blog-2014.02.16

MORE BOOK HELP, this time: street performing & busking stories…

hola comrades

before book: HOLY SHIT I WENT TO SEE BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN LAST NIGHT AND HE BLEW MY MIND. why did nobody tell me???
i expected it to be a run-of-the-mill okay rock show. but the guy is an entertainer of the highest order: he’s heartfelt royalty. he and the e street band played to 25,000 australians and the soccer arena felt like a church. he carried himself with such…i dunno: STATELINESS.
and a bonus: EDDIE VEDDER CAME ON STAGE AND GUESTED with bruce for “darkness on the edge of town.” i’ll be seeing mr. vedder play his own show in mebourne here this week. the world, it ensmallens!!
just…all around, mind blown. it also made me want to throw the entire idea of this fucking book out the fucking window.

WHAT AM I DOING WRITING A BOOK?
I’M A SONGWRITER.
he made me want to write. i wanted to get back to the piano, i missed my band, i missed being on stage, i wanted to write a whole musical about my experience growing up in the psycho-superficial dark-light suburban yards and alleys of lexington massachusetts and i wanted to tell stories as simple and honest as bruce springsteen and mine that part of my soul.

i got slightly panicky for like 15 minutes.

then i was like

eh whatever i’m writing a book.

so here i am, the next day, writing a book.

hi.

and make no mistake: i am cranking, no, CRANKING, on this motherfucking book.
i’ve been averaging 4-5k words per day and piling everything into one gigantic pile of doom and am terrified of the editing process. but one thing is now certain: this book is going to be a more bad-ass fucking book of a book.
it may just not be done in time.
please don’t tell the publisher that. they will freak out.
(BTW, if you want to get an email from me when we have the date locked and start pre-orders and whatnot, make sure you’re on my mailing list!!!)
anyway.
thank you ALL so much for all the input – my brain is eating it up and it’s INSANELY HELPFUL. keep it coming. i love you.

here’s todays BOOK HELP plea:

i’m writing in, around, and through the subject of busking and street performing.

as most of you know i spent about five years of my life as a living statue –

…and that included hanging out with a bunch of buskers (statues, musicians, and jugglers, mostly, but also some other crazy randoms) and i learned a LOT from them about performance, business, money, and love…some of which i’m only realizing as i sit here to meditate on it and write it all down.

**if you KNOW any street performers/buskers, please SEND THIS their way**

if you ARE a street performer…what did you learn? what was your act, how did you collect money? what did you use for a hat? how did you feel connected with the world around you? what was fucked up? how did it work? GIVE ME GOOD STORIES.

and if you’re an outsider: TELL ME: stories. memories. reflections. when was the first time you saw a street performer? the last? what kinds have you seen – anything bizarre/amazing/wrong/crazy/good/bad? where? did you ever have an emotional experience? a weird/memorable exchange? did a performer ever give you anything? did you ever give a performer anything besides money? think think think deeply and SHARE WITH THE CLASS.

if you’re from a culture outside of US/UK, etc: what are the RULES in your culture around street performing…for instance: my friend went to busk in japan and told me it’s akin to “begging” there, it’s seen as really shameful (unless you’re a foreigner/american…they give you a pass)…in cuba i’ve been told they have government FUNDING for buskers. wow.

everybody:
TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU KNOW.

and if you see me in a cafe in melbourne, wave hello. that’s me. i’m writing a book.

x
a

p.s. after i finish this fucking book i’m going to make some music. it’s starting to explode down there, i tell you.


peoples! this is legalese stating that i CAN USE YOUR COMMENTS, or portions of your comments – in the book, freely, and you won’t come suing me. you’ll be seeing it at the bottom of every blog where i’m asking for comments that i might use in the book. don’t be scared.

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  • http://www.kseniaanske.com/ Ksenia Anske

    Well, fuck, am I the first again? I wish I could give you something useful. Let’s see here. In Russia, when it was Soviet Union, it was forbidden to do any kinds of street performances. People still did it but they got rounded up, especially because many of them didn’t have the permit to reside in Moscow (it’s a whole another thing about Russia, the stamp you have to get in your passport to be able to live in a particular city, using a particular address). Anyway. People still did it, and with the fall of Soviet Union folks mostly performed in subway, in the Moscow metro (I’m from Moscow), mostly NOT because they were musicians wanting to share themselves, but people who were broke and who didn’t know what else to do, like older folks, they would sing war songs, to make enough money for bread, and you would often see students, like theater students, for the same reason. And… well, fuck, if I keep going, I will write a while essay here again. Anyway, the experience was that of sadness. You would walk by, and you would try not to look, not to see, not to be reminded of your own hardship, because everyone was broke. And I remember, some people would give a lot, like, a lot of money, for that reason, just because they were broke too. That was powerful, that was survival. I was broke too, but always gave money, though sometimes I was ashamed because I had to walk by, because I had nothing to give… And there is more. but I better stop here to give others room. XOXO

    • http://amandapalmer.net/ Amanda Palmer

      wow – thank you for this one. that’s hard.

      • http://www.kseniaanske.com/ Ksenia Anske

        You’re so very welcome. I wish I could tell you more. There is so much to tell, so many stories. But it was also stories of love, you know, people trying to give love to each other, despite the place they were in.

  • Miguel Nitis

    When I started making balloon animals as a side to juggling, On my first day a small boy asked for ‘Iron Man’ (The first movie had just come out). So I thought about the design quickly, inflated a red balloon, and twisted up a red figure to give him. It was as I twisted the final leg into place that I realised the excess bit of balloon had caused this to be an ‘anatomically correct-Iron Man’.
    Unsure what to do, I began turning the balloon in random directions to kill time while I figured out how to fix this without the boy realising. The boy’s father saw the panic on my face and the shape of the balloon and realised what was happening… He thought it was hilarious.
    Finally I determined to neuter the Iron Man by biting the extra bit of balloon, and tying the end up around his waist. Since then, the anatomically-correct-Iron Man has been one of my most popular party tricks.
    – Miguel Nitis

  • Nina Smith

    Hi Amanda, I earned my living as a living statue for about a year in Fremantle, WA, when I was about 19. This was back in 1998, when John Butler was busking around the corner with tapping sticks strapped to his feet, the biggest counterculture movement was known as the ferals and there was a guy we all thought was the new age messiah who used to bless his marijuana before selling it. (Am I allowed to say that on the internet??) I used to paint myself blue, cross my eyes at people when they went past, and dot glitter onto the heads of kids who dropped money in my basket. I loved the varied reactions. Some people would get very scared and run away, thinking I was posing as Kali. A Hare Krishna once stopped and paid homage to me as Krisha, which was an incredible moment. Kids loved me, and would sometimes swamp me when I crouched down to dot them all with glitter – but they’d scatter as soon as I stood up again. I used to hang out sometimes with an Aboriginal man who would hug me and say we were the rainbow people. It was an amazing part of my life that I still miss.
    Good luck with your book Amanda, as a fellow writer I know the ups and downs of a project this intensive. I met you after your concert at the Astor Theatre in Perth last year, I want you to know that show blew my mind! Thank you for being so damn amazing.

  • Sacha

    I’m a circus person. It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid (at a little youth circus school established by a bunch of street performers to skill share back into the community) currently I’m at the point in my life where I’m meant to decide what I want to do with it (my life, that is) and I’m terrified. For a long time I’ve felt guilty about pursuing a career doing what I love and that’s fucked. So with the help of my creative idols (thanks for being awesome Amanda!) and my creative friends, I’m slowly figuring out that wanting to perform, to write, and create, and to share is okay. Art is not something to feel guilty about. I’ve been around street performers pretty much all my life and I don’t know if I’ll ever go down that road- considering my current skill set as a performer, probably not. Mostly, I’m an aerialist. Sometimes I stilt walk, I unicycle, or I do other fun, crazy things and if I’m lucky I get paid for it. There’s a spiel that a most of the street performers I know give after a performance, and it generally ends with something along the lines of: “don’t give me silver. If that’s all that’s in your wallet you probably need it more than I do. Just come up and say hi, that’s all I want from you.” Personally, that really helped me decide what I want from life. I want to make art and meet people, and if I’m lucky, earn enough to live.

  • Sarah

    As a kid in Chicago, my stepfather taught me that I always had to carry cash in order to support street performers. He taught me to pay attention to and to reward street art. I carry that lesson with me every day. It remains the greatest thing he has taught; and he coached me though electricity just this past week.

  • Olivia Rose Manwaring

    Upon leaving school, my friends and I plan on getting in a car and driving. We don’t want it to be one of those things that we always said we’d do but never did, which, when it comes down to it is increasingly common. So, we plan on grabbing some guitars and busking just so we can keep moving and keep living outside of a world of jobs and offices. Even if only for a little while, It’s been one of my main ambitions since I was ten years old.

  • jayme

    I was seven when I saw my first street performer. I lived in an outskirts town of Gresham to the city of portland Oregon. My friend Cheyenne and I both had parents that were.. carefree. We would often take public transportation a half hour to the city’s Saturday Markey and run wild. Once when we took the trip we saw a crowd of hawkers huddled around by the skidmore fountain. We ducked under legs and made our way through the labyrinth of limbs to the front or the mass. Two men stood there shouting wonderment to us all. These men looked like street sleepers. A bit dirty. Greasy. Undernourished. But they were glowing with charisma. They held us captivated hanging on to their every last words. One of the two men took out from his pocket sixty nails, or at least what seemed to be that many. “I am going to try and hammer all these nails into my nose” he followed that statement with a witty joke. We all laughed. He began. The first nail he made me believe ticked, the second one made him sneeze, the twentieth barley squeezed in making his one eye squint, by the fiftieth nail he had me believing it hurt. I was in shock. He did it. What he himself seemed unsure he could do. We all cheered in utter amazement. Who were these guys? How did he deep down know he was capable of such a feat?! As we continued to smile and clap to honor the sportsmanship a man pulled out his wallet and was going to put it right back away. “What do you have sir, we can always make change for someone who also shares..” the man said he only had twenties. At that the performer pulled out a wad of cash that barley fit in his hand. I found this completely comical. I thought these men where some homeless characters but like sixty nails into the noise there was more than what held my eye. I still feel that they were the best street preformers I have encountered hands down. They were approachable. Like they were the pied piper and were but entranced mice. They were comical. They were odd. They defied nature. And I ate them up and made them apart of me.

  • Brad

    I spent some time busking in the Boston Public Garden this past summer. I played acoustic guitar and sang covers of songs that I liked – not the songs that everybody recognizes. I did it solely for the joy of performing, but as you can imagine it was not very lucrative. Only a few people tossed dollars into my guitar case, and fewer still stopped to listen.
    But one July afternoon, a man walked by with his young daughter. She tugged at his sleeve and they stopped to hear me play an old My Chemical Romance tune. The father took his daughter’s hand, and they slow danced until the end of the song. When I finished, he thanked me, put a five dollar bill in my guitar case, and walked off with his daughter. It was one of those rare, 100% perfect moments.
    Those two left a tiny imprint on my life, and I like to think I left one on theirs, too.

  • http://naturallydotty.wordpress.com Dragonsally

    One of my favorite Street performer stories happened when I was about seventeen, a country kid down in Melbourne on a trip. The performer decided I was going to be his mark (this was always happening to me. I guess because I’m always engaged in the performance). Anyhow, he started bantering with me, told me I had a nose like a squashed banana. Offended? No way. I thought it was hilarious, and it made my day. Years later I was at the football with my niece. She started taking the mikey out of the club mascot, with the same sort of banter occurring between them., no nastiness, just the joy of connecting and life. Runs in the family.

  • Eveline

    I live near the City utrecht and there’s this one guy who plays a 4 stringed guitar (not a uke) verry badly. At some occasions he jas 5 strings, I guess that are the good weeks. He’s always smiling and making happy shitty music. One day I had a little dance with him. He always makes me smile.
    On the other side of the station there’s a guy on wooden shoe’s playing folk on his old ibanez.
    I LOVE this City :)

    • Lydia

      Ooh, I live in Utrecht and know just who you mean. I love the guy in the wooden shoes. :)

      • Eveline

        :) cool

  • Michelle Harford

    after a couple bad days at my shitty day job they gave me a little bit of joy before going home to brood/make food.
    First was out side coles on Elizabeth street, melbourne. Old man in a suit joyusly playing a violin. I stood and watched for bit. nearly cried.

    the second was a guy playing guitar in the cambel arcade (subway to flinders street and home of the sticky institute). again going home from work., sore this hippish guy playing. took off my headphones and just listened. he was playing wish you were here by pink flyod. beatiful, bitter-sweet and sad.

    hope that helps some how :)

  • Tracy Semonik

    Hi Amanda! Can’t wait for new music. Anyway, here’s a story about observing street performers: When I was a Nurse in the Navy, I lived in Sicily and visited the big tourists cities every weekend I could. I know Rome and Venice particularly like the back of my hand, and as such became honorary tour guide for my and my friends’ visitors. I guided them around, both the beaten and off beaten paths, and as you know, there are a lot of street performers in tourist locations. There are also those little rules in every country, things to do and not to do, that I knew and tried to impart to visitors.
    So, I was with my parents and their friends sitting outside of a trattoria in Venice, just having a late morning espresso. I like to people-watch, so I sat with my back to the wall, under the little umbrella, and watched tourists pass by. The alley was a well traveled one, where bootleggers sold “designer” purses and sunglasses laid out on blankets, companies held out leaflets for private tours, and a couple of street performers acted as living statues. We were directly in front of one, so I got to watch the tourists react when the statue, dressed as a renaissance era artist, grabbed someone’s hat or whatever. He was very expressive and had a large crowd around him when the alley burst open with activity.
    Some tourists had just purchased a knock off bag, when local polizia cut through an alley, and the bootleggers scattered in a matter of seconds. They snatched up their blankets or sheets as makeshift bags carrying their wares as the polizia ran up, and the tourists looked around in confusion. The living statue took the moment to gather up his robes like a sheet dangling wares from his left hand. I thought it was pretty clever, and kept watching him. The tourists were fairly oblivious, starting to return to normal, when the polizia grabbed the counterfeit purchases from a couple of women, who screamed as if assaulted, naively unaware that they had participated in a crime. The statue changed position again, to a mocking one, with a pose similar to the “Home Alone” kid’s face.
    Now, I have a loud laugh, and I guffawed when I saw that. Noone else got the joke, so this whole pack of people, well, those that hadn’t started walking away after the commotion, all turned and looked at me, confused. The “statue” did too, adopting the pose of someone looking out, shielding his eyes from the sun. I guess I blushed, admitting silently like I was the guilty party, and I ended up explaining, loudly, to the two tourists who still looked puzzled, what they had done wrong and that they should be careful not to break laws in other countries or they would be getting themselves in trouble.
    That opened the floodgates, and no less than 3 small groups of people exclaimed “She’s American!” and “She speaks English, let’s ask her!” and I suddenly ended up giving directions and tourist advice to all of them, one at a time. But as I started on the first question, I stopped, and spoke up, “Wait wait wait! My advice isn’t free! Pay the man!” and I pointed to the can in front of the performer. While everyone looked down, then searched their pockets for coins and threw them in, I made eye contact with the “statue”, who grinned broadly and adopted a thumb’s up pose. As my family and I cleared away from the table, we passed closer to him, and I just said “Prego,” which in Italian means “You’re welcome.”

  • Lydia

    I live in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and started busking about a year ago. I play ukulele and sing, and play both originals and covers.

    Rules here are fairly relaxed – you do need a permit, but it’s free and easy to get, and I’ve never been asked to show it by a law enforcer. Officially you’re only allowed to stay in one spot for fifteen minutes, but that’s not really strictly enforced either – I’ve only been asked to leave once, by a shopkeeper, because I stayed longer. Though I should note busking is a hobby for me and I only do it like once a month. People who do it more regularly might have a different experience.

    At first I used a wooden bowl for a hat, but my parents gave me a small box, shaped like a book, with a lid that I can use to share some info about myself, so now I use that.

