Tag Archives: Edmonton International Street Performers Festival

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.

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.

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.

polishing the tile

Mated Pair

June 10th I roll eastbound. The author of Hot Spring Honeymoon will thread his way from one geothermal wonderment to the next. Rehearsing lines, writing more material, finding a good shade tree where I can juggle will be part of each day. Making miles east will be a second duty. There is an art to being somewhere while you are trying to get to somewhere. They are one and the same. Road warriors know how to drink up every inch of the two lane highways.

Once I arrive in Ft. Collins, Colorado I’ll hustle down to Old Town and pitch up and throw a few shows down while I am there enjoying the guest services of my always much younger sister and brother in law.

Rules seem to be important to understand for those people not in the serendipitous business of sidewalk entertainment. The key to a successful career in busking is to never ask for permission and always ask for forgiveness. When ordered to shut down best to move along so as to get along. In a nutshell that’s the long and short to the busking game. Smile, appear to be reasonable, act compassionately toward officials fearful of a creative uprising breaking out upon the sidewalks of their free speech infused constitutionally guaranteed democracy. Street is the ultimate rule of law.

North from Ft Collins we’ll next take on Thermopolis, Wyoming and her astounding geothermally heated waters. After taming that frontier town we’ll circle north then west for Chico Hot Springs on the northernmost boundaries of Yellowstone before stopping in Helena, Montana where I’ll drop my wife so she may return to California for further explorations in all things to do with a major home remodeling project that at that date is scheduled for completion.

For pure comedy I’ll roll north and cross into Canada and streak north where I’ll be appearing at the 35th Edmonton International Street Performers Festival. I first appeared at this much heralded busking tsunami in 1987. All these decades later being invited to appear at the event dwarfs my wildest expectations. There is not a more lucky so and so. More to come

Cavalcade of Concrete

Wayback on the byways

Ramping up for getting out on the Beggar’s Banquet-Kindness of Strangers- Why Don’t You Do it In the Road North American International Busking Tour of 2019

This is the Ft Collins, Colorado, Edmonton, Alberta to Grand Prairie long hops and short stops itinerary.

This includes stopping at Miette Hot Spring, Thermopolis, Wyoming for soaking and two days in Kootenay’s at Nakusp Hot Spring. What would you expect from the author of Hot Spring Honeymoon.

A bit of sunscreen, chapstick and we’re set. See you out there on the Street of Dreams

Code of Street Performing Conduct

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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.

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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.

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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

He Got Me and I Got Him… The Storymaker

Plotkin Smith

Alan Plotkin

2014’s recipient of the Golden Finkel

We are never alone. Sometimes it seems so. Some days on the road rolling from date to date- show to show, especially back in the day prior to cell phones, I could almost pretend to be in total isolation, an immaculate detached state of being in a pure nowhere.

What I have learned is that while I was out there so were my associates, the people that make up my community. We are performers, directors, videographers. We are puppet makers and circus arts coaches. Some were home waiting for us to return while others hopped in and took those blue highways, those two lane back roads from place to place with us, and they learned the fine art of the drift, how to be comfortable in their own bones while traveling about the known and unknown parts of this world.

Turning someone on to the way of the vagabonding performer’s life was to open minds and learn to slow the pace and when sunset and wide river beckoned to cease the roaming and soak in the presence of the force.

There is no getting this state of mind, this way of being, what might be called lifestyle without having cracked open a bottle and pouring some, giving it a good taste.

Sure you can approximate how you might feel, what your mind might think, how your appetite might yearn for being back on home ground.

Then, along the trail a kindred spirit appears. They get you because even if they don’t know you in particular, they know what you’ve been through, and how you got to where you are. In this instance it is Alan Plotkin. We have both been on the circuit for decades. We have both seen our fair share of the ten thousand joys and sorrows that the world we live and work in presents to us. So, when Alan points his camera toward my show he is shooting from a place of common ground, from shared experience, undisputed perspective.

And the truth is that I have had the great fortune of finding people that “get me.” They don’t always necessarily recognize me at first glimpse, but over the course of time they come to regard me as consisting of the same stories, the same quirky experiences, and ultimately we discover we are brothers and sisters from the same tribe.

And it is why I see so much of Alan Plotkin’s wit and insight in this gift he has edited for me. Here the simplicity and purity of street theater has been stitched together as a promotional reel. Here Alan has set out to share with unknown souls by way of short clips some imagined means of introducing my work to those who have not heard or seen of me ever before. It is only a version, but it is with Alan’s touch an ongoing edition of a kind of thing I have been about for some forty years now.

Ladies and gentleman, I not only would like to introduce you to what I did in July of 2014 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada but I’d also like to ask you to pay attention to the camera work, editing and conjuring of street theater spirits that Alan has added to this short promotional video.

I couldn’t ask for better work, more revealing, a more intimate telling of what I do and to go even further, by way of Alan’s eye and skill, to have my mask pulled back and the person behind the show exposed. In the best way… and if by chance you might consider that you are not just looking at some best version of me that you may well be looking at some best version of Alan Plotkin. 

 

The Novel Juggler as told by the Award Winning Alan Plotkin