Salutations, and a really stupid plan!

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Salutations, and a really stupid plan!

Postby cunning_man » Aug 5th, '12, 01:43

Hello everyone

What to put, what to put... Well, I'm a college student in my late twenties who lives in a small town and has been a lover of magic since I was little, practicing on and off through the years. During the last few years I really started to invest my time and energy and attention into it (when life didn't slam right into my way,) focusing mostly on fortune-telling and a bit of bizarre stuff and some mentalism.

I am, sadly, still prone to laziness (problem I'm trying to break) and random bouts of "screw it" due to frustrations. This mixed in with manic episodes of "I WILL do this, even if I die trying!" has lead to a rather erratic and unfocused bit of practice. Combine this with a nasty bit of approach anxiety and a naturally shy nature and I'm surprised I kept up with anything at all. Fortunately, or possibly unfortunately, I have devised a plan: I will sink or I will swim.

The plan is simple: In three days time I am going to go out into my small town, and surrounding towns, and I will perform three pieces of magic. Anywhere that I will be allowed to do this, that is where I will practice and busk. I've put this off for far too long, and it's time for me to just nut up or shut up. I've already chosen and have been practicing these three pieces daily, two hours before work, during my breaks and lunch period (except for one effect) and two hours after work.

The busking will be difficult, since money is tight in the area and getting the locals to let go of one single dollar is nearly impossible unless you've got a really good reason for asking. I'd be better off trying in a larger city about forty five minutes away to be frank, but travel will be tricky for a while and I think it would be best if I just get used to that fact now.

After spending my introductory post sounding like a crazy person, I guess I'm just looking for the same thing the rest of us are. Advice from those more experienced in magic and just general help. Maybe specifics in busking with mentalism and bizarre magic, assuming it's possible. If this sounds like a ridiculously bad idea, I'm prepared to abort mission now and save myself some grief. I might be a bit stubborn, but I'm not completely pig-headed...

Hope the evening finds you all well,

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Re: Salutations, and a really stupid plan!

Postby Stephen Ward » Aug 5th, '12, 06:19

Welcome to Talk Magic.

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Re: Salutations, and a really stupid plan!

Postby Lady of Mystery » Aug 5th, '12, 06:54

Welcome along to TM :D

Best thing you can do is to get out there an perform, you'll learn so much from it. And if you flop, well it doesn't really matter does it?

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Re: Salutations, and a really stupid plan!

Postby mr invisible » Aug 5th, '12, 06:59

Hi there, welcome to TM.. Not sure were you are regarding location?? But in the UK there are a few rules regarding busking and this applies to all types of magic whether its mentalis'm or streetmagic were money is involved through public hand -outs, etc.. But I'm sure if your intentions were for just pleasure that would not be a bad thing but reading your post it seems you were hoping to make a bit of extra cash for your time and effect.. Have you read all the regulations about performing in a public place in the location you will be performing?? I do think its a good idea that you are using something you enjoy to try and make some cash income for yourself in these hard times we are going through, but just be careful you don't end up explaining you actions to the wrong authorities if you know what I mean? Good luck. Regards Garry 8)

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Re: Salutations, and a really stupid plan!

Postby dean.allen.jones » Aug 5th, '12, 07:53

hello cunning man. I'm new here myself. Even if you're not doing this for cash it's a good idea. As Stan Allan said at the Essential Magic Conference "It's all about the flight time". If the red tape for busking seems too much then just go and do it for free. Performing makes us all better. Even if you don't think you went down well on the day the lessons you learn will make you a much stronger performer and magician.

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Re: Salutations, and a really stupid plan!

Postby cunning_man » Aug 5th, '12, 13:20

Thank you all for your responses, folks! I probably should have mentioned the location... Sorry :oops:

I'm in the area of Weirton, West Virginia, also planning on hitting Steubenville, Ohio and maybe a couple of other nearby towns and cities. May even make the trip up to Pittsburgh once in a while if I can stop sucking long enough!

This is for both experience and whatever extra cash I can make with hats. I am not expecting even halfway decent hats without some serious spit and polish. I'm more than willing to put in the work.

Done some hunting online, and I can't find a single regulation for this sort of thing. Part of me thinks it's simply something that the local authorities never considered before. I can't even find any state regulations for Ohio and West Virginia... Might have to ask a few park managers (One of the main spots I've looked at working would be the public parks) to see what they have to say on the matter.

