Tag Archives: Street Theater

The Road that Never Ends

Refurbishment of the Venerable Touring Rig

Pulling off a national tour means you need a reliable
vehicle. Here I am installing my fourth motor into my ’67 Ford. I did all my
own work. The first few rebuilds were not so good, but they got better and
lasted longer with practice. Note the camper shell. This shell was scrapped and
a new shell was purchased in 1985. So, for the first 8 years when I faced a
headwind, and in show business there are many fuel consumption increased and progress
decreased.

Unplanned Small Town Stop...

I was returning from Key West,
Florida in 1988 when I burned up my rear axle
bearings on Interstate 10 some 60 miles east of Houston, Texas.
Was towed into a town called Anahuac where I
got a room. Room came with a bed. Town didn’t have a restaurant. It did have a
convenience store. Next day local welder cut the bearing off the axle and
pressed new bearing into place. I installed the axle and was back on the road.

Stage Coach Stop, Gold Mine, and Hot Spring

Here I am parked in Warm   Springs, Nevada. Had
a good camp alongside a desolate stretch of at the junction of Hwy 6 / Hwy 375,
the roads skirt the edges of the northeastern boundary to the atomic test site.
If you look into the back of my rig you can see on the right side a large aluminum
water cooler. To the left I stored food, Coleman two burner stove, pots, pans,
plates, silverware, had a manual powered coffee grinder. There is a modest
sized ice chest. With care and planning I could eat fresh good food for a week
without coming in from the wilds. I shared the camp with this gentleman biking
across the country.

Gourmet Coffee, Great Views, Terrific Service

Here I am in Hells Canyon on the Idaho
side taking a much needed lunch break along the Snake
River with Sunshine. Main thing to understand that touring
grassroots isn’t just about going from one town to another, one show, one
audience to another, it is also about being good to yourself every mile of the
journey. Emptiness is no longer uncomfortable. It becomes your living room. It
is where you live between shows.

It Must Be Love

If I had a lot of time between dates I would make myself at
home. Here I am parked at a hot spring for a few days while waiting to play a
date in La Grande, Oregon. When I had the time, and when I have the time, I’ll get my tent out and set up camp. Having a hot spring to soak in makes snow camping a treat. This is the Ukiah-Hilgard Hwy.
It is a remote and rugged seldom visited area of Oregon. You have to be comfortable in  your own bones to be here. There were no
telephones, cell phones, computers, any digital devices of any kind. At night I
might try tuning in my AM radio see if I could pick up a skip signal off the atmosphere
and catch the news at the top of the hour.

 

I had the opportunity to hang with some dancers from the
Joffrey Ballet. Audiences are not aware of the rigorous testing that artists
undertake when heading out on tour. In 1967  the company traveled from New
York to San Francisco to play at the Opera House. The entire company arrived by way of a station
wagon that transported them 3000 non stop miles. It is in facts like this that
our imaginations muse upon the life an artist lives off stage as well as on.

BANKRUPT HEART                     THE SECOND NOVEL

He continued to
just thumb through the pages of the book he’d picked from the shelf. He plunged
into the prose, selected at random, where it read, “…The abyss had been furious
with me.  The barometer continued to
sink.  Winds had increased from a full
gale to storm force.  Under bare poles,
sea anchor deployed, hatch sealed, I wedged my body for safe keeping into the
rear quarter berth, faith in my vessel resolute, she was not the weak
link.  If there was a chance something
might fail, that risk resided in character…”

            Ry
was tired. The book fell on his chest. He fell asleep. The book startled him.
He lifted it up. He continued to read. “I had been called— a cruel insistent
demand.  Luck’s allowance fully spent, it
was time to pass through the eye of my worst fears…”

Bankrupt Heart Copyright © 2011 by Dana Smith

Worth a Try

to learn something more about what show is and is not...

I find some of my earliest material from my show
embarrassing. I would have preferred to have come out of the starting blocks
with a perfect beginning.

 

My first few years consisted of a wide range of elements.
There was juggling, magic, mindreading, sketch comedy, puppetry,
water-spitting, springboard acrobatic stunts, and handbalancing. I tried
writing poetry, built sketches using such devices as couplets set to the rhythm
of iambic pentameter. I wrote one-liners galore.  I wrote witty things I could say for stray
dogs, fire trucks, windy weather, rude audience members, unruly children, and
just about any other potential event that might be anticipated.

