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The Festival Market Places

Photo Credit: Leif NormanThe Forks Market Place, Winnipeg

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Almost with out exception major urban centres have some sort of Festival Market or Farmer’s Market and for the enterprising street performer these venues make an idea venue to set up and ply one’s trade.

I grew up in the Ottawa area, so for me the venue was “The Byward Market.” Initially I took my show down to the market during the day to play for the day time shopping crowd. This seemed to work particularly well during the spring and fall when the weather was a bit brisk, but sunny days brought droves of people out. At the time I didn’t have any competition for spots and I don’t recall ever being hassled about finding a corner of the market, setting up and doing my shows. I actually credit these early shows for my training as a performer or a sort of apprenticeship and I was extremely lucky to have the opportunity to learn by doing and doing and doing. The fact that there weren’t any other variety acts busking the market at the time meant that I had the chance to earn my chops and develop  my show and my stage character in a really organic sort of way. Awesome!

As my show developed and improved I also started performing in the Market in the evening as, not only was it the farmer’s market during the day, it was also a popular area for bars and restaurants in the evening. The ton of the space changed dramatically as evening set in and the street lights provided enough lighting to make evenings shows not only possible, but much more atmospheric. In the evenings people were also out to spend money in a different sort of way and I quickly learned that I could make substantially more money with evening shows than with shows during the day provided the weather was warm enough to entice people out side. For a few years, this represented the bulk of my summer employment.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that most urban centres have some sort of Festival Market or Farmer’s Market.  The Byward Market was the place I got my start, but it’s by no means the only venue of this type that I’ve had the opportunity to play in. Here’s a short list of just some of the different venues I’ve gotten to play at or visit over the years that all sort of fall into this category of space (there are lots and lots more) –

Many of the places listed above are well know, well developed tourist areas and as a result are often governed by corporate bodies who fear the worst from or litigious society and place all sorts of restrictions on what performers can and can’t do. On one hand this protects the public, but on the other hand, it’s a shame that it’s needed. Typically these venues are all well known for the street performances that take place as part of the daily chemistry of the space, and this vibrant performance dynamic often becomes a draw for crowds to the destination. Some administrator’s get this, some don’t, and even though these places are know for street shows which may help attract a crowd, the hoops you need to jump through to do your shows can at times be a bit restrictive.

The trick would be to fine a venue like this that wasn’t either overly developed and over regulated or already teaming with acts all competing to do shows. Not sure where that might be, and if it does exist then there’s a good chance there’s a street performer already there doing their utmost to keep it a secret so they can work the pitch much the way I worked the Byward Market back in the 80’s.

Mall Gigs

Where in the world am I today?: Winnipeg, MB, Canada

Though it’s not a market I proactively seek out, working at shopping malls can be a goldmine of opportunity. I was reminded of this again while in Winnipeg as I got to do a couple of days at the Portage Place Shopping Centre here in Winnipeg. In this instance, the performances were set up in association with the Winnipeg International Children’s Festival as a sort of extension to the C.A.M.P. program and all of the leg work had been taken care of before I even showed up for the gig. This was fantastic! I was one step removed from dealing with the mall authority on this one because I answered to the production company who was handling all of the details, not the mall itself.

I have done gigs in the past where I worked directly for the mall authority of what ever shopping complex I happened to be working at. In fact, in one instance, I had a great client in a huge shopping complex called Canal City in Fukuoka, Japan that ended up being one of my best clients through the mid t0 late 1990s. Now this was a bit of an exception to the rule as the performance space at this particular mall was a treat to perform in and this ‘mall’ looked at entertainment and their entertainment program in a way that I’d never encountered before. They ‘got it’ in terms of realizing that a good performance program would help make their complex and entertainment destination as well as a great shopping experience.

I’m sure Canal City isn’t the only shopping mall in the world that ‘Gets It,’ but I’ve encountered far more malls where you’re asked to perform in an environment which is less than idea in terms of it’s focus.

My experience at Portage Place Mall actually ended up being better than many others I’ve experienced in the past, but it did come with it’s share of challenges. In the picture that accompanies this post (photo by: Leif Norman) you can see that there are a bunch of people leaning against a fence like barricade and there are a bunch of people sitting on the floor in front of this barricade. On Friday when I performed in the space I worked on the stage that was set a long way back in the space. Because people naturally wanted to gather behind the fence, it was a big challenge to get them to come into the courtyard and fill in the space closer to the stage. Because the audience was behind a barricade, this had both a physical as well as psychological effect on how much the crowd seemed willing to commit to the show. I did my best given the scenario, but made some tweaks for my show on Saturday.

