Monday, November 9, 2015

An Illustrated Coming of Age Story

Sorry I have been MIA this past month - but here I am again with an update. I have most definitely not abandoned this blog, even if I have been, at times, exceedingly late with my supposedly 'weekly' posts.

This week, I am going to talk about the transformation of my show - mainly because of a major shift in the script of my act that came about after a rough weekend sharing a spot with other buskers.

So! In the beginning...
Audience watches as I roll around on the floor,
super-dramatically trying to escape from my straight jcket.
I am silent struggling as an audience member counts down from 2 minutes. There is a Youtube video of this somewhere on the Interwebs. Look for it if you want to, but I am too ashamed of it to share. I might have shared it anyway on this blog at some point in the past, before I knew enough to be ashamed.

The First Two Months
This... hand in pocket thing is not completely out of left field!
It's a pickpocketing demonstration with a deck of cards in my volunteer's back pocket simulating a wallet.
The line is: "It might take me a while. You have a very tight... um... pocket."

I nailed down a show! I was living in Memphis and unemployed. I didn't write down my show, but I performed regularly enough these first two months to get the cadence of it into my muscle memory. I tried out the University of Memphis campus, then Beale Street, and finally at a number of festivals around the city that a fellow magician looking to start street performing helped me find.

I remember being happy with how I was doing back then, even if foot traffic there paled in comparison with what I've seen up north. It felt like I was doing well. Granted - I can't remember how I did it, or if my perception as a novice was a bit off.

The core of the show that I created then continues to be the core of the show that I do now. One bad outcome of this stage in the development of my show: the creation of a few jokes that worked most of the time. Though these jokes worked fantastically when they hit, I later found them to be awfully awkward when they didn't - mainly because they were part of a persona that I couldn't really pull off. It's taken me up to... these past two weeks to decide to drop them.

Some of them were stock jokes. The original jokes were built off of those stock jokes - but the thing was that they were the easy jokes. Unfortunately, I wouldn't learn that until much later on.

Three Year Break

I am on stage! Aaaaaand that is a metal coat hanger around my neck that I had warped into a microphone holder.
Cuz I need both hands free to handle cards.

After Memphis, I moved back to the Northeast for half a year. I tried performing in Philadelphia twice before I left the States and moved to teach English in China. With the rougher northeastern audience, the weak spots of my show began to manifest.

When I left for China, all street performing stopped. Magic didn't stop, of course. I performed in class all the time, and I had one huge performance on stage at an event for English language learners.

This was the time I grabbed a wire coat hanger and used it to hang a microphone around my neck. Lots of fun. And very different from the kind of show people would do on stage. When the audience is captive and seated, performing is far easier.

Chicago, IL

A street magician and a mentor suggested that I script my show at some point.
I put it on my To Do list.
I busked for a summer, once a week for about one to two months after spending six months just observing and interviewing Chicago's street performers. After watching musicians, statues, magicians, balloon artists, and acrobats, I thought I'd give busking another try. I learned that theory and practice are completely different things.

Like I mentioned before, I stuck with the same core performance that I developed in Memphis three years prior. There were more pedestrians in Chicago, but they were harder to stop. While sharing a pitch with the Windy City Wizard, he suggested that I try using a mic and amp. He pointed out a few spots where I could clean up my transitions. And oh. He suggested that I try scripting out my act.

I agreed that it was a good idea.

Cambridge, MA
I.. didn't end up scripting that summer.
And I didn't end up writing down my show either this past summer in Cambridge.
I moved to Bostonish the winter after and got myself a permit to perform in Cambridge as soon as t warmed up. I started out again with mostly the same show. There was one major difference: I had a new opening act. The second difference? I was rusty. This is what happens when I don't perform regularly.

Also, because I never got around to scripting, I pretty much had to revamp my show every time I started performing after a short break of not performing. Sometimes it worked out great. Other times, not so much.

I remember making a blog post, making an excuse for why I hadn't scripted. I knew I should. But when I had the time, I wanted to be performing instead of writing.

Then I went to Faneuil, hoping to seek out and semi-stalk (*shifty eyes*) the street performers there.

Then I continued performing in Harvard Square. When I was performing by myself, I felt that things went mostly ok.