Hope you all have an awesome day,
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Re: Salutations, and a really stupid plan!

Postby Jean » Aug 5th, '12, 23:53

Busking can be the most brutal, unfair, soul destroying performance outlet there is. I have spent the last three years busking and failing and changing my act and failing and changing my act and getting some success and refining what works until I finally had a halfway decent act and was making money. Then my act got banned for being 'too dangerous' (it wasn't it just looked dangerous) and now have to start at square one again.

America can be quite different from England in regards to what works and what doesn't so everything I tell you now has to be taken with a grain of salt as the rules both legal and social may be wildly different.

1. Finding a place to work.
The best thing to do is look in your area where other performers are busking, even if you can't perform where they are they can usually tell you good places to start out. Google searches can help but often they don't have the information you really need. You can also check out (mods I assume I can link to a non magic forum that I don't make money off). Other than that, try to find public places with room to perform, chances are if there's no buskers there you will get moved on, but even then as long as your not confrontational it won't get you in any real legal trouble. Make sure you're not blocking street traffic or creating a 'public disturbance' (a term so vague the council can use it to slap down any performer they want) but just try to use common sense. The more you perform the better your instincts about what makes a good pitch and what doesn't will develop.

2. You share the pitch.
Some areas require you getting a license and booking your time from the local council, other places you can just show up and perform. It's worth finding a place where you can just show up, as licensed areas usually require an audition and you won't be good enough yet to get it. Once you found a free area you join the queue and wait your turn to perform. Since most acts last between half an hour to an hour if the area is a popular one this can sometimes mean only getting one show a day. If you want to find your own small space check with the surrounding performers make sure you're not encroaching on their pitch.

3. Allies are better than enemies.
Try to be friendly and non confrontational with everyone, but don't be a pushover. Some people may seem aggressive, rude or downright mean. This can either mean they're jerks or they could just be having a bad day, either way often once you've proved your worth they will become more friendly and can even help you with advise or support. Plus it's no good performing all day and being surrounded by people who hate you. Keep a cool head and remember you're new. It's better to back off from people and try again than get into a fight with anyone. If someone tells you to f*** off, leave them alone and find someone else to talk to, they may turn out to be a good friend later on.

4. Dress the part.
If your just wearing normal cloths, then you're just some dude standing on the street shouting at people to pay attention to you. You will have a very hard time getting people to stop, and if you take too long you could * off the other buskers waiting to perform. Generally the bare minimum for a magic busker is a waistcoat and bowler hat, some people wear a full suit and tie but whatever you choose must not look scruffy, you want to avoid the 'begging tramp' feel of busking.

5. People will lie to you.
It's always best if you can befriend the other performers and learn form them what works and what doesn't, but sometimes other performers will flat out lie to you because they don't want you there, remember the more buskers sharing a pitch the less money for everyone. Double check everything people tell you make sure they're not just trying to sabotage you. Also some public places have local security and they might move you on or tell you you can't perform there, not because you can't but because some people like to abuse what very little power they're given. Always check with the actual police and multiple buskers about what's what.

6. Equipment
An amplifier is a must, if you don't want to loose your voice and if you want to be heard clearly while loud music and general street noise surrounds you. I can recommend a Behringer EPA40 it's small, cheap, lightweight, sturdy and loud. You can attach both a mike and an MP3 devise to play music. However you must check regarding the local rules on both voice amplification and playing music. When you get a headset mic make sure it's battery operated, 'portable' doesn't mean s*** because a mic has two components, the microphone and the receiver. The first portable headset mic I brought had a receiver that needed to be plugged into a socket. Buy your headset mic at a shop with your amp and make sure everything works like you want it to. Make sure it has wind protection, you want your voice to be heard clearly through the amp.

A large rope will allow you to set up a performance space. This will encourage passers by not to walk right through your show and will tell the people watching where to stand. Make sure you urge anyone watching you to come right up to the rope, you don't want people milling around in little groups watching you from a distance, you want them all to become part of the same audience.

Playing music before the show while your setting up your equipment is a good way to inform people that something is happening, however some places will have rules against playing music so while it's good to have it's worth learning how to do without.

A table is not entirely necessary but I have seen few busking magicians without one. Most magic shops will sell a portable of collapsible table however they can be quite expensive. A cheaper option would be to look for camping tables, once again if you can examine it in the shop all the better.

