Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ask a Busker: How to Obtain Permits/Have Permits Created

Happy Holidays folks!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday full of abundance, love and joy. I had a great holiday, myself and am not looking forward to going back to Toronto where it's apparently raining. Over the holidays, the questions have still been rolling in. Many thanks to everyone out there in Internetland who is reading and participating! I'm having a blast writing these posts, hopefully you're having a blast reading 'em.

Today's question comes all the way from Jessica Wagstrom in Texas. Hi, Jessica! Thanks for your email. Jessica's question was a bit more involved than the previous questions, and asked about a specific place. I emailed Jessica some information that will guide her in her quest, but to protect the privacy of her specific location, I'll be answering her question a bit more generally for the rest of the readers.

Jessica asks, "I'm trying to find out how to obtain a permit for busking in my city. I've been to the city hall, and asked the permit desk specifically about street perfoming, and they had no idea what I was talking about. So my question is, what permit should I be asking for, and are there any details I should know about obtaining one? Questions I should ask the city issuing it?"

Ah yes. My favourite cities are the ones that have soft law surrounding public spectacle. Gotta love the "if we ignore them, they will go away" tactic some governments use. Awesome!

in Jessica's town, there is no law either way restricting or allowing busking (at least no ordinance I can verify), which makes it really difficult for performers to work. This can be the best and the worst situation to be in, as a busker. Unfortunately, in her specific town, the local authorities shut down local performers every time they go out and claim that busking is not allowed. Yet, according to other locals living there, busking can happen successfully. A piano player that's local to Jessica's city is forbidden to giving hat lines, but allowed to put out a passive tip jar. Doing shows draws a crowd, soliciting for money is bad, but performing a walk-by act and passively taking tips is okay. Makes no sense to me!

In my personal experiences traveling through the Great American West, the more southerly you go, the harder it is to find proper laws surrounding busking quite possibly due to the large amount of itinerant folks, athough that's just my speculation. Beggers can get away with doing their thing because they don't draw a crowd; you, unfortunately draw a crowd and that scares police sometimes.

Now, as it seems there is no law allowing busking (my sleuthing and calling authorities came up with zilch--you're lucky I'm in the US right now for the holidays so it was easy!) Jessica really has only a few options:

1. Start a festival. It's probably the easiest way to start busking in your town. If you start a festival for performers it's considered a privately run event which means you get permits to do your thing and control everyone who is working. Authorities like to have control over who's working. It makes them feel special. Or, contact established festivals and ask if you can get permission to perform at them.

2. Lobby the local authorities down at the city hall to get a permit in place for buskers, CLEARLY outlining what you are allowed and not allowed to do. Make sure you write in provisions to allow hat lines, draw crowds and other details such as, allowing amplifiers, juggling machetes, height (such as a giant unicycle), if make-up and masks are allowed, etc. This may take a lot of time and a few years; but, all that hard work could pay off for not just you, but a lot of other performers. Get together with other potential or current street performers and see what you guys can do. Heck, you can contact the media and make it a big shebang! (just remember; you guys better be good because if they do a news story, you could ruin it for everyone else if you suck!) There is a lot of strength in numbers. And seriously, what an awesome legacy to leave if you are granted permits!

3. Create an informal street union. What time do you usually go out and get busted? In my experiences, buskers typically go out after 6pm to avoid getting shut down. Assemble the troops and go out to do shows and stick together. Self-regulate; if somebody is new to busking and inexperienced, make sure they aren't going to hurt anybody during their show. I don't recommend getting arrested or making sweeping statements about "the man" while you're performing and if you get interrupted, since that'll likely hinder as opposed to help your case. But getting shut down publicly could be good for getting that initial media attention. Especially if it continues. Suss it out and see how you feel. I need to stress: if you get shut down, just do it. Nothing will make you look less credible at city hall than being a rebellious kid 'sticking it to the man'.

If you are looking to starting the long process of getting permits for your town, the issues you need to raise with the local authorities when creating a license are:

-where you allowed to play/not allowed to play
-between what times show are allowed
-what kind of amplification is allowed, if any
-maximum crowd sizes
-how long are the shows allowed to be, before the crowd must move along
-are performers allowed to give hat lines/actively ask for donations

These are also questions you can ask the local performers, and authorities when looking to obtain a license in a city that definitley allows street performing.

If your local city doesn't understand the terms "busker" or "street performer" just explain that you want to give a public performance in a public space and solicit for tips after you finish your spectacle.

Hopefully, Jessica and her fellow performers can battle to have a proper permit put into effect. Remember, as I said earlier, there is strength in numbers, and if y'all approach the authorities with respect and determination, at the very least, they should hear you out and begin an open dialogue. In my experiences performing in cities in Europe, the very first line on many permits state, "We recognize the value and importance that street performers have for preserving the culture of our city." Street performing is important for many, many reasons: hopefully, you can convince your local authorities of that, Jessica, and will be allowed to put smiles on the faces of passersby legally and with protection!

I'll keep my fingers crossed for you! And do let us know how you make out.

