Street performing has a wide variation and can be boiled down to about 5 types of street shows, all which vary greatly, but have their own sets of rules and why they work on the streets. The 5 shows you see are Circle, Atmosphere, Musicians, traffic lighting and the oddities.
There are a few rules to creating a great circle show, the most important being “closing the circle”. Closing the circle is important because it creates a cohesive audience. A common line Buskers use is “Please move in it makes me look more like a theatrical show instead of a train wreck to gawk at” as they gesture towards their participants to come closer. They aren’t exaggerating! Creating a unified wall of people is a unique moment that occurs in every circle show which makes it a theater, but the ‘walls’ of your stage is your audience, and what you put on that stage is not entirely as relevant as creating it at the start. This theater also provides the performer the feedback they need from the audience as a unified force. They are more likely to laugh together, clap together, and to feel one with the volunteer. It’s one of the most important factors when working a long show. The added bonus, your audience is less likely to leave if they are not part of a cohesive group.
Circle shows can be many different types of acts, but generally you find jugglers, clowns, magicians, fire performers and unicyclists in this category. Although it can vary a lot, Circle shows tend to have a formula:
- circle build
- story arc or a beginning, middle and end
- Build up’s and releases are based around the arc
- volunteer bits
- hat lines
Semi Circle shows are like Circle shows, except the pitch is only 50% of a circle. They are usually shorter, performed in smaller pitches, to a smaller audience and are a stepping stone to circle shows. The same principles apply, but it is easier and more intimate than a full circle.
Atmosphere shows are more of an ambience creation than a full show. They try to intrigue a viewer for a few moments and try to catch passer bys and generate smaller tips in shorter periods of time. These pitches are usually much smaller and intimate than circle shows. They can happen at any market venue or large pedestrian traffic area. You usually find statues, contact jugglers, magicians, and single instrument players in this realm of street performance.
Musicians fit among all other categories stated here, but because of sheer numbers, the history, the prevalence across all cultures, musicians deserve their own category. They can fit in spaces big or small, with or without power, to large or small audiences. The religious Baul’s of India take donations to spread the joy of their love of their God’s, the man with a guitar in front of the beer store and the 8 piece gypsy band all play with soul and spirit to any ears that will listen. The only rule is play music, and collect money in some way!
Traffic lighting is some of the most dangerous forms of busking, and is done primarily in South America. The goal is to do a show timed to 50% of length of time of the traffic light, then a quick hat (collecting money) through the traffic until the light turns green again. You can be a juggler, doing a quick trick, or a clown, using the traffic as your source of play. Sometimes the goal can be to catch the traffic on either side of the street instead, focusing on the pedestrians. Either way it’s uses the infrastructure of the street to determine efficiency in both the performance and the hatting. Transit busking can be included in traffic lighting and can been seen in Europe as well as South America. It involves one getting on a transit car and entertaining the patrons while they are on their commute.
There is a women in Downtown Vancouver who is the hardest working street performer I have ever seen. Her show is her mumbling the words to some incoherent songs while she holds a cigarette between her teeth. All the while playing a tambourine while listening to her iPod with huge headphones on over her cleopatra faux-gold headress. It’s awesome to watch her work so hard, but what is her show, exactly? There are some strange people out there who really just break all molds and cannot be categorized. There is the Bushman in San Francisco, the man who races turtles in New York, The Romanian Teletubbie who lived on the South Bank for 5 years. This is the category where I say “buskers are actually undefinable” and they get their category for themselves. Some would argue they aren’t really buskers, but they are performing for a living, and living by their own set of rules. Whether it’s successful by our standards isn’t really the point of their show, they are who they are, and as long as they aren’t hurting anyone, they make our lives a more colorful and vibrant place to live!