performers' library

Street Performing for Dummies
"Cluephone, it's for you..."

Taxi Trix

"How did you get started?" was a topic a while ago on p-net. This is an expanded version of my ideas for the newbie. It's not a new topic in the library. Rex Boyd gives away a full-on secret in his advice on discovering/ creating the right place to do it. (Jeez, Rex, we're gonna be inundated!) There are contexts in the places he suggests which are more suggestive of entertainment than where you might think to go. Hotch is funny, and has some honest, hard-won perspective on the dangers of knives in the hands of other performers. Steve Ragatz covers a lot in "Tips on Street Performing" as well, and I agree with every word he wrote. Check out Brian on hecklers too, there's all you need to know on that, and some good advice on "workshopping" your show at the end. That's "workshopping," not "worshipping" your show. Leave the worshipping to us old timers; it's all we got. Well, that and a lot of old props we can't throw away.

With these articles, a Butterfly Man keynote speech on "Safety First," (if you can stay awake) Flying Bob's "Staying Grounded" lecture, and Martin Ewen's "Sobriety and Positive Thinking" series, most of which you can get by going to MotionFest, you've got a street MBA. Lucky jerk! What did you do to deserve this? But enough about anything other than me...

My rude awakening took place in Boston, under the friendship and generous teachings of the rope-walking trickster Mark Farneth. I learned street performing in the mid 80s, and it is a fantastic experiment in living still. So buy me a coffee and you'll get the whole summery sweet tale of youth, friendship, and access to wonder, but for now, let's get your meter running. From ground zero, where do you go? What do you do?

You communicate intelligent forethought and expectation by illustrating your performing space. A rope on the ground indicating your "stage" is instructive. Semicircle is popular. Have fun with any kids who may cross it. Loop it gently around a foot, hang yourself with the end of it when a kid "wins." Later, when they are well lined up on the rope, it can be a useful symbol to remove and coil it, to mark the show's beginning, and establish intimacy and vulnerability. Chalk can also work, or sprayed water in summer, on bright hot days, can be fun.

A careful laying out of props is the simplest way to begin a street show. Do it as if it makes a serious difference where everything goes. Don't dismiss it. Read Pat Campbell's "Passing the Hat" (available at Dube): as she says, this is sometimes performed with all the intricacy of a Japanese tea ceremony. Your level of respect for the props can be an invitation to people. It's a pull. Back away from set props, look at them from audience perspective, and then change a little something. You can communicate in your placement, and in making small changes, that there are things you know which they do not, that you prefer the set a certain way, and - oh hell it just works. (And you can trade it all for the mystery of the unopened box later, but these are the basics.)

I'm guessing you have skills. Use volunteers; you know that, right? Respect them, and have something genuinely useful and contributing for them to do. It's more than ok to have your show take a little detour into unexpected territory opened up by your volunteers. Don't be a script Nazi. How do you choose who you pick? Simple.

For adults, there is only one barometer. No matter what, get someone who is smiling. Stay awake and find a grinner before volunteer time. Get them up. One easy way is to single them out from nowhere. Mention how you need someone, anyone, anyone young, with long sleeves, etc. until only the person you want fits. Kids are far easier. Kids will trip over themselves to come up if you do one cool thing and then simply ask. Stay away from the ones with horns.

Make believe people want you to go over well with them. It's a premise you do well to engage. (Can you "engage" a premise? I think I'm married to this one.) Be available to feedback from the crowd. Reacting to what is happening during the show, is lots of the show. We all trot out our bits, but the good ones listen. Listen: there is a private wordless conversation between you and them, and it is formed of commentary on the fact that you are in front of them now. An eyebrow lifted at an intruding toddler beats three of a toss every day. If you communicate to them that they are impacting you, they are glued.

The "magnet" portion: getting them to come to you, is a toughie. Cultivate intrigue in dress and movement. Project power and certainty, not arrogance but be clear that you are capable. Speak loudly, and say things that would make you stop in the street and watch someone. If you are not "hawking" your show, start with that. Say good things about what is to come. Everything works. Questions and commands work. Want to nail 'em to you? Get sidetracked into them, as in:"Hey get over here, I'm gonna stand on my head and HEY that tie with that jacket REALLY? Does your wife know you're wearing that? What a risk taker!"

It is its own dance. Do it 3-5 times before you decide if you like it. Watch your ego, it aint easy at first. My first show I made 25 cents. Invent that your body is the perfect expression of sensuality and balance on the planet. Cultivate gratitude. Be all of the space, encompass the show. Never, never apologize unless you hurt someone or you do it as a bit. Make believe the show is an event where you get to be three times the person you know yourself to be.

Keep asking for ideas, people like to seeeeeeeeem wise. Ask your crowd for feedback: really. Love them. They'll get it.

Heavy hats to you, and welcome to our strange family.

Taxi Trix

Taxi Trix is originally from Queens, NY but now lives in western Connecticut. He has a really cool home and enjoys hosting guests from New Zealand.

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