The Shift
(Cuz I'm shifty!)
Finally! *typetypetypetypetype*
The turning point came when I was sharing a spot with other street performers.  I'll keep my shame brief, just by saying that it was rough. But I learned a whole lot each time. The last time this happened (about three weekends ago), I decided that enough was enough. I spent my weeknights after work sitting down and writing out my show.

There are far less jokes. I cut an entire trick out of my original routine. I wrote in new jokes, though I don't have as many as I would like.

What there is more of, though, is structure. The structure is better, my transitions are smoother, and the jokes that I do have are jokes that I am proud of. The hope is that the jokes will come with time as I perform.

The Test
This is one of my new cheesy jokes!
It's a completely pointless gag where I give someone a rubber hand at some point,
only to refer back to it later.
Um. It's funnier in person?
I performed two weekends ago at Rock the Woo, an arts festival in Woodbury, NJ, with a freshly-written show in hand. I stumbled a little bit with my first show, reinserting the trick that I had cut out, and tripped over the new hat line that I had rehearsed the day before in my 6 hour drive down from Boston. But after that, my next shows were great. I built my audience, kept my audience, and hatted them without a hitch. My parents saw my show and weren't ashamed (That is huge, dude). A cousin that I hadn't seen in years stopped by. I got a stalker of my own - a kid whose mom was a nearby vendor - who watched pretty much all of my shows. I even got offered free wine!

Next step? Keep on performing to keep this show in my head.

This is Boston in winter. If you don't see the image above, that's because there's nothing to see - nothing but white.
The Winds of Winter are here.
(But COME OOONNNNN!!! I'm hoping it'll come out before the show this season. We will see.)
Winter is here. I have performed once since the festival. But as the weather gets colder and I get lazier (now that I have a real bed instead of an air mattress... yay!), I'm going to get fewer opportunities to busk.

The good news, though, is that with a written script, I won't have to relearn my act every single time I hit the street after a break. So.. er.. yay?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Snapshots of the City

The streets have a bad rep - or a romanticized one, depending on how you see it - and I haven't done anything to combat that idea.

On the one hand, the streets are riddled with drugs, graffiti, and panhandlers trying to hustle you out of your money. Denizens of the street were forced out there, ejected from society because they couldn't make do within it. That's why it's dangerous to be outside and alone in the city, especially after dark. It's a trope that buskers play off of all the time: One performer takes out a knife and waves it around: "We’re in Chicago, my friends! I hope you all have at least one of these with you. If you don’t, please get one before it’s dark."

On the other hand, the streets are a place of vibrant city life - of throngs of adventurous pedestrians walking from coffee shop to coffee shop, admiring the street art and the street performers who have somehow found a way to escape the 9 to 5 life that plagues the rest of us. Even as buskers are stigmatized (for their close association with panhandlers? for settling in so comfortably in a place that's meant to be a pathway between places, instead of a place in itself? for asking for money in return for art - something that some may imagine should be priceless?), they are romanticized. Who, after all, would choose to spend their days in a place where so many others are forced into?

I don't really have answers. I haven't really asked people for their perspective of the city and its streets... but I figure this time around, I'd let the pictures speak for themselves. Keep this in mind as you look through this: I'm no photographer. In fact, more often than not, I completely forget to take photos when I really should. But here, I've picked out a few photos from these past two years. All of these photos are of subjects taken in public spaces while I was in Boston and Chicago.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Close Encounters of the Urban Kind: "Sorry, I don't have cash..."

Anecdotes from the Streets
"Sorry, I don't have cash..."

I've heard stories from other performers about all kinds of things they get in their hat. I've gotten a few weird things. This isn't a story about what I did get... it's one about something that I didn't get (but very well could have). I'll let the cartoon speak for itself:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Busking with Panhandlers: Politics on the Streets

I got into a spat with a panhandler once. It was the kind of argument that was only conducted through glares and body language. No words were exchanged, and I was more confused than outraged. I set up at one of my usual spots, in front of the Coop at Harvard Square with my back to the streets. There was a panhandler sitting with her back against the wall, but I didn't pay too much attention to her. I've seen other panhandlers there while performing, and they've never seemed to mind my presence.

As soon as it was apparent that I was setting up in that spot though, her body language changed. She was visibly angry. She was, it seemed, glaring at me. I entirely wasn't sure.