 

In 1979 I had built more than 3 hours of material. In 1980
going solo and working sidewalks in San
Francisco I distilled the 180 minutes of material down
to 15! And then I found adding another solid 5 minutes excruciating to come up
with. The sidewalk show demanded a quick start, a rapid succession of more and
more interesting stunts, verbal patter and a strong finish.

 

So, a brightly colored costume and a gigantic puppet made in
my likeness was an interesting concept, but in practice it fell short for what
was needed for the audiences I was gathering on the street. Still, the
experimentation clued me into where to look next. I have always believed street
theater needed to be an act of imagination.

From the vantage point of the present it seems obvious, but
in 1978 the concept of what street theater might mean was still an open
question. There were no pat answers yet, no formulas, no templates. In San Francisco the streets
of 1978 was an era full of divergence. Eccentric musicians, roller skating
accordion players, pantomime, and puppet shows. In 2011 the list of things
presented as street performance is much narrower now.

 

Now, as I look at all the material I’ve ginned up over the
years I am grateful, not just for what worked, but for what didn’t, and what
those things that didn’t work have taught me. In one sense it isn’t what is in
the show, but what an artist decides to leave out.

BANKRUPT HEART                        THE SECOND NOVEL

 

“Ry, look at you, didn’t have two
nickels you could rub together when we met, you had nothing, nothing…and
nothing didn’t pay the bills, I got you work, you hit here, one rough spot in
all of these years, and you fold like a cheap pocket knife, take your marbles
and go home, great, good for you, but this won’t even buy paperclips, it’ll get
you two week vacation in Fresno, so you walk away from this one, don’t hold
your breath Ry, might as well know it now, before you find out later, you’re
done, over,”

            Finn
was angry. Thought Mort was out of line. Ry put his hand on Finn’s shoulder to
keep him in his seat.

            “Mort,
thanks, I appreciate the show. I mean it. You get an award. Best agent in the
role of trying to scare his act into signing a deal that he’ll never be happy
in.”

            “I
thought you were smarter than this,”

            “I’m
a clown Mort. I’m fiction, made up, washed out, done, don’t think I’m going
back,” Ry was at ease with his choice, he smiled, “time for something else,”

Bankrupt Heart Copyright © 2011 by Dana Smith

Street Show as Heart Song

New York Times in New York City, Sunday Edition

My career in show business spans almost four decades. For
many years I have presented somewhere around 300 performances per year. That’s
a solid number. Some years I didn’t do that many shows and in other years it is
likely that I approached as many as 750. There were a chunk of years that I did
shows in Fisherman’s Wharf, at a rate of 15 shows per week. Do the math. I’ve
done a lot of shows.

 

We become
creatures of the stage. We are always in front of audiences. We dial in and
fine tune. We can feel energy. We can remember the last few days and if an
audience is tired or uptight we pick it up right away. We know how to handle
it. We know what to do. We are prepared. We’ve come up with solutions to
situations and have tested the material. For a veteran act we can work with
confidence. In one situation it might mean trying harder, picking up the pace,
or perhaps it means slowing down, relaxing and accepting the audience’s
collective consciousness just the way you find it.

Poster Graphic circa 1977, by Mari Dempsey Artist/Performer

I’ve put up numerous pages now. If you stroll through my
performing blog pages you’ll find pictures and stories from a wide range of
different points in my career, a wide range of different shows, presented in
different places. It is difficult to sometimes convey how this mosaic of
experience affects us. We can be the center of attention while we are doing a
show and can be utterly alone and isolated moments after the performance is
complete. We can travel for days and do one show for an audience and then pack
up and travel again for days before we do another. A solo performer must be
good at being alone.

 

I place
emphasis upon heart. Show business requires a certain kind of mental toughness,
but it also demands sensitivity. We must be capable of empathy. We have to feel
our way into a performance. We need to read our audiences. Look at a face and
know by that quick glance what that person might be feeling. We listen
carefully. Too much noise and it might mean the audience is restless, maybe
they can’t focus, perhaps it is late in the afternoon, they’re hungry, tired.
You have to know how to pick up on these things. A performance is collaboration,
a two way street, it is audience and artist, the world’s oldest biofeedback
system.

Sing...."Oh... its lonely at the top....."

