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Commentary :: Politics
Interacting With Street Performers
22 May 2006
The behavior of the public is bizarre as seen through the eyes of a street performer (aka “busker”). For instance, today I was busking a street fair in Seattle, and these yuppie women leaned down and nicely placed their hot pink yoga studio ad upright in my guitar case, as if I am a billboard for them. I said, “Could you please take your advertising out of my case?” and they acted offended! So let’s just start right here with Rule #1. Do not throw your trash, or your personal advertisements, in street performers’ cases.
Interacting With Street Performers
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)

The behavior of the public is bizarre as seen through the eyes of a street performer (aka “busker”). For instance, today I was busking a street fair in Seattle, and these yuppie women leaned down and nicely placed their hot pink yoga studio ad upright in my guitar case, as if I am a billboard for them. I said, “Could you please take your advertising out of my case?” and they acted offended! So let’s just start right here with Rule #1. Do not throw your trash, or your personal advertisements, in street performers’ cases.

Rule #2 is street performers are not a free babysitting service. I cannot tell you how many times people have plopped their little children down in front of me and literally walked away to shop at nearby crafts booths. Today, a guy let his toddler, she was maybe 2, go right up into my case and start pulling dollar bills out! Did the parent stop this child? No, I did. And for years, I hired a babysitter to watch MY child while I busked and it made me extra mad that I ended up watching someone ELSE’S kid while I tried to work when I just paid someone to watch my kid to work! So, you are still responsible for your kid when near buskers and do not leave them alone, and do not let them do things like run on stage or take money out of hats or guitar cases. Don’t make the PERFORMER do your parenting. That is disgusting. And by the way, men are the worst offenders re Rule #2, so if you are male, maybe you better pay *extra* attention to watching your kid while watching buskers perform.

Rule #3 is do not put a big mote between you and the performer. It strains our voices and takes up too much space. If a busker is having to yell for you to hear her, you are too far away, move in! Look, the busker can still see you looking at her even if you put that weird artificial mote of space between the audience and performer! We don’t need you half way across the street. We don’t bite. Move in so we can get intimate, not block aisles, and so the busker’s voice will last longer throughout the day. People will sit closer to radioactive television sets than they will to street performers! We are *live* entertainment, and unlike stages where performers loom above the audience, on the street, we are standing eye to eye with our audiences, and maybe that is just too awkward for many folks! But as a performer, I *really* like that equality of height, as odd as that sounds, between busker and audience. That one quality, of height equity, makes busking much different than most other venues for entertainment.

Rule #4 is be aware of what you are blocking as a crowd, as the act can get shut down if the audience is not aware of this. If I have a big crowd, and my audience is blocking 6 crafts booths, those crafters are gonna start getting pissy. Likewise, if you cause a clog in the aisles, and people cannot move past, people will complain and not like it. So, the trick is on the busker’s part, to try to find spaces that will accommodate large crowds without clogging aisles or blocking booth wares. And that is not always easy with overbearing authorities at fairs and in management of the public streets even. And the audience’s job is to pull in, and create the least obstacles to traffic and booth/vendor sales, as sad as those priorities are.

Rule #5 is don’t take pics without tips. Seriously. That is just plain rude. The most extreme case of this I’ve heard of was when a busker friend back in the early 1980’s was playing at the Pike Place Market in Seattle, when a Levi’s ad representative with several models, actually posed the models around my friend, as he played, and took a series of shots, then left, without even tipping! If I had a dollar from every tourist who has taken my pic and not tipped over the last 27 years I have busked, I would have a lot more money than I have. I guess the idea is if the act is good enough to take a picture of, it is good enough to tip.

Rule #6 is *wait until the end of the song*. Sounds weird, but tourists will walk up to a busker, mid-song, and try to ask directions or something crazy like that, so I learned to just play on even if people try to talk to me until the song is over. Maybe it is just a temperamental musician thing, but I think it is rude to interrupt someone mid-song, for any reason. Of course, there is the rare exception. My friends were playing one day, with a big band of folks, and their guitar case was open, they had a big crowd, and their little girl kept asking the mommy and daddy who were busking to go to the bathroom and they kept telling her to wait until the end of the set. She kept interrupting this one song, and finally, stood in the guitar case, pulled down her pants and peed in it!! That show went down as busker legend! My son learned early on not to interrupt songs or shows. I was always stunned how he seemed to have an innate sense as a toddler, where he would be complaining and whining about something, then I would walk out on stage, and he would be silent, for the length of the show, and then as soon as I got off stage, he would go *right* back to where he was before, without missing a beat. It was like he knew that was my job, I need to do it at times, but then I come back and we continue dealing with things. I cannot remember once in all my decades as a performer where my son interrupted a song or show. But you need to teach kids to wait until the song ends to speak to performers out of respect.

And last, but not least, Rule #7 is buskers are not here to *sell your shit!* That’s right! Although we are willing to not block vendors’ wares as a reasonable courtesy, my compliance ends right there when it comes to vendors and crafters in public spaces versus buskers’ free speech rights. Over the last 20 years, money grubbing crafters and vendors have gotten away with murder in Seattle, as they pretend that since they bought a little space for their booth on a street, they now own the entire street space around their booths, including the air space. Many crafters actually believe they have a RIGHT to censor and control the *content* of buskers’ acts, because they *pay* to sell their shit, and we are using FREE speech. But you see, what we do is FREE, which means you don’t pay. So what the crafters are really angry at is the U.S. Constitution, not the buskers. I don’t play in bars as I do not want to be told WHAT to sing to SELL alcohol for some tavern owner. So, I am really hostile to the idea of crafts booth people telling me what I can sing to SELL their wares on a public street.

Next time you watch a street performer perform, you can notice, for yourself, how many times these rules are broken in the little time you are standing there. Look for them...as the performer is fully aware of them! Street performers get used to some really strange behavior from the public...As Frank Zappa said, “We are the *other* people, We are the *other* people, You’re the *other* people, too!!”

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Comments

Re: Interacting With Street Performers
23 May 2006
Busker Du!
Re: Interacting With Street Performers
24 May 2006
Wouldn't it just be easier to get a job so you wouldn't have to put up with so many headaches out on the street?
Re: Interacting With Street Performers
24 May 2006
I like to listen to Free Music. Why should I pay for your lousy imitations? If you're so good, why don't you have at least an indy record deal?

shut up b and play!
If you're in love with Anderberg, FLIPSIDE, why don't you just email her?
24 May 2006
Here you are, posting under three names, trying to a dialog going with Anderberg. Why don't you just spare us all the banter and drop her an email? I'm sure you're just the kind of guy she'd love to interact with.
Re: Interacting With Street Performers
26 May 2006
Others refer to these "street performers" or "buskers" as bums!