Tag Archives: Street performer

Finding the Fun in the Setting Sun

The soaring soul...
The soaring soul…

“One morning you wake up in Yuma, Arizona in this thing called a motorhome. The phone rings it’s a receptionist, she’s calling to confirm your appointment with the plastic surgeon.”

While on stage the topic of the golden years of our lives needs to be approached carefully. Cliché is an epidemic hazard. As we approach this period in our life several surprise events often preface the lives of the stubborn and willfully blind.

There is the midlife crisis. Do you do anything or do you continue doing what you’ve been doing and chuck the whole notion of aspiring to remake a better more fulfilled self?

There are divergent responses to this chapter in life. By the time I had remarried I had opted for a bumper to bumper overhaul. I didn’t want to repeat the same patterns again and again. I figured the idea was to refrain from saying and doing the same things I had done and take a fresh approach. The fresh approach was simple. Try to do wholesome and skillful things. Had I been doing this all along, then that might not have been much of a change from my earlier years.

Besides the midlife crisis there is the no small matter of what work you have been doing. If it is close-sourced you will feel dead ended, retirement will be appropriate, and relieving yourself of the work that doesn’t infuse your life with passion is helpful.

If you work is your passion you may approach this period of your life with the promise of further productive vocational decades.

“Your wife is doing her impression of you when you first met. She’s fiddling with your buttons, tugging at your zipper, nibbling at your neck.

She keeps telling you how sexy you look. You think she’s in denial.”

The children are out of the house, but they are never gone. You live in the wake of those years. I’ll stick my neck out a bit and suggest many of us abide in a satisfaction and fulfillment from our work as parents. Good work as parents, good relationship with yourself, whether single or married now, and sensible relationship with your vocation, whether retired or you continue to work make up this terrain.

The golden years are fascinating. We know ourselves so well now. We seldom suffer foolish unfulfilling relationships of any kind at this point in our life. We are busy. There are not many decades left. Whatever unfinished business there is to do, it is time to get those temporal and physical things done. In my case it is about the finishing touches on a near four decade career on stage and equally fascinating career as an author. Many of you know me for my work on stage, but in fact I know myself as a lifelong writer and novelist. More of you will come to know more about this part of my life as well. It is about those last long sailing voyages on my calendar.

And there is this routine I’m putting the finishing touches on. The routine briefly visits this stage in life. And it must touch it with the spaciousness and compassion that is its hallmark. We only get here by chance and if we are wise we will make good use of its spirited richness. That is why they are so golden.

“You come to appreciate the spiritual meaning of the word: “emptiness”, it fits exactly with how you feel about your 401k.”

Hot Spring Honeymoon Front Cover
Click and Get it Here

 

“The notion that sex equates to love being predominant is a hard train to catch if it isn’t really going anywhere. As a matter of fact sex, or sexual attraction seems to confuse every character in the book at one point or another, making for some very funny side trips.”

Fun and funny novel about lust in the dust of a small town in Nevada

 

 

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

Summer Alongside the Salmon River

 

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Welcome to a slice of heaven on earth

You might miss the time of your life. Sometimes I get that feeling. Not today. Life in Idaho along the Salmon River is fat. Bald eagles on wing remind me to notch another best day off my bucket list. My list includes learning how to recognize every day as being a best day.

We are in full soul recharge mode now. The idea was simple. After Grand Prairie’s International Street Performers Festival my wife and I would point south and aim for somewhere right around here. We would figure out where right around here was when we found it. The key was to know when we found it.

We got mighty close in Hot Spring, Montana. Sure was about as near close to right at Miette Hot Springs in Jasper National Park. Trouble was we’d just started heading south and we couldn’t give up on the next 2000 miles just like that. We figured there had to be more ‘best days of our lives’ waiting for us just beyond that next bend over that other hill.

Jig is up tomorrow, at least for here. Tomorrow we point south more and continue to slow walk our way through the American West. Enjoy some yellow jacket company during sunset. We’ll put our feet up and regard the sound of the river running alongside where we are staying. We’ll pull over and take photographs for the movie trailer I’m making to accompany my latest novel. We’ll be working our way slowly back along the blue highways to California.

We’ve been dodging the crowds. Hard to explain how few people have made North Fork, Idaho their final destination. It isn’t convenient to anything. You have to go plenty out of your way to end up twenty-three miles north of Salmon on Highway 93. Seems by our expert eyes to have just about the perfect amount of here and now all tangled up in its rivers and mountains. Seems like we have gone and found what we were looking for.

