The most attention grabbing style of street performing is known as “Circle Busking”. In circle busking, the performer takes some time to gather a circle of people around himself on the pitch, performs a show and then tries to keep the audience around as long as possible to collect their money. Anytime people see other people standing around, they want to stand around with them too and see what’s going on. The ease of gathering a crowd, being able to gather a little bit of fame while doing it and more often than not, making a decent amount of money in a short time is what makes the circle such a popular style for variety performers. (Variety performers are the jugglers, magicians, break dancers, fire eaters, comedians, musical acts, etc… You know- variety!)
During the show, the performer has an opportunity to build up the audience further and convince them to tip him at the end of the show. At the end, he passes the hat (or somebody else does it for him) while he continues to entertain the audience with witty banter and takes up the collection. If done right, there is usually a bit of cheekyness to the passing of the hat too that is almost as fun to watch as the show. This is to keep the audience around to tip more instead of walking off after the show. If the “hat man”, “pitch man”, or “bottler” is any good he will continue to draw a crowd even as people are leaving and hopefully convince them to even leave a larger tip also. The more people that are attracted to your circle performance, the more money (and often other articles of interest end up there too, lol) will go into your hat.
I have seen artists get a good crowd while performing paintings or caricatures to music for a circle of people. While all are not buskers, some novelty entertainers that cross into the ‘variety’ realm that come to mind are Dan Dunn, Brad Blaze, Denny Dent and Paul Merklien of Great Big Faces Caricatures. I have also seen a few teams of artists working in tandem to create something abstract on a large canvas or a graffiti piece. A good crossover between walk by and circle performances are the airbrush artists who create small works of art while putting on a bit of a show (of which they give to the highest tipper or sell outright if they can get away with it.)
One of the more valuable lessons you can learn as a busker is to pick up your speed. The faster your production turnaround, the more tips you can make. Keeping this in mind, the circle performers also know they must paint pretty quickly. Generally a variety performer can work a popular pitch for about 20-45 minutes with an additional 10 minutes to collect tips while the next act sets up and you tear down. If there is time to do so, ideally a circle show can last up to 90 minutes with the entertainer taking the opportunity to plug the show as he is setting up and continuing to entertain and collect tips while he is taking down the operation. If people are giving you money you can milk it for a lonnnnnnnnngggg Time.
I would think that painting this way would have to be super neat and tidy also, so as not to get paint everywhere and screw up the pitch for everybody else who uses it. So be mindful of that. Circle buskers are vulnerable to some of the same kinds of pitfalls as the walk by buskers are, but they’re also limited by the popularity of the pitch and the possibility of props being stolen, tampered with or misused by an audience member. A positive point to bring up is that there would be other performers around and the hours would be sporadic. Lots of down time watching and mingling with your fellow performers might be fun once and a while too. You might not get along with everybody but there would be plenty of opportunities to see how other types of entertainers handle the challenges that come up and you’ll learn more than being alone.
Any time you put yourself out there to perform for the public, you stand the risk of being hassled in one way or another and it takes some serious chops and a butt load of confidence to perform for a circle of judgmental strangers, IMO. Sure, individual people are judgmental, but usually can be won over easily enough. A large crowd made up of people from all walks of life is a different story altogether. You will find that people are dumb animals who along with being easily entertained, are also easily scared, misled or angered. This makes large crowds of people scary for many reasons. Performing a show for a large group of people makes it easy for hecklers to try bug you and ruin your show. While this is great entertainment for the rest of the crowd, it can be aggravating if you lose control of the environment and can quickly make your show go full on FUBAR. A good busker has a billion one liners to shut these people down and do it quickly to maintain control of the situation. It is a must. God help you if you lose control of the show…
While the circle setup might be great for a variety performer, it might not necessarily translate all that well to a artistic novelty entertainer. There are elements of circle busking that you can incorporate into your one on one act however. I will discuss some later at length.
NEXT: CAFE BUSKING AND STROLLING!
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