If you have a question for 'Ask A Busker', please feel free to email them to me at:!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ask A Busker: Finding Venues!

Hi everyone!

I am currently 1500 feet above the ground somewhere over the Midwest of the US of A on my way to Salt Lake City, Utah for Christmas and potentially street performing shenanigans over the holidays. I trust you are all well and enjoying yourselves during this festive holiday season.

I just received an email from a Brendan and Stina with a question for "Ask a Busker"!

First of all, thank you both for a first question that wasn't from my Mom, boyfriend, or other street performers! I am happy for the overwhelmingly positive response this segment to 'Adventures in Gambling, Grifting and Street Performing' is getting.

Brendan and Stina ask, "How do you choose your venue? Especially, if you're in a new city, how do you figure out where to perform?"

Well, Brendan, this question is an interesting one! First, are we talking street corners or theatre spaces? For street corners, typically, I spend a day scouting spots that would work for me, talking to the local performers (and making sure I tip them well, of course!), and lastly, checking in with the local municipality with regards to my newly acquired license to see which spots are legally available to me. Since I do a walk-by act, I have a lot more flexibility in where I play than if I had a circle show. You learn some very valuable stuff from other performers who have a similar act to you (although, this may earn me haters, but to be honest, I've met only a handful of living statues that are nice, most of them are dicks. Statues are like the ballerinas of street acts for some bizarre reason...), and spending a lot of time performing on the street you become more aware of what works best for your particular style. For example, while I perform a walk-by act, technically, if I am resigned to a "walk-by spot", I'm fucked! I generally work my act like a bigger show, and I gather fairly large crowds. Being asked to perform at a known walk-by spot will earn me less tips and I won't be able to grab a crowd as easily.

Typically, I share the main circle pitch with the bigger shows, trading off after an hour. Most street pitches are organized by the local performers and there is a draw at the beginning of the work-day so everyone gets a time-slot alotted to them. It's an awesomely civilized process. If my license is for a heavily regulated spot like a harbourfront, or a pedestrian mall, then I just sign in wherever I'm supposed to and go do my thing. If the street is a free-for-all (some places in Europe are like this: no license required, no real regulations aiding or hindering performers) then, I base where I set up shop on some critera;

-how many people walk by that particular spot in a minute
-is the spot near an intersection that creates a definite flow of foot traffic (are they heading somewhere in particular)
-is the spot big enough for people to stop and watch a show
-am I away from anything that has amplification so I can play my music?

The most valuable knowledge comes from talking to the locals. Make friends with other street performers! It's always better to be friends instead of enemies having nonsensical 'turf wars'. It helps to have somebody watching your back and watching your gear. Reciprocation is a wonderful thing. And most pros understand that and value the sharing system, which is where draws come into play. If you're in a new city and some jerk tries to chase you off a spot by saying it's "his", then, clearly, the guy is a hack. So long as you show up first then there's no reason why you can't share. If that performer continues to be a dick, then you can either move on, or defend the spot if you were there first. But, be warned; nothing is more unprofessional than having a meltdown on the street in front of your crowd!

If we're talking about theatre venues, then, the best bet is to again, ask other local performers (meeting people can be tricky or easy depending on where you know to look and when), look up internet groups for that city and their subcultural scenes; most major cities have a fairly decent and accessible nightclub scene that can, at the very least, point you in the right direction for open mikes, burlesque shows or whatever event is best suited for your act. Since I am sort of new to the theatre scene myself, I don't really have much to offer on this topic!

Hopefully this answers your burning question to how to go about finding venues in new cities!

Alright, folks, my computer is starting to fade and for some reason even though there's wireless on this flight, I can't plug in my laptop anywhere so I'll be signing off.

Feel free to comment, or, if you have a question for "Ask a Busker", send 'em off to me at: It gives me something to do when I'm on the road and gives you something to read. It's a win-win situation!

Happy holidays, folks!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ask a Busker: Why Don't You Busk in the Rain?

Hi folks!

Since my readership is starting to increase, I've decided to post a little interactive segment in between my activist-y ranting. If this goes well and I receive emails (aside from the ones asking me to marry them or telling me I'm a jerk) I'll totally make this a regular segment to my blog that will be updated more regularly than each time something in real life pisses me off or I find evocative and feel the need to stand on a soapbox over.
Today's question is one I get a heckuva lot: Why don't you create a character with an umbrella and waterproof costumes and busk in the rain? (also under this topic is 'Why don't you busk in the winter'?)

The short answer is, well, when it's raining, as much as I'd love to perform for you, if you're not interested in staying to watch, I'm not interested in staying to perform. Since a street show is the sum of it's audience, and a street show can't *happen* without an audience, then I'm pretty much shitouttaluck.

