Tag Archives: Street performer

April 16,’18 Street Scene

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Veteran Working the Craft in Red Deer, Alberta Canada

I was there when the scenes exploded. The artists medium was variety entertainment. The venue was street. Street was the canvas of choice. Indoor ticketed facilities had been a dead end for decades. Like wildfire the spreading news of variety acts turning a good buck out on a sidewalk drew in more and more talent willing to give the thing a try.

We were busy tipping the carts over, ignoring convention, abandoning restrictions and jumping on the bandwagon. Fern bars and fire juggling were in this era synonymous with this new thing emerging.

Standup comedy was a rocket ship. European cities were fertile ground for the impromptu showman. Summers in Western Europe and winter in Thailand.

We didn’t know how good we were. Nobody had gone from street to stardom yet and maybe nobody would make it all the way to the tippy top of the highest rung of the ladder. Robin Williams played street shortly. He’d gotten picked up from his open microphone appearances at the hole in the wall comedy clubs in San Francisco. The Other Café and Holy City Zoo was the location. Prior he’d worked the steps of the New York City Public Library and briefly appeared at The Cannery in San Francisco.

But, there were others who you know. Robert Shields of Shields and Yarnell, Michael Davis who worked Sugar Babies and A Whitney Brown who was a big deal at Saturday Night Live. All came from the street and all made millions of dollars working at the highest levels of the entertainment industry.

They all had that intangible creative anxiousness. Awkward offstage and on fire when on. Many of us made up the scenes that these talents emerged from. All of us working with some blend of talent and passion and trying our best to keep up, to fit in, to raise the bar, to maybe catch a break and ride along up the ladder. Some of us felt street was a creative end in itself. We were part of a scene that peeled back one more layer of uptightness that had been the hallmark of the previous decade. More tomorrow…

Edited Red Star

March 21, 2018 Maestro’s Return

Blue Wave Surfing Starts Here

Harvey Milk

Street Theater as Social Justice Cupcake Fundraiser

Join us won’t you!!!!

The early days of street theater in San Francisco is part of a collection of photographs and essays I am putting together about the geographically more ambitious topic of busking across the entirety of North America.

The thirty minute performance was boilerplate. An act started at the top of the hour, shows were thirty on and thirty off, noon to night, seven days a week year in and year out. Social commentary remained coin of the comedy realm but the sharp political observations of the first wave acts faded and changed with the times and all but ended. Costumes had to be neat and clean and so did the street performer’s material. You work edgy out on the street but not on the wharfs best stages. A street act needed to draw a crowd, get a laugh and after the show send the audience away happier than when they had arrived. From the get-go the city center shopping districts designed to attract tourists arrived out of the box and joined at the hip merchandising T-shirts, postcards and this new age repackaged variety show entertainment. This structure prevailed for two decades plus until the audience slipped from the grasp of the street performers hold on their imagination. Like the audience the street performer had to move on.

Street hasn’t died so much as had to adapt and add more reliable venues. There remain an endless supply of people and places where this style of show remains viable. We are fortunate, we are mobile, we can go to where we can find our audiences.We are an emotional timeless siren song. The best of what street performing represents is something all of us feel being threatened when the lawless grip of authoritarian power presses in upon our democracy. We are not some cyber ops, black ops, disinformation gadget. We are a reflection of our communities passion for peace, environmental justice and social progress. That’s why I made this work a career.

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City Center’s Beating Heart Edmonton, Alberta 2014

See a show, buy a book, come on back. I’ll be here…

Edited Red Star

 

Strumming the Heartstrings

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           Here is Where the Tractors are Fixed at Schnepf Farm

I have been coming out to Schnepf Farm’s Pumpkin and Chili Party since 2000. It is located in the town of Queen Creek, Arizona. You are on the southeastern edge of the Valley of the Sun by the time you arrive here.

The Valley of the Sun (Valley of the Well Done…) spans 70 miles east to west. This is a big expanse. Much of it is now been consumed by the sprawl of suburb. There are pieces of it that are extra dense and urban. One sure thing is that there is a jumbo sized scale to this place.

I’ve done about 800 shows more or less here at the farm. I gained the trust of Mark and Carrie and with some patience adapted my street style juggling act to this audience. I’ve likely a debt of gratitude to extend to the nearby Arizona Renaissance Festival that I’m sure helped train the audience to the game variety acts play on an audience.

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                    Beholding What is and What Once Was

It is a hot and dusty place. It takes a lot of sunscreen, bug spray and water to make it through a day. You ought to wear a hat here. I’m in the pavilion this year and hard to attract audiences out to this woebegotten corner of the farm, but I can’t complain. You see, I have shade. Shade here is like being happily married. Things just go much better with shade much like it is with a good spouse.