You will need something to carry your equipment in, the size scale and weight of your props and tools will be the factor here. I use a large camping rucksack, some people use a hand trolly with their equipment strapped in and some use a utility trunk which are sturdy and can be stood on while you're trying to build a crowd and sat on while you're waiting to perform.

7. Insurance
Some places will require it some won't, but either way it's worthwhile to get both public liability insurance and make sure your equipment is insured for theft and damage as eventually no matter how hard you try, s*** will go bad for you.

8. Break dancers, the natural enemy of the busker.
This will once again depend on the performer, I've actually met and befriended many nice break dancers who will happily share a pitch with you, and this may also be completely different in America, but what I'm about to tell you is a rule of thumb that holds true more often than not.
They will not share a pitch because they don't need to. All they have to do is play loud music and dance, they have the easiest time drawing a large crowd. I actually saw a group of teenage break dancers and they were terrible, they literally couldn't dance they just walked back and fourth around their pitch doing a few synchronized moves and handstands. They had a massive crowd but got virtually no money, but they didn't care because they just started again straight away blasting music over my performance.
Try to talk to the break dancers first, some can be decent, but if they decide they're going to screw you over and you don't have support from the council or other buskers, then the only thing you can do is set up somewhere else far away, don't talk to them about fairness, they don't care.

9. Musicians and statues
Musicians and statues will not share a pitch because they can't. While a street performer makes money by building a crowd and getting as many of them to pay at the end of a show, a musician / statue makes money by passers by dropping it in their hat in dribs and drabs. So as a necessity they have to just perform non stop all day, this is fair enough. If they have a space it's theirs and you can't encroach on it, if you have a space it's yours and they can't do the same.

10. Performance structure.
This is going to have to be very general as it will all eventually come down to what you can and what you want to perform but when you're designing your act you need to structure it into these three parts.

The crowd pull
This is what you perform to get people to approach you, and build a crowd. You can either get a small number of people to approach your table with a few simple and visual card tricks, ask them to step back and then move on to something a bit bigger (like rope magic, torn and restored newspaper, the balloon swallow) get them to step back again and repeat until you have a large enough crowd. Or you can perform something big and dangerous looking such as juggling, setting up some strange piece of apparatus or climbing a high ladder and looking like you're going to dive off. Or you can just t*** around for half an hour to music. Either way the purpose of the beginning of your act is to attract as large a crowd as possible before moving on to the second part.

The promise
Here you're going to perform something good, but more importantly you're going to tell everyone about the finale of your act. You're going to promise them something amazing, something impossible or something that will be really funny, throughout your show you'll notice whole groups of people who will watch you perform one trick and then move on, you need to encourage as many people as you can to stay till the end of your show.

The Hat line
Right before you perform the finale of your act you need to inform people about paying you, it's no good assuming they will pay, people look at a street show as free entertainment. You need to make it very clear to people that if they watched the show, paying nothing or only paying a few pennies is NOT okay and they should not do it. There are plenty of stock lines to choose from and in the end you'll say what works for you but I'll show you what I use to give you an idea of what you need to say.

'Ladies and gentlemen before I do this I just wanted to say that this is my job, this is how I make a living, you've all stayed and watched and I've entertained you for half an hour, and now all I want from each of you is five pounds. Five pounds for half an hour of entrainment is a great deal. Over there you can get a coffee for £3.99! I like to think I'm worth more than a latte. If you enjoyed the show and you had a good time you pay! If you didn't enjoy the show, you still pay! If you give me £5 I will thank you, if you give me £10 I will follow you home. If you can't afford £5 then two or three pounds is fine but please no copper of silver I am not a beggar. If you enjoyed the show then be honest with yourself, be honest with me come forward and pay, if you really have no money then at least do the right thing and come forward at the end and say thank you.'

I then do the finale and finish with.

'Thank you ladies and gentlemen that was my show, Here is my hat, here is my heart please come forward and support the arts'.

That's the basic gist of what I say, there were other bits to it but they were conditional on my performance throughout, so I dropped them. The point was that I hammered two facts into the audience. 1) It's not okay to walk off without paying. 2) Pennies is not an appropriate payment. This is the message that you HAVE to get across.