The long answer is well, I've done it and I have conflicting feelings about it. During the winter, I admit, I enjoy going out the week before Christmas to perform for busy shoppers down at a major shopping centre in the heart of Toronto (this year, unfortunately, I will be out of the country and unable to do that!) and while freezing my butt off for few chattering smiles may very well be worth a little bit, the general public oftentimes confuse me for a desperate homeless person in need of a couple of bucks. A couple of winters ago, I was busking before the holidays, and a woman from a shelter gave me a sleeping bag. I had to chase her down to give back the bag that should have been given to somebody who really needed it. Having a great apartment with awesome roommates and heating, I can confidently say I need the sleeping bag less than a homeless person.

I find, also, when busking during inclimate weather, it's harder to keep the crowd on your side loving what you do instead of feeling sorry for you. I'm not interested in feeling sorry for myself or feeling the pangs of having a lower social standing because I'd decided to go out and perform for the poor bastards who have no choice but to go out into that weather because they have to go to work. From my perspective, I feel sorry for anyone who has to go outside when it rains and I'd love to make them smile as they dash between raindrops! Yet, that is certainly not what the majority of the public seems to think. I suppose it's that whole 'transferrence of feelings' thing we tend to have as a collective consciousness.

Lastly, of course, it's all about the almighty dollar. If you don't want to stay and watch, you aren't going to pay. And I'm not prepared to stand outside and get soaked, or have my toes fall off from the cold for a few lousy bucks.

Well, folks, I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you, the general public, might have about busking in the rain.

If you have a question to send to "Ask a Busker", please email them to: I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

the Ethics of Licenses for Buskers

Hi folks!

It's been a while since I've posted; had a great time in Charlottetown, PEI at the C.A.F.E conference, got embroiled in a questionable 'situation' that involved kidnapping and extortion, but, what else is new in the life of an itinerant street performer, really?

(don't worry, while the kidnapping victim WAS an endangered species, it was a plush toy).

Today, I want to talk to you all about licensing. Busking and licenses, to be exact. There seems to be a divide among buskers: those who believe in and uphold the licensing issue and those that are pissed off by it. I fall into the category of the former as opposed to the latter, generally, although there are situations in which I rather risk it and follow the credo that it is 'better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission' to stand.

In Toronto, we have several licenses that are required to play in various parts of the city. For circus and typical street acts, we can take our pick of a variety of licenses including the regular city street license, a Harbourfont Centre license, permission from the Distillery District, and of course, the highly popular license for Yonge & Dundas Square. This doesn't include the audition and licensing process required if you want to play music in TTC stations. Yup, we sure have a lot of choice in front of us!

The average regular city street license runs about $35 and covers a performer for an entire year. It would not take very long for a good busker to make that fee during a show and it's a drop in the bucket as compared to some of the ridiculous fees I've had to pay in Europe (in Salzburg, Austria a city busking permit for internationals is 14 per week!).

Now, I've toured a lot, folks. I've toured across Canada, toured through Europe, I've been to Asia, and while legally, a lot of my gigs that brought me to those places involved contracts with the government or festival organizers I have arguably spent a LOT of time on the hard street in all sorts of cities performing for locals and tourists alike and it's allowed me to develop an informed attitude towards licensing and the whole notion of 'free art'.

Let's face it; busking is a fringe industry. We live on the outskirts of typical 9-to-5 culture, generally we are transient folks, or at the very least have a lifestyle that is conducive to living transiently, and as such, the industry attracts a lot of people who have a general disregard for the Way Things Work. And that's fine: I'm all for circumventing the law, but, you gotta KNOW the law to circumvent it. I strongly disagree with the notion of circumventing law that has a rational reason for it's inception. Busking licenses and the regulation of buskers, to me, is rational. It keeps the professionals on the streets and the kids who went to Burning Man once and didn't bother to learn about fire safety first OFF the streets. It protects us buskers, and keeps us doing what we do best. Personally, I'm all for providing a C.V and demo-tapes of your work to local municipalities, not so keen on auditions but understand the importance of them. That way we know the person entertaining us on the giant unicycle isn't going to fall and hurt himself along with his audience participant. In Covent Garden, performers require insurance to play. It.just.makes.sense. Even on the hard street, a license will protect each busker; we have a legal distance to keep separated, noise level requirements so everyone can be heard, and bylaw officers that yes, can HELP us (as much as they annoy us sometimes): for example, if some dickbag shows up while I'm performing and sets up shop beside me, I can ask them to wait until I'm finished, and, if they fail to comply, I can call bylaw who will be down at the pitch quickly to resolve the situation for everyone. It protects everyone involved. Admittedly, sometimes the bylaw officers flagrantly sweep areas and ticket regular performers for ridiculous and contrived offenses ('blocking traffic flow' is a classic one, if the officer is having a bad day), but in my personal experiences, I've had few negative ones compared to positive. And hey, if I feel like I've been treated unjustly, I'll just take it to court, where I'm likely to win anyway.