  1. I moved off the stage and moved closer to the barricade so I could more successfully engage the audience.
  2. I opted for the non-verbal version of my show that I usually do when I perform in the Piazza on Princess Ships. For some reason this non-verbal version of my show seems to work better in this sort of situation because it forces me to be more physical in my actions and play a big space with broader strokes.

These tweaks had an enormous effect on the show which felt much stronger than it had the day before. The fact that it was a weekend may also have contributed to larger crowds in the mall which no doubt helped as well.

A couple of other things to keep in mind when working with shopping centres.

Insurance – The mall will likely ask you to carry some sort of third part liability insurance. If you don’t have any already, get it. It’s a good idea in this litigious society.

Material – Because of the diverse cliental that form the customer base for most shopping complexes, the people who organize special events are very sensitive to complaints. When ever possible make sure you’re material plays well to kids, teenagers, adults and grandparents. Keep it clean, keep it family appropriate.

Audiences – Sometimes they’re big, sometimes their small, but every time you go out make the effort to give those people who are watching the best show you possibly can. Not only will the audience appreciate it, but the mall manager will recognize the extra effort which could mean repeat bookings.

Mixing art with commerce is at times a tenuous mix at best, but if you can successfully mix your performance into the shopping mall environment it could mean a very lucrative merger.


Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

I’m a bit anal at times… This can get annoying to others… Heck it even gets annoying to me at times, but I derive a certain level of comfort from having things organized and in place. Just the way I’m wired I guess…

I’m off to Winnipeg tomorrow for the 14th annual Circus And Magic Partnership (C.A.M.P.) program and to do shows as part of the Downtown Clown Around Program and the Festival of Fools at the Forks. So… Fly to Winnipeg, spend a little over a week in town and be a part of three different gigs – sort of. All three gigs are set up by the same guy, but service three different clients, so it’s like having an agent in your back pocket working on your behalf which is awesome!

Some gigs allow for this sort of freedom… Perform during the day at one venue, dash across town in the evening to perform at another. If you can find these opportunities, you can effectively double your income with multiple bookings in the same location. This technique is often used with booking school shows. I know many performers who have come out to Vancouver for Artscan and have ended up booking tours where they do two or three school shows a day and jam as many as possible into the space of a week or two. This is awesome because when an artist flies in to do a school show tour they get as many shows in as possible in a fairly short period of time, what’s even better, Art Starts in Schools helps set these tours up much like the giggage that’s been set up for me in Winnipeg over the course of the coming week.

Some gigs do have a very specific exclusivity clause in them though.

“Performer agrees not to perform for a competing event with in a two hundred kilometre radius for a period of two weeks on either side of the date of the booking”

Or something to that effect.

The purpose of exclusivity clauses like these is to ensure that a particular event gets to keep you all to themselves. This can be a good thing for the event if you’ve got a particular draw for a specific demographic…

Anyway… I sort of strayed from my original thought and the title of this post – ‘checklists.’

I’m a big fan of having either a written or mental check list that I go over as I’m packing up for a gig and this time around is no exception… I’ve got several things sitting on my desk at the moment that I need to take with me as they’re either gifts for friends I’ll be working with in Winnipeg or for friends I’m looking forward to hooking up with who happen to live in Winnipeg. Other things on my check-list (and I had this on my list for my recent trip to Yellowknife as well) check the weather in Winnipeg to see what the appropriate winter clothing is going to be… (Apparently I’ve got a spread of -14˚C to + 14˚C to look forward to on this up coming trip based on a quick check of the weather in Winnipeg).

It’s always better to arrive reasonably on top of things which is why I’m a big fan of the check list as I’m packing. Arriving prepared is best, but unless you’re in the middle of nowhere and need something incredibly specific chances are you’ll be able to pick up anything left behind at your destination. Arrive ready to go when possible, but don’t sweat the small stuff if you forget something like your toothpaste… They have toothpaste in Winnipeg too…

Caribou Carnival – Yellowknife, NWT, Canada

Where in the world am I today?: Flying up to Yellowknife, NWT, Canada

So I get an email out of the blue from an old friend/event producer named Rick Poltaruk a couple of months ago asking me if I’d be interested in coming up to the Northwest Territories (Yellowknife to be exact) to perform as part of the umpteenth annual (there’s some dispute as to how many there have actually been records being a bit suspect and all) Caribou Carnival in lovely downtown Yellowknife and before really giving it too much thought I say –

‘Sure, those dates are open, I’d love to come and play for  you!’

It only really dawned on my yesterday when I was packing and checked the weather forecast for Yellowknife that this might in fact be a very very COLD event to perform at – DOH!