    I love the connections I make with people while busking. People smiling, asking me questions. I love the little children especially, they’re so fascinated by buskers. Often they ask their parents for some money to give me, and they approach me with wide eyes and wider smiles.

  • Nataliya

    Hi Amanda! I’ve been busking in New Zealand for a couple of years as a living statue. I grew up in the culture that did not accept busking – in the USSR – so the new busking experience was very intense. I still have an internal conflict about busking *for money* because there is something in my head that keeps whispering that it’s shameful. I’m getting better though: I use a little wooden treasure box to collect the money. Sometimes people (mostly children) put wild flowers into my box. Because they don’t have money and they want to express their love… I still keep those flowers.

    I never saw a living statue in my life until I came to New Zealand, and experienced my first Buskers Festival. It was in Christchurch. There was an amazing living statue – the Gargoyle – I came to see it nearly every day while the festival lasted. I was fascinated by interaction, by how unpredictable and playful it was.

    Then, some years later, I thought I should try to do something like this. So I did my Angel statue. The main thing I’ve learnt standing on that rock of mine (converted from a recycling bin) is Not to Fear. Not to be afraid. Yes, I am a weird creature in the middle of the square, dressed up and with the wings – and anything can happen to me, anyone can hurt me. But that’s exactly where my power is coming from. I allow myself to do things that I never do as the Everyday Me. I allow myself to stare into people’s eyes, I can make them uncomfortable by maintaining the eye contact. I can smile at them and make them smile back. I can make them uncomfortable by that fact of my being there – the most popular question I hear is “”What” is she?”. But I feel as if I have the right to look into their souls. When I am a statue, I feel as if I take my social mask off: I don’t have to be polite, I don’t have to be pleasant, I can allow myself just to watch and to stare.

    I found my statue-ing is the way to heal my heart. To share my pain, to connect with other human beings when I feel betrayed and abandoned. The energy exchange is draining, but it’s precious. And the money box… there is still that tiny voice from my Soviet upbringing that has things to say about it. But I keep the box, and I cherish my flowers. Though I never follow the rule “move if they give you money”. I move and stare and smile when and how I fuckin’ want.

  • Phoenix_pirate

    I live in San Francisco, and ride Muni only occasionally. One evening, I was on a bus and one of the silver statue buskers from the Fisherman’s Wharf area got on the bus with his crate, his hat, the whole kit. I will never forget how he slid into the seat, and set his head in his hand, in such a relaxed stillness that must have been the polar opposite of the stillness he holds all day. He saw that I saw, and flashed me a big smile, ever the performer.

  • Tilley

    Just posting this here as well as FB…

    I busk singing with uke, mostly at Salamanca Market here in Hobart. Feeling kinda disillusioned with it at the moment. Played for half an hour and no one threw in one. single. coin. I know I’m not shit, I make good music, and I look interesting. it was a sunny day, and i know people were enjoying it because they were stopping to listen, taking photos, I had 3 people filming me on their phones at one point and one lady even stopped to tell me I should audition for The Voice (snortnothankyou). And yet no one gave me anything.

    When I posted about it on FB many people suggested I put in coins to start with because people are psychologically more likely to give if someone else has… but I’ve never had to do that before, and I always kind of enjoyed the challenge of getting that first coin. But nothing that day. Not even 5 cents.

    The first time I busked there (a couple years ago) I made over $100 in half an hour. But it seems to be consistently less and less every time I do it (which is about once a month, sometimes a little more often, but often with a big break where I don’t do it for ages). I doubt it’s that people are familiar with me/sick of me, since there are many other performers who are there every. single. saturday. and they are much more intrusive (full PA setup/amps/etc). Plus most of the people walking through Salamanca are tourists, who would have never seen me before.

    When i spoke to other buskers about it they said they too were getting hardly anything that day (though the ones with full amp setup tend to get more… and hog the good spots). I wonder if they have noticed a decline over time too.

    I wonder, are people just being more stingy/careful/worried about their money… or is it that they are not valuing music?

  • Steven Wallace

    I’ll write more tomorrow…getting latearly here in London, Ontario, Canada…but I’m 1 of 2590 Canadian’s of Romani descent per 2006 Census, orphan, Magician, Hypnotist, Writer, Musician, Cat Roommate, Political Scientist (B.A. Hons Spec. 2010 from UWO/Western), and striving human who also loves to busk and perform among the burlesque, such as an audition for AMC’s Freakshow out in California last October.

    Just hoping to catch a percentage of your eyes & attention for when the really good story is written. Winky Face Emoticon.

    Cheers,
    The Magician

  • Thomas

    I’m from a 130k city in Germany and I was aroundt 12, in summer 1995, when I did street performance. I was just crazy for any kind of juggling back then (I was part of a children circus summer camp project)… the whole idea was that I make some advertisement for my dad’s toy shop.
    Oh well, let’s phrase this differently… my dad didn’t want me to hang out in the shop using the juggling equipment around all the things in there that could break (although I never broke anything).
    So, I put on a T-Shirt with my dad’s shop logo and he gave me 5 DM (should by 5€ nowadays) to play outside with my diabolo. Back then, I knew how to play two diabolos at once already, so the second one was standing on the floor in front of me for “le grand finale” and more and more people came. As I wanted to reach out for my second diabolo, somebody was throwing money INTO MY JUGGLING TOOL!
    Well, long story short: I went back to the shop, got another diabolo one, put it on the floor and people started giving me more and more money. I guess, a 12y blond long-haired boy gets quite some money if he can juggle (I bought an Alanis Morissette and Fugees album the same day from the money I’d earned!).
    I did this a few more times that summer but then some people from school recognised me and started talking… and in (pre-)puberty, you don’t want people talking, so I stopped and didn’t do it again.
    I don’t miss it so much but I have to say that these experiences also shaped my later life: I’m a stage person and don’t feel uncomfortable when nowadays have to give a (scientific) presentation at a conference. People think/say, I’m doing this in a very natural and confident way (of course there’s a little stage fright involved). Not sure if that’s the kind of stuff you want to hear ;)

  • Mark Hamblin

    Way back when they were first building the Greektown Casino in Detroit,My then wife and I decided to take my amazing stepdaughter on a tour through Greektown of course to eat Greek food also,the temporary casino was up and running,as we passed there was a Genuine Bluesman sitting on an orange crate,guitar case opened,I handed my stepdaughter a few bills to plop down,He was spectacular,and out of this 7 year olds pops with so much excitement,Dang He’s Really Good,He should be in a band!,And just the excitement on her face and the big smile we got from The guitarist was worth it’s weight in gold,and hugs too!

    • Steven Belcher

      The blues man you refer to was ” travlin blues ” and the focus of the rolling stones video history producer when they played here. He used to play Steve’s place all the time. You’r right he is great and there are videos of him busking in greektown on you tube. There’s a guy now who can play sax so well, I paid to park so I could go back and tip him. The days of us doing magic there are long gone though.

  • Mhoram Freeman

    A few years back, my ex and I encountered some buskers playing 12-string guitars. They were absolutely phenomenal. We completely lost track of time watching them, and gave them considerable amounts of money for their efforts. I do try to give money to any busker whose music appeals to me even a little, despite my own lack of income – I feel like having the courage to go out and play like that deserves something. I can’t help thinking if I played an instrument where that were viable (and perhaps in the nearby future I will, I bought a ukulele because of you AFP…) I would be busking all the damn time. I think it’s a truly worthy way to play music.

    • Sarah Flanagan

      Whenever I know I’m going to a city I make sure to load up on change beforehand; I’ve made it a personal rule that is someone is performing or singing- be they a broadway-bound representative of a local theatre or a homeless person playing the spoons- I gotta drop something in the hat.

  • Fran

    I was at Hyde park in Sydney mid January this year. I was passing time before coming to see you perform in the spiegeltent at the Sydney festival. There was a female bride human statue, not quite seven foot, near the fountain outside the festival. I was watching her for a while. Children came up to her to try and make her move or laugh but she was very professional and didn’t make a move at all. An Asian couple came up to her. The husband made his wife stand as close as she could to the human statue and he took a photo. The Asian couple then walked off. I was surprised that they didn’t give a token of thanks of any kind. I tossed a few coins in the statues box and said ” that’s for them “. She moved ever so slowly and passed me a white daisy. We shared a moment of intense eye contact and at that moment I FELT her thanks. We parted ways and I moved on to check out the festival. While walking around I saw her and she was with a couple of other people. As she passed me she said ” I love that the person to get my last flower is an Amanda Palmer fan “. We smiled at each other, I said “thanks” and we carried on with the rest of our evening. I was wearing an Amanda Palmer ‘falling’ T-shirt. I’ve had the pleasure of breathing in lots of street performers but this one was really memorable.

  • Linda

    I was visiting Romania a couple of years ago, and we were having dinner at a restaurant in Bucharest. It wasn’t a grand place or anything, the restrooms were located in the basement and you had to go down some pretty steep stairs before arriving in a cramped, dim room which led on to a ladies and gents toilet. Anyway, an old lady sat at a table in this room, fashioning tiny (but elaborate) flower bouquets wrapped in foil. She held one out to me as I passed by, and I explained that I didn’t have any money on me (resolving to bring some on my next pee run) but she just shook her head. She didn’t want money in exchange for her flowers. This troubled me. My immediate reaction was wanting to run up to our table, get my purse and give her everything I had. See I get giving something away and hoping to get something in return (if not demanding it) but this lady wouldn’t accept money. It was almost disturbing – and certainly unsettling – that she gave me something for nothing. I couldn’t get her out of my head. That bouquet is still pressed between the pages of a novel in my bookshelf. Maybe it’s a tradition in Romania, but to me it was a very unusual experience, and I doubt I’ll ever forget that woman.

  • Peter Herrmann

    I remember being genuinely terrified of the unpredictable nature of interaction with living statues as a child and adolescent, as though I was required to play a game I didn’t know the rules of (although I have to admit that those days this applied to pretty much any social interaction). Fortunately, some defrosting has occurred. through some magic moments. One happened on a mellow summer evening on Cathedral Square in Christchurch when I was just relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere (something I rarely did before), an important part of which was the busker who just started playing. Ever since I am (usually) in much less of a frenzy when I go to town, accepting the invitation to linger (that’s what parks and squares are there for, isn’t it?).
    Another busker was (I suppose he still is) a regular adding some atmosphere to a rather dreary super market in Dunedin. The last time I met him before leaving New Zealand he was just calling it a day and we had a chat about life, the universe and everything for over an hour.
    Cheers,
    Peter

  • rogerlwhite

    Years
    ago, I worked on the London underground (metro) as a ‘railman,’ the basic grade
    of employee that called out ‘Mind the gap,’ swept the platform and was just
    there in case of problems. There was a maze of tunnels connecting the different
    lines, in one of which a busker positioned himself and sang ‘Annie’s Song’ over
    and bloody over again. It was worse because he never completed the damned
    thing. As an escalator deposited another load of passengers or a new train let
    people off, he’d start ‘You fill up my senses … ’ and then as soon as people had passed he’d stop and wait
    silently until the next influx. If he’d finished the song, or even better, varied
    his repertoire it would have been more tolerable. The echoey acoustic should
    have helped but didn’t. A weird sort of solidarity stopped us from shopping him
    and if the railway police came along he was always up and away before they
    reached him down the corridor.

  • Tory

    Several years ago on the 4th of July I was walking through New York City (it was late, after the fireworks) and I went to walk in front of a parking garage. I didn’t notice a car was driving out of said garage at the same time, but before the car could hit me, a man in a Spider-Man suit jumped between me and the car and held his hand up as if to say “STOP!”
    Which the car did.
    He didn’t ask for money, but to me it seems like it was sort of a weird, helpful street performance.

  • Mom of scared child

    When she was young, my daughter was terrified of living statues, practically to the point of phobia. Especially the ones that would suddenly move without passersby doing anything. My point being that what attracts some audiences may repel others, which is of course a risk with anything, but seems particularly intense when your potential audience is five feed away from you, making its decision about what you’re offering right there in the moment.

  • Mom of scared child

    I should add that I grew up a few minutes from Harvard Square, and we often went on Friday nights to watch the performers (this was probably when you were a toddler in Lexington, Amanda). My parents always gave me money to put in the guitar case or box, and I have done the same with my kids – though I should add that this is when we stop to watch a performer, not if we are just walking by

  • Adam

    I learned circus skills from the great Reg Bolton of ‘Suitcase Circus’ fame. When I lived and worked in Japan in the 90’s I met a couple called Gavin and Miya-chan, and I started club juggling with Gavin. He taught me the way to ‘do’ street performance and it has a few lessons in there. It may seem a bit commercial or analytical but it has helped me in a few ways as a performer and theatre maker.

    1. Don’t start until you’ve reached a critical mass of interest. Do what ever it takes to make people stop and stare, but don’t start your act until it’s right. People won’t join the crowd if there’s less than a handful of people watching and you’ve obviously started so you need to get a feel for when the time is right to begin. Sometimes it will be quick, sometimes it will be hard work and sometimes you just have to decide it’s not worth starting and go home.
    2. When you begin, make a promise. It will be amazing, it will come at the end and the anticipation will be delightful. Keep working that anticipation and when it comes to making good on that promise, do it in a way that is surprising. Never make things look ‘effortless’ on the street. That’s what they do in Cirque du Soleil, after they’ve already sold the high priced ticket.
    3. Before you make good on your promise, make the ask. This is when you explain that nobody is paying you to do this (or if they are, own up) and hint at the years of practice it has taken to develop these skills. Reassure people that they should only pay what they can afford and what they think you’re worth. Talk to people as human beings, not as consumers.
    I’ve used these lessons in a few ways and modern digital communications mean that sometimes you can apply these lessons online.

    Glad that you’re enjoying Melbourne. I lived there for a time and my Mum and son still live there. My Mum lives in St Kilda, and my 16 year old daughter wants to move there as soon as she’s finished High School! It has a great cultural vibe.

  • Dan Bain

    I was a street performer for about five years. I did a circle show and played a good number of festivals plus worked a lot of regular ‘street’ street. I built crowds, told jokes both hack and original did card stunts and put clothes pegs on my face while reciting the opening monologue to Richard III before juggling machetes wearing handcuffs.

    Things I learnt: Canada is the easiest. Australia is the hardest. Singapore is weird.
    Sometimes a hobo will attack you with your own machetes.
    If you don’t commit you don’t stand a chance.
    Sometimes you must be kind and other times ruthless.
    Frosh week pledges will destroy anything good.
    Height is the winner for money. Comedy for peer repect. Art for yourself and your sanity.
    If you order the same meal every day the dude will remember you when you come back a year later and serve you exactly what you want.
    There are a lot of amazing clever funny talented people working the street. And some dicks. Just like every other industry ever. But you find the right people. I did anyway.

  • Laura

    The last time I saw a street performer (perth, aus) he was playing a piano accordion. It took me straight back to when I was in Venice, and another performer stopped by the cafe we were in and serenaded us, me and three of my friends.
    So I stopped, and I gave him all the change in my wallet, and told him he’d just taken me back to one of my happiest memories. His face split into the biggest grin, and my day was made.

  • William Robin

    I started out as a living statue in Brisbane (inspired by you). All white in a bowler hat. I would bow to people giving me money. I learnt the joys of blanking out my mind while up there on that milk crate but also noticing everything around me at once. Of creating happiness but also freaking out children and grown men alike! At first I used a bucket but then moved onto a small suitcase. Best: making people happy-cry. Worst: gang of teenagers grabbing the crate out from under me one day.

