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Old 08-23-01, 01:18 AM   #1
Airborne Dan
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Post How are we perceived?

Just finished a wedensday night end of the tourist season show in Boston. After the show a women walking with a group of people glanced at me packing up my show and commented, "oh... we missed the mime act".

I am not a mime. In fact, once I start my show I don't believe 10 seconds goes by where I keep my mouth shut.

10 minutes before she walked by, there were 200 people watching me and waiting with baited breath for the next trick I would perform and the next thing I would say.

The people that watched the show scattered off into the night and back to their own worlds. I am now to them a memory. That guy they saw on their holiday who performed all those tricks. Maybe a photograph or a few minutes of video they will most likely never look at again.

To some of them (at least for a short while) I've become a brief bit of mind candy, to others an annoiance, and to others still an instrument of inspiration.

How are we perceived by, well, everybody else? Non street artists. People that have other kinds of jobs, you know, printers, plumbers, mechanics, doctors, postal workers, strippers, carpenters, public safety professionals etc. ie..every one else?
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Old 08-23-01, 02:27 AM   #2
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Good topic.

I think that for the most part, we are firstly not an annoyance to most. The reason we remember people who believe that we are annoyances are due to the fuss they create. You're more likely to react to something you deem terrible than something you deem as good.

But I believe we are perceived and appreciated by people from most walks of life. I find upper class people harder to work with than middle class people. Just an observation and by no means attempting to pump classes on people.

But.. Generally, I think we're perceived as alright.

All the best.
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Old 08-23-01, 01:30 PM   #3
Steven Ragatz
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How we are perceived not only depends on how we present ourselves, but on the context of that presentation as well. I suppose the obvious things that modify the audience's perception would be the act itself. Within the writing elements of the routine are embedded messages and cues to the audience to teach them about the individual performer(s). You could get wrapped up in the analysis of character etc., but I think that when talking about street acts, it's unnecessary since most simply present the character as being themselves. Real people make pretty interesting characters - sometimes.

But, outside of the act is the context in which the act is perceived. That is, how the act is framed. Much of the success or failure of a street act is dependant on this factor. "Location, location, location!isn't I hear you cry! If the context act's conducive to the act's vision, then much of the performance effort is wasted. Hey, just check your hats.

For example, several years ago, I am sitting on the steps of one of the large museums in Chicago. Just in front of the steps is a three-way intersection with traffic lights. There is a street musician and a mime, separately working the crowd that is sitting around me. The musician has a full sized harp, which in and unto it is a pretty impressive thing to be able to draw a small crowd with, and has set up off to the side. She is very talented and obviously has had a great deal of formal training. The mime is doing typical Shields-type mime. She has a "classy" look and he has a more "low-brow" look.

The poor harpist is fighting the traffic noise and has a very hard time drawing any attention in spite of her very well developed musicality. I listened to her for a while before being pulled to the action in the street. The mime is doing all sorts of thing in the intersection including the oh!-I'm-pulling-the-bus-with-an-invisible-rope bit when the bus accelerates from the stoplight. In that context, the mime's material was completely appropriate and very entertaining, even if predictable, where as the harpists' was not.

I'm sure that there could be some scenarios where the roles would be switched and the context for the performance more supportive to the musician than to the mime. (Maybe a recording studio?)

Anyway, this may seem painfully obvious and not worthy of mention since it isn't really difficult to determine if a location is "good" or not, but the material within the act needs to project the correct image for that location, wherever it may be.

Another example that comes to mind is working in theme parks. You can take a street act off of the sidewalk, clean out the offensive language, and place the exact same routine it in a theme park. To the audience it is the same scenario - the audience can choose to watch your act or move on. The situation is a little bit different, because there usually isn't the expectation of having to tip the performer, but in my experience, the big difference is that the patrons paid to get in to the park, and more often then not, they have paid a lot. That payment alone projects credibility onto the performance. After all, they put money up front for admission, and since this is an act that they have already purchased, they had better stop and watch.