The flight up was uneventful enough. Got to YVR in Vancouver with oodles of time to spare and got some email and stuff caught up while I sat in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge pre-flight. The hop from Vancouver to Edmonton was painless… Caught a bit of Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut in the film “Whip It” but the flight wasn’t long enough to watch the whole thing… Might catch the tail end on the way home…

In Edmonton there was enough of a layover that Neale Bacon (a ventriloquist from Burnaby who’s also going to be playing over the weekend) and I ended up parking ourselves at the Tim Horton’s at the airport and yakked away as we waited for the First Air flight up to Yellowknife. Truth is I had a ton of work I could be doing, but it seemed more important to just chill and chat than try to whip out my laptop and get anything done.

The hop up to Yellowknife was a breeze. The service on First Air was great and as we touched down in Yellowknife we were greeted by sparkling fairy dust-like snow that was blowing across the runway and catching the light of the terminal building. My luggage all arrived, I was greeting by Rick at the Airport and whisked off to the Hotel. Got checked in and headed immediately to the Mackenzie Lounge to catch some live music…

Now there’s no doubt in my mind that the temperatures I’m going to experience while I’m here are going to well below the norm in terms of what I’m used to, but with any luck I’ll be able to catch the Northern Lights and have a few great adventures along the way… Amazing to think that a little over a month ago I was performing in India on the other side of the world and tomorrow I’ll be making my performance debut at the Caribou Carnival.

Sometimes taking a gig is about some sort of career advancing opportunity. Sometimes the motivation has something to do with hooking up with friends and having a great hang, sometimes it’s all about the adventure and new experience. I sometimes love to wallow in the fabulousness of the fact that this thing I do for a living has allowed me to life such a diverse and interesting life. I’ve had this conversation with several people recently and the best way that we seem to be able to sum it up is this – I get to live the lifestyle of a millionaire with out the paycheque.

Moisture Festival

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

How do they do it? Swing by the Moisture Festival Web-site and you’ll see an incredible alumni of incredible performers appear on screen. All acts who have journeyed to Seattle to take part in a festival where the salaries are entirely dependant on ticket sales.

It’s a pretty simple equation. The festival runs for four weeks, shows are put together from a star studded collection of variety and burlesque entertainers, each time you perform you earn one share, once the festival wraps up all of the expenses are paid and then the proceeds are distributed equally amongst the share holders… Is it Democracy? Is it Communism? Is it the way things should run? I’m not sure, but one thing is for sure, incredible acts seem to be drawn to this event.

Back in December when I was sending out festive greeting cards I created an email version of the card that I could send out along with the three hundred and fifty 0dd hard copies that also got distributed during the holiday season. One of the recipients of the email version of the card was Tim Furst one time (all time?) Flying Karamazov Brother. Tim also happens to be one of the key players (if not THE key player – well my main connection anyway) in the Moisture Festival Organization. I sent out a ton of the email versions of the Holiday greeting and some people responded… Tim was one of them. When I heard back from Tim I took the opportunity to ask about Moisture Festival.

Now I have to admit that I’m generally motivated by money when it comes to gigs and I think my capitalist tendencies are well enough known that one of the first things that Tim did was warn me of exactly what I was getting myself int0 –

First, read the Performer / Booking Information page on our website www.moisturefestival.org so that you know what you would be getting yourself into (ie, no financial guarantee but lots of fun – and only doing 5-12 minutes per show.  It is, after all, a Varieté festival . . .) Then, if you are still interested, let me know if you can legally work in the USA.

So I read and I reported in that I ‘got it’ and that really all I wanted was a chance to play for play’s sake.

This is, I think, the key. The idea of playing with out worrying about money is very liberating… I know many performers for whom this is the driving force behind why they became performers in the first place and somehow by the sheer act of playing the money seems to look after itself. Perhaps I’m a bit too left brained at times and I should trust my right brain more when it comes to the play quotient, but left brained concerns like family, bills, and responsibility have a nasty way of creeping in more often than I’d necessarily like and play is often shelved in exchange for security.

Moisture Festival for me will be a chance to play. Sure it’s only for one day, two if you count the extra day I’m spending in Seattle to just watch shows, but especially after a very busy February where jobs that offered security were at the for front, this chance to play for the sake of playing is going to be great and I know I’ll get as much (if not more) from going down with this mindset than I may from the actual time I spend on stage…

If you’re in the Seattle area, I’ll be a part of two variety shows on March 14th one that starts at 3:00 pm and the other that’s slated to begin at 7:30 pm. Details can be found on the Moisture Festival website.

