If you live in a city where street performers rule, you have a golden opportunity to learn, grow, and make money. “Busking” is basically performing on the street for tips. Buskers do all sorts of entertainment, including couples dancing, playing instruments, tap dancing, mime, fire eating, fire breathing, puppetry, story telling, snake charming, juggling, being a living statue, clowning, acting, and even belly dancing. It’s a really challenging way of honing your craft because, although you choose a spot that has high traffic and potentially a good audience, they are not there to see you. They are just passing through. You must have a good hook to get them to stop, watch, and tip. So, you HAVE to be interesting.
Some feel that busking is a form of begging. While there may be some people who are finding creative ways to make a buck, most of the people you see busking consider themselves artists and do it for the love of the crowd, feedback, to be seen, and to get better at what they do.
If you want to try your hand at busking, here are some tips to get you started.
Design Your Act to Be Either Continuous or a Circle
Continuous performances are created for the audience who stops, watches a while, tips and moves on. It doesn’t have a set beginning or end. A circle act is a bit harder in my opinion. If you do a ten minute set, you have to gather a crowd, keep them interested, pass the hat (or somehow indicate that the act is over and it’s time to tip) and then do it all over again. If you don’t have a good barker (think of the person who says, “Step right up!” at the circus freak show) to get people to come over and then encourage tips, you might want to do a continuous performance.
Find a Good Performance Location
You want a location with good foot traffic, but that is quiet enough for you to do your act without distractions. If it’s an area that is known for busking, this is great because some people will come out just for the street performances; however, you don’t want to set up too close to other performers as you don’t want to compete for audience members or tips. If there is no established busking area in your town, start one!
Create a Performance Space
Creating a space is the same thing you do when dancing in a restaurant or other type of establishment with a shared area. You mark your territory in some way that people know that this is the area where you will be dancing. This let’s them know that a show is taking place and to avoid walking through. You can do this with a sign, rug, baskets, or decorated donation containers. You can also use your sound equipment, costuming and props as part of the stage area.
Interact With the Audience
You must talk to people to get them to come over and watch. If you incorporate them into your show, they will be more entertained and are likely to stay longer and tip. Belly dance isn’t always a stage show (and probably shouldn’t be in this environment). Live performances are a great way to improvise and build stage presence.
Ask For Tips
Most people know that street performers accept tips, but if you are after money, ask for it. Build it into the show somehow. If nothing else, ask for tips just before the finale and pass the (figurative or literal) hat. The crowd will want to see your big close so they are more likely to stay and tip.
Sometimes people will give you unsolicited feedback. That’s great! If they don’t, watch their faces. Pay attention to how long they stay. Notice which parts of the act got more attention than others. If one part drags, fix it. If your tip pitch doesn’t work, try something else. If your music isn’t loud enough, find a different sound system. If acoustics or distractions are a problem, address them. If you need a different pair of shoes to work outdoors, get them. When you are doing live improvisation, there is a whole lot of things that can affect your show. Pay attention to everything and you will be amazed at the feedback you can get to improve. It’s not always just about technique or flash.
I love a good street performance. There is nothing like it for developing talent. The buskers I have seen have been people who obviously love what they do and have a zest for entertaining. If it’s something you want to try, I say, “Go for it!” For more information on busking, go to Busker World.