This Friday, July 11, is Maplewood’s tribute to Bastille Day. From 6pm until later into the evening, I’ll be performing the section of Sutton Blvd. Maplewood has blocked off for the occasion (between Marietta and Hazel). Doing my busking routine and bringing my brand of stoopid and magic to the festivities. Looking at the list of entertainment, it looks like it should be a great party atmosphere for everybody who comes out. Hi Tadah, the top spinner I really dug at Fringe Fest will also be performing, so I’m digging on that. Check out the information for Let Them Eat Art at http://www.cityofmaplewood.com/index.aspx?NID=147. Admittedly, in the Entertainers section, the write-up they culled for me is a little disjointed (I’m going to have to put together a stock one so that is a little clearer for future events) and the picture they used is of Gazzo (Damn, I wish I was at his level!) but I will be there. I hope to see you all there, too!
This weekend, June 21 and 22, I will be performing at the St. Louis Fringe Festival. I have a family event to attend Saturday morning/early afternoon, so I won’t start doing my busking act at the festival until probably around 4 pm until whenever I feel I’ve run my course with it or the evening festivities wind down. (Hey, it’s busking. I can make my own schedule on this.) Sunday, I will be performing a 45 minute show on the Street Fringe stage they have set up in Strauss Park at 4:30 pm. According to the notice I received, “In the case of rain all Street Fringe performances will be moved to Third Baptist Church at 620 N. Grand.” That’s across the street from Strauss Park. They have a lot of acts going on, some in theaters, and a lot going on in the Street Fringe area. Theater shows have ticket prices attached to them, but the street stuff is all free. As I’m busking, yeah, I’ll hat whatever crowd stops to enjoy the show, but it’s all up to you if you want to pay. Kind words are payment enough, but money is always welcome. It’ll be hot out (if not wet), but it will be a good time. More information on the St. Louis Fringe Festival can be found at http://stlfringe.com. Everybody who can is invited and welcome to come on out and enjoy the stoopid!
You know, despite trying to get paying gigs in addition to busking, I do love to do shows for charity events. This one was for Annie’s Hope (www.annieshope.org), a bereavement center in St. Louis for children, adolescents, and their families. When the confusion settled, and I got into my groove, man, it felt like I was right where I needed to be.
First off, I planned on doing my busking routine and flipping it over as I was able to get a crowd. The only change from what I had been doing was to replace Rocky the Raccoon with Reggie the Rabbit for the final routine. I had been working with Rocky because of the gags I could do with him, but the more I play with Reggie in my parlor act, the more I like the gags I’m doing with him. It’s mostly the same gags, but something feels more right with Reggie the more I use him. Yeah, I don’t have him jump out and startle like I do with Rocky, but the other gags feel more fleshed out. So that was my only change outside of some adjustments to patter that I wanted to try. Hell, it’s always a work in progress, especially when my act relies on audience participation.
So, after running through the act a number of times the night before, I was ready to go. Case was packed and table was ready for travel.
Saturday morning, after arriving at the event, I was met by one of the other magicians. He was a bit concerned, as I soon became, after we found that a company that focuses on providing children’s magic events was there, represented by one of their magicians and a balloon twister. To add to it, it looked like the only performance space was going to have to be shared. Man, I didn’t want to take away from them, and just as much, I didn’t want anything we did be an assist in promoting their company. They’re nice guys, but when it comes down to it, at some point, I do want to be part of their competition. After talking to the chairperson running the event, I set down my table, grabbed my rings, and started working the crowd. I found it easy to get a crowd while doing the rings, but I had walked away from my table, so after I was done working the linking rings, I was pretty much done with that group. I couldn’t ditch the rings in order to do anything else, so it was time to rethink my strategy. By the time I had pulled my table out to a good spot, the first event, the balloon release to start the 5k run was about to start, so the crowd was moving there.
By the time the walkers and runners had all returned, Columbus, who was the magician who greeted me, had had to leave for his day job and the two other magicians from IBM Ring One were there and ready to go. So, now for us to really get into our thing.
While the other magicians did their bits, I found I was able to pretty much bally people to my table by just holding the rings looking like I was ready to do something. Admittedly, the crowd was kinda primed, but it was an easy tip to build from without feeling like I was poaching people from the other guys.
As for the crowds, they were small, but good. Very receptive. I think the most fun I had was with one pair of girls who assisted in the Ropes Through the Neck. One was terrified to pull the ropes, while her friend was very eager. I had fun playing off of them, looking at the scared one going, “Don’t worry honey, you won’t hurt me,” and then looking at the other with a “Well, you probably will.” I also learned that when you do the sponge balls with a child who is younger than three, her glee might send you chasing after the balls.
