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Old 02-24-09, 07:42 AM   #1
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Default The Pitch

I walk along the road on my way to the new frontier. I notice the sound of jingling change has disappeared from my pockets and so I stop and ply my trade. The pavement is my stage, the world my audience and I shall never want for contentment.

The Pitch is the name given to the chosen performance area of a street performer. If you ask a group of street performers why it is called this, you will undoubtedly start a fight because they all think that they know and they all think that they’re right. Various explanations to this question could include (in no particular order):

a) It is the place that the performer makes their sales “pitch” to the audience for contributions.

b) It takes place on a piece of black asphalt, or “pitch”.

c) It is the place where traveling circus shows would “pitch” their tents hence the name of their performance space.

Whatever the actual answer, most North Americans utilize the highly technical, elegant and proficient term “spot” to define this very same space.

Pitch Assessment

The choosing of a pitch and how a performer sets up in it also play an integral part in the success of any show. When ever possible the performer should orient themselves in a large area that allows for the accumulation of people without blocking footpaths or roadways. The easiest way to get noticed and shut down by the police is to create a traffic hazard.

The size of the pitch is always dependent upon the performer ego, some are content with a patch of curb, others will settle for nothing less than a city block. On average, a comfortable pitch is circular in nature and usually 9 to 12 meters in diameter. Each pitch will present different possibilities and it often takes a few tries before it works the right way.

Plazas in front of fountains are difficult to play because the sound of rushing water makes it next to impossible for the audience to hear unamplified acts, amplified acts usually just amplify the noise of the fountain. Sites next to busy roadways, loudspeakers, or intersections possess the same problem. Sites that involvewide step constructions can be excellent as they allow for good visibility, but they require that the performer is adept at physically moving his audience onto them, a task which is much harder than it may seem.

The performer must always give consideration to what the audience will see behind them. If another performer who likes to ride a 19 foot unicycle can be seen by another performers crowd, chances are that the performer who is not riding the 19 foot unicycle will lose their audience or, worse, that they’ll stay at the show and watch the other guy. Some performers have set up in front of shops or restaurants into which they can gain access. This is a brilliant staging concept, which allows the performer to disappear into the shop and reappear in the window facing the audience. This creates a proscenium, or fourth wall effect, which allows a scene to develop, which is separate from the street yet, viewable by the street audience.

Ideally, the pitch should have climbable items such as flagpoles, lamp standards, fences, raised platforms, or awnings in close proximity to the playing area. This will provide the needed height for establishing your presence on the scene. The higher you go, the more people that can see you and the more people will gather to see whether or not you’re really going to jump. After they’ve gathered and you have their attention, you of course inform them that you are not suicidal but, indeed, a weirdo with something of incredible value to offer the world.

There are some things which the performer must investigate about the pitch if they want their performance to run smoothly; local street level personalities that love to make unannounced appearances during the show; Hare Krishna groups, which love to do their dancey, singy, paradey thing at 8 p.m. every Friday night; or the local Salvation Army sing-a-long which starts promptly at 6: 30 p.m. every Sunday regardless of whether or not the performer is just about to pass his hat. There are some things that just can’t be planned for which is why the street is such a dynamic place to work. The more in tune the performer becomes with his surroundings, the more he will be able to deal with the unexpected and the more fun and spontaneous the show will be. Overall, the more possibilities that the pitch encompasses, the more exciting the performance will be.

These and other observations about the street can be found in The Pavement Stage available from www.davidcassel.com
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What ever I said before... forget about it. Everything's changed.

For an updated view of what I am thinking now, buy my book "The Pavement Stage". Revised to include observations and articles about street performing, the public space and freedom of speech worldwide. For more information send me an email.
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