    Then I moved to Melbourne where I moved onto playing accordion. Instead of the market scene I moved onto the cafe alley type areas. The vibe and the way everything worked was different. It was fast paced and not many people stopped or even noticed. Things I’ve learnt is that people are still appreciating even if they don’t stop or give money. It allowed me to be hired for weddings, parties, etc, and people often mistake me from being from a different country.
    I mostly play Yann Tiersen songs, but also circus and Russian music, and I’ve played with/for you a couple of times in the past as well.
    I hope this helps. Contact me on twittar if you have any questions. Love x

  • Guest on a Quest for a Vest

    There’s this guy in the small town in Germany where I live, who I have seen playing on an old piano accordion for several years in centre of town. Friendly old dude, always talks with different people, and collects the money in his accordion case.
    He and a few other people rented a cheap apartment somewhere, using it as a club for young people to come and perform on the apartment owners’ instruments. Sadly, I started talking with him around the time they had to close it due to building renovation, so I never went there. Hopefully they’ll find a new place.
    Very cool dude. We talk sometimes, when he’s taking a break.

  • Elsa Brown

    I love street performers. I love walking down the platform in an empty train station while listening to someone’s rendition of “Wish You Were Here.” It’s too bad I can’t thank them every time, though. Sometimes I’ll be at Downtown Crossing switching from the red line to the orange line and I JUST HAVE TO catch a train, in doing so completely ignoring the guy with a dog playing the Mario Bros theme song on violin. I never repaid the best buskers I’ve ever heard. They were playing “Eleanor Rigby” on strings beautifully in North Station just as a green line train pulled in and I needed to get to school.
    The one bad experience I can think of with a street performer was at Government Center. He wore a fedora and sunglasses and sat on a stool in front of the Dunkin Donuts kiosk, singing the worst version of “Candy Man” you’ve ever heard. I once had listen to him for 15 minutes straight while waiting for a train. But that’s the only time I’ve ever had a negative experience with them.
    I was at Newburyport over the summer with my family and there was a guy playing a few pop songs with some Beatles thrown in on his acoustic. I sent my little brother over to give him a few dollars of mine. That’s what I love the most. The exchange of “I will give you art and you can thank me if you want” is an amazing part of humanity. The amount of people who are willing to lighten up the cityscape by playing a didgeridoo or a 18th century accordion or risking their lives sitting on a metal pole while juggling chainsaws (and being very Australian while doing so) and only asking for an optional thanks in return is one of my favorite parts of civilization as a whole.

  • seph

    Here, in Uruguay, most street perfrmers you will see are musicians, but for certain parts of the historical side of the city, where you might find statues and other sorts of performers. There’s been an attempt of regulations about them in the last months with the current goverment we have (a socialist/comunist inclined party, that has been trying to regulate and even get people to stop doing many sorts of street based comertial activities.) One of the things they are proposing is to give them some sort of identification to get into buses (a lot of musicians here play in buses) but at the same time they want to give the bus driver the power of deciding if they’ll let them go into the bus or not.

    I only had one single experience at street performing, but we weren’t collecting money from it, so I can’t really speak about that point. We were dressed as characters of a short we were shooting and just performing between people in a crowded flea market. And unlike with musicians, or maybe some street magicians, people didn’t seem to know how to react to us. I could divide people in a few groups.

    1- There was the ones that pretended we didn’t exist. Not looking, not blinking. No nada. As in, going on with what they were doing despite a huge man in a black cloak was shopping for bananas next to him (the man selling the bananas acted as if it was the most normal thing too).

    2- There was the ones that looked, maybe smiled, maybe pointed so someone else looked. This were the ones that seemed to be the most willing to step into whatever you were doing and be like ‘hey i’m seeing you, and i understand’.

    3- Then there was the ones that wanted to give us money.

    and 4- my fave, there was the ones that followed us, asked if we were in a religious cult and if they could to join us.

    But back to the first topic. In general, if you don’t take buses often or go to the downtown area of the city, you can live believing there’s no such things as street performers here. Though, as of late, in that same flea market we went to, we’ve found more musicians, and people from other other countries, like from peru, playing music in typical costumes and dancing. But you wouldn’t have seen that some years ago.

    It gets so much to that point that, once i went to Buenos Aires, I was actually surprised of the amount of people performing different things I saw there in a normal ‘working’ day and not a weeked. But then I also found out that there, even selling seemed to be an act of performance to some. And also that, disabled people found their way into it. Like a man that made some really beautiful paintings on the street- he had no arms and used his feet. But he wasn’t just selling the paintings, he had a hat where people would drop money in.
    About this last one, it makes me wonder though, till what point the atractiveness to people is the disability instead of the art. But then, you couldn’t not see he had some really beautiful paintings.

    • TeaTree

      Hi, fellow Uruguayan :) Haven’t met many AFP fans (that I haven’t converted) so it’s really nice to meetcha.

      I’ve always liked street performers and gave them money, especially as a kid. Anything except living statues. Sorry, Amanda, but living statues terrify me beyond words, ever since I was a kid. I’ve convinced myself they’re my personal Weeping Angels.

      But I do have a story. I was with a friend in this old market, checking out antiques, and this beautiful woman carefully dressed in silver and white was standing still while people walked past her. She was a vision. Her hair was curly and braided in places, her make-up dramatic and her costume shimmering with silver accents everywhere. We approached her and I carefully put some money in a basket in front of her. She beamed, and she moved, and it was amazing. She hadn’t been just wrapped in silver and white, but rather wrapped in silver and white wings! She danced and twirled for a long time, her dress and accessories shimmering. It was beautiful and we clapped.
      But she didn’t stop there. Still smiling, she bent slowly towards us and opened a drawstring bag she’d kept at her waist, and we each reached in and pulled out a rolled-up piece of paper. We thanked her once more, told her we’d never seen anything like her, and left as a couple of kids took our place.

      Each of our pieces of paper contained different, beautiful quotes. This incredible woman had dozens of them in her little bag, and would hand them out to anyone who would donate and watch her show. I couldn’t help feeling like we should go back and give her more money, or buy her a drink as thanks…we’d gotten so much more from her in return for so little!

      I think I’ll go back and see if she’s still there. She made my day.

  • Michael Canfield

    In 1984 I moved from Muscle Shoals, Alabama to NYC. I’m a singer and drummer who went to Berklee and played with a pretty successful, 3rd tier Allman Brothers/Grateful Dead type jam band that toured the South and Midwest for 14 years, called Cameron. Didn’t pick the best time. Drum machines were emerging and trying to make real players redundant and NYC was going through one of its periodic club purges where gentrification, and the real estate interests behind it, forced the city to enforce their archaic cabaret laws. These regs prohibited venues without a cabaret license from having any mo re than three musicians on stage at any given time, none of whom could be drums, brass or amplified. So I was basically fucked.
    I was desperately trying to scrape up work when a friend suggested I meet some young guys playing at a dive on the Upper West Side. I sat in with them in a dingy student bar on upper Broadway called the Blue Rose. They were astoundingly good and I was chuffed when they invited me to come along to a gig the next day down by the Plaza Hotel. “just look for the statue of General Sherman”, they said.
    I pitched up and to my horror, they were playing for tips on the street. Now you have to get that up till that time I fancied myself a BIG TIME MUSICIAN. This was so below me. How could I possibly lower myself to playing through battery-powered amps and begging for bucks. DON’T THESE PEOPLE KNOW WHO I AM????!!!. But a funny thing happened on the way to my ego deflation. I played, sang and discovered that I loved it! The immediacy and instant validation or rejection of street performing was seductive. If you were good, you made bucks. If you sucked, you starved. Very direct. Honest.
    So, as it was a beautiful New York Spring and I didn’t have anything else happening, I joined the band, which we named the General Sherman Band, after our bronze horse riding patron. But we soon discovered that the Central Park audiences and the owners of the Plaza Hotel were not really enamoured of having what was quickly becoming rather a rowdy, Southern Rock driven bar band in their lovely gardens at lunch. So we hunted a new home. Which we found down in the shadow of the World Trade Centre at Trinity Place.
    This was an ideal spot for a street band like ours, Lots of places for folks to sit. Plenty of quick lunch hole-in-the-walls and food carts. The busses to Jersey and the Outer Boroughs left from right behind us and there were even light poles where we could hijack power from the grid. Perfect. Because the wily old road dog that I was, the guy who’s already survived a few really bad record deal and management contracts – this guy was NOT going to play through pig nose amps to 20 people. Nope. So I bought a PA, stole electricity and drove all the competing street players out of the park. In retrospect, not very cool, but I was young, you know? And when the police and ConEd locked the light pole, I bought a generator and turned it up even more.
    This was the era of the yuppie emergence. There was so much money flying around Wall Street that all you had to do is hold up your hand and enough stuck to make a living. My band became the working class heroes of the Summer of 1985. We’d play every fay that weather let us from 11:30 to 2:00 or so with nor break and then do an after work session from 4:30 till dark or till we made enough money. And we were coining it! It got to the point where Hizoner, Mayor Koch, regularly came down to eat his lunch on the stoep and some days the cops estimated that more than 10 000 people passed our way. Don’t know that for sure, but I do know that on some days the band took home more than a grand a man. We were shameless in our pandering. Wanna hear Freebird? Sure, that’s $100 song. You’re a dick for requesting it, but give us the money and we’ll do it. And they did. I think they also liked the fact that the General Sherman Girls, a few halter top wearing, short shorted Daisy Mae types came around to collect their dosh. Of course the girls were in for a share of the profit.
    We played there through the entire Summer. One of the best days was when the Chaiman of some giant oil company sent an emmissary down to talk with us. Seemed they were having a big Board meeting and they wondered if we would accept $5k to quit early. So of course we said yes. This was business, not art.
    In October the Village Voice gave us an award as 1985 Rock/Pop Performers of the Year,and we also picked a New York Music award as best street performers. By the time the run was through, I was on CNN, Entertainment Tonight, had a gig with Gene Cornish from the Rascals new band, was a regular with Jimmy Vivino and Paul Shaeffer and generally living the New York celebutant lifestyle. All from working the street, treating it like a business and playing our asses off to make sure people had a good time and got their money’s worth. The street made my career in NYC. I had a great run thereafter playing with everybody and their brother’s dog until such time as I pissed it all away after deciding that a carried drinking way too much Jack Daniels and snorting copious amounts of cocaine were higher priority than music. But that’s a story for another day……
    Now I live and work in South Africa where there is no street music scene at all. As a mater of fact, I’m the guy who has been talking with Eric about promoting your dates here when you come out for your kickstarter gigs. But that too is a story for another time……

  • jordan

    Hello! I learned how to spin fire poi a couple years ago when i was living in Mexico. I had always been in awe of those that did it and when i was previously in mexico i had told myself that i would go back and fall in love with a fire dancer and we would travel around together fire dancing and being all in love…and it kind of happened! i DID go back, I DID fall for a fire dancer and learnt how to do it myself, but there wasn’t so much traveling after we adopted our dog. We mostly worked together, my boyfriend and I, at traffic lights in various cities throughout mexico. We would cut a plastic pop bottle in half and fill it up with gasoline, that we bought at the gas station straight from the pumps. In Mexico its okay to walk up to the gas station with a 2 L coke bottle and have it filled, so much easier then always having to carry a jerry can! We would wait for a red light and then jump out and do a little show before the light changed. One of us danced, the other went along from car to car asking for “cambio” aka change. Not a bad living, some days we made $10 in 20 minutes or less! We usually had an hour or so before someone alerted the police and once busted we would have to pack it up. Luckily we never got in serious trouble, I am not sure what the official word is on fire spinning in the street, but its generally not allowed. Sometimes we would be hired for legitimate shows, BMW had an event for motorcyclists in Palenque, where we were living at the time. National Geographic was there and it was definitely the biggest crowd i had ever performed for, a couple hundred people at least….(I dont know if any of this is what you are looking for, but feel free to email me if you are interested!

  • IWasATeenageBusker

    Around Christmas time last year my friend and I went busking in this little town called Hebden Bridge so we could afford to buy Christmas presents for our families . She sang and I played guitar. We’d been playing together for about a year but we were both shit scared: we’d never done anything like this before.
    When we started out it was cold and the town centre was completely empty. We had to pack up after about ten minutes because it had started to rain and there was no-one around. We hid in a bookshop and tried to decide what to get our parents when we’d made enough money. After a while the weather brightened up and people started to turn up in the town centre. We went back out there, sat down on a wall under a tree and started to play. We had about eight covers (one of which was ‘Want it Back’) which we played on repeat, as loudly as we could. It took a while for people to notice us but finally one great man gave us THREE WHOLE QUID! Things went uphill from there and before we knew it we had more than enough money to get what we needed.
    Of course, there were a few minor setbacks along the way: once a couple tripped on our ‘hat’ (a Tupperware box my mum had given me) and all our money went everywhere. They helped us pick it up again though, and gave us 50p to say sorry, which was kind of them. We saw one of the ‘popular’ girls from our school as well but she didn’t give us any trouble.
    I learned that:
    1) People will only respond to acts who look like they’re engaged in what they’re doing. If we played a song we were bored with we got zilch, whereas if we played a song we loved we got loads.
    2) Teenagers and young people will not give you money. Ever. I don’t know why- maybe it’s just because we’re all broke? Old people, however, are some of the most generous people I’ve ever seen.
    We also learned loads about playing together and you could tell George (the singer) had gotten over her stage fright, which had been a massive problem beforehand. It was really fun as well!
    We’re going to go again in the spring; it’s too wet in the winter.

  • C.S Rose

    One of the regrets of my life is the time I was 16 in Paris walking along the rainy bridge over the river. It was very dark and in the deeps of winter but the rain was sparkling in the street lights and adding percussion to the accordionist playing in a corner under a statue. The scene was so atmospheric! The accordionists song made my walk across the bridge like a scene from a film noire… but I didn’t stop to listen or tip. Ive regretted it ever since, probably because the mans music had added so much to my experience but I had added nothing to his, doesn’t seem like much maybe but I guess I’ve always felt I owe him a debt.

  • Louise

    I am originally from Germany but saw a very impressive street artist in Dublin. He painted on the sidewalk next to a big street. He painted the ground with really cool colours of chalk and also wrote pessages inside.
    I was so moved by this because 1. he knew that the next rain would wash away his art and still kept on making the world more colouful. 2. He let people walk literally over his art and continued.
    I stood near a tree and watched a bit the reaction of people an saw that it made so many people smile and pay attaention (maybe otherwise they had just rush by)
    Even days later I was encouraged with this message I got from the street artist. It moved me so much that someone would take their precious time to make such a transitory art, which make other people smile.
    For me this is one of the beautiful messages someone can send you: I create something to move you even if I don´t know you-I just give my art to you.
    Until today I am grateful to this artist for teaching me this

  • Félix Marqués

    It makes me so happy that, after the depressive period where you felt that you couldn’t write much, now your mind has taken once more the shape of a fountain.

    I am slowly swimming my way out of depression myself, and hoping I’ll be able to draw as I used to. This gives me hope.

  • Harry

    I once had an internship with an amazing circus company called Aerial Angels. I had some moderate at best aerial acrobatic skills, but I mainly carried their gear and helped set up. One day, in a small town in Illinois, We had finished for the day and were packing up as a small girl came up and asked when our next show was. My boss kneeled down to tell her that we had finished, but that her lovely assistant would do a few tricks for her. I nod and smile, thinking she was going to gesture to one of our other fabulous performers, but she sent me up. I performed for that small child like she was an audience of a thousand. And when I came down, she ran up to me and shyly handed me a dollar. I tossed that dollar into the super secret place we kept our tips and thanked her. When we got back to base that evening, They asked me to show them the dollar and I shrugged and told them I had put it with the rest of the money. My bosses jaw dropped and She runs out of the room, returning with a dollar. “This is the first dollar you’ve made street performing.” I have it framed and hung in my room.

    • Kimmy, or something

      I’m pretty sure Aerial Angels performed at the street performer series I wrote my comment about. If it’s the same group, I’d credit them with bringing enough attention to the series that it exploded the year they first performed there. I kissed my songwriting downtime goodbye, but that was okay because from that point forward, instead of having a few people wander by on Thursday nights, the downtown area would be absolutely packed.