Our lives are different. Our children, our partners, friends
they see it, they know. It is more roller coaster than merry-go-round. We get a
big fat contract and find ourselves in the chips and the next month we are
scuffing up work here and there as we can. It is a groundless life or perhaps a
secure life. Learning how to gather a crowd and do a show and then pass that
hat if you are skillful can be something to depend on. Still I would suggest
street performance is heart driven, you have to put the whole of your heart
into the thing. If you don’t want to use your whole heart, you’ll want to get
off the roller coaster and buy a ticket for the merry-go-round. Each ride is
its own experience….

HIGHWAY HOME                 THE FIRST NOVEL 

 

 

She was rail thin, clad in denim, a
cotton blouse, and a white straw cowboy hat. She had white hair gathered up
with a silver and turquoise clasp into a ponytail. She’d been riding a while
and sweat had come, and dust clung to the wet patches on her shirt. She had a
pair of leather gloves stuffed in her back pocket and a handkerchief tied
around her neck. Noel didn’t know how old she was. She moved better than she
looked. She had lace-up boots with a riding heel and spurs strapped on. She had
an easy look in her eyes. They were brown, clear, and kind looking. She looked
into Noel’s eyes when she spoke, otherwise she tended to keep her eyes held
away from things. She had a way of being polite and giving a person their
space. Lot of sun had damaged her skin. Parts of her face had lines, other
parts had deep creases. Her skin had been wrinkled by what appeared to be a
hard climate and a long stretch of time.

She admired his van. “Got a pretty good
home away from home. Looks like you know how to take care of yourself.”

“I’m out here for a few days. Maybe
more.”

“Taking your time out here. That never
hurt nobody; more harm in rushing.”

Highway Home Copyright © 2009 by Dana Smith

 

Sometimes I Played for Elephants

Page from Milage Log 1978

Touring a show by truck is a different experience from
flying to an airport, renting a car, staying at a hotel, and getting all your
meals in restaurants. I arranged my pickup truck to fit my show equipment and
everything I would need to eat and sleep while traveling.

 

 

To travel in this way requires a whole set of different
muscles. You need to know where you can park and sleep at night and not be
hassled. You need to time cooking with light of day. You need to deal with
wind, rain and cold.

 

Diversity of opinion, wide range of locations, paints a picture of a veteran

Everything on a truck tour is about the show. What time is
the show? Where is it? How do I shower, shave, get my hair looking right and
get into costume so I am ready? If you are in Hammond, Louisiana
for the first time it takes some effort to pull this off on the sly and the
cheap.

If the tour was booked efficiently there wasn’t much down
time. You arrived and set up, did the show, pack up, look at the schedule and then
drive to the next spot. Might be a short drive might take the rest of the day.
Arriving late at night I used all night coffee shops for parking lots where I
could sleep.

Circa Early 90's Windsor, Ontario

There were animals that needed care. I cleaned cages, took
the dog for a walk, tried to get the chicken out and let her peck around on the
ground when I was in camp. Sometimes I would have a friend in the town I was
visiting. Sometimes I made new friends and sometimes I didn’t. I carried my
Smith-Corona typewriter with me and when I could I’d set it up and write. I
also used yellow legal pads when I needed to work on material.  I juggled and did my handbalancing training in
a park. Sometimes I’d crash a college campus and find a hallway that was dry
and warm where I could practice. Not once was I ever asked to leave.

There was solitude in this kind of touring. There was empty
space between one place and the next. Nothing was out there. Just one small
town and then another. You had to be comfortable and take good care of your
rig. Change the oil, keep an eye on things. You didn’t want to break down in
the middle of nowhere. If you did break down you might be stuck out there for a
long time waiting for help.

Where is Lake Havasu? Right next to Nowhere...

But, this is what touring in the small time is all about.
You are closer to your audiences. It is this intimacy between artist and
audience that if you enjoy performing makes the touring worthwhile. The small
time is located in your heart, next to your audience while you perform your
show. It is this warmth, this intimacy, between audience and artist. This is
the purpose of the tour, the reason for the voluntary sacrifice.

Induction at Start of Show ,       Circa 1977

Miracles

Is there such a thing?

Laughter

Is the song you sing

Clowns

Every always flirting

Then look!