She was definitely angry, but was her anger directed at me? I looked at her. I looked over my shoulders to see if she was looking at anyone else. And then I looked back at her. Sunglasses hid the direction of her gaze, and I continued to set up, though I nervously looked over in her direction every few moments. I was pretty much facing her even though a stream of pedestrians filled the space between the two of us.

I didn't want to offend. My mission on the streets is to do what I love and perform for anyone who thinks to stop - but it's also to understand. Variety act buskers are my focus, but if I keep my attention solely on them and ignore the landscape to which they belong, then I'm not doing them nor their art any justice. So I watched her carefully, expression confused more than challenging as I ignored the potential spectators that walked past. I wanted to speak with her, but I didn't want to approach first.

Though my brain assured me that I was indeed the target of her anger, I still wasn't entirely convinced.

She stood up, actions rushed and aggressive. She made a phone call at the pay phone beside her. I assumed that she was trying to call the police on me - make a noise complaint as an anonymous denizen of Harvard Square. I'm not sure because no police officer approached me that day. Another panhandler, sensing her distress, walked up to her. They chatted. He walked up to me.

"What do you do?"
"Can you show me something?"

Sure, I said. I was eager to stay on good terms with him and his friends. When I was done, he looked back towards his friend, who was standing with her hands on her hips. "Don't worry about her. She's annoyed, but she can find another spot. I like what you're doing though." The two of them walked off. By now I knew her glare was directed at me. As they crossed the street, I could still feel her glare on my back though her eyes were concealed beneath those dark black glasses of hers.

This spat - a conflict that is indicative of the larger politics among variety act buskers (circle and sidewalk show performers), musicians, vendors, and panhandlers that I am just starting to grasp - just left me confused. I wasn't sure what to do - not entirely sure of what would have been more ethical. I've wondered before how the presence of buskers impacted nearby panhandlers. Her actions suggested that my presence there would prevent her from making any money.

Should I have left so she could continue using that spot?

Regardless of the value that I could bring to the space through my performance, we were both there legally, protected by the same First Amendment rights. My street performer's permit, which stated that I couldn't perform within 50 feet of other performers, didn't apply to panhandlers, so I couldn't look to the law for guidance in this case.

Last weekend, I saw her again - perched in front of the Gap at the exact spot that I had wanted. One of the street performer monitors in Cambridge (whose job it is to check our permits and test our decibel levels) shrugged his shoulders when he saw me checking the spot out.

"That's too bad. There's nothing I can do about it though," he told me.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Finding Space on the Streets: Women Street Performers

This is an article taken out of the April 2014 issue of Genii, a magic magazine. I own the rights to this piece, so it is reposted here. I wrote this back in 2013 - a year before I started my research on Chicago's street performers.

For me, it was on the University of Memphis campus, right after the lunch rush for the day. It was the end of January 2011. Students loitering between classes stopped to watch: One hour, two shows, and two hats later, my cell phone died. I headed home early because I was afraid to be out and alone in the city by myself without a working phone.

For magician Billy Kidd, it was in her hometown in Canada, sometime in 2006. At 11:00 at night, she stood in a spot that was too narrow for a full show and performed for locals – locals, she says, who were also drunk. Soon after that, she says, “I was taught not to perform for drunk people, and I’ve never done it since.”

Living statue and contact juggler Dawn Monette (long before she developed her living statue character, Goldie) dressed herself up all in green. She went to English Bay in Vancouver, juggled on the side of the path for three hours back in 2005, and made ten bucks. “There were a few people who thought I was pretty cool,” she recalls with a laugh, “And there were a couple people who felt I should get a job.”

And Kiwi Louise Kerr (aka Sport Suzie) donned a red nose along with a “dark, black punky costume” when she headed out to Cathedral Square in Christchurch, New Zealand. She put on some Lemon Tree and “probably some Eminem, God forbid,” then proceeded to juggle knives. “[I] did some pretty terrible juggling, probably made a balloon for a kid I got to help, then tried to con some poor guy into holding my unicycle while I, this strange-looking clown, climbed all over him to get to the top” where she proceeded to stick a bucket onto her head and get him to throw a ball in. “Then [I] jumped down and awkwardly held out my hat without uttering a word. It was fun, scary, and to be honest, I was happy it was over. I think I made $13.”