Lots of buskers argue that busking represents freedom and refuse to get licenses on principle. I can agree with that statment when I'm touring through Europe and I'm not going to be in a city long enough to make use of a week-long, or month long permit, but, if you're living in Toronto and making use of your OHIP, and contributing to society, COME ON. Grow the fuck up, already! As I said earlier, the city license is $35. We're not talking $500 here. We're talking a nomial fee that you can make in the first TEN MINUTES of performing (if you're good. And I'm sorry, if you can't make your license back in at least a day, get another fucking job). Personally, I refuse to obtain the Yonge & Dundas license. The cost is ridiculous compared to the amount of scheduled time a performer is ALLOWED to perform. It doesn't make sense to me. If I'm going to pay a hundred bucks for my license, I better be able to play any time. It's about getting a license that works for you.

Free pitches are becoming a rarity. In Ottawa, there's some shit going down at the Byward Market, which, as far as I know, may very well be the last free pitch in Canada. For those of you who have never worked it, the pitch is pretty much performer-run, probably the best example of a performer-run space I've had the chance of experiencing: a draw happens every day for shows, and everyone takes turns sharing the spot. This is a rarity on a hard street pitch, as far as I am concerned. Regardless, the market has created a licensing program for performers there, but failed to allow the main pitch on George St. to be included on the roster of designated pitch areas. Internationals will still get licenses fairly easily, but what does it matter if they can't do shows on what has been the main pitch for many, many years? This sucks, definitely, but the only way to fight this situation is legally, not by continuing to get tickets and getting arrested. Personally, I don't mind having to pay a license, but I DO mind not being able to perform on a spot that has been used for years by performers. I do believe that cities should consult performers while planning their busking spaces, and if they don't, I don't mind spending my winters in court fighting a bylaw if it means I get a better summer out of the deal. While a space may work from an urban-planning standpoint, it may not work for performers. Governments should have an open dialogue with it's city's buskers. And from my experiences performing in Canada, most do; Harbourfront in Toronto is super for taking consideration of the opinions of other buskers.

Sometimes, however, governments don't pay attention to performers and do their own thing. It may suck at the time, but unless you invest your time in fighting it from the inside out, sometimes y'gotta suck it up and look at it in a different way. I've heard the argument about fighting a 'fascist government' as a reason for not getting a license. Let me tell you folks something: people who say shit like that don't have a fucking clue, and I advise them to get off their fucking lazy asses and go traveling. I've bought licenses in cities in Europe where a right-leaning government is in power, and have had military police shut me down, RIP UP the licenses I bought, cuff me and cart me out of town on the next train. Now THAT, folks, is bullshit. It sucked. But do you know what I did? I got on the train and got off at the next city and set up shop there. I was a guest in their country, taking advantage of their economy, who gave me the right to complain about mistreatment? Remember: as a busker, if you're not claiming your busking earnings on your taxes (which, as a disclaimer, I would *highly* reccommend you do if you are legally a resident), you are taking advantage of an economy. Who gives you the right to complain about mistreatment, really? You're already doing something illegal. And if you don't believe in supporting a societal structure in the city you're living in, cut up your health card, unlearn everything you were taught in public school then, you ungrateful piece of shit. I may be generalizing here, but, having met a lot of people, it always makes me laugh to hear this argument because, many folks whom I've met that have this attitude come from a privileged background (to a certain degree) and thinking this way is a luxury for them.

And lastly, if you STILL don't support the notion of getting a license after what I've had to say, then go work the festival circut where you don't have to worry. At least then you get billing and are treated well by festival organizers. There's a lot of festivals out there, many abroad that take care of work visas and all that for you, too.

Permits and there for a reason. It helps us and it helps you. It allows us to perform in a designated area and protects you from some yahoo who doesn't know how to use his juggling machetes. Admittedly, there are kinks to the system: auditioning regulars over and over again is annoying, ticketing performers for minor infractions is stupid, and creating designated pitches that don't work for performers' needs is retarded, but in the end, it's so that everyone can play in the sandbox nicely.

And if you have a problem with it, don't go and get yourself arrested, for godssakes. That just prevents you from traveling and wastes your money and time. Go fight the laws in the courts.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Nuit Blanche: Art and Money

Hi everyone!

This post is going to be a bit different from the usual resume I generally write here. I've decided I have a blog for a reason and a website that is being overhauled so I can update it myself, which makes using this blog as a means of updating what gigs I do kinda redundant.

And, while busking during Nuit Blanche in Toronto, I started to form a post in my head that was later spurred on by a couple of people emailing me this pretty awesome blog post written by Amanda Palmer, entitled, "Why I am Not Afraid to Take your Money", as well as recent conversations I've been having with fellow street performer Chalkmaster Dave about making money as artists.

First of all, let's talk about Nuit Blanche. I'm by *no way* against events such as Nuit Blanche. Why would I be against the idea of bringing art and culture to the masses and making it unpretentious (for the most part) and accessible? That's awesome! As a street performer, that's what I do! I am, however, totally and COMPLETELY against the idea of free art. This will lead me into a rant about what I think art is, and, maybe I should go into that rant to contextualize for you all where I'm coming from.

Okay, so what is art? To me, it's a business. Period. Now, it's a great business, where ideas and execution come together to create something amazing, it can change the world, sure, but, at the bottom line it's still a business.