Whether it was the humidity or just me that day, for the life of me, I couldn’t do an overhand shuffle to save my life. Strangely, all the other slights worked without a hitch, but a simple shuffle that I’ve been doing since I was kid was beyond me. On the other hand, I think it only added to the final card reveal for Reggie and built things up nicely. I probably won’t aim for that type of shuffling, but if it happens again, it’s definitely not going to slow me down or frustrate me.
Also, yeah, going with Reggie was the right move. The final bit went right and felt right with each flip of my little act. Reggie got his laughs, and I came up with more material while working the act over and over. Not to disparage little Rocky, but he may be dry docked for a while.
Personal criticisms: Okay, I need to get my bubble routine worked out quickly. It’s going to be my bally, and though this crowd didn’t need one, it’s enough of a spectacle to build that it’s renewed my interest in getting it going as quickly as possible. Not that I’m going to perform it until the mechanics are second nature, but it’s going to be too much fun for me not to do it. Plus, it is luring the audience with spectacle.
Secondly, for some reason I was only able to get the final four-ring shape only half the time. I don’t know what’s going on with that, but I love the patter that goes with that (and it tends to get another laugh), so I need to woodshed that more to break down where the issue is. Not a show-stopper, but it’s a reminder to go back and practice all moves slowly.
Overall, it was a good time. For each crowd I stopped after I had my rig with me, I ran the full act without losing the crowd. Reviewing it, I think I flipped the act eight times after the walkers came back, so it was personally satisfying. Despite the chaos when we showed up, I’m looking forward to working for Annie’s Hope again next year if they put the call out. Good people doing a good thing, and I was glad to be a part of their event.
Well, today was my first day out busking in St. Louis for 2014, and though I might have not reached some personal goals I had set for the outing, I’m not complaining.
Needless to say, though, my anxiety was running pretty high leading up to the show. There have been a few weekends so far that would have been good to work during, because of work, illness, and other prior commitments, I wasn’t able to go out. Knowing that this weekend will be too cold to be able to keep a crowd, I knew I had to go out today after I left the day job early.
And I have been nervous as hell about going out. Even though I’ve been out before, enough time has passed since my last venture out that all sorts of fears (rational and irrational) piled up. I really have been losing sleep over this, going over the act over and over in my head. And really, I’ve only added one new bit to the act since I was doing it last year and in other outings for the local clubs, I’ve been able to keep trying some new bits of patter to see what might work or not. I was getting pretty OCD about it all by the time I was hitting the door to head to Delmar. Yeah, despite the number of checks of my case, I still had to check it one more time while standing at the van before I finally was able to drive off.
I chose Delmar because of the amount of foot traffic and the fact that it was a typically pleasant to work last year. I was hoping to get the same spot I was working last year, but a couple of guitarists (not bad, by the way) were snagging it as I did a drive up and down Delmar to scope out the Friday late afternoon scene. The pickings were pretty ugly as far as pitches were concerned, so I ended up settling on a few that I hoped were the least of the evils.
Once I parked and was walking, I noticed that the wind was kinda heavy. Didn’t know if it would be a deal breaker, I just knew I didn’t want to do things so that I was chasing a sponge ball or two that were blown down the street. I also knew I needed this outing to happen because I was seriously tempted to chicken out.
I set up in the pitch I selected, which was on the corner to a parking garage across from the Tivoli theater. Foot traffic looked pretty good, but once I got going, I realized how bad the spot was. More on that in a bit.
The first group I got to stop was a pair of teenage couples. The guys stopped immediately and wanted to see what I was going to do with the Linking Rings, and the women suddenly became interested as soon as the clanking began. One of the women started out naysaying with the words, “It’s an illusion,” but I was able to still get a “Wait! How’d you do that?” out of her. By the end of the rings, I had also built the crowd up a bit. I zeroed in on my early naysayer and did my sponge ball routine with her, and had her attention. I then used a thirty-something couple to help me with the Ropes Through the Neck routine, and the look on the wife’s face was what I was hoping for. She really didn’t want to pull on the ropes and strangle me. Bless her! After that, though, the crowd broke up immediately before I could finish with my Rocky Raccoon routine. Dammit!
No problem, though. I took a moment to reset the act and stopped another group of girls who enjoyed the rings, but took off. Which led me to the best group of the day.
