I’ve been out of commission for the last two weeks. I flirted around with some emotional risks, and I came down with Sad-Clown Syndrome, which resulted in one of the more valuable lessons I’ve learned in a good while.
Street theater is an energy art. If you simply do not have positive energy going, then it is incredibly difficult to attract a crowd to you. Not only is it hard to engage them successfully, but once they are in your crowd it can still be difficult to provide sufficient electricity for them to reciprocate the compounded energy. If you are not happy when you’re doing what you’re doing, not many people are going to want to do it with you. What I’ve realized is that as an energy artist, if I misuse my energy (i.e. lack of sleep, poor diet/substance choice), or if I allow it to be abused, then I will not have good energy when it comes time to do what I love, which also happens to be how I make my living.
Throughout the day, it is important to keep an eye on your energy level. If the crowd you have is not putting forth much energy, and you get the feeling they’re not going to change that, then you can save yourself a lot of time and woe if you just cut your losses and kill the show. Either hat them, or just tell them you’re going to take a break, because letting them drain you of your energy for the rest of the show could result in a poor performance for the enthusiastic audience waiting just around the corner. Knowing how to pick your battles is a valuable skill.
One of the best money-bits of advice given to me was this: NEVER judge your progress by how your day went. Don’t judge it by the weekend, even. Keep a weekly and monthly total. If you go out there every day possible and give it your all for a whole week, a whole month, you will be surprised when all those meh days combine with your yeah! days to create a reasonable income. But even then, that’s not what the value of street performing is. The value is in being your own boss, having no one tell you when to work or where, and the cherry on top is that you get to do what you love for a living. If you have two days in a row that are not profitable and you judge them as “bad” days, then that will negatively affect your third day, which could’ve otherwise been a fantastic day.
If you street perform for the money, then you might want to reconsider your path. If you’re just after their cash, the spectators can sense it, and this is part of why street performers have a bad reputation. I’ve seen so many acts that end in a unenthusiastic forfeiting of cash by the spectator, who was just wrapped up in the excitement long enough to be guilted out of their money by the “performer”.
There are often times when members of the audience choose to leave the show, but through guilt or politeness, they still want to tip, so they interrupt the performance to hand you their bills. The recommended reaction might surprise you: Don’t take it. Tell them to hold on, keep it until the end. This will often shock and sometimes even offend the spectator, maybe because you’ve upset their preconception that all street performers are beggars. It might seem crazy, but the smart thing to do is to turn it down. We are pack creatures of the monkey-see, monkey-do kind. If one person can throw a dollar at you and opt-out of the show, the others will see this and the enchantment placed over the whole audience can disintegrate in seconds. What you need in order to do a show is not money. You need their attention and their energy. If everyone leaves, you will not have enough energy in the moment when you need it to really create the bang needed in order to get a fat hat from whoever stays. These people had no idea they wanted to see your show in the first place — of course they’re not going to know that they want to stay until the end.
Most of us, we choose this path because it is what we love. Yes, money must be factored into it somehow. And so there are hat lines and instrument cases, ways to inform and educate the audience on the idea that although the entertainment is being given for free, it has real value, and the gift ought to be reciprocated. Unless it’s a big bill, I always tell the audience member that I would rather have them stay and not tip, than have them tip and leave. I did not choose to be a street performer just so I can make money, I do so in order to connect with humans through performing and sharing moments together.
Below is a snapshot from my wall of writings above my bed.
Imagine the following thought experiment:
You wake up tomorrow morning and are given $86,400 to spend any way you want. You could buy yourself a new car, go on a cruise, eat a fancy steak dinner, buy your kid a new toy, or get yourself a facelift. You could give it to a good cause, burn it, make it rain on a midget stripper, whatever you want. The only stipulation is that at the end of the day, whatever you haven’t spent will disappear, never to be seen again. You can use this money, or waste it. Finally, there is some fine print that claims you will be given another $86,400 tomorrow, with an asterisk next to it denoting that if tomorrow is a day that ends in “Y”, then this is not guaranteed.
In response to this, some people would say “Well, after a while I don’t think I could even spend all of it myself”, to which the response is: you don’t have to. You can give it away if you’d like. This is when the light flicks on and people go “Ohhhh!”, suddenly thrilled as they start thinking of who they’d share their $86,400 with.
Imagine this scenario, with all the activities you’d engage in and the people you’d engage in them with.
Now imagine this — what if those dollars were precious seconds of your one and only life? Take a second to think about that, and occasionally throughout the remaining 86,399 seconds of your day, consider those activities you wanted to do, and those people you want to share with. If that fine print came back to bite you in the ass and you found yourself broke tomorrow, would you be satisfied with your purchases? Your gifts? Picasso said “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.”
If you were to reverse the metaphor, how much of today’s $86,400 has been spent surfing YouTube? How much spent texting, and how does that compare to how much spent on your family? How much of today’s cash has been spent doing something not enjoyable? How much of that limited capitol has been invested in something meaningful?
Just a few dollars of your time could change someone’s world. Maybe tomorrow you might want to hold that door open, give that compliment, make that phone call, or write that letter. There’s a hole in your pocket, and it’s just big enough for Today to slip through. Spend it wisely.
On another note, I finally got business cards made.
Also, I have $500 worth of parts in the mail, provided solely by strangers showing their appreciation for what I do. I am humbled and grateful, as I count down my last few days in my New Orleans home. The road will be open before I know it =)