The idea of art being all about sacrifice and ideas and totally useless and the Artist As The Divine Being was fabricated in the 19th century, during the Romantic era. Artists needed to break away from the patron and decided to create their own biblical myth in order to do so. And it worked; patrons went away, art was consumed by the masses and everyone was autonomous and happy. However, people took it further and decided that art was no longer a business, but a lifestyle choice. Excuse me!? A lifestyle choice?

I'm sorry, but I work hard at my craft. And for somebody to turn around and call themselves an artist when they don't spend every day improving their craft in some way just doesn't make sense to me. I don't change a light bulb and go around calling myself an electrician. You don't work as a waiter and call yourself an artist. It's as simple as that. Trust me, folks. I'm not a divine being. I'm not a genius. I'm not a mythical beast like unicorns or Jesus. I'm an adult who took art very seriously and has worked hard to build a career for myself.

Anyway, before I digress too much, that's what art is to me, that's what it is in the context of this post.

The danger of promoting free art is the danger of promoting the well-established idea that experiencing art is entitled to people. This is where business comes in. Now, I love being an artist. I love doing what I do for a living. While I don't consider myself lucky (seriously, if anybody works hard at what they love, it will pay off in the end) so much as happy that I'm dedicated to my work, in the end, I probably wouldn't be doing it if I didn't earn a comfortable living from it. Yes, that's right. As much as I love to create new and interesting things, give something to people to cherish, if I didn't make money, I wouldn't do it. Why? Because it's not profitable. Oh, and just so you know, I failed miserably at the business end for a long time. I still do, sometimes. I am not inherently a business-man. I had to learn it. Just like I had to learn how to play piano, or learn how to mime.

Some of you reading may ask, "but does economy compromise artistic integrity?!" sure. Just like economy compromises the integrity of a variety of industries (look at the medical industry, for example). But you know what: you can work within the context of financial reality and make it work. Just how big of a deal is this integrity thing, anyway? To me, it sounds like something said by people who are afraid of success. I stand behind my work, personally. I think what I do is both artistic and subversive, as well as entertaining and profitable. You can merge the two, people. You can do it. Quite frankly, I think art is supposed to reach the widest demographic possible, and if you create work that is alienating and reaches only a certain demographic, you fail. Miserably. Art should be for everyone, not everyone who went to university. I don't need to quote Dostoevsky to prove I'm intelligent, or legitimize my work.

Here's an example of making things work realistically: Chalkmaster Dave is trying to get out of chalk and into painting. His work is stellar. He's not a fan of 3-D art at all. He believes 3-D chalk art is a gimmick as bad as a one-trick living statue. But, this year, Chalkmaster has decided to start producing 3-D art at festivals. Why? Because it's profitable. Fest organizers clamour for that kind of thing. They can't get enough of it. Now, Dave sure isn't going to do your typical fare with it, no doubt. He's a gifted artist and brilliant person and he's going to make it work with what he loves to draw: Batman. (and seriously, if anybody reading this honestly wants to push the 'Batman isn't artistic!' angle with me... have you READ any of the Dark Knight comics??) And he's not compromising himself terribly. Making 3-D art enables him to ask for more money, which means, he will improve the quality of his life and his family's life. Oh, and guess what. He's going to use some of that money to make paintings so he can eventually make money from his paintings instead of chalk art.

On the topic of having the audacity to ask for money...

Amanda Palmer's entry was emailed to me by a friend who said I should look at it, since it was talking about something I yammer on about all the time: why artists shouldn't be afraid to ask for money. Amanda Palmer used to be a street performer (in fact, she used to perform my very type of act), and her entry totally smacks of a street performer mentality. And that's a good thing. The one thing I've always admired about my industry is the total and completely ballsy way in which we approach our survival. It's also the most honest form of employment: who else gives you their product and THEN asks you how much you think they are worth? Answer: no one other than street performers.

I could go on about some of the misconceptions I've had over the years street performing: people from shelters handing me sleeping bags, suited business-types who act scammed when they see me go home with my boyfriend, I've even had people recognize me in fancy restaurants and ask where my shame is for dining at an expensive place, when they saw me at Yonge and Dundas performing earlier in the day. What the hell is wrong with that? I'm not like that panhandler who's going to inevitably spend your two bucks on some cheap booze. I'm funneling that money into new shows, my rent, and yes, sometimes a night out for some steak! I get angry and passionate, folks, because I find this whole idea so absurd. What is so wrong with me paying my rent on time?

I work hard. Arguably a lot harder than some folks at a desk job, who were hired by an employer, have all their benefits taken care of, all they need to concern themselves with is the task at hand for the day (generally given to them by somebody else). I have to book myself gigs, I have to train, I have to do all my own bookkeeping, my own promotion, build my own contacts... luckily, I work with some rather fine agents who take care of a lot of that work for me, but ultimately I am completely accountable for my own success or failure. Admittedly, my career-choice is even a bit unstable: I've been assaulted, stolen from, almost arrested, shut-down, had turf-wars...That kind of reality is hard stuff! My fan-base keeps me grounded. They are my paycheck. I am so grateful for the regular folks who know my name and make a donation every single day, and for the folks who write me emails or posts on the facebook fan page discussion forum. It's humbling.