 

Meadowhawk, Nevada is just south of here in Hot Spring Honeymoon, my latest Novel

E & D Salmon River

Might Be We Just Like An Excuse to Wear Our Hats

Lord of the Styles

Flatbush small

 

 

This moment’s style and fashion is so obvious. House of Cards has it, Veep deploys it, and Silicon Valley is based upon it.

Lenny Bruce skewered the sacred by roasting it atop the fires of the profane hypocrisy’s he alone seemed capable of speaking about.

And for each act taking one tack there is another cohort heading off in another. Nancy Meyers comes to mind, Seinfeld seems to wield this same aim, Nora Ephron… Then, there is the illustrative past including the direction of Frank Capra, George Cukor, and Howard Hawks.

Mel Brooks seemed to relish the hijinks of the soul of the Marx Brothers. Where Lenny Bruce failed at late night television an equally prolific and volatile Richard Pryor found the means of performing in this setting.

An adorable Eddie Izzard seems almost tame. Hedwig and the Angry Inch feature’s a transgender East German singer. The Book of Mormon if you search online will produce a vast stream of essays on the where to draw the line on what is too vulgar or obscene, and what we ought to do when sitting in a theater and what we are watching outrages us.

It is one thing to be the audience and another to be the creator. What seems clear is that once a project is conceived the skill is in working all the way to the edge of the style that the creator has invented. You do shock jock radio? You work to that edge. You do breezy afternoon commuter type banal styled talk radio you work to that side of the dial.

It comes as no surprise that given the crass bombast passing for political discourse that the cultural artistic entertainment community finds itself pulled in the same direction. Better the bomb throwing pugilistic types take their seat at the head of class. Oprah was a one of a kind and she’s off air and done.

Each of us that work’s in the narrative arts allows for some choice to approach. Any can work. We bow to the masters of one kind admiring their skills and talent while we remain on our own path.

The finger to the wind approach vexes integrity. Mel Brooks has to be Mel Brooks, and thank the gods for that. For the moment, at least this point in time, House of Cards, Veep and Silicon Valley are banking on finding their audience share by leaning hard upon one particular edge in a world that is in fact far more diverse than they can afford to allow for. In short there is a limit, every style can only take you so far, and from there you are on your own.

Her Name Was Lola…She was a Dancer

Alex and Dante

 

Alejandro and Dante Loading Up for Shows

Today in Playacar, Mexico was shopping day. Stand-up comic roommate Ted Holum and I walked across town into Playa Del Carmen and replenished the cupboards. Teddy’s a month younger than me, so he’s the kid in our odd coupled family. We share an apartment here. We share the same stages too.

He’s the old pro really. I am the green “gringo” from San Francisco taking a bite of show business by way of playing the stages and bars at the resorts along the Caribbean here in the Yucatan. They are all targeted to tourists. We do our show in our English. The language we speak translates well to people from the United States, Canada and England.

Ted’s strictly stand-up. I’m a juggling comedy act and so the English kind of have something to hang onto while trying to fathom the mystery of the American mind playing with comedy via the mother tongue that they know.

I’ve survived the first action packed week. Six different shows, six different nights, six different resort stages, six different supporting staffs, and as you might imagine six different results. First night was like learning to swim. You have to trust the water, learn to float, trust. Night two kind of other problems arise not anticipated after the first night. By the third night I’m realizing this isn’t going to be an easy gig. On the fourth night I finally hit the ball and almost knock it out of the park. Hey! I connected pretty good even if it was right over the middle of the plate.

I’ve got the shows running order figured out. I got the piece I improvise. I got the closer. I got pretty much the whole enchilada dialed in. And then there is the utter unpredictable nature of each room, each night and each resort.

Alex

 

You Got to Love this Guys Face…

I come from San Francisco. It is foggy, but its California, we don’t have this thing called humidity. Humidity is what other parts of the world have. I have not spent my career juggling in sticky, hot, wet, slick a sn_t weather. It makes juggling different. Let’s put it that way. Unpredictable perhaps another word that comes to mind.