      It’s a small world after all…

  • Judy Ballantine

    Hi Amanda.
    From the mother of a girl, I owe you a lot. Ollie met you when she was eight years old and you were so kind to her. Together, she and I have watched you grow as an artist and share your wealth of talent with all of us, all while encouraging others. When Ollie was 14 and her friend Bianca was over at the house, I said to them, “Why don’t the two of you go busk in Harvard Square, just like Amanda?”. (How many moms tell their teenage girls to go play in the street?). The two of them put together a look – black and white tights, top hats, inspired by the Dresden Dolls, and red cheeks and noses. Ollie packed up her accordion, Bianca brought a ukelele and balloons, and the two of them hit the street – Brattle Street! They are coming into their fourth year of busking and it has been life changing. They work off each other creatively, they connect with people on the street, and they give as much as they get. Little children stop their parents to watch them, parents smile as their children are mesmerized by the girls’ black and white clothing and red cheeks and noses. While they dance to Ollie’s accordion music, Bianca twists a balloon animals for each child. The parents are happy, and Ollie & Bianca are filled with happiness as they entertain the passers by. This is a very unique experience for teenage girls and it has widened their horizons as they become young women. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there and they have been richly rewarded by doing that. Ollie’s accordion case fills with dollars and the girls go home richer for the experience. And it is all because of you. Thank you! :)

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  • Michelle

    Hi Amanda,
    Alright, so. I was actually inspired to start performing as a living statue by you. I several years ago, mostly just to have extra cash, but never did it enough to live off of. Still, I would go out quite frequently. Now I’m in school for performing circus arts, but I really hope to go back to busking as soon as I can.

    My first identity was a ballerina, and I actually danced in toe shoes on the sidewalk. Later I simplified things, and became a white maiden handing out flowers. I honestly think this second one worked better, people understand the game. It was simple and sweet, a quick interaction of exchanged gifts. I really enjoyed being a statue, watching people, seeing their reactions.

    One time I got hired to perform at an event, and was also allowed to take tips in addition to being paid by the event organizers. This was overall a great experience, although it was a little bizarre and I felt somewhat out of place. It was a fancy food and wine tasting shindig, and here I was in the middle of everything… People weren’t expecting something like me, I suppose, but in the end I think a lot of people enjoyed the surprise (although some mistakenly thought the flowers I handed them were part of the tastings and tried to eat them. whoops).

    I also have experimented with more active street performances. I am an aerialist, and on several occasions I’ve set up a small aerials rig and performed on street corners. And it didn’t work, at all. Which surprised me, you’d think people would notice the girl hanging upside down from a metal ring more than the silent statue, but I hardly made any money. I know that many circus artists can make good money busking, but with aerials in particular… people just didn’t get it, I guess. It was too one sided, I think, too complicated. One of my main struggles with modern circus arts such as aerials it is that there is less interaction with the audience. With something like juggling, or even acrobatics, there isn’t so much of a defined line between performer and audience. There’s more of a loose definition of what is the limit of the stage and what is the audience, but with aerials you are much more confined to your apparatus.
    I think what I love about busking is that it can at times be very up close and personal, if you have the right act and are open to your audience. Whether it be music, statueing, juggling, whatever… you’re right there in front of people, no barriers. I feel like my experiences in this setting have taught me so much as a performer in general. Sure, people can be jerks sometimes, and you get ignored a lot more than when you’re on a stage… On the street things are a lot more simple and stripped down, and breaking down the wall between performer and observer can be a very special thing, something that I miss when I’m performing on a stage in a more formal setting…

    Anyway, thank you Amanda for giving me the idea to start busking in the first place. Hope book writing is going well.

    Much love,
    Michelle

  • https://sites.google.com/site/herpuckishness/ Audrey Greathouse

    I’m a writer, but since that never paid, I worked briefly as Ragdoll Robin, a living statue who handed out iambic pentameter couplets on the backs of playing cards. It wasn’t quite for me, but I am so grateful I had the experience in Seattle after being inspired by all the artists I met at the Beery House and through Max. Following an ugly begging vs. busking argument with a friend, I wrote this poem which I will gladly offer up to your cause. If I say just one thing while you write this book, it’s this:

    The Professional

    I am not a beggar,
    I am not a thief.
    My art is not given
    In exchange for pity;
    People pay me
    Because I sell relief.

    You are right to say,
    “We can’t all be artists,”
    But what you forget
    Is that it is necessary
    That some of us should be.

    My art is not a con,
    My words are not a scam,
    And if you think they are,
    You don’t know who I am.

    Do not tell me what I do
    When you have never seen
    The smiling faces that pay me
    For my wordsmithed whimsy
    They alone know what I mean
    By my smile and poetry.

    (thank you, Amanda, for the ongoing inspiration)

  • Michelle

    okay, so I already posted one comment but after reading some other stories in the comments I had one thought to add… that to me it is a comforting thought knowing that if all else fails I can still busk to feed myself. (I know, fuck plan b and all that, but still). having learned what works, for myself at least, I feel like I could survive doing street performance, if a career of performing in actual venues doesn’t work out.

    if you ask, people will give…

  • Arieke van Andel

    As an outsider (well I have performed outside several times (amateur dance group) but in a sort of formal setting where it was part of a festival) Buskers are
    complicated for me. I very much enjoy the unexpected experiences. But I find
    them complicated in that there is no unwritten rule for what to do. If I choose
    to go to the theatre, I choose the show to see, there is a set price for the
    ticket, I decide I am willing to pay the ticket price. In the streets, someone
    is giving (me) their performance. And while this is happening all the choices
    still need to be made, the unwritten rules written.

    I didn’t choose to see this, it just happened while I was there. First question: Do I
    like it? Will I stop to find out? Do I have time to stop and find out? Second question: suppose I stop, but find out I don’t like it? I took what someone shared, does that mean I have to do something in return, even if I don’t like it? (I walk by
    a man playing accordion every morning, on my way to the train station. He plays
    well and is friendly. But to be honest I like waking up quietly better. Still I hear his music every day. What to do?) Suppose I stop and do like it and want
    to give something in return. There is no anonymous sitting in the dark with a
    ticket that is paid for. You need to step forward, the performer will see you,
    the rest of the audience will see you. You are making a statement. (I used to
    be shy going to the bakery to buy bread, I no longer am but these sort of
    situations still make me self conscious). You make a statement by stepping
    forward, but also by the amount you chose to give. Are you being cheap? Are you paying what you think it’s worth? How do you calculate something like that? What statement is it to measure someone’s art in money? How do you get that right?

    So while I thought I was just going to walk down a street, I suddenly end up with all these choices. And if I’m lucky with a nice surprise and experience too.

    I have now decided that if I really enjoy what I hear or see I will pay, whether is makes me self conscious or not. And that if I don’t enjoy it I don’t. But I do greet
    people to acknowledge them.

    The ones I have liked most is when you can tell performers really enjoy what they are doing. A saxophone player playing in an almost empty shopping mall late at night, apparently not really for an audience but because it was a good spot to play. Someone playing classical music on a cello in the middle of shopping people. I start feeling uncomfortable when I feel people are desperate, out for money. It all becomes too tense.

  • Dolly Rot

    I’m a hobo. I ride trains and hitch-hike around the country. Me and my boyfriend we sit by bars and tell jokes for 25 cents. The story i want to tell you is about the time we ended up in New Orleans, we we’re sitting on Decatur telling jokes and one of the living statues was riding by on a bicycle and stopped to listen to us telling jokes to some people that just gave us 25 cents…after those people left we saw the statue sitting their on his bike laughing hysterically but making no sound at all. We told him jokes, and he kept laughing with no sound and slapping his knee, he waved my boyfriend over and he stuck his hand in his bad and pulled out fist full of two dollar bills and handed them to my boyfriend and tipped his hat to us and kept doing the hysterical laugh that made no sound at all has he rode away on his bike.

    • Grace Saucier

      You just made my day :)

  • Kimmy, or something

    I live in a very small town. A few years ago, the downtown development authority started a street performer series where they would pay buskers a stipend to play a set downtown on Thursday evenings. I participated in the first, second and fourth yearsmy of the series.

    I’m a songwriter and singer and would stand out on the street playing the guitar and singing my songs. The first couple years, the series wasn’t very popular; not a lot of people knew about it. The crowds were not very big, and this actually worked to my advantage — I would have a lot of downtime during the 2.5 hour set where I could work on songs I hadn’t finished. I could sing the same song five times in a row and nobody would notice. Other times, I’d improvise new songs or sing about how if people tipped me, I could go buy ice cream. I was just out of high school.

    I quickly learned that if you don’t force people to look at you, they just won’t do it. I began wearing flamboyant outfits to perform in — colorful skirts, giant sparkly jewelry, outlandish makeup. I also learned that a lot of people get uncomfortable if you look them in the eye while singing. However, if you don’t make eye contact at all, even if you’re basically screaming out your song, they will pretend not to notice you.

    The most valuable lesson I learned was the delicate eye contact balance. You have to look someone in the eye for just long enough that they feel noticed; as you put it in your TED talk, seen. If they feel seen, they’ll stop and listen, and possibly tip you. However, if you look a stranger inn the eye for too long, they will move on. I think they felt almost violated, in a way; being seen so intensely for longer periods is hard to withstand if you’re not used to it. Like someone isn’t just seeing you anymore, they’re seeing into you. It’s hard to explain.

    The funniest thing I learned was that if I had my boyfriend sit on a bench a little way up the street and watch for a group of people who seemed undecided about whether our not to tip me, I’d make more money. If there was a group that had listened for a minute or so without tipping, he’d walk up, listen for a moment, then drop a dollar into my basket and tell me I was doing a great job. Nobody wants to be the jerk who gets SEEN not tipping, so everyone would follow suit pretty quickly.

    Oh, and guys on dates/with girlfriends almost never tip.

    Oh, and learn a few lullabies/songs from Disney movies etc. Parents of small children LOVE giving their kids money to tip street performers. If I’d see someone with a child headed my way, I’d drop whatever I was playing and switch to Puff the Magic Dragon or House at Pooh Corner. And if I saw a group of women over the age of 30, I’d play I Will Survive. Know your audience; those songs would almost guarantee a tip.

    Having a huge repertoire of random songs served me pretty well. One time I was playing one of my original songs, and there was this guy in his twenties listening. After I wrapped up the song, he clapped his hands. “That was great,” he said. “Now play ‘Epiphany’ by Staind.” Stroke of luck, I’d actually learned that song a few years back. People love it when you play their favorite song, especially if it’s something that surprises them, like an 00s neo-grunge wailer delivered by a 5-foot-3-inch high schooler in a hippie skirt.

    I miss busking.

  • Zoe Osenbach

    I’m an outsider.

    I visited Italy a few years ago. After parking my ill-feeling mother and aunt on a corner in Milans busy central piazza, I wandered off in search of a reasonably priced cafe. I turned down a small car-free side street, trying to take a shortcut. I found that the cobble stoned alley was empty, except for a living statue. The person was dressed in a white baroque style male outfit, complete with a powdered wig and fantastic hat. I hesitated… I’m an introvert, being stuck in an alley alone with a performer of any kind – let alone one who speaks a different language – sounds like a situation to avoid. Something made me continue down the alley though, some mixture of hurry, intrigue, and Amanda Palmer Bravery Lessons (love all strangers). Plus, I had a couple Euros in my pocket and as afraid of performers as I may be, I respect and envy them. So as I passed, still in a hurry, I dropped the contents of my pocket into a small sheet-covered container. As I stood up a white hand was extended to me, I think I nervously swallowed before taking it. The busker spun me around like a dancer, winked, then went back to statue form.

    Something about the exchange made my heart flutter, I walked away smiling, completely infatuated and curious about this person. I don’t know whether it was a man or a woman, in the moment I didn’t think to even care, but I looked into their eyes and saw something genuine. Love. It was one of the most oddly powerful exchanges I’ve ever had with another human being. No words were exchanged, and the whole encounter was just a few seconds, but it made me feel happy, loved, and inspired by humanity.

  • Véronique Aulis

    Once in Vienna I saw this old guy dressed in a king costume, crown and all, standing on a box dancing to all kinds of silly pop-dance songs. It was the most I-DON’T-GIVE-A-FUCK thing I’ve ever seen. And because of that, it was very inspiring. Respect forever.

  • Aly Marguerite

    I have been playing full time on the streets and in the metros of Montreal for about 3 years now with my band Old Time Honey, a mix of New Orleans jug band and cajun styles. We started playing this style because of how visual the washboard and washtub bass are, people will stop just to ask how they are built, and kids think we are the cat’s pajamas! Montreal is very famous for it’s street performers, as a result there are many rules as well as auditions one has to jump through to pursue this life full time. Summer auditions cost $50 and if you pass it’s $125 each for the permit which pretty much allows you to set up and play anywhere except for the Old Port. My room mate is a fire dancer and she gets her permit from the same association so when the night falls, we add a little circus. For the winter, this is the 3rd year now that we are a part of a program called “Les Étoiles du Metro” which costs $25 for the audition and $40 for our banner. This program is very controversial as it takes the five best spots in the Montreal metro system and reserves them for people that were good enough to pass the yearly audition, meaning a random musician wandering through town is limited as to where they can play. On the other hand, the program lets us book our spots online 2 weeks ahead of time instead of heading down to the metro in the freezing winter cold to sign up a 5am. I’d rather not have to do that every day. People often ask me why I busk full time, as I am qualified to work as an audio engineer, and could make the choice not to be quite as poor as I am, but the answer for me is simple. I hate schedules and I love to sing. Especially in the summer, you never know when it’s going to rain and so every sunny day feels like a challenge to go out there and make some people dance! It’s also such a great way to meet other artists, book exciting gigs, and keep your calluses hard as hell. I have recently had some pretty amazing opportunities come from handing out business cards in the metro.

    Let me know if you have any questions! I love talking about this.

    Here is a little video of us busking last winter, some kids start break dancing towards 2 minutes in. It was kind of magical.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmOkTinWrMg

  • Sarah Flanagan

    This is one part busking and one part asking-for-things:

    Busking is not my primary income; when I busk it’s more for the opportunity to try out new tricks I’ve been working on in front of people who aren’t concerned about hurting my feelings. Performing itself is not hard, but I often find it paralyzingly difficult to talk to people while busking and generally wind up adopting a silent clown/mime persona when performing on the street out of necessity. I am unsure as to why exactly this is except that perhaps I need to get better at asking. Just recently myself and a friend who juggles and does card tricks busked to raise money for an alumna of the theatre department whose apartment burnt down; we were just out having a good time (and he did all the talking, so that’s perfect). I know the setup for his card tricks so I tend to stop whatever I’m doing (generally spinning poi/clubs or tumbling/acro) so I can watch people’s faces when he does the reveal- especially kids. That is my very favorite part, seeing their faces when the right card comes up and watching them realize that even though they’re pretty sure you tricked them somehow they have NO IDEA how you did it and that’s MAGICAL.

    This being done however, my friend would explain that we were there asking for donations for Anita, that if they could spare a dollar or some change we’d be very appreciative, but if not no worries. This to me was a very non-threatening non-pressuring way to ask for money, but it was shocking to see how uncomfortable people got. There were some who went Ah yes! Oh lovely what a good cause, we’d love to donate! But for the most part people said they didn’t have any change on them, became horribly flustered and embarrassed, and walked away. And I’ve been on that end before (mostly with charities/homeless people and not performers, but still). I am a broke grad student who primarily carries around a debit card and nothing else; the days I have cash on me are few and far between. And when asked for money I feel bad having to say no, feel guilty, or worry that the other party will think I’m just some jerk lying about not having cash.

    Seeing this from the performance end (and in particular from the performance end where the money isn’t determining whether or no I eat that day, ANYTHING we can donate to our alumna is better than nothing) was heartbreaking. It was so viscerally upsetting to watch a skeptical face that had turned to pleasant shock and happiness and connection switch over to embarrassment and unease in an instant as they began to hurry away.