But. It's also business.
And I never confuse the two. It's a bizarre career choice to some, I'm sure, but it's my own, and I'm entitled to make it work for myself. If you don't agree with me, then don't support my work. It's as simple as that. But if you do agree, know that your support goes a long way and maybe one day I actually will produce a piece of art that moves that large demographic of people to a satisfactory degree to some art academic with pretentions for Higher Ah-rt. But you know what? It will have probably taken money to get to that point.

I'll let you know when I get there.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ottawa Super Ex!

Hey everyone!
I am back in Toronto for the time being. The summer ended on a great high note with an awesome time at the Ottawa SuperEx. A great team of people working, wonderful crowds and a real steady gig! Met some wonderful and colourful new people, and reconnected with old friends. I even spent some time working the street in the Byward Market, which is one of my favourite pitches in the country. I love Ottawans and am always looking forward to going back whenever I can.

After the Ex, I took a self-imposed holiday away from the internet and it felt so great! I actually got out and had an AMAZING Labour Day weekend busking at Harbourfront in Toronto, and got a chance to see some friends who will be leaving shortly, going back to various countries or cities to hunker down for the winter.

This upcoming weekend I will be working the Taste of the Kingsway street closure. The season is ending and while there are the bittersweet emotions attached, I feel contented for having a busy and full summer behind me. Now it's time to hunker down myself and work on new and exciting projects for the next upcoming year!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Saint John, St. John's...

Hi folks!

I just got back from my tour out East; Saint John's Buskers on the Boardwalk, and St. John's Buskerfest in Newfoundland. I ate a lot of seafood, smelled the salty sea air and had some amazing adventures that included jumping across the top of the cars of an old timey train. Scratch one more thing off the list of things to do before I die. Nope, the yard dogs weren't chasing me, but there'll be time for that I reckon!

Had a wonderful time performing in some great fests, met some wonderful people, got some great press and gave some AMAZING shows. Thanks to everyone who came out to the fests in New Brunswick and Newfoundland, you guys were amazing and totally rocked!

I'm going to invest in a better computer so I can keep a log of my adventures on the road; since I drove up to both gigs, a lot of fun was had. The Cowguys wrote a great blog entry regarding our trip home from New Brunswick, if'n you wanna read it...

Newfoundland was wonderful. I drove up with Chalkmaster Dave and we had a grand old time taking the ferry across the Atlantic Ocean and spending 20 hrs in a car together. I'm pleased to announce that not only did we make it through the trip without any problems, but we actually enjoyed each other's company and worked well even under pressure! Way to go us!!
We even had some time along the way to take pictures and goof around.

I get so much inspiration on the road and have been writing things down and am looking forward to a productive winter of new stuff up and coming once I get finished with my summer touring season. Not that I want it to hurry up, I'm enjoying every minute of it!! :D

Alright, well, I should get going. Next adventure is in Ottawa, for the Super Ex! It should be an awesomely grand ol' time!

I leave you now with a shot from on the road: hitchin' a ride on the train to get to the NFLD ferry...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Muskoka SummerFest, Windsor International Buskerfest, fest fest fest...

Well, I left Toronto last week and haven't been back much since, and don't expect to be home much in the near future, it seems! This is the part where the tourin' starts.

Last weekend I was in beautiful sunny Muskoka for the annual Muskoka Summerfest, an awesome festival in the heart of Bracebridge right on lake Muskoka. The crowds were great, the atmosphere was fantastic and overall a really fun time.

This weekend I'm off to the Windsor International Buskerfest, which is sure to be a real fun time. I'm looking forward to seeing some awesome folks again and meeting some new people. I will definitely be updated this journal between now and the fest to let you all know how it goes!

Currently, I'm at home cutting together a demo-reel! I'm amazed I've been working this long without one! I've gotten some footage together and will be shooting some more in the near future, but as it stands, I want something up ASAP and the footage I have currently is really good. It's coming along nicely, although, it's pretty obvious why I don't work in film full-time; editing takes me forever because I have zero interest in sitting at a computer for hours on end. I'd much rather be entertaining crowds. Ha ha.

Next week I'll be road trippin' with the Cow Guys to New Brunswick! I love out East! I can't wait to eat more oysters!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Canada Day

Hi everyone!

Hope you all had a great Canada Day. I sure did!
This year, I was lucky enough to have the day off from gigs to check out the busking on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. I'd never been to Ottawa for our national holiday and found it to be an amazing experience. The crowds were friendly, amazingly patriotic and very enthusiastic. I gave some wonderful performances and the audiences really loved my act!

Something to look forward to in August when I will be back for the Super Ex!

This weekend I'm in Toronto, working at the Harbourfront pitch. Next weekend is the Muskoka Summerfest! It is sure to be a blast. Looking forward to performing with Errheads again. They are brilliant.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dundas Buskerfest, Lunacy Cabaret, Update!