Louise Clarke (whose street performing character Pandora Pink juggles cigar boxes, manipulates a hat, and cracks her audiences up) was a veteran performer when she started her street show. Even then, she says bluntly, “When I started my solo show, it was really terrifying…. You’ll be the only person there – nobody else to rely on or fall back on. Obviously, it’s confrontational. They don’t have to watch you if they don’t want to. They just walk away.”

Pandora Pink
As magicians, we have all heard these “first-time-out-busking” stories in various forms from different sources. This time, though, all of these buskers share one thing in common that few other buskers share: We are all women.

Just How Safe Is It?
According to Kirsten Anderberg, author of The Busker Book: 30 Years as a Solo Woman Performer, there is one female career busker for every nine male one. In magic, that gap, surely, is even wider. Why are there so few female solo performers out on the streets?

There are plenty of female performers in general. Dancers, singers, and actors… women in these various art forms work side by side with their male counterparts. In magic, the disparity of male to female magicians is troublesome. In street performance, that disparity is just as glaring.

For me, I have been interested in magic since I was a little girl, thanks to the gift of a magic kit after my older brother taught me how to pull off my thumb. From there, after practicing the French Drop for years with three plastic quarters and holding little shows for my thankfully supportive family (who, by the way, got quite tired of watching a seven-year-old make a fake quarter disappear), it turned from an occasional interest to a full-fledged hobby in high school. Performances for my family transformed into performances for my classmates and, in college, a way for me to earn some extra money as well as a means through which I could contribute to the community. I wasn’t afraid to perform, and yet… there was always something holding me back from taking my act out to the rough-and-tumble world of street theater.

Why? As the youngest and the most novice of the performers described here, my insecurities and fears come out the most clearly. My first excuse? Safety.

Simply put, I was afraid.

I first performed in Memphis, Tennessee. Despite a lack of pedestrian traffic in the city (which is usually the case, except for holidays and festivals), audiences were friendly and receptive. There are plenty of musicians and a few times, I was able to perform near the Beale Street Flippers. That said, when I first started, I was the only circle show out there. I felt dangerously alone.

Once, my inner-alarm system was set off when a stranger sat on a bench opposite my pitch and stayed there all through my show. When I packed up to leave before the sun set, he started following me from across the street. I stopped at the corner to chat with a vendor until he was gone.

This was the only time that I ever felt unsafe while performing. Soon after, I stopped choosing spots randomly in the city and started working more at local fairs and festivals that I found with the help of another Memphis magician. Still, this event stands out starkly in my busking memory.

Thus, imagine my surprise when I asked other performers if they ever felt unsafe while street performing.  When I asked Pandora Pink, she said at first tentatively – then later, firmly – “No…? No. No. Maybe a little bit, but that’s because there were some drunk men around. But then, they weren’t going to punch me out or anything. I don’t think I’m going to be physically abused.” She went on, “I just don’t want anybody to push me off or anything like that. So I don’t think I’ve ever felt particularly unsafe, but of course there’s situations where I had to monitor… drunk people.”

So I decided to ask Billy Kidd, who actually was pushed off of her platform at a street show festival in Edinburgh, Scotland; a man with a beer in his hands walked up behind her, gave her a shove, and walked off. Billy Kidd spun around, played it off with a joke, and pushed forward with her show. “That was the first time that that happened to me. I’m trying to think of something similar.” After a pause, I could almost hear her shaking her head on the other side of the phone. “I would say no, nothing like that has ever happened.” Mainly, she notes, the trick is to stay away from drunk people. Never perform for them, and you’ll be okay.

Billy Kidd - Photo by Tata Tuviera
Only contact juggler Dawn Monette, under the guise of her living statue persona Goldie, has had to face down heckling that verged on the edge of physical abuse. Passersby, in an attempt to get her to break character and move, have touched and pushed her. Monette explains how she had one woman “come up and grind her butt into me to try and get a reaction.” She also talked about how some spectators would pretend to punch her – only to stop an inch or so away from her face – just to get a rise out of her. The worst night for her was just prior to the 2011 Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver. While most spectators were great, she says, a couple rowdy onlookers attempted to blow vuvuzelas (a kind of horn) directly into her ear. As a result of this incident, Monette is partially deaf in her right ear. “The following ten people who did that got a ball stuffed into… the base of their horn.” The next night – the actual night of the riot – she stayed home.