Into the wild blue yonder

Bolting

Crashing…the fury of thunder

Swoosh…

The windy dance of the sparrow

Finally

Rain descends

Friends

Huddle about some puddle

Grey

Gives way to a blue day

So here we are

As the curtain goes up

And the show goes on

Like a newborn pup

To the merriest song…

Street Performing as Spoken Word

Sunshine the performing dog, Cookie my chicken, and Leonardo my Cat

 

Dana Smith  Harlequin Street Theater from 1978

 

My approach to street theater has placed particular emphasis
on words. It is the power of the spoken word when combined with visual
elements, and situational moments that can be one of the most effective tools
when building a successful show. In the vernacular of the showman it is called
patter. For comics it is all set up and blow off, premise and punchline.

We paint pictures with our words. We create illusions that
our audience holds in their imagination.

“Everything was going fine until we lost our band in Pocatello, Idaho…”
I’ll sometimes say.

It talks of travel, of touring, of a whole cast, of mishap,
hazard, and the inevitable chaos of touring.

Some acts just want to be funny, at all times. It isn’t the
only way to do things. You can drive a show by playing it straight, you might
rely upon charm, it could be you even do something dramatic.

Al Shakespeare used to do a short piece with a whale being
harpooned by a whaler. The whale’s soliloquy was heartwrenching and audiences
weeped over the puppets death.

The veteran street act generally paints from a pallet of
many colors. The show experience is not so range bound. The experience becomes
more fully human. The audience feels a wider range of emotions.

The single most important part of the act is the finale. How
you get there, and what you might do to wind up the show is a matter of
artistic choice. Laughter is helpful, but a seasoned variety act begins to
trust the multiplicity of possible human variations of emotion.

Here is one of the closing salutations used in my show circa
1977….

Closing time, calling out

Last chance for a dance

To the tune of trumpeting

Elephants wandering

From table to table

The ending of a fable

Is a warm violin

The making of new friends.

Closing time calling out

And the wanderer walks

Peddling to the next town

Some circus tricks, magic

And an acrobatic clown

Who sees in his frolic

The savory embrace

Of your souvenir face

The Great Romance of Street Theater

My Little Girl With Two Buskers with Great Soul....

Developing an efficient way of stopping pedestrians is not
so simple. It is a trial and error process. Eventually each act finds something
that does the trick. Some acts are incredibly skillful at gathering an
audience.

There are all kinds of street shows. People present all
kinds of skills. Some people work silent, others talk. Some work solo, others
work in a group. Many of us work from a set of principles. We establish some
sort of framework. We arrange to practice and train. We develop our skills. We
rehearse new whole routines. We write material. We try it. We toss out what
doesn’t work and we refine what does. Even if we work silent we’ll at the least
outline the idea move by move.

There is content and form. We think about the structure. How
long the show runs. What is first and what comes last. We know we can lose
audiences between routines so we work on our transitions. We know we can kill a
show if we put a weak routine in the show. If the routine is really weak
everything we’ve worked to build up to that point can vanish in an instant.
People will just walk away.

The good acts develop great material, great content, but
they also know that the structure of the show must work hand in glove with the
other elements. The mother’s milk of street is spontaneity. We thrive upon
being seamlessly woven into the present moment, even if its all an act, the
street show has to come off fresh, original, as if happening for the first
time.

Here is where the interactive skills of an act seal the
deal. A versatile act will adjust their material to the situation and an
audience will never notice that what they are watching is actually scripted
out, practiced, and has been performed hundreds and hundreds of times.

A veteran street act can step in and out of character,
winking and letting the audience in on the fact they really are just doing the
old act. But, to pull this off they need to demonstrate their command of the
situation. If the performer can earn an audiences respect, if they trust the performer,
admire the skillfulness, and appreciate the general direction the entertainment
is taking them, then the act is poised for success.

Learning how to street perform is difficult. Most performers
must practice the craft and learn by trial and error. It is time consuming for
most of us. Rarely someone comes along who seems to just make great
adjustments, good decisions, and the right choices so fast as to have a shorter
journey.

It is why street is what it is and why it is suitable for so
few… It is painful, difficult, and failure is waiting for you just ahead at
your next show. Then, on the other hand it can be like no other experience you
have ever had……..

