Thursday, 29 May 2014

Step Right Up...

Hello Friends.

This past weekend, I visited my old hometown and took in a street festival. The thing about street festivals is that attract the same calibre of attendees as outdoor music festivals, and those attendees are among the worst people in the world. Frustratingly, I read Facebook updates after the fact where several old friends posted that they had attended the same festival. Didn't see you there, gang! Instead, I saw an awful mix of hippy dippy henna tattoo types, burlesque dancers, old gays in linen beekeeper suits, and sunburned babies. Sunburned. Babies! NEW MOMS! When you're attended a street festival on a hot and sunny day, get out the SPF 1000 and slather up your damn kids. Also, is it necessary to bring the stroller AND the dog? And to stop in the middle of the festival grounds to look at a spoon that been molded and reshaped to look like another spoon?

The other thing these festivals always have is street performers. The ones at this festival were situated unfairly close to one another so the saxophone duo taking a crack at Poker Face were drowned out by the octogenarian on the didgeridoo. There was one performer, a young boy with a small accordion and a beret and a placard in front of him that read something like Zayden the Musical Boy. Well, Zayden just pushed the squeezebox back and forth! It wasn't even a song! Whee-HAW, Whee-HAW! No one's impressed, Zayden! And the beret is pandering. But guess what, guys? Zayden was MONEY! Everybody dropped change into the open guitar case of Zayden the Musical Boy. I don't know if you know, but getting just one dollar from a thousand people will net you over 700 dollars. If not set for life, Zayden definitely had a good weekend. Summer is coming up and I plan to attend many festivals, and there's no reason why I shouldn't get a piece of that sweet, sweet summer money pie.

Dream: Become a street performer.

Goal: Achievable. I don't necessarily have any talent, but have you seen some of these buskers? Clearly, talent is not a pre-requisite.

Plan: Figure out something cheap and impressive that I could perform on the streets for a couple of bucks all summer long. Here are some options:

Sing. The only appeal to this one is that it requires the least amount of stuff, you just show up and sing. But my unaccompanied singing voice sounds like a homeless woman calling for her dog, so perhaps I'd bring along sleigh bells to jingle, Salvation Army-style. I would also choose unexpected hits to sing so that I would draw the passer-by in. Can you imagine a sleigh bell remix of Cece Peniston's 'Finally'? *tink tink tink tink tink "Finally, it happened to me/Right in front of my face/And I just cannot hiiide it!" *tink tink tink*"
Breakdance. Kids love the breakdancing. It looks very difficult to do, but I notice that, before someone starts their back spins or leg twirls, they kind of aggressively dance in a circle, like a dog turning three times before he goes to bed. What if I just did the circles, but faster and faster. People would be like, "This guy's bound to do something cool! And soon! Better give him a buckaroo."

Clowning. Nope. The only reason clowns make money is because former theatre majors like myself pass them on the street and think, "There but for the grace of God go I." Like burlesque dancing and veganism, clowning is one of those, "Maybe there's merit to this... oh wait, no there isn't." Before I discount the practice entirely, let me say that there are good clowning performers who are strong writers who create really compelling narratives that are somehow entrancing. I once sat through a one person clown show for 90 minutes absolutely transfixed. But the REST OF THEM! Here is every goddamn clown show:

BINKER: I have a bicycle! (rides bicycle)
BINKER: See my bicycle? (rides bicycle)
BINKER: Who are you? (Villain approaches, takes bicycle)
WINKER: What is it, Binker?
BINKER: Someone took my bicycle!
WINKER: Your bicycle?
BINKER: My bicycle!
(Back and forth for two hours)

Magic. I don't think I would attempt this dark art because I'm happy to report that I'm absolutely boondoggled by a magic trick every single time. Sleight of hand magic is something I will never understand, particularly "find the little red ball." I am SO confident that I know where the little red ball is, and I'm misled every time. I'm disappointingly white, so my reactions to magic are always masked incredulity, while pretending I know what actually went on. "Oh, clever you! Yes, well, you must have taken a long time to learn that trick. Excuse me, I have tea brewing." But have you ever seen black people react to a magic trick? This is going to get amusingly racial, try to relax into it. I'm only going by those street magic specials they used to air on TLC, but it seems to me that some (not all) black people react with raucous laughter and/or a run in the opposite direction. That is exactly the reaction we should all have! Laughter is borne of a defied expectation, and that's what magic is! And sometimes magic is so astonishing, you have to distance yourself, as if to gain clarity on the whole thing. That somehow seems so much more honest than a suspicious, "Hmmm, well you must be very good at tricking others."

Guitar. There's something so cool about a guy who is facile with a guitar. Strumming and picking sound effortless, and the way a guitar reverberates around a subway platform, let's say, or drifts gently through a park is just calming. I have no such facility and would probably just rely on the extent of my grade school music lessons and play "Sloop John B" over and over again.

Comedy. Have you ever seen a stand-up comedian try to ply his trade out of context? It's awful! Now, granted, in the context of street performing, comedy is usually part of another thing the performer is doing. They might banter during the set up of a magic trick, for instance, or a clever quip after eating fire. But sometimes you have that poor soul at a talent show, or during an open mic that is not comedy oriented, that wants to try a set. I used to go to this cabaret show in a piano bar where actors from the various musicals in the community would come by and sing a number. It was very impromptu, but these folks were pros, and it was a bit like getting Mirvish season tickets in an evening. But one night, somebody's cousin was an aspiring stand-up comedian and he took the stage and began, "So my girlfriend is pretty annoying..." and lost the room. It was a painful five minutes that took fourteen hours. The crowd was restlessly silent throughout and the guy at the piano rolled his eyes at everything. I think I could maybe do stand-up again someday, but only in the appropriate context, and never what it was unnecessary (though is stand-up comedy ever necessary?).

Psychic readings. I think this one is the most appealing. You can charge people a good amount of money, toss in some bullshit about how their dreams will come true, and profit! I know there's the matter of not having psychic ability, but the more I watch shows with supposed psychics on them, the more I'm convinced that's no more than its own sleight of hand magic. For instance, I saw a psychic reading on tv recently where the medium said, "Who's the older woman in your life that has passed?" and the person said, "Oh my god, my Grandma!" I'm sorry, but who would that not work on? Who hasn't lost either a grandmother, great-grandmother, mother, aunt, etc? Then the medium says, "Do you have something of hers?" and the person said, "Yes! She left me her necklace." Come on, guys. Do you own something that belongs to a family member that died? Probably! I don't mean to dismiss the calling entirely, I think there probably are some people that have unexplainable visions or visitations and then intuit something uncanny about a person or situation. A cold case investigation show I saw once turned to psychic for help solving a murder, and he was able to tell the cops where the dead body was, how she had died, and when it had happened. They found the body and the psychic was right. Though I suppose the psychic could have murdered the person himself. That could be a show.

The thing about performers, any performers, is that they have a courage so few of us possess. Can you imagine calling attention to yourself in public, literally making a spectacle of yourself, and then asking people for money? To tell the truth, I was just another moron at the arts festival this past weekend. I probably walked too slow, feigned interest in things I had no intention to buy, and watched a hip hop dance crew for way too long without parting with a dime. But aren't I lucky to experience any of it? On the face of it, the idea of street performing, arts festivals, independent craftsmen, seems so patently absurd in today's economy that it's wonder such things even exist. Perhaps I should just be grateful, instead of another whiny baby, soaking up the sun.

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