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!


  1. You've written about this busker/begger confusion some people seem to suffer from, and I just don't get it at all. It seems bizzare to me that someone would assume a street performer is homeless or a beggar; admittedly we don't have any beggars in my town, but we obviously do have homeless people, who tend to either wander around acting decidedly weird and definitely NOT putting on street shows, or they just go round like everyone else (ie. I assume there are homeless people who aren't appearing as a stereotypical homeless person so we don't know they're homeless/chronically poor). There are a lot of buskers/performers who are technically homeless in that they are permanently or temporarily wanderering and travelling, but they often have the financial resources, job skills or interpersonal back-up (eg. family/friends somewhere in the world) to provide for themselves if the going gets seriously difficult.
    summing up: I just don't get it!!
    anyway, I am never the one to come up with sensible questions, so I'm not sure I can contribute to your series, but I'm sure that whatever questions you answer, the answer will be interesting to us non-busker types. :D

  2. Yah, I don't get it either, considering my acts have me trussed up in really slick costumes... It definitely has a lot to do with context, naturally. I write this from the perspective of a performer working in North America in a major city. When I'm in Europe, I'm typically met with open arms by cities (unless it's a big city that has issues with gypsies--which is totally another rant unto itself) and people therein. It's all about context!

    I'm looking forward to this series. People better come up with some good questions, or I'll have to keep posting the ones I hear over and over...!

    Thank you so much for reading!

  3. I'm in the UK, and I'm guessing that weather isn't such an issue for us here. We *do* have a winter act - we dress up as Victorians and do traditional carols, which is a *great* earner. And we've found that the key to rainy performances is to find somewhere where an audience can stop out of the rain - a shop doorway, a stone arch etc. whereupon, people are much less likely to move on again, and tend to really enjoy the show. I suspect that a lot of the differences are down to our vastly different climates - I'm just about to go out for our last carol sing of the year and it's minus 5 centigrade. I've *never* sung in temperatures this low and am a little worried about it. Going to go and dig out the long underwear as soon as I've finished here! Thanks for the pointer to your blog, I'll check in here more often :-)

    Happy Holidays!

  4. Hi Stevieannie,
    Thanks for the comment!

    I do outdoor walkaround in the winter, for sure, but it's mostly paid work. Minus 5 centigrade is too much for me these days without the proper financial inspiration... as well, singing won't work for a mime artist ;)

  5. Found your blog through LJ! I'm thinking of busking once the weather gets warmer, and I like to research stuff to death before I do it, so I have the power of knowledge on my side. I will definitely keep reading this, and if I don't see an answer to one of my questions, I'll send it your way!

  6. Hiya Kandigurl,
    Feel free to shoot me any questions and good luck with your busking adventures! :)