2010 PNE Street Stars Update

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Since 2005 I’ve consulted with Patrick Roberge, the creative director for the Pacific National Exhibition, on the PNE’s Street Stars Program. Over the year’s we’ve had some of the best artists on the street in the program and as we gear up for the 100th anniversary of the Fair August 21 and September 6th 2010, I’m hoping to maintain the tradition of excellence when it comes to the Street Stars Program.

I’ve always assumed the role of “Man Friday” for the program because although I go out and do most of the leg work when it comes to tracking down the acts that I think should be involved in the program, it’s Patrick who has the final say in who comes in to perform. This isn’t the worst scenario in the world and it has certainly allowed me to learn and grow my knowledge of how to create a world-class street program and include it in a bigger event such as the PNE which has been great. One of the biggest challenges involved comes to co-ordinating the decision making process around each other’s schedules.

Along with being the creative director for the PNE, Patrick also runs a special events company called Patrick Roberge Productions (PRP). This company does everything from help organized and run awards shows to creating new stage productions for the PNE to managing and producing the opening and closing ceremonies for the upcoming Paralympic Games. This year has been a huge year with the Olympics and Paralympics in Vancouver and related events have meant A LOT more work for Patrick and his company.

The result of all of these additional events is that decisions about the 2010 PNE and the Street Stars Program, which have traditionally be sorted out by this point in the year, have been put off. I had an initial meeting with Patrick a few weeks ago, but it was very clear at that point that other projects were taking priority. I was trying to set up a meeting this week to start moving forward with things, but the scope of the Opening and Closing of the Paralympic Games is such that all other projects are being put on the side-line for the time begin.

The Paralympics wrap up on March 21st and Patrick and I won’t really get into the programming of this year’s Street Stars Program until after that, so, to those of you who’ve expressed interest in the program. Thanks for your patients, If you end up getting other offers for work at the same time and need to make decisions my advice would be to take the guaranteed gigs, but please do keep me in the loop as to your availability. For those of you who haven’t contacted me yet but who are interested in the gig, please get me the following information so I can add you to the ranks of those being considered for the 2010 fair –

  • Act Name:
  • Real Name(s):
  • Web Site:
  • Web Video :
  • Email:
  • Mailing Address:
  • Phone Number(s):
  • Bio/Program Blurb (40 – 60 words max):
  • Photo (4 x 6, 300 dpi, jpg):

If you haven’t heard anything more about this by the end of March feel free to contact me to see where things are at. That’s the update for today!

Shows at Robson Square

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Prep for the BC Street Jam Program at Robson Square started for me shortly after I wrapped up work at the 2009 PNE back in September, before it wrapped up actually as I had the initial conversation about helping co-ordinate the street performers on Robson Square before the PNE even finished. The BC Street Jam and all of the activities at Robson Square are being funded by the British Columbia provincial government and terms like ‘cultural diversity,’ ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’ were being tossed around so much that the red tape and bureaucracy leading up to this event was likely the most intense that I’ve ever encountered.

So… Six months of jumping through hoops and cutting through red tape and being accountable and during this entire lead up to the Olympics no one really knew what the crowds were going to be like once The Games actually started. Well… Robson Square is becoming THE spot to meet, congregate and enjoy the Olympic Atmosphere and the programming has almost become too successful. The original stage that was set up for the BC Street Jam that I featured in a post a while back ended up getting scrapped. Crowds on Robson Street have been so huge that after the first weekend of shows in that original venue, the organizers were asked by the police to find an alternative location for the program. The result? The north end of the skating rink at Robson Square right in front of a huge staircase that turns the pitch into a natural amphitheatre. It’s Awesome!

The vibe in the air is incredible as well! People from all corners of the globe have descended on Vancouver for the common goal of witnessing excellence in sport. Yes there’s a flood of red maple-leave clad folks on the streets and it’s very clear who the home town crowd is cheering for, but no matter what country people are from, they’re all in a good mood and this translates to huge happy crowds which are a pleasure to perform for. The energy sort of reminds me of the feeling I get every time I get to Ottawa for Canada Day. People have become hugely patriotic and enthusiastic. The difference this time around is that Canada Day is a one day event and the Olympics is running for 17-days straight.

Beyond just the BC Street Jam Program that I helped co-ordinate, there’s been a huge influx of performers from all over the place who have come in to work the streets and apparently the hats are huge. I’ve got my hands full enough with what I’m doing to not really be all that fussed about pursuing additional street shows during the run, but many of the other performers are cranking it out and doing very well.

I’ve never seen Vancouver look better and it’s really cool to have been a part of helping create the excitement both leading up to the opening with the co-ordinating of performers and during the run with my own shows. If you get the chance and are anywhere near Vancouver, you really should get down and check it out. Like the slogan for the Provincial Government states –

“You Gotta Be Here!”