    We give them this light, iridescent bubble to hold and admire and say, “If you’d like to, if you can, we’d appreciate your help.” And they panic and throw the bubble and run off with their tail between their legs. And I want to run after them and say, “No no! I am not angry that you couldn’t help, please don’t feel so bad. This is a gift! This is wonder, and it is for you, and I want you to have it and keep it and care for it til the real world makes it burst.” I don’t want asking to be the thing that makes the bubble pop. I’m not sure where that leaves us.

  • Ben Knight

    I slam on the piano and sing loud and crazy rocknroll songs at Faneuil Hall in Boston. I only started last June, and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had and the single most immediate way to make money as a performer.

    The biggest thing I’ve learned about street performing is the more energy you give out, the more people will give back. If I put everything I’ve got into a performance, I’m always going to see a response from the audience. It’s totally give and take.

    So far I’ve bought a new keyboard and also funded my first EP solely from street performing, which I released in August. Completely crowd funded!!!

    It’s here if anyone wants to listen!! http://benknightlife.bandcamp.com/

    • SitsUnderWaterfalls

      Holy whoa. I just listened to your EP, it’s fantastic. Good on you man.

      • Ben Knight

        Thank you so much!!! So glad you liked it. Add me on facebook.com/benknight or facebook.com/benknightlife if you wanna keep up with me! :)

  • Kelly A. Claussen

    My favorite performers on the streets of Chicago are a very old Asian couple that play traditional songs to a track on what I believe is an electic sitar. When I first heard them they were terrible. I could barely recognize the familiar songs they were playing. But I was drawn into their performance because of how adorable they were. They clearly were performing as a way of understanding/ spending more time with eachother in their retired age. Over the few months I was able to observe them, their ability improved. I believe from the love they hold for each other.

  • Grace Saucier

    I was a living statue too. I had two baskets. One was empty and in front of me and the other I held. It had origami cranes made from various types of paper and tin foil (whatever had been on hand to make them out of). People would put money in the empty basket, and sometimes down my bra if they were brave/drunk enough, and I would hand them a crane. My friends used to worry someone would steal my money since it was on the ground but no one ever did. One of the things it taught me was that people aren’t terrible. I trusted people to give me money and to not steal from me. They came through on both counts. People gave me some weird stuff as tips. The strangest thing I ever got was pubic hair tied together in a ribbon. Sometimes people weren’t nice. They yelled at me and threw garbage in my basket, sometimes at me as well, but a nice person usually came by and fixed it. I gave people two cranes for that. It was nice. I was giving something to people (I’m not even entirely certain what it was) and people were giving back. It made me view strangers as friends I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet. The most important story from that time in my life though is about this guy who used to visit me. He was older and probably had some mental issues but every couple of days he would come by and just tell me how his day was and what had been going on in his life. I think I may have been the only person who listened to him. I never said anything back and I think he liked it that way. He would stay for a few minutes (sometimes over an hour) and just talk. We were friends in a non-traditional sense. It was an amazing experience. I’ve been curious how he’s been since I moved but even if I found him I don’t know what we’d say. It would probably be ruined if we said anything at all. Things are probably best how they are.

  • someAmandafangirl

    can not wait for your new music. I love each new you more than the last. just discover missed me…love so much. (I imagine) you are writing a book because you have been giving it away on the blog..which was a crime I thought from the first one I read lol. The longer and better (more personal) the more I thought…this should be a book…. much love and keep up the good fight. xoxo

  • someAmandafangirl

    ps. please find another way to accept support…my pay pal will not work..no fixing it…but I can pay with any other cc. and I want to! support your art. xoxo

  • lentower

    I have flowers in the gardens around my home. Some just take care
    of themselves. Others need to be regularly horiculturally cuddled.

    I don’t bump into buskers & street performers. Yes, they can be found
    in Brattle Square on Summer evenings. But even there, I often go to
    look — nada.

    Several times a year, I journey from east of Fanueil Hall to west of
    Copley Square – all the places named in tales of buskers — nada.

    Someday, I’ll visit the fabled Waterfire, but will I find the
    wall-to-wall living statues or — nada?

    Except one June afton over a dozen years ago, by the Chess Masters in
    Forbes Plaza. This white faced figure. Quite still. Had to be
    standing on something under that dress. (Or better at stilts than
    anyone I had ever seen.) Probably a wedding dress. Probably a gal.
    Bouquet. Tip box on the ground. A large enough tip got the offer of
    a flower amidst a focused engaged friendly look.

    I sat and watched for a while. Off to get what was missing.
    (Decided not to go home & get a mill coin.)

    Tried something different from what I had seen others do.
    (But not novel to the elevated figure in white?)

    cent, nickel, dime, quarter, half dollar, dollar coin, two dollar bill
    (from a friend’s pad of them (but that’s another story)), five dollar
    bill.
    a bit more animation with each.
    no flower for the first few.
    Several at the end.
    I bowed, and went off to sit & watch again.

    Light bulb. Went home. Cut and dethorned one each of the dozen of
    colors of my roses in bloom. Bouqueted them. Went back intending to
    leave them in the tip box, & see what happened — nada.

    Poofed in 20 minutes.

    Though I’m frequently by Forbes Plaza year round, I never saw the
    white faced figure again.

    Some years later, in Dec 2005, when I was reading the blogs in this
    series to date, I found out that that the busker called herself the
    Eight Foot Bride, and was one of many living statues.

  • Cami Scoundrel

    Dear Amanda, I am a musician from South Africa, here like in Japan, busking is viewed as begging. Even more so than that it is commonly believed that it is categorised under a nuisance bi-law along with Graffiti and skate-boarding.

    In Cape Town there are only a few spots where busking is legal. In Johannesburg even fewer. I thought you might be interested in the story of Lunga Goodman – he is a blind busker in Cape Town, and is the reason why the busking by-laws have come under review. As you may or not know, Cape Town is a city built for complaiceny – the Western Cape is the only province in South Africa run by the Democratic Alliance as opposed to the ANC. And thier president Helen Zille likes to keep everything “perfect” for the rich folk, this means no nuisance – to the point where shop keepers are allowed to impose their power over city officials in order to rid them selves of nuisance buskers.

    And this is how Lunga Goodman was assaulted by city law enforcement (glorified rent-a- cops that petrol the city). The assault was filmed and exploded on the news, causing one of the biggest protests that Cape Town has seen, even bigger then when they announced that the secrecy bill was going to pass (the secrecy bill is the bill that would’ve allowed our government to do pretty much anything without the citizens being aware).

    What came to light after Lunga’s beating is that there aren’t even laws about busking in the city – the city had been falling back on some Apartheid by-law which technically holds no power but busking is still viewed as nuisance, begging, to the point where myself and two friends where out busking and instead of asking for money we were giving away R5’s – as soon as you look at people they look away, disconnect. I feel it’s even worse if you;re a white busker in South Africa – white people will look at you as if you are betraying the race – lowering yourself to poverty… But all in all, if I stand outside a spar (franchise grocery store) and busk with a specific sign like “1 can of cat food please” some kind person will generally bring out a can for you… If you can do it quick enough before security tells you management doesn’t want you there…

    Check out these links for Lunga: https://www.google.co.za/search?q=lunga+goodman&oq=lunga+goodman&aqs=chrome..69i57.5743j0j7&sourceid=chrome&espv=210&es_sm=93&ie=UTF-8

    If you would like anymore on the history of busking in South Africa – it’s quite an amazing an intricate topic (and forms part of my master’s research) please don’t hesitate to contact me.

  • Mark Guttman

    THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGING AT THE FREE SPEECH AREA WITH MY OVER WEIRD FRIEND MADE MY DAY. WE PLAYED THE SONG THREE TIMES AND WERE WONDERFULY ANNOYING.

  • insignifikunt

    last time i “saw” a street performer was about 6 hours ago when i walked through the tunnel at central station sydney…

    the last time i “experienced” a street performer, and interacted with them, was last night on swanston street melbourne when i saw xanthea statue. i’ve seen her many times and she never fails to leave me choking back tears, or actually weep.

    i give her eye contact, love, money and blow her a kiss and she gives me a flower, and sometimes blows me a kiss back. yesterday i also gave her a note saying i love you.

    in sydney street performer/buskers are required to get permits. a lot busk without them though. they are very strict normally at pitt street mall and in circular quay. rules are that your permit must be displayed, you are not allowed to be amplified or sell CDs. no one actually abides by these rules though.

  • Crystal Mulrine

    I busked once, for 3 hours, in a nice shopping district in Richmond, VA on a busy Saturday. I had recently been inspired by your Ted Talk, and had been unemployed for a while. Finding money for food was hard, so with fevered passion and support from my Fiancee, I stayed up all night constructing a large wind-up key from cardboard, duct-tape, shoe-laces, and black paint. The next day, I played dress-up as a half-dutch-half-goth-looking ball-jointed ballerina doll, biked to Carytown, and set up.

    I stood perfectly still, with my eyes following passer-by, and as people would donate I would ‘plie’ and ‘pirouette’, dancing to music only I could hear, then approach my audience and offer a kiss on the hand, or a kiss blown to them, then freeze again. There was one little girl in particular who had such a big smile as I did this, and couldn’t take her eyes off of me as she walked away.

    However, the hurried construction of my main prop, the wind-up key, was showing. It had been falling apart as early as the bike-ride there. When my eyes were down, I felt someone softly adjusting the key, setting it where it should have been and patting down the weakening duct-tape. They came around, and I lock eyes with an old friend I had not talked to in a year or so. He looked surprised, and I did my routine. We still kept out of contact afterwards, but I feel for just that moment that we really connected again. It was nice.

    However, it had been a long 3 hours and though I got many enamored looks by those who passed, I had made $4 from 6 very generous strangers. My wind-up key had thrown in the towel, and therefore I had to as well. I was extremely discouraged, not concerned at all with how much I made/didn’t make, but embarrassed at my previous excitement, and failure of execution.

    I’ve wanted to try again since, but the memory of my discouragement on the ride home has kept me from making another key.

    • Crystal Mulrine

      This is my make-up and hair for busking-day. I was pretty proud of it, though it didn’t look nearly as good after I had finished.

    • lentower

      Go for it!

      With busking, practice does make perfect, and more $$$.

    • SitsUnderWaterfalls

      Keep at it!

  • Luci

    I used to live in a small Cathedral City in the UK. There’s sometimes street performers in the (pedestrianised) high street. This was a few years back now.

    I remember it was a clear mild day (or I wouldn’t have been outside) there was a guy who was on a literal soapbox in the middle of the street – he had a white board too. It must’ve been around Christmas time, or just before, as he was lecturing about the meaning of Christmas – and how the ‘Christ’ got forgotten. His whiteboard had examples of what people thought Christmas meant, and what it should and shouldn’t mean – apparently one of the things it shouldn’t be about is spending time with your family. He seemed pretty angry about the whole thing. I wondered about debating the point than Christ wasn’t born on December 25th, and that holiday predated Christianity anyways. I thought better of it and carried on walking.

    Further up the street, there was a guy in a suit with (I think) a bowler hat and his skin was all done in metallic paint. He was standing on something, and standing still – very still. When people put money in, he’d tip his hat or swerve towards them – make some kind of erratic robotic movement. He was, actually, fairly creepy – and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, just that the stillness was unnatural and the movement made you jump. The eye contact was intense and had a weight of personality; there was a slight edge to it as you didn’t know exactly what he’d do. Kids would run up and drop pennies in, then scream and laugh when he moved, and run away. I felt very conscious of my own shyness, but put some change in and we shared a moment before I ducked out of the way. I walked away smiling.

    The juxtaposition struck me. I’m not intending to be anti-Christian or anything like that, but here was two people – both standing in the street at the same time, both elevated standing on some kind of object. Both drawing attention and small crowds. But one’s telling people what to think and getting angry, and the other seems to just be…making people happy.

    • Luci

      In the same place I’ve seen a guy busk with a full piano. The logistics of that one took me by surprise – he was really good too. This is his facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pianobusker

      In Spain I’ve seen a dancing tree, and someone pretending to do magic and/or interacting with invisible objects, which was confusing as the crowd were all involved and going along with it (like he’d point at something that wasn’t there, and they’d all pretend it was). It was doubly confusing for me, as I didn’t speak Spanish…

  • Reznore

    Spend most of my life in some small town in France.Street performance ain’t really a thing.It can happen during some festival, such as La Fête de La Musique.
    But often the local towns organize something with a stage and everything.

    I’ve seen some band playing in the street (in bigger town though), people playing violin in the Paris metro , and painters.But I don’t remember seeing anything special.

    I’d say street performers tends to freak me out , but I can feel uneasy with a friend playing guitar in front of me , or just someone being very theatrical.So I guess I may not be the best public ever.
    I would probably run away from a living statue , just because I’ll be puzzled and start wondering what’s a living statue for , and what are you supposed to do around it?

    And for people busking , I’d say …try to make clear it’s a job and you’re asking for money.I mean I don’t remember giving money to any street performer I’ve come across.Well maybe the one which I thought were beggars …
    And since I didn’t know street performer was an actual job , chances are I probably thought half of them were beggars and the others half was doing it for fun or as a hobby.

  • JenB

    Bruce Springsteen was part of the folk generation that came up in Greenwich Villange in NYC playing at the Bottom Line. While he has become a “popular artist” in his career, he has maintained his identity as an artist with the “folk” tradition in terms of the spirit of how he plays. Billy Joel as well. I have never seen either perform live in person, but I really enjoy his work and especially enjoyed his “Seeger Sessions” album that came out in 2006. I hope it might be revisited in light of Pete Seeger’s recent passing.

    With respect to this book, if you really feel you simply must do it, that is fine.
    Personally, I REALLY WISH you were putting more energy at the moment into writing songs or touring. I’d love to see a Dresden Dolls tour as I came to you in 2009 after you went solo and have never had the opportunity to see you perform with Brian. There may be others in this camp. I don’t know.

    Anyway, good luck with the book. I’ll only add that there are a WHOLE LOT OF PEOPLE out there writing books but there is only ONE PERSON writing and performing songs like you. Just food for thought. xoxo, JenB

    • JenB

      This book has absolutely become the bane of my existence. I’m sorry.

  • Jessica

    Hi, Amanda. I busked once when I was at a Farmer’s Market. I was playing guitar and I used my guitar case as a hat. Most of the money that I got (I made eight dollars in an hour) was from passerby that didn’t listen to me for a second. One guy stayed and just stood there and listened to me play an entire song and walk away with a smile on his face. A group of teenagers nearly kicked over my guitar case and didn’t stop to help with it or say sorry. I liked the overall experience, I kept meaning to go back and do it again but I never did.
    I was in San Francisco the first time I saw some buskers. There was a street full of them and a crowd had formed around this “robot” and he was painted completely silver and he had this stereo that played robot-like noises and it was PERFECT because he moved right along to every single noise, like, immaculately, you know? And Little Girl me was stunned and awed and I loved it so much.

  • DD

    In places like Colombia and Mexico where I’ve lived, the distinction between begging and street performing becomes very blurred. First because of the sheer amount of beggars, and second because there are a lot of “performing” beggars (blind, crippled, impoverished people) whose performing is obviously in no way virtuosic/artistic but just a way to inspire even more pity. It is believed many of them don’t work independently but rather are enslaved and trafficked by large mafias who get most of their earnings. Even though it is not hard to distinguish what I would call “performing” beggars from actual performers, their inevitable coexistence does possibly (and subconsciously perhaps) create the wrong associations in the minds of the general public, particularly in those with little interest in the arts.