Okay, first off, when the hell did I get old enough that I can’t tell if a group of girls is high school aged or college aged? I remember this happening to adults older than me as I was growing up and always thinking, “Well, duh. It’s obvious.” Sigh.
Anyway, I stopped a group of about six young women and had then fighting over the chain of three rings trying to figure out where the “soft spot” was. That was worth the moment by itself, but getting the screams of “Oh my GOD!” with the sponge balls, followed by “Okay! Do that trick on me next!” kinda had my personal magic bug in heaven. When I passed out the ropes for examination, both of the volunteers were afraid to touch them because they were afraid they were going to turn into something. I love this gig. Once I had the knot tied in the ropes and they saw where this was going, they were pretty much terrified. This group (plus the additional people that gathered) was the only one that saw the Rocky routine, and by the time Rocky revealed the selected card, we were all having a good time. It was the only group that saw the full set, but I’ll explain some of the issues I need to learn to either deal with or avoid in the future.
Okay, the sidewalk I was working on was a bit shallow for me as far as crowd control. If the crowd got too big, I had possible safety issues pushing people into the street just trying to get enough space to link the ring I was holding to the one being held by a helper, let alone leaving enough room for others not watching to pass by the act. It’s one thing to have a horseshoe group around you, but when there’s not even enough space for a full arm’s length around, it’s something I’m going to have to learn to work with. Let’s just say, if anything relies on angles, you’ve got a tough row to hoe. Also, with people passing by so closely, it keeps the group constantly shifting and not as stable as I’d like, so I really need to work hard on my crowd management in addition to pitch selection.
With these factors going on, even though I was doing some decent magic, I was dropping a lot as far as patter because I was also distracted. That didn’t help, so I’m going to have to put a good amount of time under my belt to get comfortable with all those issues.
All in all, I didn’t make any money, and my performance goal of at least ten sets didn’t quite happen. In the time I was out there, I ended up doing the rings twelve times, the sponge balls seven, the ropes four, and Rocky once. I ended up blowing off the pitch after an hour and fifteen minutes, because with the tough pitch and my level of experience, it probably was going to get far more frustrating without getting better.
In all, though, it felt good to be back out there. I think this outing was just to get back out there and get the nerves settled. The people were, in general, good to work with, and I’m looking forward to more and getting better with the tasks and challenges ahead. Yeah, a lot of irrational fears leading up to getting out there, but that should be far more diminished next time (which, if the weather forecast is right, won’t be for another couple of weeks). I don’t know where I’ll hit next, but I have some other locations in mind.
Two last things: Levent’s advice to me to get the rings into the spectators’ hands is the best advice I’ve gotten on the rings. I had to rework my routine from what it started out as to make it happen with some of the routining I really didn’t want to drop, but as it worked for the kids’ performances, it worked doubly so for busking.
Secondly, there’s a special place in my heart for the chemically-altered guy that was dogging me after one of the groups dissolved. Sorry, but I just couldn’t bring myself to show him “how to hide stuff so the cops can’t find it.” He just really knew I could help him out.
One of my earliest Daily Doses was of Gazzo (www.gazzoshow.com) doing his Cups and Balls routine on Penn & Teller’s “Fool Us.” (jasonstackmagician.com/?p=145) Considering today was the first day I’ve gone out busking in 2014, I thought I would revisit Gazzo’s routine, but this time in its most natural habitat, the streets where Gazzo performs. In this performance, which is a lot longer than the “Fool Us” version, you get to see all the interaction he does with the crowd. In the pantheon of busking magicians, Gazzo really is one of our patron saints.
As I start getting excited for the warm weather to get here in St. Louis again so I can start busking, I’m drawn to these sorts of acts. Close-up with the crowd right there in your face. Waving a knife around might not be the best idea for me, but Bob Sheets (www.bobsheets.com) keeps the crowd rolling in this Card Stab routine.
Bob Sheets (www.bobsheets.com) is one of the rare breed that comes from experience in circus, sideshow, trade show, bar magic, festival, and street performance. Man, his manner, patter and crowd handling is the type of performance I really dig and pretty much aspire to. His recent DVD of a “boot camp” course in the Three Shell Game will probably become a new standard in teaching a routine until it is drilled in as second nature. This video, though, is of him doing a Cups and Balls routine, and what sets it apart from most performances is how he is working not only closely surrounded, but also has members of the crowd (in this case, kids) involved and working with him. The magic community knows Bob Sheets’ name, and everybody who is into life performance should, too.
