Tag Archives: Rocky Raccoon

Experience Review – Busking in the Loop, St. Louis, Friday, 21MAR2014

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.

Personal Performance Review Notes – Shriners Children’s Hospital , St. Louis 15JAN2014 and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Family Fun Day, 26JAN2014

Admittedly, both of these shows were two different types of shows, but in both cases, I learned quite a bit about my act from each show.

Starting with the Children’s Hospital show, I prepped beforehand to keep my act to 12-15 minutes with additional stuff on deck in case I needed to fill a time gap. I kind of learned this from prior experiences, but considering I was performing with Terry Richison, who I highly respect and gotten great advice from.  This time around, my act was scaled back to the Linking Rings, my sponge ball routine, and my Reggie the Rabbit routine.

I’ve been reworking my Linking Rings during the winter months, and I have to admit that watching Dick Stoner’s routine, I had some ideas on more that I wanted to do. It helps that Dick’s routine is not a silent act, which is a break from most versions I see. For the little bit that I had added, it looked like I had a positive response. As opposed to before, because I’m in close enough quarters with my audience, having them handle the rings is not a problem. The only thing that I might want to work on is getting the people more to the front. Don’t know why I did it, but I worked with what I think were a mother and daughter who were at the extreme stage left of the crowd. It’s definitely something I need to work a bit on. In my typical half-circle show, it’s not a problem, but when I’m dealing with an audience where half the group is in wheelchairs or traction frame, it’s something to consider. As I’m working on taking my act to retirement homes, that’s a serious consideration.

My sponge ball routine got the reactions that I love to get, but I need to work on it a bit more, just for my own personal benefit. I want to expand it a bit more but in a way that will translate well whether I’m on stage or busking. I’m back into a bit of research mode, I think, but more will be added when I’m ready.

And now we get to Reggie the Rabbit. Everything technically went well, but I’m going to listen to some of the notes I got from Terry on it. First, I need to remember to display the empty production box more visibly so it’s clearer that the box is empty. Next, in handling Reggie, I need to work on my handling him so I don’t unconsciously handle him the neck (oops) and look like I’m strangling the poor puppet rabbit. I didn’t realize I was doing that, and those unconscious moments are the ones that it’s always good to get feedback on.

Finally, in the other trips I’ve made to the hospital, we’ve never put much of a focus on teaching magic. When David Copperfield put out the guidelines for doing Project Magic, that was to be a focus considering part of this is learning magic as therapy. I think the Impossible Knot that Terry taught was a bit over their heads, but then again, it pushed them in learning the manipulation, so that was probably part of the point. When I go out to the hospital again in April, this is certainly something I’ll keep in mind.

Now, to yesterday’s performances at the JDRF Family Fun Day.

I ended up basically doing what would be a busking grind act, the only difference was, if I didn’t have a crowd, I would reset my show and try to get a group before starting again. I think with busking, there is so much involved with patter and rhythm that it took me about 45 minutes before I felt like I was in the flow of things. It was also at that point that the crowd became a steady flow of people coming in and out from my little area where I had my table and case set up.

Normally, either with a rope or some other sort of boundary marker, I would try to delineate what was my “stage area,” but the kids were pretty up close and personal. When I handed a sponge ball to one child to examine, you can believe that the kid next to them would grab it and check it, too, so I had some crowd management to deal with there. For the stuff I threw in my case and pockets, about the only thing I didn’t do was my Vanishing Silk routine. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been working on my Linking Rings, and I finally got validation for the changes I’ve made. I actually had kids ask me to do them again. That felt like a major score for me. I tend to lead off my routine with the Rings, but it’s kinda always been more for me than for them, and with kids, they’ve been interested, but usually not seemed impressed until the final chain. I finally found a routine that seems to work well for me.

If there was a routine that I did that I am rethinking, it’s probably the Chinese Sticks. I’m still not satisfied with them, and while today in the shower, I did have one of those “ah-ha” moments on one of the things that I think I need to change. I’m still thinking about dropping them in favor of the Ali Bongo Pom-Pom Stick, and for my style of performance, I still think that might be a better way to go.

On a lark, I tossed my Rocky Raccoon into my case after I found out the night before how nicely he fit into a Crown Royal bag. This killed on such a level, I couldn’t believe it. Yeah, I used some of David Williamson’s material, but not really the impersonation parts. I found once I brought out Rocky, I kind of was able to do some improvisational jazz with him. This was some serious fun for me. I don’t care if maybe only some of the parents caught the reference, but my favorite Rocky impression is going to be “…and from ‘Big Trouble in Little China,’ David Lo-Pan.” It makes me giggle, so I’m keeping it. I ended up doing my card routine that I worked out for Reggie the Rabbit, and it worked out to the delighted squeals of the kids, so I think if I’m going to include a rabbit production I’ll use Reggie, otherwise, Rocky is on deck for the routine. I’m pretty sure Rocky’s coming out with me for busking.

If there is a take-away lesson from yesterday, though, it’s back into crowd management. I was at the inner corner of a T-intersection directly on the way to where the dinner was going to be served, so at one point, there was a serious crowd-press. At one point, I pretty was working inches away from the crowd. The kids were pretty grabby, and if I went into my case, they could see inside. I could keep them from grabbing, but they were going to look. The big issue with this was, as soon as some of them saw the Rings, they wanted to see the routine. Kinda hard at this point.  I need less than five seconds to reset the Rings, but that was a hard five seconds to get. Considering my location and the crowd that was moving through, it was difficult to get space, but somehow I still got it. Definitely a lesson in both crowd management and location.

I did end up with one little girl, Anastasia, crying because she said I never chose her to help me with a trick. For the life of me, I thought I had. I know I was interplaying with her quite a bit. Man, that stung a bit, but I’ve seen the hurt looks from kids who were upset from not getting picked to help before with some of the other people I’ve performed with, so I do know that when I work with kids, that’s going to be a possible hazard, but this is the first time it’s happened to me. It may be unavoidable, but my goal is to make the act fun enough that that is a minimal issue and in general, everybody has a good time.

All things considered, that was an exhausting experience, but great overall and it has my juices flowing for what’s to come this year.

Doing the Sponge Balls (photo by Columbus Smith)

Doing the Sponge Balls (photo by Columbus Smith)

Working the Linking Rings (photo by Columbus Smith)

Working the Linking Rings (photo by Columbus Smith)

David Williamson – “Rocky the Raccoon”

David Williamson (davidwilliamson.com) is another one of the comedy magicians who has left his mark on the magic community. I won’t say that he wrote the book on the handling of Rocky Raccoon, but pretty darn close. Most magicians, if they go into a Rocky Raccoon (or other spring animal, for that matter) use at least some of David’s gags. I reposted this on Facebook before I started this blog, but yesterday’s event that I worked at definitely brought this back to mind, especially since I decided to bring out Rocky myself. It was worth every minute for me, and I hope you dig David’s performance.

David Williamson – “Rocky the Raccoon”