Street Antics at Corporate Events

Where in the world am I today?: New Delhi, India

I got an unexpected treat on a visit to Dilli Haat where I encountered three Indian ‘Street Performers’ who were obviously brought in to entertain for a group of VIP visitors – a sort of ‘mini’ corporate event. Wikipedia does a pretty good job of describing Dilli Haat as:

“Dilli Haat is a combination food plaza and craft bazaar located in the heart of Delhi…There are also stalls of crafts from all over India, and from a variety of cultural traditions of India.”

It’s a great spot to find decent quality crafts from all over india which makes it a perfect stop for visiting dignitaries.

It was pretty clear that these three performers were waiting to deliver a quick hit of Indian Colour so I stuck around the gate to see what was going to happen. I’ve done my share of this sort of gig in Canada, quite a few in Whistler actually where you’re brought in for a corporate event to amuse and entertain guests as they enter the banquet hall, then provide close up table performances and or a full performance for the evening so I totally ‘got’ what was going on.

Sure enough, about five minutes later the performers get the signal that the VIPs had arrived, the drummer kicks it up a notch, the horse guy starts galloping around (no El Gleno mind you) and the lady starts dancing around. The VIPs are ushered through the main gates and receive a flower garland around their neck and a bindi on their foreheads… Boom, instant color and photo-op! The street performers then scrambled into the bazar and raced ahead to the next performance location.

This next location was where the ‘Fire Breathing‘ Performance took place and judging from the smell of the flame and residual fuel that didn’t burn off the guy was using kerosene for the blowing… I always wonder about the long term side effect of putting that stuff into your body and this guy wasn’t skimping on the flames…

As I walked around the venue I ran into that group of performers a couple of other times and it certainly seemed like the India equivalent to gigs I’ve done in North America. Pretty cool to fly all the way around the world and run into a very similar event to those I’ve done at home and rather fun to be able to sit back and not have to panic about being out there shaking it for the client as I preferred being the spectator as opposed to the performer on that particular evening.

My Home During THE GAMES

2010-02-03Where in the world am I today?: Vancouver, BC, Canada

Welcome to Experience BC at Robson Square a celebration of what makes BC Great that’s being hosted by the Province of British Columbia during the seventeen days that the lower mainland will play host to the world during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Earlier this week I did a site walk specifically to check out the staging that’s being set up for the BC STREET JAM program that I’ve helped co-ordinate. My role in this program was much the same as it is for the PNE Street Stars Program, so it was familiar territory, but there was significantly more bureaucracy involved as this project was a Provincial Government hosted event.

Given some of the more elaborate stages that are being set up to help host performances during the Olympics the STREET JAM Stage (pictured above) is quite modest, but this space will play host to a great line-up of performers:

Aaron Gregg – http://www.stuntsuperstar.com

Actor’s Unlmited – http://www.actorsunlimited.ca

Byron Bertram – http://www.byronbertram.com

The Chairmen – http://www.chairmen.ca

The Checkerboard Guy – http://www.checkerhead.com

dubD300 and Miss C  – http://www.diannadavid.net

Junkyard Symphony – http://www.junkyardsymphony.org

James Johnson the Bigger Balloon Guy – http://www.biggerballoon.com

Mike Battie – http://www.mikebattie.com

The daily schedule can be downloaded via the You Gotta Be Here British Columbia Website here –


Many thanks to all of those who contacted me who were interested in being a part of the festivities during the Olympics, but the criteria for this program required performers to have a pretty specific connection to the Province of British Columbia given that the event is being hosted by the Provincial Government.

It’s still a bit of a mystery as to how many people are actually going to flood the downtown core during the two and a bit weeks of Olympic Festivities, but the excitement in the city is really gearing up for The Games! Should be a hoot!

Cirque Auditions Anyone?

2010-01-27Where in the world am I today?: St. Maarten, The Caribbean aboard the Emerald Princess.

OK… I have to admit that I’m both a fan and a bit leery of Cirque du Soleil… I attended La Fete Foraine du Baie St. Paul in 1984 and got to see Cirque in it’s infancy when it really was a bunch of Street Performers from Quebec who got a big ass grant to buy a tent and put on a show and those shows were electric in a way that’s much different than the slick polish that the shows have become. At the time, it really did feel like a group of twenty acts all of whom easily had enough material for their own show, so every night the shows I saw at the Festival were completely different as though the shows had been thought out the day of the show and thrown together from people’s best bits. It was a ton of fun. Gritty, spontaneous, surprising and human on a much different scale. The shows I’ve seen in recent years (some 26 years later) have given up the grit for polish and although the shows are beautiful eye-candy, I find that I’ve left these recent shows with a sense that something was lost when they opted for the polish and I find myself pining for some of what I remember from the companies origins

Man, listen to me I’m sounding like an old man… Yikes!

