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!
For anybody who may have planned on coming out to see my show today, because of the weather, the show has been moved across the street from Strauss Park to Third Baptist Church at 620 N. Grand. The church is catty-corner to the Fox Theater, so if you know where the Fox is, finding the church shouldn’t be that hard. I will be performing at 4:30 it’s a free performance, magic, and laughs.
Wayne Dobson (www.waynedobson.co.uk) is a master of entertaining people with his show. He suffers from MS and currently, when he performs, he performs from a wheelchair with limited mobility and use f his arms. Still, he persona and skill in working with an audience gives a top-notch show. This clip is from earlier in his career, and even though he does a couple of standard routines, his presentation puts these at the top of any “must see” list.
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.
I started looking for routines with bubbles to get ideas for my busking act and came across this outstanding work of magic and manipulation. Argentinian magician Mirko Callaci (mirkomagic.com) won a FISM award at the 2003 Den Haag XXII World Championships in the category of General Magic, and it is just stunning in it’s routining. Mirko now has a must-see act in Shanghai, and after seeing this, man, it gives me even more of a reason to want to make a trip there.
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.
I’ll admit, I still love working with sponge balls in my act (such as it is). They’re fun. Plus, when I do my bit with them, it’s always with my grandfather in mind. Certain things in my routine are done with important people to me in mind, and it’s always with my grandfather in mind because the sponge balls are fun and make people smile, kinda like the kindest person I know. Bill Malone’s (www.billmalonemagic.com) routine has that playfulness that I love about the sponge balls and his delivery makes me smile, if not laugh, every time I watch it.
OK, for me this is just painful to watch, but other than video from a high school performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” I’ve never liked watching myself on video. Fair warning, this is pretty much the first act I worked out and I did it (sans tux) for busking. This is less a piece of art than a crayon drawing on the refrigerator, but it’s mine, even if the routines borrowed heavily from Al Schneider (pretty much his Linking Rings routine, just adjusted a bit to suit my taste), Daryl (although it’s a pretty standard Sponge Ball bit) and the Ropes Though the Neck technique is from Harry Monti. This was shot by Greg Lewis at an S.A.M. Assembly 8 meeting on my phone as just a quick and dirty video to show my routine to possibly get into the Midwest Magic Jubilee for their Thursday night performance. Didn’t get in, but I’m okay with that. It was the personal challenge to at least try.