  • Alice Bremner Watt

    Hi Amanda,

    So, I’m not a street performer, but I was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, home to the Edinburgh Festival! I literally cannot remember the first time I saw a street performer, but I’m told I was about 18 months and completely enraptured by 2 acrobats performing half way down the royal mile. I have grown up every year of my life totally immersed in the Fringe. My mum and dad are big into jazz particularly and there is nothing quite like jazz in the middle of the street. (Don’t get me wrong, can’t beat sweaty underground basement jazz, no way no how.) I’ve only been to London a couple of times, but every time on the tube at night, when you see the musicians doing their thing in the underground stations, I am always the person who stops and watches them, getting in everyones way and grinning like an idiot. If I like it, I give them money. If I don’t, I give them money anyway because it’s music and they’re sharing it. Some of the best music or performances or living art installations have been street based and when I’m in a different city or country, the thing is makes me feel most is home.

    I hope that helps a bit
    Alice xx

  • Shesellsseashells

    In Liverpool, UK there is a guy who I presume is homeless. Over fifty, scruffy and with the greatest will in world- probably somewhat mentally perturbed. Rather than beg he will either sing a song loudly and often out of tune with a brightly coloured kid’s microphone or simply square dance to his own beat for money. This guy has become a local hero. Many just laughed at him but his sheer persistance in what he does means the good people of Liverpool can only admire him. What is more, the same people would protect this guy to the death if someone caused him trouble. He may be a ‘character’ but he is the city’s own and they admire him for doing something different.

  • Jason Divad

    Amanda,
    Thought I would share some thoughts,
    I grew up in Kansas City where I live currently. Street performing done well, with self-respect, is something I’ve always valued from my core. However, street performing in mid-America is scarce and to have the room for myself on a tall unicycle plus a little clearance plus enough room for a crowd plus being in a legal zone is, well, it’s frustratingly rare! I could perform for 3 or 4 hrs a week tops when it’s nice. Not much. The musicians, statues, and close up magicians take up less room and thus have a little more success. More power to them… But Kansas City is not the place for big circle shows.
    I started out as a teenager with my buddy. We thought, “What’s the worst that can happen if we just go out there and make damn fools of ourselves?!” So we did, and the rest is history. Apparently there is a niche for foolishness. We didn’t know that it would lead to a career.
    My whole life seems to be an effort to do the impossible. And so far, I’m succeeding. But street performing is not enough here in Kansas City; a performer has got to diversify and travel in order to make a living. I get to perform at some amazing festivals across the US. Sometimes I work for very little, sometimes I make a fortune(by my standards). Sometimes a check. Sometimes a hat full of tips. Anything from a small birthday party to a big contract for a weekend festival, with pool (awesome!). The quote, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get,” could have been first uttered, with a sigh, by a juggler.
    Well, I guess you can say, I’m keeping an eye out for the sexy, glorious chocolates… the ones that have a pool.
    In the winter time, which is my down time, and by “down time” I mean depressed and broke, I focus. All I do is focus. To the gym, Left throw. Right throw. Double spin. Pirouette. Again…. Now for some handstands… I focus on my skills and remind myself to keep making this my sole living because it’s the best thing I could hope for. It’s not a choice for me or at least that isn’t the way I see it… I just couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I don’t make much but I’m happy. And I always have that rich summer experience to look forward to… Oh, I can’t wait for that pool.
    But you wanted stories?! Here is a story:
    I was performing at a busker festival and for a volunteer I picked a crazy man. The locals knew the guy to be crazy. This was a small college town and this guy had a ruputation. I could tell by the weary response from the crowd as I pulled the guy to center. He helped me on the unicycle, that is to say, I climbed over him slowly and awkwardly, and I think he understood everyone’s laughter to be insulting.
    Now, this part of the show always gets a laugh at the volunteers expense, but for this guy, it was personal. He was fed-up and before I could shake his hand he was off down the road… the crowd giving an apathetic “Awww” mixed with laughter at the man.
    I jumped down from the unicycle and ran after him. I just wanted him to understand it was okay… So, I stopped him and gave him a hug. It might have been the hippie in me, but hugs work perfectly in most scenarios, hippie or not. He seemed genuinely uplifted as people clapped for the hug. I thanked him, and off he went with some integrity. And I continued the show which went really great from this platform of positive energy.
    I shared this story because I think it’s a beautiful example of what street performing does for people. We laugh at each other, but there seems to be a reconciliation, an understanding. Street performing says, we’re all different, but in the end we’re all on the same page. It makes you grab at what ties us together. Plus, I love nothing more than the honesty of a live show with unpredictable characters.
    I have found it to be a very difficult and humbling path… working for yourself, learning very difficult skills that might just set you apart from the rest, or might not, and coming up with a joke now and then that is actually funny!
    And when they clap, I know they have no real idea the work and sweat that went into it… But I forgive them. What I hope is that at least they connected to the show in some way. What can you do? Humility and gratefulness is where the bitterness subsides. And that shines in one of the closing lines I use in the show, “I am but a simple juggler! But today, I am a simple juggler with a crowd! For that, I thank you.”
    Jason
    http://www.jasondivad.com

  • shannon mcgowan

    I’m an outsider. and maybe it comes from where I grew up, but I never felt a special connection to street performers if I ever chanced upon them, usually during trips to Chicago. I experienced a strange kind of disconnect; I forgot that the bronze statue standing on a crate was actually a living person. I walked past, unfazed, and wondered why others seemed so fascinated with a man standing still as stone on top of a box. as I got older, I started to make the connection, and to wonder why people chose to perform on the street. then I experienced skepticism: should I give money? what will they use the money for? mostly, I grew curious. what story did these people have to tell? what had shaped or inspired them to perform? I was never brave enough to ask. but I did get brave enough to start giving money and to stop questioning why.

    right now I’m living in Jakarta, Indonesia, and when I take public transportation to work, there are often performers (always men or boys) who will jump on the bus with a guitar or ukulele and sing a song before handing around a taped-up old chips bag to collect money from passengers. sometimes I give and sometimes I don’t. but I always empathize and wonder what drove these people to make these choices and what their situation is. it has to be hard, spending your day playing and singing to people who ignore you or shake their heads when you ask for change.

  • Jennifer Otto- Lahr

    Good day to you,
    I was reading your blog and had almost forgotten my street performer experience back in 1989
    I went to New York that year and was seeing Les Miserable
    Great show, but I was blown away by the 1/2 ime show.
    The Musical was so long it had an intermission
    I was in the lobby and heard this addictive rythmn from out side.
    so i went out.
    There a group of younge guys age @13-21 were playing the funkiest drum set i had ever heard and all on 5 gallon plastic buckets plus they did acrobatic stunts over cars and stuff. I was 18 at the time and utterly blown away. The talent was fierce and true and i lost myself instantly.
    I was dancing clapping singing and so into it all I had to be drug back inside for the 2nd 1/2 of Les Mis.
    They collected $$ in their buckets and were very persuasive if you were not going to tip. I heard after the show that the cops asked them to leave. I tried to find them in the theater district but neverdid.
    i know druming on buckets is nothing new,but for a younge girl from Indiana I thouht it was.amazing. At hat moment I wanted to move to New York and

    dplay drums on a 5 gallon bucket.

  • minka

    My friend, I’ll call her Jessie, is a musician getting ready to put out her first record on a Real Record Label…she’s always been indie up till now. She’s a beautiful, successful, dedicated artist, who’s worked hard for her success.

    When we were both new to NY, we used to busk together in the subway, with me on accordion. As all buskers know, it’s important to find the right spot…where the acoustics are good, where folks can hear you before they see you, where they can drop dollars into the accordion case without breaking stride, where they can stop & listen if they want without blocking traffic, & most importantly, where station agents won’t complain about the “noise” & ask you to move on.

    We did OK…an average of $40 an hour in 2002. We played a mix of klezmer, French musette, Balkan & American folk music. In the subway, the crowd comes in waves as folks get off the trains, & we taught each other tunes in the lull. One beauty of busking is that the ever-changing audience allows you to repeat & perfect your material. And in NY, where everybody uses the subway — rich & poor, working folks & bums, musicians lugging instruments & families moving mattresses, symphony lovers, hip-hoppers, the Mayor, the circus clown — we got a wider audience than I’ve ever had before or since. The most unexpected people would give money; but it was also a triumph to wring a smile out of someone.

    Jessie had a dramatic & expressive playing style — she could make it look harder, sound faster, seem more virtuoso than it actually was — which I appreciated, as accordion requires total concentration from me. I could sing & we found that songs were always the biggest moneymaker — something about the human voice, I guess. Maybe because everybody has one? Or maybe it’s the first music most of us ever hear. Being a duo felt safer & more fun than being solo; & though I don’t think we made any more money together than I have alone, it was worth sharing.

    Eventually Jessie blew up in NY, in a way that I did not. As I say, she worked for it, & earned it. She learned to sing; she got an agent; one night she stopped by my place in Brooklyn & said, “Can I borrow some black shoes? I have to play backup tonight for Aretha Franklin!” She started playing clubs & concert halls, & touring, & had a couple movie cameos, & composed, & recorded with stars. I kept playing folk music, especially klezmer, & played many many Jewish weddings, & recorded on indie labels, & learned to be a good bandleader.

    I still go busking, because…well, first, it’s great to get paid for practicing. But even when it doesn’t pay so much in cash, there are other rewards. No setup; no pesky producers demanding changes; nobody else owns my performance or decides who has to pay what to hear me. Most of all, I love the feeling I get after singing for hours, singing my heart out with nobody listening, when it’s really just me & the muse & the one or two people who look back as they ride up the elevator. I remember the story of the acclaimed classical violinist Joshua Bell, who went completely unrecognized when he tried busking. I feel that I am giving something to the quality of life in the city: amid the traffic noises & train noises & shouting & crying & cursing, there’s me, there’s music. I am proud, as a busker, to give magic freely, & to accept what’s given back: dollars, smiles, subway tickets, flowers, dance steps.

    I also love the comraderie/competition among buskers: the competition for good spots; the unwritten code that if somebody got the good spot, it’s theirs, & you move on. Giving a busker a dollar that was given to me as a busker makes me feel that money is just something that circulates, you can give it & get it but there’s no point in hanging on to it. I read that whenever Edith Piaf saw a busker, she would shower on them everything that was in her purse. Me, I don’t turn down silver; it all adds up. I know people who’ve been given hundred-dollar bills, & I love the generosity of total strangers who tell me with their fives & tens that they like what I’m doing, they get it, they want me to live & go on doing it.

    I teach now, & I always encourage my students to go busking. One of them, a pretty girl with limited musical skill & a great wardrobe of 20s/30s dresses, made enough money to return to her native country for a visit. I think busking teaches what works, & what doesn’t, in the rawest, most direct way; but it also teaches the important lesson that you may be playing your very best & even if nobody else knows it, you do.

    So. Last year Jessie offered me a gig playing her uncle’s 70th birthday party, saying that she couldn’t do it, for whatever reasons. She advised me on how much money to ask (quite a lot), & set up a ride for me with some distant cousins. They seemed nice enough. The event was at a marina, they hired a food truck, there was boating, the family had money to spare. I tried not to hold it against them. In my experience rich people’s parties are not as fun as regular folks’. I stood on a grassy hill & played & sang & I think I had the best time of anybody there.

    On the way home, Jessie’s cousin asked how we’d met. I told them about busking together, & the oldest cousin said: “I would’ve liked to see that: Jessie begging for money in the subway!”

  • veedub

    i’m sure you know about this but just in case you don’t, i have three words for you about street performers: PLAYING FOR CHANGE. they do amazing things with street players in different countries who play with each other at a distance (they also have a band that tours now, but they started out as a recording-in-different-countries gig. and they raise money to start music schools in third-world countries. fucking AMAZING!

  • Alexander Gordon

    did he do Dancing in the Dark? (i Wouldn’t mind dancing in the dark with him) Do you know him & Patti Smith wrote Because the Night together?

  • Tory Gates

    Amanda, I wish you all success with the book! Just keep writing; everyone has their own style, but you sound a lot like me: sitting in a cafe or somewhere and just banging out the draft. However you do it, it’s good. I’ve written several over the past few years (I sent you a copy of my first, via Eric), and it is great exercise. I’ve learned a great deal about the English language and grammar (I should have paid a damned sight more attention in school, oh well…), and over time have learned how to shape stories to not only tell yours, but make it work. For me, writing is great therapy; I have managed to touch on areas of my life that I could not do before. As gut-wrenching as it has been at times, I needed to do it. Best thing? If you’ve ever written a song that you suddenly read the lyrics to or play, and YOU get moved? Then you know you did something right. Imagine what a reader or listener gets out of it. All the best!

  • Bryt MacG

    When I was 16, I went to San Francisco for the first time with a girl who I’d been friends with for 6 years online only- Id nearly just gotten off the plane in Reno before her family decided on the impromptu trip (there may have actually been a reason that I no longer recall). I remember riding the Muni with her to Japan town where we spent the day (and a LOT of money). We didn’t feel like riding the Muni back so we decided to walk. What we DIDN’T consider was that it was about 43 blocks to the hotel. We ALSO didn’t consider it might start pouring…torrentially. We kept walking anyway. And in those 43 blocks, I had an experience I will never forget: I played hopscotch in the rain with some little kids who also were braving the rain. While we played, an accordionist who’d been seeking shelter under a doorway began to play for us. He played while we played. In the rain. With a girl who I’d known for 6 years and only just met. I never got his name but I gave him the biggest sopping wet hug I could muster. By then we were turning blue and shaking so it was quickly apparent it was time to finish out the remaining 15 blocks, but I will NEVER forgot my Accordion Hopscotch in the Rain.

  • Lydia

    Yesterday I went to see Mamma Mia at the Orpheum theater in downtown Minneapolis. And after the show, there were three or four guys sitting outside the main door of the theaters, pounding on 5 gallon buckets. I didn’t spend much time watching them, though. I was swept out of the theater in a wave of middle aged white people. As I walked to my car which was parked a few blocks down, I could still hear it. It was like the heartbeat of downtown that night. I’ve seen a few other guys like them around Minneapolis/St. Paul, they’re usually outside of theaters after shows to get the most traffic. I follow an unspoken rule to not give people money, but I don’t know why that is. It’s like I feel dirty when I do, like I’ve fallen for a scam or something. The thing I forget is that these people are putting themselves out there, and it’s not an easy thing to do. I’d imagine it’d be similar to performing a 20 minute set at an open mic while everyone’s talking, and getting money is like getting a laugh, or applause. I’m also hesitant to give them money because I often don’t like the art they’re doing. I’m not a fan of loud drums, or sounds of trumpet that sound like loose strings. But the thing is, the main picture, is that these people are doing art. And I should support that. Because I want people to support my art. It’s unideal to simply receive, and neglect to receive. It’s unbalanced.

  • Lee Lah Sohn

    As a singer-song writer in Duluth, MN theres a short season of outdoor performing due to our extraordinary loooong ass winters. But, Every summer there is high traffic of tourists especially near an area called canal park right next to lake superior.

    So i utilize the space during these months and love to sing and play guitar and or banjo.

    Responses to this are usually the same, people are interested and walk by staring or stop for a tune before continuing on there way.

    One day i was situated on a brick wall. My ass was started to go numb and i was contemplating heading out soon.

    Than i noticed a man in his mid 30s off to the side having a smoke. When the song ended he clapped happily and asked to hear more. What?! I was still new at songwriting and was taken aback and yet flattered that someobe thought i was more then noise.

    So i played again to my only audince member and contemplated if this was awkward? normal? cool? Creepy? I was essentially croaking out blender version snippets of my life.

    Again he clapped and i thanked him and asked him his name in exchange for mine. What followed was a sweet conversation about happiness, music, sharing, and communicating. He borrowed my guitar and played me wagon wheel and told me a story of how it reminds him of his mother.

    Shortly after his song we went seperate ways.

    What i learned was the undeniable truth that music goes beyond communication barriers. And people are drawn to truth and art and have a desire to share it.

    And i dont think its weird or creepy or cool or normal. I think its human communication at its best :)

  • Athena Reich

    Hi! Here is a poem for you about my busking experience and beneath that is a little recap to give you context but I can elaborate more if you are interested! Thanks Amanda – your creativity is contagious!