Performers get heckled. In the honest, seemingly free-for-all venue of street theater, facing down hecklers goes with the job. For me, heckling has never been a big problem – maybe partially because people in general don’t feel threatened by me, and partially because I haven’t performed on the streets long enough. When it does happen, I ignore it, and the rest of the audience usually tells the heckler to shut up, enjoy the show, or shove off.

Sport Suzie (a character, she notes, that is not “stereotypically female”) agrees that heckling isn’t a big problem for her. “Sometimes there might be the odd sexual reference but very rarely, and I find if the audience is on your side they will shut them down before you have to do anything.” She goes on to explain, “It’s odd for me to get a heckler because I’m a woman. I do more skills that a typical male performer would do, so maybe that’s why, or it could just be that my big biceps scare hecklers away.”

Sport Suzie - Photo by Delphine Ducaruge
Pandora Pink’s character is also one that is “high-status… not low status.” She has hecklers, but they rarely create big problems for her. “I think I probably get heckled less maybe… [as] a female street performer.” In addition to that, she points out, “Some men find me a bit intimidating, so I don’t get too many problems. And I don’t get any problems because I’m a woman.”

Dawn Monette’s Goldie does get heckled, but the kind of heckling she faces is less verbal than the kind that the other performers get as circle shows. “Particularly as a statue, you can become pretty vulnerable because you’re supposed to stay still.” She describes her kind of heckling as “more playful. They try to get into a staring contest, or they try to scare me so I’ll react, or make me laugh and make me move because they want to break the illusion of the statue. And I find that playful. Otherwise,” she says, “you get people heckling you. ‘Get a job’ or ‘She’s not that still!’ or ‘Oh my God, she’s blinking.’ Or people just generally putting you down. But for the most part, I get more positive responses and more happy people and most of the time the people who don’t like you will ignore you.”

Dawn Dreams' character 'Goldie' - Photo by Pierre D
Billy Kidd sums up her experiences with hecklers nicely: “Oh yeah. There are hecklers out there. Not always, but there are. They come and go. If the whole audience can hear them, I respond to them. I just handle them the way I handle them. I just handle them so that they know I have control, and there’s nothing they can do about it.”

A Male-Dominated World
The stories of female street performers facing down hecklers sound, more or less, the same to me as the stories that I have heard from other male magicians in the busking world. The difference lies not so much in what Pandora Pink calls “the odd idiot,” but in the audience as a whole.

Billy Kidd states that female street performers probably all agree on one thing: “We all know how much we have to compete in a very male-dominated industry.

“If a woman’s performing, you kinda have to win everybody over. I mean, you win over the women quite easily. But the men, they’ll be a bit like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty nice,’ but you know, they don’t take it necessarily that seriously…. You have to be really, in a way, better.” Pandora Pink says that women have to be stronger in their performances. Sport Suzie, however, only partially agrees. She’s gotten “maybe a little bit of ‘Is she gonna be good?’ from the audience,” but, she says she believes “that’s not because I’m a woman but because I have lacked belief in myself or show in those situations.”

Goldie does note that some street acts require a more aggressive approach – which is a problem, especially when “our society doesn’t always accept aggressive female characters.”

It is hard and confrontational out on the street. Performers have to be confident. “You have to really grab everybody’s attention, and you got to be funny and quick, witty, and clever, and skillful, and – and, you know, some women [are] just kinda like ‘Oh, I can’t be bothered to do that,’” suggests Pandora Pink. “They’re not interested in being so overtly aggressive, maybe, on that level. So it’s quite challenging, you know.”

What does this acceptance actually mean, when it comes down to the street show? Kidd says, “I think because there are not a lot of females in street performing in general – you know, whether it’s magic or juggling – I think, and this is just my theory: When people walk by a female street performer, I think they’d rather go watch a guy do it. In fact, I kind of feel that way when I see a street performer. And I think that’s just society and culturally how we’ve been brought up. So there is that struggle. I do have to convince people that I’m good enough to watch. And it’s actually only when I tell people that, oh yeah, there’s not a lot of female street performers or magicians that the lay public realize that. But I don’t think that’s the first thing that’s on their mind. I think for artists, though – ‘Oh yeah! There’s not a lot of female magicians, or there’s not a lot of female magician street performers.’ I think for laypeople, I don’t think they think like that.”

