Tag Archives: Sidewalk Show

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

Sidewalk Show

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Winnipeg 1987

One of the hardest hand to mouth games ever invented in this world of hard knocks is busking. No contracts, no off site gigs, just pure hat and more hat shows. Anxious family and friends thought I was headed toward a cobblestone catastrophe. The lightning bolt street performing epiphany struck fresh and wild. Destitution and insolvency are bookended plotting points. There is no getting off the road, there are no lucky breaks or easy streets on this 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 obedience. There has to be no other way out. This is your fated Tombstone. Conformity is a stinking stalemate. Life on Easy Street is over. You set out to do so many shows, as far as an eye can see, that you’re at risk of drowning in a sea of nickels, dimes and quarters.

in the round

Small Crowd

Since 1972 I had been stalling. I’d put off the day so long it was now a fresh and unused January of 1980. I drove into Fisherman’s Wharf on a overcast cool dry morning. Crazy early sunrise. The streets were empty but for the sounds of mournful seagulls, barking sea lions, and one tentative soul preparing to put his future on the line.

To make it to the top of the small time  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 fifteen minute journey to glorious acclaim or agonizing 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 concrete self proclaimed stage. This is the coliseum. You are an entertainment warrior.

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A Lifetime of Playing with Fire

Raspy voiced, drained emotionally, the unrelenting grinding first day had taken a toll. Sidewalk shows are a monument to repetition. Over and over the same routine altered ever so slightly is retried, polished and refined. Improvement inches ahead grudgingly.

Like that the weekend zipped by, three days work reverberated like a broken record in my head. Gut wrenching images of audiences walking away before I could pass the hat set fire to my withering courage. Youngsters charmed with wonder in their eyes wanting to see what happened next. They recognized the infant mortal fragility disguised within the busker and begged their parents to stay for the end. More than a few lovely’s lingered. A beat cop wearing out his shoe leather ordered that I watch my crowd size. Merchants stood in their doorways curious, inconvenienced, not yet convinced smoking cigarettes. The other assorted stubborn misfits and survivors of the sidewalk scene all too pressed by their own work had not even a spare moment to fritter away. 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, western civilizations western most outpost, an end of the line– the leading edge of a new possibility.

Edited Red Star