    I CAME TO NEW YORK AND PAINTED MYSELF GOLD

    I came to New York
    and painted myself gold

    Dreaming loving lusting
    frenetic ambition
    a sea of backwards madness

    Overpopulated rats
    are buzzing and screaming
    I am laughing in passion and rage

    I came to New York
    and painted myself gold

    On a pedestal I stood

    frozen

    in the heart
    of Times Still

    My heart stretches thin
    like toffee
    I am laughing in lonely rage

    My heart pulls tight
    like a membrane
    it is an eardurm
    I listen

    In the absence of faces and noises
    God holds my hand

    I came to New York
    and painted myself gold

    I am from another era
    I am out of context

    There is a void underneath my feet
    There are gaping holes in my body

    * * *

    I came to New York
    and searched for bottomless eyes

    We met clingy and sweaty
    a passion unrelenting
    you are my breath
    I am your purity

    I want to pry open your chest
    crawl inside your ribcage
    curl around your heart
    thump thump

    I came to New York
    and searched for bottomless eyes

    We lie in bed for days
    tightly interwoven,
    weight pressing in
    I realize I am starving

    I drink from your love divine
    more and more, I cry
    you pour and pour into me
    I am becoming addicted

    I realize I am a bottomless bucket
    never to be filled
    it’s dangerous cause I’m so deprived

    I came to New York
    and searched for bottomless eyes

    * * *
    My tongue,
    don’t you want my tongue?
    I cut it especially for you
    Now I must scream to be heard.

    I stabbed my throat
    so you could speak
    I pierced needles in my nipples
    for your drink

    all milk has drained

    I am left
    empty and dull

    you have exhausted me

    * * *

    Now I am in the wait

    I fill my days with arbitrary tasks
    I am lost in endless variation
    moment to moment without meaning
    between each heartbeat I cry

    * * *

    I came to New York
    and painted myself gold

    Dreaming loving lusting
    in sweet surrender
    we silenced the buzzing

    I came to New York
    and searched for love unrelenting

    In purity and faith
    I gave you my heart
    in fear you laughed
    and pushed me away

    * * *

    Your smile now cracks
    with smoke filled wrinkles
    your hand reaches out
    in selfish greed

    My love for you is dying rapidly.

    HOW I STARTED BUSKING

    I started busking when I was 16 by singing & playing guitar but when I moved to NY from Toronto at 21 I needed to make more money to survive. I discovered that if I just stood still in Times Square, people gave me more money than if I played guitar. I painted myself gold and I was the first gold statue at that time in NYC (it was 2001 and all the other statues were silver). I did this for 3 years and it was my source of income. I would make $45 an hour doing and so would only need to work about 10 hours a week to support myself. This freed me up to pursue other artistic endeavors such as being a singer/songwriter and actress. I was able to book tours across North America as a musician and perform in a lot of downtown theater. It helped me establish myself here in NYC. If it weren’t for busking, I wouldn’t have had the time or flexibility to create a career for myself in the arts. I must be in millions of Japanese photo albums.. I can’t tell you how many Japanese tourists were obsessed with getting my photo. Every now and then guys would throw garbage at me and it scared me and started to wear on my nerves. After a few years the cops started cracking down on buskers (even though we were not breaking any laws) and it became more difficult. I started working as a music teacher and making more money as a performer in other ways but I knew I never had to take any work that paid less than $45 an hour as I could always make that on the streets. So I was able to approach other work with a certain standard, which helped me focus on finding really good work.

  • Jen

    I hope I’m not too late to the party! So about 15 years ago I was at University in Athens (Greece), and was taking a statistics class. We all had to do a social experiment of sorts, so the class decided that one half would go out on the streets, dress one of their guys up as a homeless person and he would beg for money (they rolled him on dirty cars, painted track marks on his arm, made him a sign, the whole thing), while the other (my half) would busk on a different street in the same neighborhood and then we would compare our results. We ended up making about the same amount of money but we had completely different experiences. My group had to ask permission from the shop owners around where we would be so they wouldn’t call the police to clear us off, and then we started. I have never done something so difficult in my life, singing for money in front of strangers. But then the owner of the jewelry shop came out, picked up our hat and started chasing tourists down the street with a “what! you can’t stop for a minute to listen to these girls sing??? what’s wrong with you! GIVE THEM YOUR MONEY”. About a half an hour later, a motorcycle showed up with a pizza that another shopkeeper had ordered for us. Half an hour after that, when we had sung a Greek song about Tsiporo (a Greek alcohol that will dissolve your teeth), yet another shopkeeper came out with a bottle of his own and shot glasses for everyone and drank with us while we sang it again. They totally screwed the experiment but it was a moment that completely changed my life. We went from “scared out of our minds what the hell were we thinking” to partying with the local shop owners, who thought what we were doing was so amazing. But having to give such a personal part of yourself up to people who are busy with their own lives is, well, I’m not sure I could do it again, but that those three old guys showed us so much love when we just expected to be tolerated by them (and honestly, they had stores to tend to) was really humbling. We met up with the other team later on and they had a story that a businessman actually stopped and bought the “begging” student lunch. I don’t mean gave him a sandwich, I mean took him to a restaurant and ate lunch with him. He said it was the hardest thing in the world accepting it and not being able to tell the guy the truth about why he was out there. In the giant sea of people who do not give a fuck, there are a few that make it all worth it. The days I decide I’ve had enough of humanity, this is one of the times I think of to come out the other side :-)

  • http://batman-news.com Cristina Genao

    Hi, Amanda Fucking Palmer.
    My name is Cristina and I feel like what I do at my school is a way of busking. In middle school, everything is so boring. It’s like no one get’s to do anything spontaneous because of discipline codes and “social acceptability,” whatever THAT means. So, I changed the rules. I took memorable lyrics from ythe song “Hey Moon” by Panic! At The Disco and cut out about 172 pieces of paper, with different lyrics written on them. I put them in a box and the next day I went to work. Every person I saw that day I gave a slip of paper and a smile. They didn’t know what it was, or who I thought I was giving them out, but it sure surprised them. People asked, “What does it mean?” But I’d be silent. Because it wasn’t about what it meant. It was about what it meant for THEM. I don’t know if this is truly busking, but I know it brings some spontaneoity to someone’s day. Yesterday I brought BALLOON ANIMALS to school, just to see what everyone would think. Some laughed, some were indifferent. They still ask, “why are you doing this? what’s it for?” and this time, I go, “Why not?” I ask for nothing in return, because really, it feels great, and as I said before, why not?

  • Marzipans11

    Busking!!
    I’m sure I’ve seen street performers before, but the first that springs to mind is visiting San Fran (is that Busking Central? Busking Haven? Busking Heaven?? Seems like it. At least for the West Coast.) and being very impressed a living statue– a man in a suit spray painted silver. He did a little robot thing and then doffed his hat when I tipped him 5. I was a teenager and amazed at the act and the concept (also, he was cute.) That was the first of many buskers I saw that trip but still the one that stands out.
    Here in Reno we have plenty of beggars, especially since the crash, but not many buskers! I can only think of two in the past year– a man who juggles tennis balls and flips his hat when you tip him, and another guy who played Christmas carols (badly) on the saxophone downtown last December. I tipped them both all the money I had, and polled my Facebook asking for people’s opinions on buskers. Maybe I just have good taste in friends, but popular opinion matched mine– buskers are vastly preferable to beggars in Reno! I’ll give a beggar food if I have any, but I will not give them money because I don’t know where it will be going and I’d rather not enable an addiction (Nevada is addiction central, after all.) I want to encourage street performers in Reno (and so do my peeps) so I’ll give them whatever I have, anytime.
    I realize that I may be causing offense by drawing a parallel between buskers and beggars (I also realize that I may be causing offense simply by posting my opinion on the Internet.) I feel that some more conservatively-minded people DO feel that there is no difference between people who earn their money on the street, regardless of whether that’s by entertaining others, looking pathetic, or (hey, this IS Nevada), selling their bodies. Obviously I don’t hold that opinion– art in any form should be encouraged, and street performers lend a loveliness to our otherwise dismal streets where beggars (…and prostitutes…) really drive down the aesthetic. However, if this has come up for you before I feel like that would be worth address, too– what does busking MEAN to the public? Does it vary by city (are San Franner’s as sick of performers as Parisians are of mimes?), by ideology (damn conservatives spoil all the fun– KIDDING!), by definition (IS busking begging, or are the ethics of earning money on the street in the eye of the beholder?)? WHY do people equate begging with busking (seriously, I’m not sure.)? What about safety? I recall you saying that your hat had been burgled before– is it more common now for the performer themselves to be attacked?
    I loved reading all the comments and learning of the experiences of performers and public alike; I was shocked to hear that mob-enforced pity-inducing busking is a thing (shouldn’t surprise me, but doesn’t that seem more like it’s on the line of begging?? I honestly don’t know if I would tip a busker I felt sorry for.) Also that aerial acts don’t pay well, since I’d love to see one! Thanks Amanda, for again and as usual providing a platform for people to (respectfully) share their stories and learn about each other. It seems to be your gift. :)

  • Guest

    Meow!

    I spend a lot of my free time busking in a really cool
    little mountain town in Arizona. Jerome is small and quaint, and we get lots of
    tourists coming through which makes it a great place to sit out on a bench in
    the sun and sing away to the happy passing travelers. I mostly play guitar and
    ukulele using an open empty case as a hat. Looking back, I am trying to think
    of a bad experience I’ve had while busking, but nothing comes to mind! I have
    been doing it mostly just for fun for at least four years now, and I can say
    with a smile that I have had countless wonderful experiences. I wouldn’t
    exactly say I consider myself to be introverted, but I do tend to be
    somewhat… awkward in everyday situations. Busking has allowed me to
    connect with people of all ages and demographics from all over the world
    on a whole new level. It has taught me never to judge based on
    appearance, because even the most unsuspecting people appreciate art,
    music, and the small wonderful things in life. From being involved in some
    great conversations, being joined by awesome musicians, and the locals
    buying me beer, to the looks of awe and excitement by the passing
    children. These are just a few of the things that make busking great. One of
    the most memorable encounters I’ve had was when one day I noticed a girl taking photos of me, which is not unusual, so I pay hardly any mind and
    continue singing on. A while later the girl comes back with a huge smile on her
    face, she asks for my address saying that she really enjoyed hearing me
    play, had captured a great picture and would like to share it
    with me. She was very nice and her enthusiasm totally made my day. Months later when I had almost forgotten about it, I had just got off from a long stressful
    day at work when my boyfriend presents a strange package addressed to me. I
    opened it with confusion having no clue as to what it could be. To my surprise
    was a wonderfully done print of me playing ukulele that day. I wish I could
    thank her! The picture hangs in my room as a daily reminder of how beautiful
    and thoughtful strangers can be. Sharing art with others is therapeutic and
    necessary in surviving creatively as an artist. I am grateful for all the
    wonderful exchanges I have been a part of and I hope to keep them coming!

    Tara Lynn Walrus

  • TaraLynnWalrus

    Meow!

    I spend a lot of my free time busking in a really cool little mountain town in Arizona. Jerome is small and quaint, and we get lots of
    tourists coming through which makes it a great place to sit out on a bench in
    the sun and sing away to the happy passing travelers. I mostly play guitar and
    ukulele using an open empty case as a hat. Looking back, I am trying to think
    of a bad experience I’ve had while busking, but nothing comes to mind! I have
    been doing it mostly just for fun for at least four years now, and I can say
    with a smile that I have had countless wonderful experiences. I wouldn’t
    exactly say I consider myself to be introverted, but I do tend to be
    somewhat… awkward in everyday situations. Busking has allowed me to
    connect with people of all ages and demographics from all over the world
    on a whole new level. It has taught me never to judge based on
    appearance, because even the most unsuspecting people appreciate art,
    music, and the small wonderful things in life. From being involved in some
    great conversations, being joined by awesome musicians, and the locals
    buying me beer, to the looks of awe and excitement by the passing
    children. These are just a few of the things that make busking great. One of
    the most memorable encounters I’ve had was when one day I noticed a girl taking photos of me, which is not unusual, so I pay hardly any mind and
    continue singing on. A while later the girl comes back with a huge smile on her
    face, she asks for my address saying that she really enjoyed hearing me
    play, had captured a great picture and would like to share it
    with me. She was very nice and her enthusiasm totally made my day. Months later when I had almost forgotten about it, I had just got off from a long stressful
    day at work when my boyfriend presents a strange package addressed to me. I
    opened it with confusion having no clue as to what it could be. To my surprise
    was a wonderfully done print of me playing ukulele that day. I wish I could
    thank her! The picture hangs in my room as a daily reminder of how beautiful
    and thoughtful strangers can be. Sharing art with others is therapeutic and
    necessary in surviving creatively as an artist. I am grateful for all the
    wonderful exchanges I have been a part of and I hope to keep them coming!

    Tara Lynn Walrus

  • SyraKris

    The local street performer that made the most profound emotional connection with me is Walter Palmer from Rochester, NY, also known as Walter the Accordion Man. He’s something of a local legend, and there is a great feature about him here http://www.rochestersubway.com/topics/2014/01/meet-walter-rochester-accordion-man/
    But I have more personal memories.
    In October of 2000 Walter was playing outside the Water Street Music Hall while concert goers waited for the doors to open to a Sunny Day Real Estate show. The crowd was singing “Take me out to the ballgame” along with him and I thought it was such a cool moment, this old guy with an accordion completely connecting with a young “emo” crowd. It was awesome, but it got even better. They finally let us into the show and just before the opening act was supposed to start, the drummer from SDRE came on stage to announce that the opening act couldn’t play because one of the band members had cut his hand, but that he’d found a local replacement act. He brought Walter the Accordion man on stage and the place went CRAZY. Everyone sang along with him to songs like “You are My Sunshine” and I have never seen so many genuine smiles at a concert. After the show the Accordion Man was right back outside playing for the crowd as they left. I don’t remember much about the SDRE performance, but I’ve never forgotten Walter Palmer and I bet that no one else at that show has, either.
    If I have time I’ll post a few other memories of Walter from over the years.

  • http://anarchycupcakes.wordpress.com AnarchyCupcakes

    I grew up in a busking family, watched my dad and brother play guitar and folk instruments on street corners all over America. It was always amazing to me how embarrassed people seemed to be to stop and listen, or if they weren’t embarrassed to stop and listen, to actually give money. Often, at street fairs, people would send their children up with money.

    Later, in my teens and 20’s I did quite a bit of busking myself, mostly all by myself. I really wanted a partner to interplay with when things were slow or when crowds turned surly, but not everyone I could play with on stage seemed to get the different approach of busking. They would suddenly be shy or weirdly act like they were on some big stage. So I hauled my guitar around alone. In Lansing Michigan someone told me I needed a permit to play on the street, unless I was on the sidewalk in front of a business that gave permission. The wonderful owner of the bookstore The Way Station let me busk, provided me with a stool if I wanted it, and let me keep my tip jar behind the counter so I didn’t have to haul it around. He loved it if I covered Beatles songs and helped me work on banter with the crowd, which I was just learning. You gotta have an arsenal of things to say back both good and bad, and also be quick on your feet with wit.

    One time I was in Atlanta, Georgia with my brother and his friend and we were walking by some kind of underground parking area, and there was a guy busking, just playing some really heartbreaking soulful beautiful saxophone to whomever was passing by. There was no one around, but he was still playing with everything. My brother backtracked to give him money and his friend said sort of disgustedly “He always does that, he always gives money to Those People”. I think it was the first time that I realized that some people thought that Buskers were all homeless.

    I don’t busk anymore, but I think I use something from those experiences every day. I can’t think of a better school.