Billy Kidd: Photo by Paulo Abrantes
Pandora Pink points out that male street performers always earn more money than their female counterparts. She knows this because, she says, while she definitely has done better than some boys, “when it comes to the big mega shows, the big really really really successful street performances, the people who are earning the most money would be the boys.” She uses the example of her partner: “I don’t earn the same amount of money as Nigel, my partner. I have never done, and probably never will do.”

Getting Away with Some Jokes
Some things, though, female street performers can do that the guys cannot. These advantages amount to jokes that women can get away with – jokes that men would get into trouble for attempting.

Pandora Pink says these jokes are a result of “how women… how we’ve been sexualized more than men. We’re sexualized by men, so you can sexualize something a lot more and get away with it, whereas a man wouldn’t be able to necessarily.” I was a little confused with this statement; there are plenty of male street performers who make blatantly lewd jokes – jokes, of course, that work well on the street. But she explains, “That’s how a lot of women climb all over the men, you know. Shove their fanny in their face, and there’s a lot of physical contact. Whereas I don’t think a man would be able to do that with a woman, for instance.”

The Rewards of the Streets
“Magic is terrifying I think, initially when you’re learning it and you perform. And on the street, yeah, it’s very vulnerable on the street, which is what I like about it. It’s very challenging.”

It’s the challenge and the thrill of the show, and the freedom of it all, that makes it all worth it for magician Billy Kidd. Street performers value their freedom, and women street performers value it so much that they still go out there and do it, despite the fact that their peers are few, and that they know they have to hold their own – be as good as, or even much better than the other guys out there – in a male-dominated industry. “I love what I do! If you don’t like what you do as a profession, whether it be performing or an office job… then get out of it! Why do something you don’t like? I have never understood people who hate their jobs or who wait for retirement to enjoy their life. I would never want to retire. I had never had another job besides being a performer and I will keep it that way.”

Sport Suzie values the street for its freedom as well. “It was a challenging place to try new material, push yourself, and have the opportunity to experience creating a show from nothing.” Besides, she points out, “It was also a place to make money when I didn’t have a gig on, so I could work regardless of bookings.”

Sport Suzie - Photo by Delphine Ducaruge
All of these performers – strong, confident women (you have to be, to brave the streets) – are clearly passionate of their art. This passion comes out, especially, for Billy Kidd when she talks about her identity – not just as a female street performer, but, simply, as a street performer. “There’s this stigma about street performing anyway with the fact that a lot of people have a concept that [street performers] are like beggars. But I think the most professional ones: We know who we are, and we are not beggars. We’re entertaining people.”

And for those who are thinking about taking their acts out onto the streets, all of these performers have one thing to say: Just do it!

Monday, August 10, 2015

An Evening in the Life

I apologize.

I have been exceedingly lazy the past two weeks. (I might as well admit it. I have been called a "weekend warrior" by another street performer, so I figure that failing at my once-a-week blog post falls in the same general area).

Despite the silence, I haven't stopped performing. I did my first round of evenings shows in Harvard Square back on the first of August. I was ready to perform in the early afternoon, but it was too hot (I say as some of Chicago's hardest-working buskers glare at me through their screens).

I started at around 6/7pm (because, again, I was lazy - and the worst kind of the so-called "weekend warriors." One that pretends to do anthropology as an excuse for not performing). I was in Harvard Square much earlier (around 4), checking out the scene. 

Makoto (a street magician whom I shall write about in more detail in another post) was there, and he laughed (mocked? ridiculed?) me for not working. I was missing out, he told me as I biked past. He was "making bank."

Hi Makoto's back!
When I finally properly showed up with my rig ready to perform, all of the good spots were taken. I ended up sharing the pitch with Makoto (and in turn, I shared my amp and mic with him).

First show: Awesome audience. Great crowd, good opener, good middle, aaaaaaand for the second time ever - I failed on the delivery of my finale. (The first time in was in Chicago, when I couldn't get my arm out of the sleeve. After struggling for some time, I gave up). Instead of getting stuck IN the straight jacket, this time I had trouble getting strapped in. I can't quite explain it in text... but I ended up needing to ask the person to unbuckle me. I improvised and ended with a card effect.