I’ve been remiss by not posting anything by Jimmy Talksalot (jimmytalksalot.blogspot.com), and the reason why he has been important and influential to me and my performance is his blog (located at the above address) was what inspired me to try my hand at street performance in the first place. Because of what Jimmy has posted online, I’ve seen and read quite a bit about performing magic on the streets. Once again, not the David Blaine “Do you want to see a trick,” but getting a crowd, keeping them, and (the hardest part) hatting the crowd after giving them a show. Even my final trick that I had performed for my show last years was inspired from Jimmy after seeing how Jimmy gets a good reaction (although my Ropes Through the Neck is not quite his bit). Jimmy turned me on to Jim Cellini, who is the godfather of contemporary street magicians, held in the same esteem as other magicians hold Dai Vernon. I hope to cross paths with Jimmy someday and give him my thanks personally.
Once again, it’s time to go back to the guys who perfected their routines by working on the streets, and award-winning Chris Capehart (www.capehartsmagic.com) is a prime example of that group (I can only marginally consider myself part of that group, but it’s a goal). One of the things I love about Chris is the fact that one of his signature routines is his Three Ring Routine. His skill and handling is perfect and leaves its mark as one of the ring routines that must be seen.
First off, before I go any further, I’m going to say that when I do book reviews on my site, I’m not necessarily going to review new books, but rather, books I’ve read and that I find a bit of value in. I don’t know if I’ll bother reviewing books like Bobo’s “Modern Coin Magic” or “Royal Road to Card Magic,” though. Even though I have them and use them regularly as reference material, they discuss techniques and tricks, but all things considered, I look at them as reference guides. Just like I probably wouldn’t review a dictionary or set of encyclopedias (a form of book now pretty much on its way to extinction). The books that I intend to review are more along the lines of performance and histories. You know, the types of books you’re more likely to sit down and read cover to cover.
Even a brief glance at the videos I link to on this site will show a bit of fandom for Whit “Pop” Haydn, but this is where fandom can work for me. I probably wouldn’t have known about this autobiography, which is nicely written in a conversational style. Other than the opening chapter, it feels much like sitting down with Whit for a few beers.
The opening chapter is a brief history of street performing magicians and what separates this form of performance from performing in other venues. Now, please understand, this isn’t the same as someone like David Blaine or one of his imitators stopping a random person on the street and saying “Do you want to see a trick?” before doing some packet card miracle and letting them move on. This is more of finding your spot, your pitch, in busking parlance, and drawing people in to watch a small show, hatting them at the end. It’s the equivalent of giving someone a candy bar and asking them to pay you for it if they thought it was any good. After that, you reset and do the act again trying to pull in a new crowd. If you’re good, you can make a living from it (not a personal claim I can make).
After that chapter, it’s Storytime with Whit, and this is the heart and soul of the story. Whit starts us pretty much from where he lost his job, assigned to him because of his conscientious objector status towards the Vietnam War, due to failing his draft physical due to poor eyesight and starts performing in in streets of New York at a time when it was pretty much unheard of.
Here, Whit takes us through working the streets, in some cases avoiding law enforcement, working the streets in Europe and back to the States, and shares stories that he experienced along the way. From the streets, he starts working also as a bar magician and this seamlessly flows into stories about both how he developed some tricks and how the tricks developed by interacting with the crowds. My personal favorite in this section is the story of how he developed the “Routine for the Blind,” which is worth the price of the book by itself.
The final section is “The Lessons of the Street,” and here Whit discusses some of what a street performed needs to know in order to be successful out there. Now, admittedly, you will find an awful lot of the same advice from the writings of people like Jim Cellini, Eric Evans, Gazzo, or even in Jimmy Talksalot’s book and blog. The feel you get from this section, though, is on how even though Whit doesn’t perform on the streets anymore, a lot of what he learned out there is applied in his style and approach today. I’ve not seen any footage anywhere of Whit doing a silent act, and even though if he did one, I’m sure it would be done to a brilliant end, but the man and performer is outstanding when he is interacting with the crowd, which in general seems to be the best part of any of his routines. It’s what makes him a great performer in addition to a great magician.
If you’re looking for a Jim Steinmeyer-like study of Whit’s personal history, you’re not going to find it here. As I said earlier, it’s like sitting and having a few pints while Whit tells you about his early days. I just hope as I develop down my path, I can collect stories as good.
The book, “Stories of a Street Performer” by Whit “Pop” Haydn, can be purchased in print and ebook at http://www.mikazukipublishinghouse.com/stories_of_a_street_performer.html or at http://www.amazon.com/dp/1937981339/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_29b1sb1KMZDYRNM3.