Tag Archives: Edmonton International Street Performers Festival

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.

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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

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