One month per year I have been here. After I retired Lacey and a decade long run we took a break from this gig. It has been 5 years since my last run. Notching up 11 months of my life here I’m knocking on a year’s door. That is one whole year of my life spent at Schnepf Farm in Queen Creek, Arizona.

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         The Care and Feeding of Body and Soul

One of the investments I’ve made aside from time is the care and feeding of my audiences soul. There are fancier shows here. Bigger stunt shows, frisbee dog exhibitions, pig races and even full sized bands play nearby the tables where audiences gather to eat the chili and pumpkin pie.

Grayson Schnepf is a son to Mark and Carrie. A decade back he was a 10 year old. He used to practice tricks with me. Sometimes he’d come and do a trick or two in the middle of the show. It is hard not to love a ten year old trying hard as all get out to do something for you. Grayson’s childhood remains safely stored in my heart’s favorite memories.

Then, last night gray haired elders arrived with their 17 year old granddaughter. She was first a volunteer in my show when she was 3 years old. That takes us back to 2001. They came to the farm each October to see me again. I had become something of a touchstone, a ritual. They’ve been back every year hoping against hope I’d be back for shows.

Turns out my volunteer 3 year old was stage struck by her helping me. They shared pictures of all the plays she’s been in since middle school years. Then, there were all the costumes she made. And then there was this young lady crediting my choosing her to help in my show for being the trigger that illuminated her path in life.

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                      In the Hearts of the Players

And that’s it really. That’s the simple fact of things. I don’t get up in the morning imagining that I am going to inspire someone. I don’t see people having their path in life bent by what I do. But, there it is. It has happened a few times that I know of. It isn’t so rare. Might be you changed someone.

A fair example of my show is generally a cheerful thing. I have some good lines. I do some good tricks. When it goes my way, when I can get an audience to focus, when I’m firing on all 8, when it is going as good as I can do a show it can seem to open the door to an audience’s sense of something extra special.

I am fortunate to have picked a job that can make a difference. And when I’ve opened a souls eyes to their purpose I feel I haven’t just done a good days work I feel as if I’ve done my lifes work.

Good to be back here…

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Trailhead to the Superstition Mountains

Slimeballing, Suckerpunching Misdirection Games

Plutocrat Car

The Butt of a Bad Joke

Jack Welsh coined the phrase  “shareholder value.” Two pieces of the puzzle tilted in capitals favor from this four decade ago event. First, was an emphasis upon the share price. The second was the compensation packages for management.

Washington was not an innocent bystander. Tax cuts, trade policy, regulation all favored capital over labor. Unions were busted. Entrepreneurs were elevated to the mythic status of being job creators.

As a result income inequality is at an all time high.

Some will argue that taxing the very wealthiest of us and spending that money on programs to assist the other 99% of the population is this thing called “income redistribution.” A vocal well paid minority is opposed to this.

We increased shareholder value, we provided good products to customers, we ran executive compensation up 400% but we didn’t compensate labor.

You slime people as anti-business? That is not true. Most of us likes to do good business. Or,you can take your profits to Washington and buy more favors, cut more deals, or elect more politicians to your cause and keep your fingers crossed and hope.

But, one way or another. You either begin disbursing more of your profits to labor voluntarily or you will be forced by pitchfork politics to surrender more of your enterprises profits in the form of taxes.

It is capitalism finding a healthy balance. Our democracy is threatened by all of this. Middle class wages decline, the middle class shrinks and pretty soon we don’t live in a country we even recognize. Doesn’t that feel like what’s been happening? Isn’t that the truth of the way things are now?

If you oppose redistribution you should have been yelling at the top of your lungs while the rest of this was going on right under your own nose. And now that the bill has come due don’t insist there can be no new taxes, don’t pretend the banks don’t need any further regulating, or that the Boards of Directors of a publicly traded entity have treated labor fairly. They had a duty to balance these varied competing forces and provide our society with a mutually profitable outcome. They failed and for not the first time in history they’ll be taxed into compliance.

Eventually the bill comes due. Welcome to life…

Finding the Fun in the Setting Sun

The soaring soul...
The soaring soul…

“One morning you wake up in Yuma, Arizona in this thing called a motorhome. The phone rings it’s a receptionist, she’s calling to confirm your appointment with the plastic surgeon.”

While on stage the topic of the golden years of our lives needs to be approached carefully. Cliché is an epidemic hazard. As we approach this period in our life several surprise events often preface the lives of the stubborn and willfully blind.

There is the midlife crisis. Do you do anything or do you continue doing what you’ve been doing and chuck the whole notion of aspiring to remake a better more fulfilled self?

There are divergent responses to this chapter in life. By the time I had remarried I had opted for a bumper to bumper overhaul. I didn’t want to repeat the same patterns again and again. I figured the idea was to refrain from saying and doing the same things I had done and take a fresh approach. The fresh approach was simple. Try to do wholesome and skillful things. Had I been doing this all along, then that might not have been much of a change from my earlier years.

