Harvest for the Starvin’

Every now and then I tinker with a card-to-bill presentation where I hold up a signed card and use the following patter:

“Ya know, after I got my degree I surprised my mom and dad by telling them I was going to be a magician. You parents out there can imagine how that conversation went (pause for laughs).”
“My father asked me ‘Niko, how are you going to pay the bills?’. With my head in the clouds and stars in my eyes, I replied ‘Magic!’ “.

I fold the card up, have a kid wave their hand over it and say the magic words “Gee, I hope this works”. When I open my hand I’m holding a $5.

My last post was about the usefulness of staying hungry to stay motivated. I won’t burden you with the specifics, but lets just say I’ve had more than one PB&J this month. But since getting to New Orleans I haven’t done a single thing for money that I didn’t want to do. Using magic, I’ve managed to catch up after financially skidding into town, pay rent, overdue bills, as well as the cost of living/going out. I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the most satisfactory rent check I’ve ever wrote. Working in Seattle over the summer, I had a night job and I wasn’t paying rent. I had very few costs, and most of the money I saved went towards purchasing the motorcycle. November was the first month I kept close track of how much I made.  Some are uncomfortable discussing what they make, but since this blog is to share my learning experiences as I go, I have very few inhibitions. I worked 18 days in November, some days only for an hour, some for up to 7 or 8. I began studying street theater nine months ago, and in my first month as a full-fledged full-time street performer, I made about $1,400 doing nothing other than selling an idea and having fun. No alarm clocks, no boss, no taxes. No reliable paycheck either though. The other day, my first show was $48, and the next show was $4. One day I made $220, the day before $15. High highs and low lows.

My stepfather, an independent contractor, was having a conversation with an old friend of mine (and incredible musician), Austin Jenckes. Austin had moved to Nashville about a year ago to pursue a career as a professional musician. After sharing some stories about his experiences finding work writing and playing music, my stepdad replied by saying “You’re just like me, you don’t just get a paycheck, you have to go find one.”

Each day I’d wake up and decide whether I wanted to work or not. Some days it’d be raining and I didn’t have a choice, some days it was too slow, and some days I was tired and just didn’t want to. Last week I watched a great short documentary about street performing called “Busker” (Available on Netflix). It interviews performers from all over the world, and grants great insight into the world of busking. When asked “What’s the best part about street performing?”, a lot of the characters responded “The Freedom.” When asked “What’s the worse part about street performing?” they responded… “Freedom”.

Being your own boss is great, but it requires a lot more responsibility than the average nine-to-five. My work week is the inversion of the typical schedule. When Monday hits, I’m sleeping in, cleaning, running errands, and enjoying downtime for a few days. Come Thursday and Friday, I’m skipping the bars to get to bed early. It’s a bummer to miss the big concerts and the hopping clubs, but the weekends are where the money is, and the freedom street performing provides is absolutely priceless.

The personal freedom is definitely the best part of this job. I was able to catch up and cover my costs as a result of living within my means, one of the countless gems of wisdom passed to me by Jimmy Talksalot’s blog. In the past I’ve been known to overspend, overindulge, and overestimate how much is in my bank account. Working with cash has allowed me to have a more tangible grasp on my resources, which in turn helps me spend more intelligently. On some days I’d plan on going downtown for errands, and pack my show props just for the hell of it. I’d squeeze off two quick shows and come home with $40 for half an hour’s worth of having fun. A magician friend of mine said the public was like our own personal ATM machine, an idea I agree with, though I’d consider it more of a slot machine.

Magic has been great, but I want to let y’all know now that I’m working towards diversifying my street skills. A musical act is in the works, and that will be a nice personal outlet. And though I can barely believe it myself, I think I’m going to start tinkering with miming. Now, I’m not talking about the trapped in an invisible glass case of emotions type of mime. That’s more of the independent performance style. What I’m looking to do is to use my physical presence to start messing with people in a comedic fashion. It’s difficult to explain, but this video depicts some good examples of the types of shenanigans I’m considering experimenting with.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahd2xuHEb0c&w=420&h=315]


The idea is versatility. If I’m in a situation where magic isn’t going to work, I need to have an act that will. I am in this profession so I can travel the world expressing myself as a free and independent human. If you see me in makeup, you’ve been warned.

A short PSA…

Take everything I say here with a grain of salt — I am nowhere near claiming to be an expert on street performing, I am simply out to share my experiences and viewpoint. But if you are interested and are considering going out there and working the streets, if you’re looking to put yourself in the bloody trenches that are sidewalks of America, (and plan to come home with anything in your pocket) you must do it with all of your being. Street performing is a lifestyle. It’s an energy art. It isn’t something that can be neatly squeezed into one Saturday a week (successfully). Theoretically, yes, you could perform once a week. But if you’re like me and are still learning to navigate your way through this lifestyle, you will not get a sufficient amount of flight-time to give your character substantial form. You don’t sell tickets. Your living depends on complete strangers appreciating your art, and your masterpiece is you, your character.

Street performing is the scariest single concept I’ve ever had an ongoing relationship with. You are playing a character who derives its characteristics from who you are in real life. If the crowds out there don’t respond to your character, it’s easy to take it personally and think that they don’t like you. This is not a productive way of thinking. It’s strange, but there is such things as good crowds and bad crowds. Sometimes you put a truly incredible performance out there and get nothing but cricket chirps in return. This is where you use your own judgement, and set your own standards. Some days are simply better than others. In New Orleans, December is known to be slower than the summertime slump, which has me grateful to be gone most of the month.

One interesting trait of New Orleans is the way the town’s population swells and shrinks. Between the conventions, events, festivals, and the year-round tourism, the crowds on the street vary dramatically weekend to weekend. On Thursday and Friday, if you’re good, you’ve started to get a feel for what the people in town are like; their sense of humor, their attention spans, temperament, and wallet size. For example, the weekend of the Bayou Classic, an annual college football game, is a notoriously bad weekend. The town floods full of kids from rival colleges in the South. Tips are low, and on Bourbon there’s a long record of shootings that particular weekend. Not the best work weekend. Knowing what sort’ve events and conventions are happening and being able to feel out what kind of crowd is in town is a vital skill. You must always play to your crowd, adapt to your environment and thrive.

Now that i’ve dove head first into this lifestyle, every dollar I’ve spent has been magical. I’ve made the decision to follow my joy, and the universe has responded. I am grateful beyond words. Currently I’m on a greyhound to Atlanta to spend a few days with my brother before flying to Washington for the holidays. I am very excited to see friends and family, but in the back of my head I can’t wait to get back to New Orleans and continue pursuing my passions.

Thanks for reading.