  • chloé lep

    i am an outsider.
    i have been traveling around the southern tip of south america for a year now, mostly with buskers and streetwhatevers of any kind. here its kind of the official indie way to travel : people decide to leave for a few months, no ones got any spare cash, just grab an instrument, some coloured strings and wire, and start selling hand-made jewellery, sing in the buses, anything. if you dont have the skill yet youll be sure to meet someone who will teach you. when you perform you mostly work the traffic lights, ive seen clowns, experimented ballet dancers, unicyclers, especially in chile, bolivia, or you do it in the marketplace and exchange songs for food…
    the story i always tell is of these three childhood friends, 18 year olds who’d hit the road just as they were out of high school, who didnt seem to have either cash or any of the tools of the trade. when i asked what they lived off, one of them whipped out a silk handkerchief, and did this little basic 5-second trick where the handkerchief disappears. they’d been living off these five seconds at the traffic lights for two months, and they were having the time of their lives.
    good luck with that book. ill sure as hell be reading it.

  • Missy Bell

    I love street performance and my husband has busked with his songs and guitar many times and made a little bit of extra cash. We took our kids to Festival of Fools in Burlington, VT and they fell in love with the whole thing. Right now we live on the road in a converted school bus and they sometimes set up chairs near the road in campgrounds where we’re staying and playing ukelele and beat on sand buckets for drums. The most they’ve made is $2.75 and part of it was Canadian money. Mostly people thought they were cute and didn’t realize what they were actually doing. My daughter was a little frustrated and didn’t get why her ukelele playing (she strums without any notes or chords, just strums randomly – she is 5) didn’t garnish more in the way of wages. As we travel the country, they’ve dropped dollars and cents into many a busker’s hat. Our most recent experience was in San Francisco. A guy was busking and had some CDs out on a table. He sounded GREAT so we bought one. He had a sign asking for $10 for a CD so we dropped two fives in his hat and grabbed a CD. We got to listen to it on the ride home. And finally – I have never performed on the street, but I was a living statue for a gala full of extremely wealthy people. I played Amelia Earhart for a three hour gig. People stood around me and took pictures. Drunk people poked me to see if I was real. People who knew me from other places and plays squealed “I KNOW her!” It was odd. I enjoyed it, but sometimes felt dehumanized by the way they treated me as an actual statue, even though they knew I was alive – and some of them knew me personally.

  • Missy Bell

    Oh – after reading these, I wanted to add – worst experience with a street performer was also at Festival of Fools. A guy did a guitar and rock show performance that was mediocre at best and afterward said he worked hard and if you were thinking about putting less than $5 in his hat you might as well just leave because your money wouldn’t be worth it to him. I always give something to street performers if I have something to give, and I felt so offended by this – affronted and angry – the shows were advertised as free and if a little kid wanted to put in 25 cents I felt like he should have welcomed the exchange.

  • arcane.nights

    The first time I went busking, I went with two friends. We made about $30 in the afternoon, and it was an educating experience. We were a bit nervous, and sat on a bench playing guitars and ukuleles and singing. I learned that you have to make your voice heard, and considering I saw a guy with both an accordion and a monkey walking down the street and setting up on a footbridge, you can do literally anything as a busker.

  • https://www.facebook.com/LamplightCircus Sebastian

    I’m a busker, and here’s how it works in Melbourne.
    The council likes you to give them $20 & attend an information session (they run every couple of months) on safety, but you can get away with not doing so for a while. If you want to do a walk-by act (which is where you set up an instrument or something that people can look at for a few minutes on their way past; juggling, contact juggling, living statue, there’s one really excellent puppeteer called Splatt around here, too. For these acts you’ll probably have a hat on the ground, and people will pay what they feel like paying when they see you, or just before theyb leave), the high-traffic areas are Swanston Street & Southbank. You can do it other places,
    but that’s where the money is.
    You find a pitch, make sure you’re not blocking the way too much, and you can stay put for two hours before it’s someone else’s turn, then you set up somewhere else; rinse & repeat.
    If you want to do circle or alcove shows, Southbank is where you’ll start. There are two pitches down there, the main one (the Esso pitch, beside the Esso building) and the practice pitch (Red Square).
    Circle & Alcove shows are structured shows which should be watched all the way through to be appreciated. You generally won’t put your hat out until the end, with this sort of show, but people seem to make more money with these shows anyway.
    You need at least fifteen minutes of material before you can do the main pitch, and you’ll want to show up at 11 am on Friday, Saturday, Sunday & any public holiday, because that’s how you get your name put in the hat. Names are drawn out of the hat, and that’s the order in which you’ll get to pick your timeslots for the day.
    You can perform at Red Square whenever nobody else is (unless there’s a big event on, in which case there will probably be a draw for it, too).
    If you’re willing to do a extra audition for the council, you can also get a spot in the Bourke Street Mall, which is a golden venue for circle shows & big musical acts, because people in Bourke Street are there to spend.
    Now, I have a circle show and a basic contact-juggling walkby act, but I’m mainly a traffic-light busker.
    My show is 40 seconds long; I spin poi while my partner juggles, then he stands on my shoulders & juggles some more, then we bow & open our hats to the appreciative crowd.
    The hecklers occasionally doppler past, we’ve been given figs, chewing gum, chocolate, soft toys & a formidable collection of foreign coins (two of my collaborators took their collections off to spend in the coins’ respective countries of origin)…because we’re in the same spot so regularly, we’ve begun developing a fanbase, and they seem even happier to see us now than they did when they first spotted us.
    I feel so much more connected to the money I earn by making people happy than I do to my wages from other jobs. When I’ve made an act & taken it to an audience I really feel like I’ve earnt my fee, and that it’s entirely secondary to the smiles I’ve helped happen.
    A day performing is the surest way I know to get to sleep happy.

  • Chloe Hollingsworth

    Hi, Amanda!

    I know I’m rather late to the game, but I wanted to send you some of my experiences busking. I’m a twenty-four-year-old classically trained singer, and I’ve been singing opera, art songs, and musical theatre a capella in San Francisco and Berkeley BART stations for going on five years now. Due to the nature of the style I sing, I can only do it once or twice a week, for an hour and a half or two at a time. However, in an hour and a half to two hours, I typically make between $30 and $60, which isn’t bad at all. People seem to appreciate the relative novelty of what I do; all the time, passersby will tell me that it’s nice to see a performer who *isn’t* singing pop and folk songs while strumming along to a guitar. However, this being the Bay Area, you do also see a fair number of classical musicians. One of the first fellow buskers I befriended is a marvelous cello player, another is a Julliard-trained baritone, there are at least three classical guitarists out there that I know of, and there’s more than one string quartet that comes out and plays once in a while. (Of course, many of those who *do* sing and play guitar are wonderfully talented and enjoyable to listen to in their own right!)

    I first started doing this in downtown Berkeley on September 16th, 2009 – my twentieth birthday. I had just lost a job I really loved, and I was coming back into Berkeley after gathering the last of my belongings from my workplace, hurting and feeling rather lost. A song began playing in my head: “Another Suitcase In Another Hall” from “Evita” – fitting, considering the circumstances. And I’m sure you know how it is: music just builds up in your system, and you feel like you’ll burst at the seams if you don’t vent it somehow. In downtown Berkeley, there really was no place I could go to do it privately, and I *needed* to feel better ASAP. So I set my things down in front of (what used to be) a Tully’s Café, and I began to sing “Another Suitcase In Another Hall”. I didn’t care if anybody looked at me funny; this was for me.

    However, it wasn’t long before a small crowd began to gather. When I reached the end of the song, they applauded! I was fairly stunned, but with one of the strangers’ encouragement, I began to sing something else; “Ah! je ris de me voir”, also known as the Jewel Song from “Faust”, if I recall correctly. It was nice to hear passersby tell me how beautiful I sounded . . . that even in the wake of being rejected by my now-former boss and coworkers, I was still able to do *something* right.

    After I finished the aria, a young man told me, “You know, if you’d only had a hat or something in front of you, you probably could have made a good twenty bucks by now.” So I walked down the block and across the street to Walgreens, bought myself a UC Berkeley baseball cap, went back to my previous spot, set it down, and sang every soprano song I knew for the next two hours. By the end of my stint, I had made $52 dollars, and my self-esteem had soared.

    Since then, I’ve made many friends through my busking – fellow buskers, regular BART passengers, even some of the homeless and panhandlers at Powell Station (where I primarily perform nowadays). I’ve even managed to get a handful of paid gigs through it, though most people who say they’re going to call or email me regarding a paid gig never do, or respond to my emails. Sometimes, there have been other buskers who have tried to encroach
    upon my space and compete with me for money – which makes no sense whatsoever, because not only is it incredibly rude, but if two performers are competing with each other, someone passing by is going to register the cacophony as just more noise to be tuned out, and the only place that person’s money will go is into the ticket kiosk. However, I also seem to have something of a reputation as someone who is Not Willing to Put Up With That Shit – goodness knows I don’t like confrontation, but I’m not afraid of it, either – so that almost never happens anymore.

    Aside from the money, it’s made me a much better performer, which is why I highly recommend that any performer try busking for at least a little while. I used to get stage fright, when I was first starting out; now, I can’t even remember what stage fright feels like anymore. Being forced to compete with a lot of surrounding noise has vastly improved my ability to project, too – if I’m singing in downtown Berkeley, for example, people will tell me that they heard me a whole two or three blocks away! Considering how busy and loud downtown Berkeley can be, that’s no small achievement.

    You also learn to roll with the punches, no matter what curveballs are thrown at you. For example – as you well know – there are always those who feel it’s their sacred duty to be an outspoken and needlessly blunt critic. I understand that opera is not everyone’s cup of tea. I understand that the soprano voice isn’t, either. But most people have the decency to just walk on by and not say anything if what I sing doesn’t appeal to them, you know? Yet at least once every other week, a middle-aged woman in frumpy clothing with all kinds of venom in her – and seven times out of ten, it’s someone fitting that description; the other three out of ten is without fail a teenage girl who thinks it’s funny to “imitate” me and tell me I suck – will feel the need to complain loudly in my earshot about how terrible she thinks my repertoire and voice are, that it’s not “real” music. (Where do these people think modern music came from, then?) Some of them will practically shout her opinion to other people, total strangers. Half the time, they’re grinning as they insult me, as if they think they’re doing me a favor. I’m not even offended at such commentary; for every one person who tells me I suck, I always get twenty to thirty other people telling me that I sound beautiful (and at least thirty more dollars, usually more), so those middle-aged women and young girls would appear to be in the minority. What offends me is the gusto and glee with which they attempt to tear me down – and I get the feeling that it wouldn’t matter who I was or how perfectly I sang, because having the opportunity to be so awful for the sake of it is the important thing to them. The hubris of people who try to tear random strangers down *for pleasure* is really quite astonishing.

    So I respond to them with gusto and glee of my own: the second I hear someone criticizing me, I sing *even louder*, just to piss her off. It’s actually kind of fun! Even more so when passersby and other panhandlers/homeless people step in and defend me.

    And it works, most of the time. There was, however, the time when a panhandler (another middle-aged and unhappy woman, who appeared to be homeless) was shouting at me to stop my “screaming” (“The only reason people are giving you money is because they feel sorry for you, making a fool of yourself like that!”) and getting awfully close to me, before a kind man stepped between me and her (and started recording her on his phone, thank goodness), and the station attendants warned her to leave and called the police. She then threatened to beat me down and rob me once I stepped out of the station. Needless to say, I took the train out of there — but not before stuffing my, ahem, special (read: pointy) keychain in my bra, where I could easily access it should I have needed to. At least the adrenaline rush helped me hit those high notes a bit more easily, but Jesus. That was easily the worst panhandler I’ve ever encountered in all the time I’ve been busking. It was not the first time the police have been called by passersby who were concerned about homeless folks and panhandlers harassing me, though. (Let me take this opportunity to point out that most of the panhandlers and homeless people I encounter either don’t bother me at all or are very kind to me. Sometimes, they even give me some of their own change and refuse to take “no” for an answer. I know that some of them are actively watching my back. So I try to take care of them in turn, when I’m able to spare a dollar or two.)

    But hey, the harassment is actually better for business than you might expect. Other people see a crazy person harass me for a bit, then take it upon themselves to apologize on her (almost always a her, with maybe two exceptions ever) behalf and give me more money.

    Yet these experiences are far outnumbered by positive reactions. I always wave at young children as they pass by; not only does it brighten their day, but as I discovered once I started making a habit of it, their parents will often hand them money to put in my bowl. Children and parents alike rather enjoy “Once Upon a Dream” from “Sleeping Beauty”; once, a little girl even asked me if I was a princess! And oh, I’ll never forget the little boy (he couldn’t have been older than three) who ran away from his mother’s side to visit with me. The first time he came up to me, he smiled really wide, returned my wave, and ran off. The second time, he stood right in front of me, stared at me for several precious seconds, smiled again, and ran off. The *third* time, he hugged me for about five seconds. The *fourth and fifth* times, he tried to be very helpful by reaching into my bowl and handing a dollar to me. I don’t remember how much money I made that day, but I do remember that kid.

    Other people will drop flowers or snacks into my bowl in lieu of money, which of course I appreciate (a lady has to eat, right?). Still others will make a point to tell me that while they don’t have any money they can spare, they sure wish they did; or they’ll put a few pennies or a nickel in my bowl with the most apologetic look on their face and bemoan the fact that they can’t give me more. Hell, I don’t care. The fact that they’re even listening is payment enough for me.

    I’d be lying, however, if I said I wasn’t doing this partly for survival. Songs like “O mio babbino caro”, Schubert’s “Ave Maria”, “Danny Boy”, and anything from “The Phantom of the Opera” are gorgeous pieces, don’t get me wrong . . . but
    God, they are *done to death*. I prefer songs that are, if not lesser-known, at least not used in every TV commercial and movie ever. But they’re the ones everybody knows and loves, and thus they’re typically the biggest moneymakers for me; so I sing them anyway. That said, the first few minutes of the Mad Scene from “Lucia di Lammermoor” is a staple I’m just fine with: not only am I a coloratura soprano who’s drawn to that kind of aria anyway, but it’s popular with sci-fi fans who saw “The Fifth Element” in their formative years – and there are plenty of those in the Bay Area!

    When the Game Developers Conference happens in San Francisco, that’s the perfect opportunity to sing “Aria di Mezzo Carattere” from “Final Fantasy VI”, or “Lament of the Highborne” from “World of Warcraft”, or “Cara Mia” from “Portal 2″. (Why, yes, I *am* a nerd.)

    I’m currently looking for a stable office job, but once I find one, I still plan to make it out whenever I can and sing. The number of people who have told me that I’ve made their day better by singing out there – even that my singing has helped ease their physical pain, which astounds me – is so large that I almost feel like it’s a sacred duty. So many people have told me I ought to audition for the San Francisco Opera, or “America’s Got Talent”, or “The Voice”, or what have you. But truth be told, I can’t really imagine that being a better venue for me; it’s hard to see individual people in the audience when you’re blinded by stage lights, and in an opera or musical theatre performance, you can’t reach out and touch them. It’s the connection with other people I crave most of all.

    Once, I was packing up my things and getting ready to leave for the day, singing a less demanding song to “cool down” as I organized my bills and change: “Sympathy, Tenderness” from Frank Wildhorn’s
    musical “Jekyll and Hyde”. As I sang the final verse, “It’s a memory I know time will never erase,” a middle-aged woman approached me with a dollar in her hand and tears in her eyes. She was wearing a button on her shirt that had a picture of a young man, along with his birth and death dates. “That song reminds me of my son,” she said, pointing to the button. “Thank you so much.” We shared a hug. Then she went her own way, smiling through her tears.

    Even if the rest of my experiences with people in all four and a half years of singing on the street had been mediocre to terrible, that one encounter would have been worth it all.

  • Barnaby

    The first time I ever saw a street performer was in covent garden in good old London. They too were a living statue, painted all in bronze standing on top of a small pillar. It was the first non busking street performer I’d ever seen. I must have spent 10 minutes trying to figure out if it really was a person. (I was 11 or 12 years old I think) was the first time in my life I realised music wasn’t the only form of viable street art. Still remember it to this day.

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