Tag Archives: Golden Finkel

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

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