11. It's all about you.
Most buskers do not do magic that is considered that impressive, because they're limited to doing things that are easily recognized and easy to follow. The real trick to busking is getting a large crowd to watch you and then getting them to like you as a person or a character. So it's not so much about what you're performing it's about how your performing it and what you're saying in between bits. If you find yourself struggling to get a crowd it could be that you're focusing too much on what your performing and not enough on how you're performing it. A lot of people have an idea about buskers doing nothing for ages and then finally doing just one trick. The fact is they're not doing nothing, they're developing a rapport with their audience.

12. Good material

Busking is not like close up or stage magic the majority of your act is going to be focused on getting people to stop and watch and convincing them to stay. What you end up performing will be a mix of what you want to perform and what you have to perform. Mentalism and bizarre is not considered by most, including me, to be good for street shows as it requires too much concentration from the audience, you will be performing to people who show up and leave ant any point during your act and it isn't visual enough. But I've met a very nice busker who wanted to do a street mentalism show and is apparently doing quite well now, so I guess that shuts me up.

Here are a few tricks that do well in a busking scenario, you can use some of these all of them or none of them, but they have all stood the test of time and appear regularly in street magic acts which is both a reason to do them and a reason not to do them.

The balloon swallow
Can be learned from Tomas Medina's Geek magic

This packs small and plays big. It can be used as both a crowd pull and a finale, if you do learn this you will find it difficult to ever remove from your show because of how powerful it can be.

Cut and restored rope
Can be learned from Mark Wilson's complete course in magic

Light and very portable this is for the middle of the performance once you've got a small to decent size crowd, it's mostly a time filler.

Cups and Balls
Can be learned from Mark Wilson's complete course in magic

Depending how new you are to magic will affect your opinion of the cups and balls. Many new magicians forget just how powerful it is. If you think the cups and balls are too old fashioned or naff you may be shocked to find out the performance is over 3000 * years old. It was an old effect when your grandad was a child it was an old effect when Jesus was a child and yet it survives, because when done well it is the purest form of magic there is. impossible, elegant and surprising. This is a finale piece.

Straight jacket escape
A version of which can be brought Here

I've never learned the straight jacket so I don't know about the best resource for learning it, but it's used a lot mainly because it you can spend a lot of time building it up. However it is expensive and fairly heavy to carry around, it's worth considering how much you're going to spend and how much it will all weigh. It's a finale piece.

Contortion body through tennis racket

This is a rarer one but once again it packs small and plays big, it's a finale piece and good for getting screams. I actually know very little about this and I'm afraid I don't know where you would learn it.

I hate making these long posts because due to my dyslexia and constant editing it takes me too long (I started writing this at 10.30 and I'm sure there are still mistakes I've missed). I'm also aware that hitting you with a wall of text about how expensive, complex and difficult busking is can be very off-putting. So I'm going to finish this by saying if you want to be good at this, you simply have to go out as much as you can and do it. Don't be afraid to look silly (you will look silly) don't be afraid that no one will stop (at first they won't eventually they will) and don't concern yourself to much with getting and learning everything I've written here. Learn by doing, go out and try materiel, try it again keep going until you know whether it's the material or the performance that does or doesn't work. Add and remove things from your act and costume until you're making decent money. Don't let other magicians and buskers tell you what will and won't work, only your audience will tell you that. Don't be discouraged, there will be bad weather, bad audiences and bad people trying to stop you. Push through and have confidence in yourself.

I'm going to bed.

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Re: Salutations, and a really stupid plan!

Postby cunning_man » Aug 6th, '12, 02:43

Thank you, Eugene, for the very informative reply! Seriously man, that was actually a huge help.

I've already accepted that mentalism and bizarre magic may not be the way to go when it comes to busking. At least for me, anyway, it may not be the way to go. I'm long-winded to begin with and that's a habit I think I'll need to break out there if I want to make anything work out there. Two days left and I'm already sweating bullets at the thought of it.

This is good, I think, it means I'm about to do something life-changing (for good or ill, hopefully good.) As an aside, an odd question: Could I use production, maybe a color change and eventual vanish of silks as a build and still keep the balloon swallowing as a finale? Also having a bit of trouble with my patter, mostly having trouble keeping it at around PG to PG-13.

Thanks a billion folks! :)

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Re: Salutations, and a really stupid plan!

Postby Poppadom » Aug 10th, '12, 13:59

Good on you for taking that step. Sometimes you've just got to take that plunge, and the sink or swim approach is often the only way to go. Good luck, and remember that in this case, if you do sink you can always try again!

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