Invocation to Show circa  1976 

You are the chance of a dream

The dream of a dance

We are a song

Sung with a swirl

A carwheeling feeling

Where…

Who shall ever dare

Must weigh with care

The fear and risk

Rising to the chance

To there

Sommersault

Catapault

Vault with us

To there… there…

Dancing… Dancing…

We are the chance of a dream

The dream of a dance…

Finally the Finale

Fly Me to the Moon Let Me Play Among the Stars...

I wear two hats now. One is performer, the other is author. Closing a show with a routine that will thrill the audience is an essential ingredient to good street theater. Without this climactic stunt not only will the show fall flat but so will the audiences response to putting some money in
the hat.

In both Highway Home and Bankrupt Heart I have some scenes that have been built around performers. One of the first things I have had to grapple with was how to handle the emotional peak of a finale. One thing is sure. A finale in a novel is not anything like a finale as performed in front of an audience. Well written sex can be a turn on. There is no “turn on” button to fictionalized vaudeville closing routines, at least not one I have been able to write.

To work around this problem I have tried to devise other methods of engaging the reader so that the experience while not anything like a live show is at least an opportunity to read an account that provides depth and insight into what that experience might be like for the character playing the performer in the novel.

Writers like challenges. We like to write new scenes. If we find our characters in the same situation as in a previous story we will try to create another solution, another reaction, solve the puzzle and invent another way out. A professional variety entertainer having found his best closing routine generally will stick with this discovery if and until something better comes along. I think Sinatra knew this and why New York,
New York was his closer for so many years. The big skill in this repetition of a closing routine is the ability to deliver the thrill climax again and again. Why we usually close with a time tested sure fire bit.

My current finale, the present ending of my street show, ends with… Well, let’s just say it is a work in progress. I am still refining the music, the jokes, the blocking.

I’m grateful for two things. That my performing dog had to retire and forced me to come up with a new closing routine and, Bankrupt Heart is complete and has forced me to start planning a new novel.

BANKRUPT HEART             THE SECOND NOVEL 

In the sound booth a special
effects track plays what appears to be a car slamming on its brakes, followed
by a horrible collision with the final touch the sudden surprising sight of a
hubcap rolling onto the floor from where Mooch had just exited and then rolling
all the way across the stage and vanishing on the other side, behind the other
wing.

            Ry  enters from where the hubcap vanished, “Mooch, the man who does with two wheels
what Picasso did for paint…” Ry puts his arm out pumping his fingers, waving
Mooch back on to take a bow. Instead there are two men carrying him across
stage on a gurney. He looks lifeless. The two men carrying the gurney pause
center stage, then from the center of Mooch’s tummy a spring loaded magician’s
bouquet of daisies pop up out of his gut. Then the two men remaining poker
faced with Mooch feigning death solemnly exit.

Bankrupt Heart Copyright © 2011 by Dana Smith

Father Daughter Life on the Road…

It's only a stage she was going through...

Tonight I begin a Father-Daughter Night series at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Over the next two weekends I’ll do five nights of shows with the irrepressible Bob Sarlatte hosting the stage. Bob’s a Saint Ignatius High School
grad. I went to school at Bellarmine. My wife and I have three daughters. Our youngest, Alana Rose, is in her second year at Seattle University.

I can hear the intro now, “Live, on stage, tonight, for one show only, the only all Jesuit educated entertainment to be found west of St. Mary’s Cathedral!”

Alana was raised backstage. When only seven we landed in Phoenix at 4 in the morning, Alana told me to get the luggage and she’d go get the cab! When late while driving between the smallest towns in Wyoming Alana had the best eye for the perfect spot to pull over and park the truck and trailer. She liked to park and sleep near rivers.

She has developed a keen eye for variety entertainment. She knows what makes Flying Bob so appealing and appreciates the staccato rat-a-tat-tat comic musings of Rhys Thomas. She is also quick to spot a hole in an  entertainers game. And did I mention that her concision of explaining the plot to a movie is preternatural.

She has worked with me at the Oregonand Ohio State Fair’s. She has traveled across Western Canada. She thinks the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival rocks, and that The Country Fair is sacrament.

She’s danced since forever; modern dance. It’s kind of difficult to pick her up and carry her on my hip like I once did. I was away in Yuma performing at a festival (Hillbilly Willy aptly described this gig as part of the Bleak  Tour) and missed her birthday when she was seven years old. That still makes my heart ache. But, the road isn’t just a place to work and travel, it is also a place you go and miss things, like daughters growing up, and birthdays, and  helping her off to school.

