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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!