11:58am, and I’m about to do a show in front of St. Louis cathedral. The bells that ring out at noon are deafening, and I’ve seen them destroy the atmosphere of many shows (mine included). I decide to wait it out, but I still want to see if I can play with them somehow. I take off my hat, stuff it down the back of my dress shirt (hat tip to Alexander), and start to limp around the stage with a bent hand and a distorted facial expression. After a minute or so, several people stop to wonder (understandably) what in the hell I am doing. After two minutes, I also start to wonder what the hell I am doing. The bells should have gone off by now, but they haven’t, and there’s now a crowd watching me play a character I’ve never played before. Stalling for time but remaining in character, I continue to hobble around my space as the other performers behind me crack up laughing. I grab my wand, hold it vertically above my head and pause for a moment. With a dozen people staring at me, the bells finally ring out as I pull the wand down and let the momentum of the bells pull me back up. The spectators that have stopped to watch burst out in laughter as they finally realize what I’ve been doing. By the time the bells finish there is a handful of smiling people waiting to see what I’ll do next.
Everything that happens out in the street is a gift. It’s up to you to experiment, which is the only way to find what’s best for you. I learned a valuable lesson playing the hunchback this last weekend. After spending a few minutes early in the day making an absolute fool out of myself, I noticed that I didn’t feel remotely foolish for the rest of the day. I was still doing some weird and unusual stuff (as usual), but I no longer hesitated to do so. An idea passed on to me (another hat tip to Alexander) is that theater requires you to have a willingness to humiliate yourself. If you have that, then there is almost nothing that can stop you. Fear of public opinion is the arch nemesis to a street performer. After the hunchback incident, it was like I had a “Get Out of Feeling Stupid” card for the rest of the day.
Be silly. In the street, you’re on stage, and as a performer you have the full right to defy social norms. Learning this through street performing has made me a more wholesome person off-stage, and I now enjoy the pleasure of taking myself less seriously. It is incredibly liberating to act exactly how you want without feeling embarrassed, but like any other muscle, it takes time and effort to develop.
Last weekend the noon bells gifted me with another opportunity. It was a busy day on the main pitch, with several performers queued up. One of the magicians had just finished a show and asked “Who’s up?” as he walked back to the group of performers. There was only ten minutes before the bells rang, no where near enough time for anyone to do a show. After a few seconds of silence I said I’ll do it.
I scratched out my square in chalk on the ground, and caught a wave of foot traffic for a quick crowd build. They were a fun group right off the bat, and I gave them my entire show minus the fat (the little moments in between tricks). Whenever I came to a line that wasn’t absolutely necessary to moving the show forward, I glossed over it. I’ve found that if there is some circumstance affecting the show, sometimes it’s appropriate to inform the audience. I did every trick in my show, eyes bouncing up at the clock as I explained to the crowd through off-hand comments that this was a speed-trial performance. After the finale I thanked the crowd, hatted them, and with a minute to spare I walked off the pitch with a $62 hat. All of them shocked, as I returned to the group of performers one of them said “Wow man, it’s like you robbed ’em!”
Street performing has taught me to become comfortable with the unknown. When the risks are right, I enjoy going about trying something new even when I know that it can not be done. Doing this gets me more acquainted with failure, and when fear of failure vanishes, everything becomes possible.
“Know that where you want to be is where you’re already headed.
Enjoy being written in language different than what you’re read in.”