I’ve always had a sense that I’d end up working for Cirque at some point too. I remember doing street shows in Old Montreal near where Cirque was set up doing shows and seeing a group of performers walk by the pitch where I was working. We looked at each other as they past and their eyes lingered in a sort of acknowledgement of a shared ideology and sensibility…

Over the years I’ve known lots of friends who’ve gotten jobs with Cirque, in fact, I was just talking to one of the Dancers here aboard the Emerald Princess the other day about his experiences working in ‘O’ in Las Vegas. The comment that resonated with me from our conversation went something like –

It was great, but they work you hard!

The overwhelming sense I get is that you either love it or hate it once you start working for Cirque and I’ve always been a bit tentative about pursuing a performance position with the company. I think in my own arrogant way I figured that when the time was right they might come and ask me if I wanted a job with out putting in much of an effort to make that happen myself. I had some sort of weird sense of entitlement about the whole thing which I know is completely absurd, but I was quite content taking other gigs and just watching the growth of the Cirque Monster from the sidelines…

For those of you with more ambition and a less perverse sense of ego than I’ve had for years, you should check out the casting page for auditions in your area.


I had the chance to visit Cirque’s headquarters in Montreal two years ago and was really impressed. They have an amazing facility in Montreal dedicated to building amazing shows and have departments capable of building a show from the ground up – the costuming department alone blew me away with a section specifically dedicated to making just shoes or just hats, or just this or just that… AMAZING!!!

Through an odd set of circumstances it looks like I might given an opportunity to participate in the auditions that are coming to Vancouver in April and I’ll admit it’s got me feeling a little excited. I have no real ambition to give up what I’m doing and pursue a career with Cirque at the moment, but being asked to be involved was a nice feather in my cap (finally someone woke up and smelled the  coffee and realized that I should be asked) and I look forward to seeing what the opportunity may bring.

52 weeks in the year…find the balance.

2010-01-20Where in the world am I today?: TorontoCharlotteSt. Thomas

On Wednesday’s I try to find some sort of topic about a job opportunity, a possible market worth considering or something related to the execution of  the getting/doing  of gigs. Today I thought I’d take the opposite approach and ask this questions… If there are only 52 weeks in the year ask yourself this.

How many of them do you really want to be working?

I’ve been really lucky in that I’ve successfully migrated my career from one that was seasonally dependant when all of the gigs I did were in the summer months, to one where the season seems to bear little relevance to how busy I am. I’ve got work in various markets that keep me busy all year round.

Even when I worked almost exclusively as a street performer I found ways to follow the sun because it’s always summer somewhere. The 1989/1990 calendar was a perfect example of this for me because I worked a ton over the course of the 1989 Summer in North America, stuck around to do a slew of Christmas Gigs, then hopped on a plane and headed to Australia for three months during which I hit various Festivals and events as well as just street performed at various pitches. Following this I had a two month run in Japan which brought me to the beginning of May, and shortly after that I was back into the full swing of the North American summer season. I was 100% successful at keeping myself busy, traveling and working over the course of an entire calendar year.

That was the year it really started to click with me that, if I really wanted to, I could be busy 12 months of the year and I actively started to pursue just that, as many jobs as I could possibly book myself each and every month of the year.

With this sort of driven work ethic however comes the risk of burn-out. One of the things I really enjoyed about the seasonal nature of the North American Street Performer’s Season was actually taking some time off during the winters when I could recharge my creative/performance batteries and refresh myself so that when I went back to the day-to-day routine of a more demanding performance schedule I actually had something in the reserves to give to the audiences I was performing for.

There was a year in the late 90s when my touring season started in January and was pretty non-stop until the middle of November at which point I started into the Christmas Performance season. It was the peak of my work in Japan and the contracts that I was doing in Japan at the time were the typical three shows a day, six days a week sort of scenario. After three of those contracts over the course of the year each of which were roughly a month long combined with a very busy North American Summer Season of touring and performing I sort of felt like I was running on fumes and didn’t have much to give to my audience when I stepped out to perform.

I remember taking a year off between high school and university. I traveled, I performed, I explored anything and everything and at then decided to go back to school. I had a blast at the University of Ottawa. I studied general arts with a concentration in theatre and loved filling my head with interesting lectures and new ideas and at the end of the year at school I felt like my tank was once again full and when I went back to performing I had so much more to give to my audience.

