performers' library

Tips on Street Performing
Steven Ragatz

Here are some suggestions based on my experience doing juggling street shows. Of course, these are generalizations and don't apply to everyone's style or situation, but I think that there are some words of wisdom that can be extrapolated and applied to many different street theater performances.

Make the show crisp — Think of your pitch as a theater but without the building. Everything should have a purpose and be planned. Even the unintentional parts should be intentional.

Know all the chops and keep some of them for emergency — Don't set off the audience's bullshit detector by lying. If you really need to hype a bit, maybe the bit isn't strong enough to have in the show. Save some A material for emergencies, that way when you kick into the "improv-mode" it will be as good, or better, than the rest.

Clearly define the stage boundaries, then break them — Tell the audience where the stage ends and where the viewing area begins. At the beginning of the show, force them to move right up to the front and define that line. First, it protects you from having people wander into your area. Second, you will be able to control how many people will be watching your show by restricting or enlarging your area. But most importantly, it gives the audience a sense of unity and organization. A unified audience will entice those passing by to come see what's going on. Once the stage and audience has been clearly established, leave the stage and go into the audience for some bits. Breaking the fourth wall is a wonderfully powerful device that keeps the audience fearful, alert, on edge and keeps you in control.

Clearly define the audience's role, then break it — Tell them how they should behave. Tell them where to go and what to watch. Let it be known that it is your show and that you are in control. But, then allow the audience to challenge that control. Let them test you either through heckling or volunteer bits. Of course, you are really the one with the upper hand, but always give them the opportunity to try to beat you at your own game.

When people leave, fill in the gaps — Acknowledge when people leave your show. Make sure that you demonstrate that you saw them leave, because everyone else will have. Actively make a point of having people remaining in the crowd fill in the hole. It's important to maintain the crowd density and not let them become dispersed.

Get the audience on your side — Give them someone to project their empathy. Make yourself endearing, and they will be willing to be your friend. Friends give friends money. Friends also come to your aid when you get into fights (with hecklers.)

Deal with hecklers on your terms, not theirs — Every street show is about control. If you can demonstrate absolute control when dealing with hecklers, then the rest of the audience will support you. This control can be demonstrated with comebacks, jokes or redirecting the comments. But, remember that you can win with ways other than simply playing the "dozens." Not everything needs to be funny. Sometimes, politely acknowledging the comment with an honest response will diffuse the situation and return control to you. Whatever device you use, the ultimate goal is to retain control.

Don't deal with hecklers when there are none — Even if your A material is heckler responses, don't start throwing out comebacks unless challenged first.

Don't keep props on the ground — Your props are your livelihood and deserve better that lying in the dirt. Also, nobody should have to look at your ass when you bend over to pick up the next trick.

Play the bit for what it's worth — Sometimes the best jokes are only a few seconds long. Don't milk it until it sours. Less - it's the new more!

Make the act get higher as the show progresses — That way; your crowd can get bigger as more people can see you. It also traps the first several rows for the money pitch at the end.

Tell them you are going to ask for money before you do — Somewhere near the end, implant in their minds the image of them forking over wads of cash.

Ask for the money that you want — If you ask for pocket change, you will only get pocket change. If you ask for big bills, you will get mostly big bills and some pocket change from the stingy bastards.

Make eye contact with individuals — Clearly define moments in the show to actually relate to individuals. Make them feel like you are performing just for them alone.

Make eye contact with the crowd — Clearly define moments to play to the crowd as a single entity. Help establish the unified and collective experience.

Play to the whole house for real — It's called a circle show because it is 360 degrees. Don't leave out those in the back.

Take your time, but maintain the energy — Watch out for transitions between bits. Nobody ever leaves just before a big trick. The transitions in-between bits are usually the moments you will loose sections of your crowd.

Be humble for the money pitch — Let them pay the performer, not the character. This is an acting problem. You can keep the show going for the pitch with hat lines, but make your thank-yous honest and believable.

Find the optimal show duration — Depending on the venue, vary the show length. If the crowd is transient, then don't try to do an hour show. Equally, if the crowd hangs around, don't show them the same stuff twice!

Act — Remember it's theater. All you have to do is act.

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.

Contact Steven:

Back to Steven's Section

Back to Main Library Article Index

support the site