Anyway, off for work around 6. Back from the show about 11. We get the show. We get one free meal. We get to talk the Alejandro. He is 29. He is a gem of a human. He’s got the eye for the ladies. He has girlfriends. He finds it impossible to believe I am married. He finds that possible I suppose, but finds the whole idea of being married impossible, and therefore I am performing the biggest most amazing trick and I haven’t even done a show.

One week down. I’ve got the night off and tomorrow I start a second six night run. You would be incorrect to make any assumptions about this gig. It takes a certain skill beyond anything you might present on stage. And then you know there is being suddenly thrust into a live version of the Odd Couple. One last clue…I’m the neat one.

Iguana

Iguana in the neighborhood

 

 

Coming Homing, Gardening as Show Stopper

Dom and Jane live in Wooloweyah, Australia. I booted my Google Earth program and took a look.

Dom elects to put as much distance between the world’s troubles and his home as space will allow.

Yamba, the nearest town is a tourist destination located just north of Dom’s village. I’ve known Dom for his work as a street act. He’s moved on from vaudeville style street shows into music.

Dom now prefers the easy rhythms of music to the comic timed one-liners. Belting out those punch lines can test the diaphragm and weary the vocal chords.

Sitting back and allowing the music to pull folk in is preferable to leaning against the flow and trying to stop the world in its tracks. Street energy is dynamic. The street show is executed by force of will. Will is often mind, and mind is more often than not wit, and wit is what we can say about the present moment that rings true.

The most truthful thing to be said about this last truth is that it isn’t always true, but it is more true than not, and demands a performers most strenuous effort. A street show is always a trial by jury.

I’ve had the privilege of the company of some of Hollywood and Broadway’s most celebrated talents. One Christmas with Bea Arthur, dinners with Bill T Jones, out for drinks with Norman Mailer, backstage with Leon Redbone, Chris LeDoux, and Stan Getz.

Leon Redbone in case you might wonder is a charming and generous man. He was always playing another odd tune on his portable, always eager to ask me to listen, tell him what I thought.

Packing up and loading out and jumping to the next date Mr. Redbone lamented that all he really wanted to do was wrap up the tour go home and garden.

Moments are driven not just by the times we live in, but by the simplicity our souls seek. Fame and fortune have little currency in this realm. This is the place where our pristine parts of self are allowed space to influence our most authentic choices, a moment when we choose non-action, non-doing. It is restoration, it is revelation. It is home.

Available for the handsome price of $1.00 at Amazon:

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Yes, I’m the Great Pretender

Who are you kidding?

Delusion abounds in this the age of information. We are deluded and misdirected in this ever increasingly complex civilization we have been born into.

I try to understand economics. I read about the nuclear disaster at Fukushima. I listen to commentary on the radio. One friend is angry at labor unions. Another friend blames bankers for his problems, another affirmative action, women’s liberation and Greenpeace.

Changing the subject is a popular devise to bury a subject you’d rather not discuss. I thought we were in the midst of a Great Recession, that there were millions upon millions of people without work and needed a job?

A group of men advertising themselves as celibate go get their nickers in a knot over a topic most of us thought settled five decades ago! Not only does birth control as a burden fall disproportionally upon women, it turns out the attack on this burden is executed disproportionally by a group of men vowing to have nothing to do with the very thing women alone are burdened with.

In the age of delusion we don’t fix problems. We have problems and when we begin to feel as if one problem is beginning to be fixed we raise new problems. Don’t let the (expletive deleted) get you down.

 

There is this profound sense that we can’t change. There is this slow motion train wreck quality to our times. More delusion probably, all too many people think that everything is just great.

It is literally a miracle to me that somehow we have managed to make jetliners as safe as we have given our propensity to delude ourselves. Maybe we’re kidding ourselves. Maybe it is far more dangerous than we know?

Facts- they say are stubborn things, but it is looking like delusion is too. I don’t think we get up in the morning go into the bathroom and wash our face and look into the mirror and say, “who are you kidding?”

Even if we did start the day off with the admonition to play it straight with ourselves it seems we are all in our own separate realities. Life is not a series of distinct, autonomous events. Life is more a flow, one event pushing the previous event out of our mind only to find that event being pushed by the next and the next.

Of course living in a ‘fact free of consequences world’ allows us to simply all go our own deluded way. Since nothing bad has happened nothing bad will happen. That’s delusions greatest threat; what might be bad for you might well be good for me!

Delusion doesn’t require a mental deficiency of any kind. Perfectly healthy well educated people can be utterly and completely deluded. We don’t need any help.