There’s something to refilling your tank so you’ve got something more to give. Some people are successful at refilling their tank along the way, which means their tank never runs dry – this is awesome. For myself however I think I occasionally need a complete change of scenery to really re-charge my batteries. This past year I had the amazing opportunity to take about three weeks away from performing and travel to Peru and visit Machu Picchu… I came back with full batteries which was a pretty important thing because I walked straight into performing a new show at the PNE.

There are 52 weeks in every year. Yes working during many of them is important because if you want to make a living, but equally important, I think, is setting some time aside to make sure your tank is creatively and playfully full so that when you step in front of the audience you’ve got something in your well to give.

So, figure out what your financial nut is and make sure you’ve got enough gigs in the schedule to look after that, but also give some thought to your creative nut and what it’s going to take to make sure that it’s being nurtured and satisfied as well… If things get out of whack balance-wise you run the risk of burning out, and if what you really want it to be able to sustain a career as a performer and creative a person, then striking a balance between commerce and creativity is critical!

Reflective Math after two contracts…

2010-01-13Where in the world am I today?: St. Maarten aboard the Emerald Princess

So I’ve done two different cruise ship gigs since the beginning of the year. One aboard the Monarch of the Seas, a ship operated by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and the other which I’m on now aboard the Emerald Princess. Before I go any further I must state that both lines have been good to me over the years and I’m in no way trying to pit one against the other, but wanted to put forward some math that I was running through my head the other day when I compared one with the other…

Let’s start with the contract I did aboard the Royal Caribbean Ship. Joined the ship on a Monday, left on a Saturday, performed two times for the Farewell Show on the last night and my sets were about 45 minutes long each. Six days aboard the ship if you count the day I disembarked, complete freedom to do what ever I like for the first few days until I was brought into the theatre on Friday to do my rehearsal and shows that evening.

Next lets look at the contract I’m just finishing up aboard the Emerald Princess. I joined the ship on a Thursday and will leave tomorrow (also a Thursday). I’ve done fourteen shows in the Piazza and do two tonight in the Princess Theatre as part of a split bill show. So… eight days aboard the ship if you count the day that I disembark, shows every single day of the contract averaging around 25 minutes or so meaning a bit less freedom of movement, but an awesome opportunity to stay sharp by performing a lot which I quite like because I find that if I don’t perform a lot I get a bit rusty… This many shows has the effect of making me really sharp, though by the end of a run like this I’m usually a bit drained…

Now… Consider this… Both contracts pay roughly the same salary.

The conditions are similar but different, the performance obligation aboard Princess is certainly consists of a significantly larger number of shows, but the shows are shorter and certainly in the Piazza are much lower pressure than working in the bigger rooms. Having such a light performance schedule on Royal Caribbean may seem great, but sitting around waiting to work can end up getting a bit boring if you let it.

This particular contract aboard Princess has a rather high show count and usually it’s not quite this high, especially if you’re brought on to perform in spaces other than the Piazza. I should also mention that the expected show length in the Piazza is only really about 15 minutes with some acts doing as little as seven or eight, so that I typically do about 20 – 25 is more than is really ‘necessary,’ but I just don’t feel like I’ve done a show unless I have some sort of beginning, middle and end.

The show count on Princess has gone up over the last year though, there’s no doubt about that. This started back in about March of 2009 when I think they pulled one guest entertainer spot off per cruise on all of their ships as a money saving procedure. The remaining acts were asked to do repeat performances and pick up the slack, but the salaries didn’t increase along with the show count. The general consensus is/was that if you were going to complain about the extra shows they could simply replace you with a long list of acts who had been cut and were quite happy to accept the new conditions if it meant getting the job…

In these touch economic times” seemed to be the catch phrase that got bounced around a lot as the means to manipulate the system and performers into doing more shows for the same money.

Working on ships is pretty great, you get to travel around usually to either warm or exotic ports, you get a staff of people backing you up to make your show look and sound the best it possible can which is awesome! Being aware that each line has different expectations of the acts and how much they’ll be asking you to work is worth a bit of research though just so you know what you’re getting yourself into and can feel good about the decisions you’ve made and the number of shows you’ll be doing. It’s not always about the money, but the last thing on earth you want is to start feeling as though you’re being taken advantage of.

