Photograph by Frank
The other day I was saying good bye to a fellow magician as we parted ways to go find spots to work. He said “Have fun, make lots of money”, to which I replied “Yeah, in that order too”.
I am in the business of Fun. My job description consists of transforming a public space into a spontaneous meeting place for strangers to gather together and play. Within a 15 minute window, one person turns into a group, the size ranging from ten people to a hundred. This happens dozens of times a day, the instantaneous formation and dispersion of a small tribes gathered under the flag of having fun. They will stand as one, clap as one, and speak as one.
Humans have been gathering like this for thousands and thousands of years. We’re neurally wired to be interactive. Despite how the powerfully divisive forces of technology, capitalist society, and media influence and isolate us, the act of coming together is in our DNA. Humans have existed in tribes a hell of a lot longer than we’ve existed in cities. It’ll take more than a few hundred years of concrete to erase that part of our nature. In regards to street performing, it’s been happening since before streets existed. More specifically, the magician has been around since shortly after the first formation of tribes. We used to be the shamans, the medicine men, the witch doctor. A peripheral component, but crucial to the overall cohesiveness of the group.
The trick to connecting with these people is to reveal your humanity. They are familiar with the human experience. We have empathy ingrained in us. They will relate to you if you let them. A few weeks ago I did a show in which, somehow, my finger was cut right at the beginning. A small nick, it was still enough for my finger to bleed steadily. I wasn’t going to dismiss the crowd, I’d barely made it through act one, and they were a good group. At first I did my best to conceal it, but once I realized it wasn’t going to go away, I brought it to their attention and started making jokes about it. During each show I like emphasize the fact that the show is different every performance, because the environment it takes place in is constantly changing. I altered my handlings to where I didn’t physically touch any audience member. The rest of the show I made continuous jokes and references to the blood, sucking my finger and saying silly stuff like “it’s only a flesh wound”, pretending to get lightheaded, “I’m out here bleeding for my art, show some appreciation!”
The show went great. The hat was fat. Those people have all bled at some point. They’ve had unexpected things happen. They know what it’s like to be human.
I’ve been sharing a pitch a lot with my friend and fellow magician Mick Stone. He told me a funny story relative to the spectators willingness to empathize. During a routine in which several signed cards vanish and reappear, Mick decided to make an improv joke regarding an expecting woman in the audience, saying “and when this woman’s child is born, your card will be grasped tight in its little baby hand”.
She wasn’t pregnant.
Afterwards, a man came up to Mick and tipped him a $20 bill, smiling and saying he’d made a similar mistake not too long ago and knew exactly how embarrassing it could be. Humans understand each other better than TV would like us to believe.
A few weeks ago, I was about to get a show started at a pitch further down Royal St. than I normally work. It’s between two art galleries, one of which has doors that open directly facing where I set up. The gallery owner had asked me a few times in the past to move forward away from the door, and I always complied, but on this particular day there was a jazz singer set up just in front of me, so moving forward wasn’t an option. I set up, started my spectacle, and as I’m less than five seconds away from finishing my opening schpeal and telling the audience to step up to the rope, the gallery owner comes stomping right up to me, interrupts me and breaks the enchantment I’d just placed over the dozens of people surrounding us. He went back into the gallery as they all walked off. “Now I gotta start it all over again!” I shouted. I was mad.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been shouting. I am getting good enough to get a crowd without using too much force. I’ve been doing my best to maintain positive relations with everyone I possibly can, and yesterday I decided I wanted to apologize to the guy. I explained that I’d been street performing for a year now, and that I was learning I didn’t really need to yell. He seemed very appreciative that I made the effort. “We all have good days and bad days out here”, he replied. We chatted for a while longer, and then I went about the work day. I happened to be with my photographer friend Frank at the time, and he actually snapped a kiss-and-make-up shot.
Photograph by Frank
As a public performer, you want to present yourself in the best possible light. Just don’t be afraid to let it shine on the darker parts of you as well, for we all have them.
Nothing that happens to you out there is bad. When you think of circumstances in that way, you empower the setback with your emotion. How you respond to the scenario is everything. If a dog starts barking on the balcony above you during your show, it is just another thing that you can use creatively. Every possible interruption can be turned around, made into a joke or running gag. What impresses me the most about great street performers is usually not their act, but how they react.
On another note, this Friday, I had a gentleman come up to me after a show to chat about what had just happened. He’d seen the crowd and heard the applause, but had missed the entirety of the show. I spent five minutes telling him what I’d been up to with the whole Magician on a Motorcycle adventure, giving a quick summary of the lifestyle I’d dove headfirst into. Afterwards, he gave me a $10 bill. No trick. No sale. No commercial. Just one human showing appreciation towards another. That man’s action was very special to me.
This will have to be a two-part blog post, I’ve got an awesome video I still have to edit, and some more thoughts to share. Here’s a still shot of the video I oughta have up next post:
I’ll end this here with a bit of motorcyclist advice.
I had my first experience with how important a motorcycle cover can be. Here’s a shot of a lineup of 7 bikes (aka Red Team). Guess which one had a cover on it =) I’m pretty sure it’s illegal for parking tenants to remove the cover. Another reason I keep mine covered is that the red plastics turn a very pretty pink after they get enough sun.