performers' library

Wanted: Free Busker Act!
Steven Ragatz

One of the first lessons that anyone who tries to build a career as a self-employed performer learns is that benefit shows beget more benefit shows. Yes, it does seem to be true, and yes, all of the benefit organizers spew the same spiel: "All the hot dogs and exposure you can eat. There will be press! There will be media! There will be EVERYTHING! Well, everything except money…"

I think it's important to handle these situations within the proper context. As performers who deal with the profession on a daily basis, we have to remind ourselves to consider the position of those who are vying for our services. If you are being called by someone with some charity organization, chances are this individual has either volunteered or been drafted to do something like "find entertainment" for their event. Usually, this person doesn't have any say or control over the money allocations, nor do they have an artistic bone in their body. It is not surprising that they are willing to ask for something for nothing. Hell, why not? You don't get what you don't ask for, and if you do ask, you just might get it.

No, I do not begrudge the event organizers in these situations. These people are not looking for a quality performance; they are looking for any performance. They want the illusion of entertainment at their event. They are trying to create a festive atmosphere with a shoestring budget.

In cases like this, I usually try to be as polite as possible, explain that I donate my time to a select few charities each year. Then, to leave the interaction with a positive feel, I always refer them to someone else who I think might be interested in their program. I give them the names and numbers of some less expensive performers that they may wish to call who simply want to get out and do it. It's always a good idea to try to help the poor organizer find someone else even if you don't wish to do the show.

In short, lets not feel that we have the added obligation to "educate" these people on proper etiquette etc. Save the pompous-artist routine for when it is needed.

Now, as I said, I think context is important. An entertainment agency that I had worked with for over a decade called me last year with a charity gig to promote the city of Cincinnati. After sending the promotional tape etc., and after having been told about the theme and the $$$ that were being poured into this event, I was asked to donate my time with the assurance that I would be hired for the same event when it came around again the following year.

Every now and then something happens that reminds me of the drawbacks to living in the US Midwest.

In spite of our long-term relationship, I couldn't communicate enough scorn to this agency for even the suggestion. I expect this sort of request from the client, yes, but the entertainment representative? No. We haven't talked since.

There is room for arguing whether or not taking free shows undermines the market. I suspect this could be the case in some areas where competition is high, but I get tired of performers who like to play business more than they like to perform. I think there is nothing wrong with taking a gig, any gig, if you want to do it. Any show will have its benefits and drawbacks. All performances offer at least one thing — opportunity. Any opportunity is better than none.

There are plenty of reasons to want to do a show other than for the money. I think that it's unfortunate for everyone when a performer withholds services without giving the situation consideration unless there is a "proper" paycheck at the end.

It's a difficult balancing act in itself deciding when to be tight and when to loosen up. But, no matter the circumstance, we all benefit if we remember to go into the gig, paid or not, as if it were the most important performance of our careers. With that in mind, even when the situation sucks, the audience's experience won't.

Steven Ragatz

Steven Ragatz has studied mime, stage movement and juggling with Fred Garbo, Tony Montanaro, George Pinney, and Michael Moschen. He currently resides in Bloomington, Indiana, with his wife, Lisa, and their two children, Andrew and Melissa. Someday he'll have his web site running.

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