Experience Review – Busking the ‘Art and Air Festival’ 12OCT2013

For a while, I’m going to try to write about each new performance I have, if not just to examine the things that went right and went wrong and hopefully plan for better outcomes. For anybody reading this blog, please always feel free to comment with additional thoughts or criticisms. I’m definitely open.

Starting out, yesterday at the Art and Air festival in Webster Groves, MO, was already interesting. I arrived there, and with the email correspondence I had had before performing, I knew that I was open to perform anywhere I wanted. Signing up, I knew I was going to be busking and only working for tips, but that was okay. That’s part of the challenge.

I walked around at the beginning trying to find a good place to set up. The fair itself was pretty much set up mainly in a horseshoe shape along three streets, with the main portion on a blocked off section of one street. After being directed in a few different directions from some of the volunteers, I finally found what I thought might be a good spot and set up.

Tricks set, I called out to my first audience and started the routine, and as soon as I had gotten through the first trick, the crowd had begun to gather a bit and was an okay size by the time I got to the last trick in the act. I prompted that at the end of that trick, that was going to be the end of my show and I was going to ask for tips. The sour faces started. At that moment, I started losing the crowd. I performed the last trick and before I could throw out the final pitch line, the audience had cleared and I heard some utter “Let’s go.” OK, a bit frustrating, but no need to worry. I had all afternoon.

Second time though, it was pretty much the same. Smiles until the mention of tipping, and then sweet went to sour.

I decided not to tip for a while, then, and work on my routine before throwing out the tip lines again. A little while down the road, I called out to a couple of girls, and their immediate response was, “Will we have to pay?” No, girls, I just hope you enjoy the show. Sigh.

From that point on, I decided that I wasn’t going to ask for tips again for the rest of the day and just work on the act. It became a bit of a slog after a while, doing the routine over and over, but I did get to improve some things in my performance and came up with some new lines during the repetitions.

Considering the fact that I wasn’t making any money, at 3:45 I left. Asking around a bit on my way out, plus, listening to the crowd, it became clear that pretty much the only ones really making money were the face painters, food vendors and whoever was selling little glitter-covered skeletons. There was one artist trying to sell who had sustained an eye injury and was just hoping to sell one piece so they could go to urgent care. It became clear I wasn’t the only one having an unprofitable day.

Now, all the stuff I’ve read and watched on busking magic pretty much points to giving the tip lines when I did in my routine: Before you start the last trick, midway into the last trick, and immediately after the trick you then ask for the tips by hatting the crowd. As I write this, I’m still going back and forth on whether this is still the best way to proceed with these types of crowds. Hey, I’m still pretty new at this, and I might not be giving the pitch lines well and may need to keep working on it. Then again, this method has already worked for me.

I begin to wonder how much of it was the type of crowd I was working with. The scenario was a pretty middle class area with mainly people carrying plastic instead of cash. Maybe enough cash that they had specifically earmarked. (In one case, I know one guy who sacrificed his kettle corn cash for his daughter’s face painting.)

Talking to one friend later that evening, he told me that as soon as people start asking him for a tip, he immediately gets upset and they automatically get nothing.

I might have to reconsider the tip jar, which other people have asked about but most busking magician writers tell you to steer away from. It may be a case where I start out with the plan of hatting the crowd at the end of the act and keep the tip jar stashed in the car, just in case.

I mean, hell, I live in St. Louis. Pizza here is so far removed from pizza anywhere else, so maybe there is a good reason to use a different strategy.

As it was, though, I did have a good time for the most part. After a while, it was tiring and I did get burnt out. One thing did give me a little extra push that kept me going on for a bit longer, though.

A couple of girls came over, and after being the skeptical teenage girls “We’re too cool for this,” left after the first trick. An hour later, though, I saw them watching from the back of the group for the entire act. Yeah, they may have been too cool, but they still came back for more.

I must be doing something right.

I didn’t get any photos from this latest jaunt, so here’s one I took of a busker in Kaiserslautern, Germany, last year.

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