Hi everyone!

June has been a crazy month and it's not even over yet!

From the 5-7th, I was lucky enough to participate in the Dundas, ONT Buskerfest! The lineup this year was incredible with old legends and rising stars alike. The shows rocked at this truly world-class festival! I had a great time: met some wonderful people, got to see other wonderful people I hadn't seen in a while and totally gave wicked shows. That was definitely an amazing experience, one of the best fests I've done to date!

Last weekend, I participated in the last Lunacy Cabaret of the season at the Centre of Gravity in Toronto. I performed a surreal cabaret variety piece and it went awesomely! Thanks to everyone who came out to support.

This weekend, I'm in Ottawa for North America's largest Dragon Boat race. It is sure to be a wonderful weekend.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sierra Leone Update

Well, I haven't posted about the upcoming gig in Sierra Leone for a while now because it's been off the ground/grounded/off the ground/grounded so many times.

Our scheduled attempt for June has been foiled again due to funding issues from the Government. Accountable Development Works has made my contribution top priority and there has to be a trip to Sierra Leone this year (once funding goes through) so we will be going as soon as my personal schedule will allow.

So, from our meeting this morning, I'm on standby for July, but it looks like we will most likely be leaving later. I've been thinking of returning to Arizona this year for a month to train and spend some time working with Flam Chen, and Malaysia for a couple of months to shoot a film, so with this trip being postponed yet again I may have to re-organize my whole schedule.

Plus, there's a whole other person(al issue) that I'd love to be in Toronto for, to dedicate time to...!

...Oh, Africa! Even before I get there, it's quite an adventure just to get off the ground!

Meh. Such is life. "The best laid plans of mice and men go oft aglay." Everything cast to the winds. Such is the life of a perpetual traveler, right?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dan Cole's Awake Wake

Please come out tonight to 1300 Gerrard St. E (the Centre of Gravity) to celebrate the life of Dan Cole. For those who don't know him, Dan is a comedian, motivational speaker, juggler and a damn fine friend. He will be departing from this world soon and tonight's show, a mix of variety, circus, comedy, is to help raise the funds for his funeral costs. Come out to laugh, cry, share stories and say goodbye to a remarkable person.

$20 at the door. Doors at 7pm.
Hope to see you there!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Busy Busy

Hiya folks!

It's been a while since I've posted. It is definitely turning out to be quite the busy month for me!

On Monday, I did a shoot with photogapher Kathleen Finlay. Her work is fantastic! Here is a little sneak peek of some of the shots we did together.

I've also been working on routines and new material which can (hopefully) translate for the street this summer. Colour me thrilled. On Tuesday, I got to workshop my newest piece at Mysterion's Full Moon Hootenanny, a very awesome and intimate cabaret in the west end of Toronto. It went over fairly well, despite some technical difficulties (low and dark ceilings, carpeted floors). I can't wait to refine it and expand it for stage. I felt very good about it. My finale, balancing a giant picture frame on my chin, went over very well.

I'm currently in Montreal, checking out my friend Aytahn's newest show, Circo D'Hiverno. I am very excited to see it as he has put a lot of work into this cabaret.

Other than that, I've been busy getting things together for the new dates for Sierra Leone, which will be very taxing for me, work-wise. I'll be leaving from a busker festival and coming back with virtually no time to decompress between gigs. Hopefully I won't go bat-shit crazy! Oh wait, I probably already am!

For those in Toronto, tomorrow night is another Lunacy Cabaret hosted by Zero Gravity Circus! Unfortunately, I can't be in it because I am performing elsewhere. Still, I hope some of you make it out!

Friday, February 20, 2009


I just found out that an acquaintance of mine passed away early this morning. James Julien was a great guy. We met at karaoke and became friends through our mutual interest in humanitarianism and our mutual love of putting on a show. He was the founder of Public Outreach and a damn fine showman. Earlier this week, James had suffered a stroke while in Melbourne, Australia. He was told that he would be fine and suffered a second seizure from which he never recovered.

James was an inspiration through his dedication to public fundraising and his work in the non-profit sector and I will miss him.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I've never had a good story for how and why I got into street performing.

My stock interview answer is simply that I had a craptacular part-time job at Starbucks while persuing my undergraduate degree in film production, kinda sorta decided I hated that job, quit dramatically after suffering some cheap shots at the hands of a large corporation and as I was being dragged out by security, said, "I'd make more money and have more dignity working on a street corner!" Which was most likely followed by a string of profanity.

Who knew I was actually correct in that assumption?

The year I graduated from film, I was invited to perform in Kuala Lumpur and had to back out because I was finishing my thesis film. Giving up a great opportunity sucked and I vowed to never do it again after that. I suppose it made me resent film, a subject that while I was particularly inclined towards, was one that started to burn me out. Upon graduation, it didn't make sense for me to wrap cables or get sandwiches on set, so I sort of just opted to continue along a path I had already been walking down.