Still, she’s a trouper. She understands backstage life. She knows what we go through offstage to put our best efforts out onstage. She has a solid gin game. Likes to play the out of state license plate game, has been introduced to the fine art of the game horse by El Gleno Grande, and has dined on white linen in the dining tent at Carson and Barnes Circus just before being invited to go feed the elephants with the trainer who promised her a ride.

          I love that kid. I love all my daughters. I love the sound of that word, “Dad…” I owe most of my humanity to those women. Oh, and one more girl, she’s old now, and I owe a debt to her too. Thanks Lacey. You’ve been there for me when it has counted.

BANKRUPT HEART                       THE SECOND NOVEL

“Your hair is getting long.” She  brushed it back.

            “Last  time it was this long you were still a little girl?” Ry said.

            “Was  I a little girl?”

            “If  I was carrying you in my arms backstage, then you were still a little, tiny,
baby, girl…”

            “I  don’t remember…”

            “You  were busy growing up, too busy, too grown up, too soon…”

Sophia exercised  care as she brushed her father’s hair. It was soothing, peaceful, ritual, a
father-daughter intimacy. They had a knack for hanging out backstage. “Your
hair is definitely getting thinner up here dad.” She smiled, wasn’t being
sassy, “sorry.”

            “Yeah,  well that’s life. It comes, it goes. If I had stayed in radio, nobody would
have noticed.”

Bankrupt Heart Copyright © 2011 by Dana Smith

Grass Roots Audience, The Small Time Entertainer, The Fully Funded Heart

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow...

The grass roots audiences the small time entertainer plays to is located closer to the heart. We are literally physically closer. Venues are scaled to size. Expectations are held in check. We are paid less money but we acquire a greater bounty of intimacy.

We begin our performing careers creating material that is both visually appealing and acoustical. In particular my style invoked the power of the word. Upon a clean sheet of paper are placed words. We place the words there to drive the show forward. We drive the show forward with laughter, applause, suspense, surprise and sometimes messages. We train in juggling, acrobatics, magic etc… perfecting our skills and then blending the two elements into a presentation.

It is not the line, not the trick that we present as important as those elements are but, it is our insight into how to be a more openhearted fully evolved functionally compassionate person that finalizes our evolution as an artist. It means that the more authentic a person we become the closer our audiences can get to us. The distance we keep between ourselves and others is the distance we maintain between those parts of ourselves that we prefer others not to see. And time and time again I have watched a good act fall apart in front of an audience when what comes into view isn’t what they are doing but when the least preferred parts of who they are come seeping out.

One of the most difficult actions a person can take is to work on those parts of who they are that are veiled, ignored, unrecognized, denied, or when acknowledged are thought to be perfectly fine just as they are.

I’m not talking about insincere sweetness or patriotism on steroids, or being nice no matter what. This is not what I mean. An authentic performer will handle a moment as truthfully as necessary. If something painful, something difficult arises then at least it will be handled by someone the audience can trust.

Our capacity to be more open, more aware, more awake, more compassionate, more kind to our audiences and to ourselves as well can be grown and strengthened and featured in our presentation in ways that can expand not just our authenticity as a human being but as an entertainer who points toward something greater than the accidental unmasking of their smaller self.

BANKRUPT HEART                              THE SECOND NOVEL

“You two just
can’t get enough of one another,” Ry said, “kind of like it spicy, don’t you?”

“I’ve just found
out that Kristine has decided that there is no way, she could ever tell me that
she loves me.”

Jackie laughed. “Perfect…I see, this seems
to have turned out just the way I thought it would have. I thought you said you
were going to tell him?”

“Well, I was until
I looked him in the eye and he got that look, that look on his face,”

“What look?” Ry
asked.

“He looks,”
Kristine paused then spit it out, “confident,”

Ry looked at Finn’s
expression, “He can be overbearing on occasion, seems to know things, what to
do, how stuff works, gets on my nerves too.”

“He swaggers,” Kristine
said, “he’s brash, certain of himself. It’s so annoying.”

“Finn, why do you
have to be so damn sure of yourself?” Ry asked. “Why can’t you look a little
less confident, act like you just don’t know, maybe she’ll come around.”

Bankrupt Heart Copyright © 2011 by Dana Smith

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