I’ve too often picked same. The ruts to the Oregon Trail and my dietary habits look like impossible to surgically separate Siamese twins.

I’m trying to do what I can to maintain my health. Whiskey, Marlboros and jumbo sized banana splits are off my preferred list. Replacing these finer things from another era are kale, arugula and hibiscus tea.

That will take the comedy right out of the entire stinking tragic mess called life faster than getting eighty-sixed from Joe’s Spic and Span Café in Salt Lake City, Utah because there isn’t nothing you can eat— unless you can tolerate heaps of salt, sugar and saturated fat without needing to go immediately to the emergency room due to the signs of malaise being exhibited by your flagging spirits and low pulse.

succulent grandie

Pretty as a Peacock

Eating can be an exploration. If you can find it in the corner 7-11 then put that on the list of things you will not eat and put all things you can’t find in those isles on the list of things you can. That’s simple enough.

So for starters how about some blue corn tortillas? Better still how about growing a crop up in the Navajo Nation? A simple rule of thumb goes like this: if it is a plant and darker in color it is likely more nutritious. So, is blue corn got that hot little better for you going for it?—-  “Researchers found blue corn tortillas contain 20% more protein than their white corn counterparts. They also have less starch and a lower glycemic index (GI), which may be good news for humankind.”

self portrait

Plain as Day Rumpled as an Afternoon

I’m going to go out on the limb of a cornstalk and just state flat out that blue corn’s better in every kind of way for you than that pale to bright yellow corn we toss to hogs and fatten cattle with.

Tomorrow we’ll delve into the virtues of earthen ovens ancient indigenous man used for fire roasting food. Appears the Anasazi were eating pepper and goat cheese encrusted pizza several hundreds of years before Elvis first shook his hips with such licentiousness that all the women in my family fell strangely silent, sad, lonely and ultimately hungry for things I didn’t know even existed. That’s tomorrow… come on back to this crackling fire of a tall tale you hounds for peace, freedom and hot almond milk lattes.

Edited Red Star

 

 

March 21, 2018 Maestro’s Return

Blue Wave Surfing Starts Here

Harvey Milk

Street Theater as Social Justice Cupcake Fundraiser

Join us won’t you!!!!

The early days of street theater in San Francisco is part of a collection of photographs and essays I am putting together about the geographically more ambitious topic of busking across the entirety of North America.

The thirty minute performance was boilerplate. An act started at the top of the hour, shows were thirty on and thirty off, noon to night, seven days a week year in and year out. Social commentary remained coin of the comedy realm but the sharp political observations of the first wave acts faded and changed with the times and all but ended. Costumes had to be neat and clean and so did the street performer’s material. You work edgy out on the street but not on the wharfs best stages. A street act needed to draw a crowd, get a laugh and after the show send the audience away happier than when they had arrived. From the get-go the city center shopping districts designed to attract tourists arrived out of the box and joined at the hip merchandising T-shirts, postcards and this new age repackaged variety show entertainment. This structure prevailed for two decades plus until the audience slipped from the grasp of the street performers hold on their imagination. Like the audience the street performer had to move on.

Street hasn’t died so much as had to adapt and add more reliable venues. There remain an endless supply of people and places where this style of show remains viable. We are fortunate, we are mobile, we can go to where we can find our audiences.We are an emotional timeless siren song. The best of what street performing represents is something all of us feel being threatened when the lawless grip of authoritarian power presses in upon our democracy. We are not some cyber ops, black ops, disinformation gadget. We are a reflection of our communities passion for peace, environmental justice and social progress. That’s why I made this work a career.

in-the-round-e1521657170340

City Center’s Beating Heart Edmonton, Alberta 2014

See a show, buy a book, come on back. I’ll be here…

Edited Red Star