As I type, it's pretty evident that dignity is the crux of the issue here, which is kind of funny, considering how many people believe street performing to be the lowest art on the totem pole of respectable careers in the arts. But to me, street performing is the ultimate example of freedom. I love the fact that my self-esteem is not wrapped up in whatever figure I may earn in a year, something I've noticed in many people around me who have steady employment. Often people ask me what my 'day job' is. I'm actually quite flattered by that question because it pretty much assumes I'm capable of having one. I love the spontaneity of performing in a public space, how it affects the passersby who stop to watch a show.

I've been lucky in my travels. I've had some amazing experiences in all sorts of countries and met some equally amazing and interesting people. I've hitchhiked with gypsies; gotten into fights that nearly came to blows; been kicked out of a city; gave some really amazing shows; gave some really shitty shows; been detained by kids with guns on festival grounds; and now, heading off to Africa to teach ex-child soldiers to laugh.

I never expected to end up in a fringe industry. It sort of just happened. I have no rational explanation for it: I suppose it just makes the most sense for how I want to live my life. I can't think of a better job right now, truthfully.

So there you have it.
The true history, in all of its entirety.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Waves of Mutilation

Dates are being pushed forward for Sierra Leone; timing issues, funding issues and 'other' issues, which come as no surprise due to the socio-political and economic state of that particular country.


Part of me is relieved to push it, part of me is frustrated. I vacillate between acceptance and intense gut-wrenching fear about this trip and to know that I be experiencing these waves for longer than anticipated is almost torturous in itself. I am pretty lucky to have the people I have around supporting me through this. From an agent who offered to bust me out of any jail I may land in, to my dearest friend on the planet having absolutely no problem letting me call him at 3am to express my anxiety, and a close network of awesome people who refuse to allow my fears to take over my rational thought, suffice to say I'm pretty lucky.

Every time I feel solid and confident about this trip, somebody mentions something about some acquaintance getting mugged, murdered, beaten by gangs or sexually assulted in West Africa. An acquaintance who grew up in the Congo said to me, "You couldn't pay me enough to go back to Sierra Leone." Inevitably, my mind drifts back to, what the fuck am I thinking!?

Already this trip seems to be an exercise in fear-management.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lunacy Cabaret

Once a month, Zero Gravity Circus holds a variety show at the Centre of Gravity (1300 Gerrard St. E, Toronto) to support Circus Without Borders. Last night was the fullest house I've ever seen! The show boasts entertainers whose skills range from comedy to aerial arts, juggling and clown, mime and burlesque. It is a forum for professionals to try out new material, emerging performing artists to experience a new stage, and everyone else in between with a great variety act to come on down and give it a try. All of the proceeds from this event go towards Circus without Borders, who have raised the funds to send a troupe of 10 performers to Cuba and send me to Sierra Leone, both adventures set for March. If you live in Toronto, Canada, I highly urge you to check out the cabarets, check the website, check out the theatre. It is an amazing resource for circus in the city.

Last night, I also received my donation from Circus Without Borders. I feel very good about the support I'm receiving from my agents: they graciously offered for me to provide them with all of my travel information and offered help should anything go awry. It definitely takes some of the strain off my mind knowing I've got people watching my back. I'v been lucky; ex-military friends giving me practical information about the environment, contacts who have been to Sierra Leone in the past sharing their experiences, a LOT of reading provided by the charity I am working with. Yet I know however prepared I may try to make myself, mentally and emotionally, it will all mean squat when I'm actually in the thick of a war-torn country. I fancy that my experience of performing on the fly and working within a limited construct should give me the ability to think on my toes effectively should any proverbial shit go down while I'm there. I hope!

For the record, though, I do aim to come home safe and sound. Just so you know.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Hello internet.

My name is Kate.

I enjoy the written medium and have kept a personal online journal for quite a long time. I truly began to appreciate blogging on a deeper level last year, when I was performing in Asia. Due to the restrictions of the particular country I was in, I was unable to access my blog while a myriad of bizarre and interesting things occurred around us. It got me thinking about the importance of the individual voice: we certainly live in an exciting time and personal stories often tell history best.

Without being too prosaic about my intentions, I've decided to create a blog here to record my story. I travel the world as a street performer, both on the streets and in festivals, and while I have been actively working for approximately five years I feel as if I am at the beginning stages of my career. I have traveled across Canada, through the US, Europe and Asia performing mime and living statue and hope to branch out this year by involving more skills and building a show, a process that will, no doubt, be entertaining to write about.

At the end of March, through the support of Circus Without Borders, I will be traveling to Sierra Leone, Africa, to teach circus skills to children in orphanages in Freetown and Koidu. I definitely have some fears and reservations about traveling to a country that has only recently gotten itself out of a long and horrific civil war. Sometimes I wonder if what I am doing will have as much of a profound impact as I hope it will. And of course, I wonder if I even have anything to contribute! At any rate, I'm going, I'm documenting the process, and you are more than welcome to read about this and my further adventures.

Thanks for reading and support!

Yours respectfully,