I found that when I performed in theme parks the crowd-gathering task was trivialized to the point of simply starting the show and watching audience magically materialize.

Also, since you are inside the park, it is obvious that you are employed by the park, and therefore have a job something that most guests can relate to. If you are simply on the street, then you have to fight the stigma of being un-employed. (To most of the world, street performers are not perceived as being "self-employed", but "un-employed" with benefits.) If you can convince the audience that you do this by choice, as opposed to necessity, then I think you have a better chance to with them over.

Another experience I can think happened several years ago while working in Santa Monica, along the Strand. I had never spent much time in California before, and had always heard about the great street-performing going on the Boardwalk and on the Strand in Santa Monica. I was working on one end of the beach and living in an apartment on the other. Everyday I would walk up the strand to and from work, passing by anywhere from three to six acts working the tourist crowds.

I had high expectations this experience to be enlightening and fun to get to see some acts that had continued to work the street for years. I was enlightened all right. It is sufficient to say that there wasn't a single performer that could keep my attention longer than the congenial five-minute trial period that I, and most other prospective audience members give, let alone hang around for the epic conclusion to each demonstration.

First, and foremost, the thing that I was surprised by was that all of the performers looked like street people. I don't mean that they were street people, I do know better, but the accepted street performer costume seemed to be a T-shirt covered in suit and sweat with cut-off shorts. At first I thought that the guys that I was watching were new to the area, but then I came to realize that these were pitches that they occupied for many years. The beach-bum image seemed to prevail.

Additionally, the material wasn't appropriate for the tourists. The humor was way off base. Now, I have always been under the impression that one of the distinguishing characteristics of a joke is that it be funny. If it isn't funny, then it simply becomes a stupid remark. It wasn't just my deluded perception, because the crowds were dead quiet throughout. I remember one guy spouting off anti-heckler lines right and left, keeping the crowd at bay, in spite of the fact that there were no hecklers! That was his show, to fight hecklers, and it was dead in the water when he had a quiet, polite audience. This guy sounded like he would have been more comfortable performing for prison inmates.

In a parallel universe, the acts that I saw while I was staying in Montreal, down in the old part of town, were very well presented and fit the character and nuance of the area very well. The biggest difference between those acts and the ones in LA was that I got the feeling that these were street performers by choice, not by necessity.

I don't mean for this to offend any of the other readers on this site. In all fairness, this was several years ago, and the scenes may have changed since then, but it pointed out to me that how you are perceived doing a show on a sidewalk isn't really any different than how you are perceived doing a show in a glitzy theater. The material that you present has the greatest influence. If it works, then the perception is a positive one. If it fails, then you have to pick up the pieces. But, outside of the act itself, there is a context that supports or contradicts the act. Simply paying attention to the context of the performance, and trying to place the act in a proper context, will improve how you are perceived.

Steven Ragatz

PS. For those who do not wish to have to wade through my long tirades, feel free to e-mail me, as I offer the Cliff-Notes for each post.
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Old 08-28-01, 03:25 PM   #4
Rich Potter
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People think of you as something they readily relate to. I wear a grey vest, white shirt, red tie and black shorts. I have juggling props set up all over my pitch. People say, "When's the next magic show?" In Europe however, where street juggling shows are more commonplace, people on the street would see me on the way to the pitch and say "Hallo, jongleur!"

In Europe, they understand street entertainment. In the states, people relate more to what they see on TV, at school shows and/or at birthday parties.

I think sometimes words fail them as well. "Mime" might mean "funny guy on the street" and "Magician" might mean "person who does tricks"

Just like in many parts of the US, if you are at a party and someone offers you a "coke" , you might get anything ranging from ginger ale to orange soda to root beer to pepsi to soda water.


[This message has been edited by Rich Potter (edited 08-28-2001).]
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