Conclusion? Great audience, would have been a great hat if I had done my regular finale. But I failed and ended on a mediocre note. The core of my audience still tipped though, but not as well.

Second show: Audience wasn't that great. I did the show anyway (when another performer said I probably should have "fired them" at the beginning, since the core of my audience was a group of kids whose reactions were only aightz. I had a big crowd but, as Makoto said, I had "turned over three audiences" by the end of the show. I never really clicked with my audience.

Conclusion: Decent hat, but I wasn't that happy with the show. Good news: a friend stopped by, and I finally got some photos!

Third show: Great audience, great show. What did I do differently? I exhaled, was calmer, and was more confident this time around. I didn't force any jokes that I wasn't comfortable with (which was a good call, given the fact that most of the audience was composed of families, even though it was nearly 10pm on a Saturday night).

Conclusion: Biggest hat I ever had in one show. Not the best day, but definitely the best hat.

Lessons Learned: Slow down, take a deep breath, and consciously remind myself to relax with every show.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Do nothing": It's all in the promise

I stopped 5 people.
I think I performed for about 15 minutes before I gave up.

I was standing in the big pitch in Brattle Square. I was there because my inclinations for research (or just hanging out, really - I love anthropology) beat out my desire to perform. But here I was, somehow performing anyway.

Not just performing.

I was trying to build an audience in an unusually large space.
Worse: I was trying to make something of the unusually large space with other performers looking on.

The things that represent the buskers that own them.
There I am, with my straight jacket and a bag with the initials FTL stitched into it.
FTL, by the way, refers to Faster Than Light travel. Or something. [End BSG reference]

My back burned from what I imagined must have been torches shooting out of their eyes. I tried for some time, banging an old magic wand against the side of my table. I had gotten the wand at an auction for a dollar, and I thought if I used it to mimic the rhythmic cry of an auctioneer, people would stop.

At the very least, they'd complain about the noise I was making.

I hadn't planned to perform here. There's a nice corner about a block away where I'm a whole lot more comfortable, where there's plenty of pedestrian traffic and the pavement is both wide enough for an audience and narrow enough for little ol' me to disrupt their flow and easily build a crowd.

But I had decided to watch and learn from other street performers. Being at a pitch with other buskers (with all my gear on hand no less) and not performing? That wouldn't have made sense. So when it was my turn to go (because there was a line, and everyone else had already gone), I swallowed my fear and hopped right on.

"Try moving your table back a little bit," one of the buskers yelled out to me. I turned my head to look back over at them.

"Back up a bit. Most of the traffic is going by behind you."

She was right. I dragged my table back a bit. It wasn't enough - there were still a lot of people going by behind me. The space was too big, I was too small. I didn't quite know which way to face. But whatever. Here I was, and as they say, the show must go on.

I caught a kid's attention, but the parents refused to come to my table.
I made a joke about them leaving their kid with me (cuz I'm scary-lookin' and all that).
They didn't budge, so I gave up on them.

In the end, I think I managed to stop 5 people.
I performed for them for about 15 minutes before I gave up.
At least I knew enough to hat them.

I turned to look over my shoulder at the other performers and shrugged, defeated. I tried, and it didn't work out.

"Sometimes, you have to fire your audience," one busker sympathetically said to me after.

As one of the other buskers moved his stuff onto the pitch that I had just walked away from, I got a quick lesson on audience building... both from his performance and from the two buskers who just watched.

"Do nothing," they told me.

Do nothing. I had started performing too early. Which, pretty much, is what the Chicago 10 Man had been telling me all along:

"99% of street performers are like the TV that’s already turned on when you’re walking past. The show is already going. Matter of fact, if you want to watch it for free, you can. And then walk off. My TV is off. You have to pay to turn my TV on, okay? If I’m moving, then my TV’s on – I’m giving out free shows. Nobody, nobody cares about my dance moves. Nobody cares! Nobody cares about how amazing I look. Nobody. The only thing that’s in their head is, 'Is he real?' Ok? 'If he isn’t real, then I gotta see.'"

In other words, it's not the delivery of the performance itself that makes a good show; it's the promise of something amazing. And the great performers - they can be absolutely entertaining doing absolutely nothing.

So next time (I was told), take a deep breath. Slow down.
And do nothing.