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
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 dependent on this factor. "Location, location, location!" I hear you
cry! If the context of the act isn't 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 was 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
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 things 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 reversed,
and the context for the performance would be 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 than 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
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 sweat with cut-off shorts. At first I thought that the
guys 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.