Besides the midlife crisis there is the no small matter of what work you have been doing. If it is close-sourced you will feel dead ended, retirement will be appropriate, and relieving yourself of the work that doesn’t infuse your life with passion is helpful.

If you work is your passion you may approach this period of your life with the promise of further productive vocational decades.

“Your wife is doing her impression of you when you first met. She’s fiddling with your buttons, tugging at your zipper, nibbling at your neck.

She keeps telling you how sexy you look. You think she’s in denial.”

The children are out of the house, but they are never gone. You live in the wake of those years. I’ll stick my neck out a bit and suggest many of us abide in a satisfaction and fulfillment from our work as parents. Good work as parents, good relationship with yourself, whether single or married now, and sensible relationship with your vocation, whether retired or you continue to work make up this terrain.

The golden years are fascinating. We know ourselves so well now. We seldom suffer foolish unfulfilling relationships of any kind at this point in our life. We are busy. There are not many decades left. Whatever unfinished business there is to do, it is time to get those temporal and physical things done. In my case it is about the finishing touches on a near four decade career on stage and equally fascinating career as an author. Many of you know me for my work on stage, but in fact I know myself as a lifelong writer and novelist. More of you will come to know more about this part of my life as well. It is about those last long sailing voyages on my calendar.

And there is this routine I’m putting the finishing touches on. The routine briefly visits this stage in life. And it must touch it with the spaciousness and compassion that is its hallmark. We only get here by chance and if we are wise we will make good use of its spirited richness. That is why they are so golden.

“You come to appreciate the spiritual meaning of the word: “emptiness”, it fits exactly with how you feel about your 401k.”

Hot Spring Honeymoon Front Cover
Click and Get it Here

 

“The notion that sex equates to love being predominant is a hard train to catch if it isn’t really going anywhere. As a matter of fact sex, or sexual attraction seems to confuse every character in the book at one point or another, making for some very funny side trips.”

Fun and funny novel about lust in the dust of a small town in Nevada

 

 

He Got Me and I Got Him… The Storymaker

Plotkin Smith

Alan Plotkin

2014’s recipient of the Golden Finkel

We are never alone. Sometimes it seems so. Some days on the road rolling from date to date- show to show, especially back in the day prior to cell phones, I could almost pretend to be in total isolation, an immaculate detached state of being in a pure nowhere.

What I have learned is that while I was out there so were my associates, the people that make up my community. We are performers, directors, videographers. We are puppet makers and circus arts coaches. Some were home waiting for us to return while others hopped in and took those blue highways, those two lane back roads from place to place with us, and they learned the fine art of the drift, how to be comfortable in their own bones while traveling about the known and unknown parts of this world.

Turning someone on to the way of the vagabonding performer’s life was to open minds and learn to slow the pace and when sunset and wide river beckoned to cease the roaming and soak in the presence of the force.

There is no getting this state of mind, this way of being, what might be called lifestyle without having cracked open a bottle and pouring some, giving it a good taste.

Sure you can approximate how you might feel, what your mind might think, how your appetite might yearn for being back on home ground.

Then, along the trail a kindred spirit appears. They get you because even if they don’t know you in particular, they know what you’ve been through, and how you got to where you are. In this instance it is Alan Plotkin. We have both been on the circuit for decades. We have both seen our fair share of the ten thousand joys and sorrows that the world we live and work in presents to us. So, when Alan points his camera toward my show he is shooting from a place of common ground, from shared experience, undisputed perspective.

And the truth is that I have had the great fortune of finding people that “get me.” They don’t always necessarily recognize me at first glimpse, but over the course of time they come to regard me as consisting of the same stories, the same quirky experiences, and ultimately we discover we are brothers and sisters from the same tribe.

And it is why I see so much of Alan Plotkin’s wit and insight in this gift he has edited for me. Here the simplicity and purity of street theater has been stitched together as a promotional reel. Here Alan has set out to share with unknown souls by way of short clips some imagined means of introducing my work to those who have not heard or seen of me ever before. It is only a version, but it is with Alan’s touch an ongoing edition of a kind of thing I have been about for some forty years now.

Ladies and gentleman, I not only would like to introduce you to what I did in July of 2014 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada but I’d also like to ask you to pay attention to the camera work, editing and conjuring of street theater spirits that Alan has added to this short promotional video.

I couldn’t ask for better work, more revealing, a more intimate telling of what I do and to go even further, by way of Alan’s eye and skill, to have my mask pulled back and the person behind the show exposed. In the best way… and if by chance you might consider that you are not just looking at some best version of me that you may well be looking at some best version of Alan Plotkin. 

 

The Novel Juggler as told by the Award Winning Alan Plotkin