Human Decoys

If you can work a crowded area and make a killing, you’re probably a good street performer. But if you can gather a crowd when there’s almost no one on the street, creating something special out of thin air — that’s a sign that you’re great.

I never thought all the psychology classes I took in college would be so useful in my magic career. It’s fascinating putting some of those theories into practice, conducting dozens of social experiments every single day. If you have two people that agree to step forward and watch your show, generally you’ll get one or two more to join within a couple of minutes. But once you’re up to 5-10, it begins to grow exponentially. If you don’t get those first few there in time though, you can end up going through your entire show for a crowd of three.

This can be discouraging. Performing is an energy art, and if you only have two people standing there with their arms crossed, you’re probably not getting a whole lot of energy. What people don’t always understand is that the performer is only as good as his or her audience. As a spectator, you get out what you put in.

The same goes for being a performer. Sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to stay energized without a crowd, but I’ve gone through my whole 10 minute show for a crowd of three and gotten two $20’s out of it. You have no choice but to always give it your best.

I say this at the beginning of every show: That hardest part of street performing is simply creating the illusion of an audience. These people have no idea that they want to see your show. In street theater, you are the lead advertiser, the ticket taker, the usher, the information desk, and the performer. On more casual, experimental days I’m often seen wearing bright orange and clothes that have had fluorescent/glitter paint thrown at them. I do that because in the land of Netflix and YouTube, you’ve really got to work hard to get these peoples’ attention.

I am always a question mark when I first get to the pitch. Depending on my appearance, I get looks of curiosity, disdain, admiration, ridicule, and just about every other kind of reaction. As a street performer, I am there create fun. But if you can’t convince the people of that, then you’re sure to flop.

After I make my initial arrival and the ensuing spectacle, I ask the people standing around staring at me to say “Yeah” if they want to see the show. Most of the time there’s a smattering of response, sometimes it’s an overwhelming unanimous shout, and sometimes it’s crickets. I then tell them to come up to the rope if they’d like to see the show. Without fail, before they think about it the first few people take immediate steps forward, before hesitating and then looking around to see what everybody else is doing. Group psychology comes into play pretty heavy. One person deciding not to join can trigger a chain reaction of people turning away.

I was raised by an avid duck hunter. What comes to mind when working the slower days is how useful it would be to have human decoys. When hunting waterfowl, you have plastic ducks in the water to trick those flying over into landing. Now, I’m not trying to harm these humans by any means, but some of them are so damn overly-cautious that if there’s not already a group of people they can follow, they will not participate.

I’m going to go look on Craigslist for some mannequins =P

I rode my KLR650 from New Orleans to Austin, TX & back last week, putting another 1,000 miles under my belt, pushing my total past 10,000 in the first 9 months of owning a motorcycle. I’m pretty sure I can break 15,000 in my first year. Stay tuned to see how that goes.

I’ve got 40 days left in New Orleans. I’m determined to make the most of it.

This week I’ve started taking photos of my crowds at the end of the show, and it’s something that I’m probably going to do my entire career.