But, when you wake up, when you make an observation, and it is apparently confirmed and verified to be true and then you don’t react, don’t do what you can to right the situation and you pretend that you can’t do anything about it, that’s the bait to the trap.

The modern world we live in might simply be too complicated for us. That’s the biggest delusion, or perhaps it is a stubborn fact yet to be reckoned with.

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The Nevada Single-Leaf Pinion Pine Nut as Plot

They are right there... those are those dark spots on the hills

The Nevada single-leaf pinion pine (pinus monophylla) produces a nut. If you’ve ever made pesto you will recall that most recipes call for the use of pine nuts. If you’ve ever gone to a grocery store to buy pine nuts you soon discover that they are expensive. Retail they sell for near thirty dollars a pound.

Pinion and juniper grow together. The trees back in the ‘50’s were considered a nuisance. They removed them by hooking a stout anchor chain between two dozers and then our barbaric forefathers cleared the land. The land was now more suited to grazing cattle. Ranchers somehow overlooked the fact that beef earned them peanuts compared to what a crop of pinion nuts could bring.

Now the Nevada single-leaf pinion nut is not just some run of the mill pine nut. It is in the opinion of those who are supposed to know regarded to be one of nature’s most delicious prizes. Nevada pinion nuts are nature’s highest achievement.

If those old cowboys are anything like me they probably sat on their saddles looking out over their herd watching the sunset and the whole time they didn’t realize that they were looking right at the biggest cash crop growing in the Great Basin of the American west.

Biologists put pencil to paper and the value of the pine nuts in Nevada are an estimated 100 million dollars per year. That’s not a gold mine that’s a renewable resource. The eye popping economic value of this crop is a revelation. Add the ecological, spiritual and cultural significance of this prized nut and the wealth of this harvest boggles the human mind.

Before we knew what the heck we had we’d already removed as much as 90% of the original old growth pinion forests. Some folk are thinking might be another kind of nut if we don’t get our heads on straight and put new trees back in where the old ones once grew.

What’s this have to do with the price of tea in China? Exactly what I thought you’d be thinking too. What it means is that there exists a spectacular means to help the people right in Nevada to become self sufficient, care for the land, provide a valuable product to the world, and earn a wage that can help support a worker, a family, a community, a state and ultimately the whole nation.

We built the Bonneville Dam and it is as if nobody gave it a second thought as to what might happen to the salmon. Until taxol was discovered to be of use fighting cancer the Pacific Yew tree was a garbage tree of minimal value and of limited practical uses.

My next novel is set in Nevada. It is a comedy. I’m learning about pine nuts. I’m finding out about geothermal water heated greenhouses, Basque sheepherding, turquoise mining and land speed world records. I’m busy trying to make things up (plotting the novel) and it turns out truth as always is stranger than fiction.

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Crying at Weddings

Bachelor Setup...

I cry at weddings. I don’t need to know the couple. I just find the whole thing so romantic. My mind begins to wander and I become overwhelmed.

You know the sociologists are fretting over the differential emerging between various income groups and their likelihood that they will marry. More money is predictive of taking the nuptials.

I’ve also cried when I look at my bank account. I’ve been overwhelmed now and again in my life. You know the cupboard is bare.

So, like the whole magic as misdirection thing goes, where we divert our audience’s attention from one thing to this other thing we want them to see why the other thing we don’t want them to see we keep hidden. Now free to manipulate the thing that is out of our audience’s eyes we can take advantage of the thing not on everyone’s mind.

This situation seems to have flushed the desperado’s out from beneath their rocks.

Shock of shocks: people who don’t have any money and don’t have a job do not marry. They do tend to have sex (hey, it is something to do while waiting for a job) as this tendency seems to dominate no matter the marital status and these conjugal improvisations tend to produce pregnancies.

I think the deal is this. You want good outcomes you need good inputs. You need jobs. You need good jobs that come with good benefits. They should pay well. You take that well paid worker and put some money in his pocket send him out on a date and nature will take its course.

Isn’t it amazing how far and wide a truly huge financial crisis can reach? The numbers of unemployed, the wealth destroyed, the length of time it takes to recover, its like going to a wedding.

I’ve learned that I not only cry at weddings, but I seem to be prone to crying during a financial crisis too. I know I’m such the romantic.

 

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