Sometimes this ‘IS’ the job…

2010-01-06Where in the world am I today?: Toronto to Miami to St. Thomas

Wanted to find the right image to describe my day today and stumbled across this architectural drawing of a baggage carousel… What does this have to do with my day today? Well after arriving in Toronto on a Red-Eye from Vancouver I had to drag myself from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3 then pick up my luggage from a carousel similar to the one in the drawing and walk it through customs and immigration for the United States before boarding my flight to Miami…

Much like the description of my day getting through YVR on my way to the Monarch of the Seas recently, I got stuck waiting in at the connecting luggage carousel for well over an hour waiting, waiting, waiting for my luggage to not show up… When I went to the American Airlines desk to ask what my best course of action was going to be they said that I really did need to go through Immigration immediately if I was going to catch the flight to Miami, so I had to abandon any hope of getting my luggage on the flight and simply make a B-Line to the departure gate…

Oh… I should also mention that on my way to the gate I needed to check my hat box that I’ve carried as hand luggage for as long as I can remember because the increased restrictions on what can be carried as hand luggage is really being enforced and there’s no messing around with the TSA guys when you get to security… As it was it was touch and go as to whether I could bring my camera bag/back pack with me too as it was considered a bit too big…

On days like today I remember that sometimes the job (and after all Wednesday’s are traditionally about talking about job opportunities) is more about the challenges of traveling than about the actual performance. Heck… The shows, that’s the fun part, but red-eye flights, staring at baggage carousels while praying to the luggage gods, making sure that Immigration inspectors have no call to pull you aside, getting patted down in Airport Security… That’s what I’m getting paid for…

In the back of my mind I’m wondering how long it’s going to be before we start to see full body scanners the likes of the ones seen in the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Total Recall’ showing up in Airports… The things that were Science Fiction 20 years ago becoming the reality that we’ll soon be living in, much like the way flip style cel phones sort of resemble the original Star Trek communicators… If it would speed up travel days like today then quite frankly I’m all for it…

Nice to be back on the Monarch!

2009-12-30Where in the world am I today?: Nassau, The Bahamas aboard the Monarch of the Seas.

I’m feeling all filled with nostalgia at the moment aboard the Monarch of the Seas because this was one of the first ships I performed on after signing on to have Don Casino represent me to the cruise ship market. Flash back to February 2005, I flew myself to Miami for the Don Casino Talent Showcase and got a contract shortly after with Celebrity Cruise Lines… My start with Celebrity seemed to fizzle out before it really had a chance to get going though and it wasn’t until I started to work for Royal Caribbean in July of that same year that I really started to feel like I was getting some traction with the agency and with one specific cruise line.

Over the course of the months that followed I ended up working on the Monarch of the Seas a number of times and I feel like I have this ship and the shows I did in the Sound of Music Theatre to thank for helping me transition my show to working well for audiences on cruise ships. Although the Monarch is one of the smallest ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet (just over a third of the over all tonnage of the monster  Oasis of the Seas), coming back to this ship this week feels like coming home in a strange sort of way and I’m really looking forward to being back up on this particular stage at the end of the week.

Here’s the low-down on the space in the Sound of Music Theatre… The venue itself can hold about six hundred and eighty people. Given that the maximum capacity of the ship is two thousand seven hundred and forty four passengers, the chances of getting decent houses for your performances are really good. Now not every cruise has a capacity crowd, but given the ratio of two shows per evening divided by the total number of passengers, it’s more than likely that the room will feel pretty full when you step out on stage. This is a very good thing! The other thing that helps is that the Sound of Music Theatre is the only show room on the Monarch of the Seas, so, unlike on most Princess ships were there are often multiple shows to choose from nightly, on the Monarch, the show that’s going on in the Theatre is ‘The Show’ to see each night. Result – bigger houses.

Seating in the venue take the form of long slightly arched sofa-like chairs and several rows of what seem like movie theatre chairs on the main level that are slightly raked as they move back from the stage meaning that sight lines in just about every seat of the theatre are excellent. Further back there are tables and chairs providing a bit of a cabaret venue feel and there’s a wrap around balcony above as well. That the venue has enough height for a balcony means excellent ceiling height for performers like myself who juggle and use the space as well as second level viewing options for spectators. Were I to compare it to the venues I typically play on Princess ships, the Sound of Music Theatre would be a combination of the Universe Lounge and the Princess Theatre and seems to pull the strengths of both of those Princess venues into a single performance space which is awesome.

The shape and acoustics in the room also lend for a better experience for the performer on stage. The energy exchange is fantastic. Any energy you throw out to the audience comes back in spades. This seems to be because the venue itself funnels audience reaction right back onto the stage and almost amplifies it. As I watched the welcome aboard show on Monday night I could feel waves of energy hitting the stage as the audience responded to the comedian. It was fabulous!

The stage itself is raised a little over three feet above the ground level seats in the front row meaning that for the front few rows of the audience, the stage is at eye level. All eyes are up to look at the performers on stage which likely also helps the energy of the audience as its a bit harder for the blue rinse set to nod off as a result. This configuration doesn’t seem to make for any sort of uncomfortable separation between audience and performer and the staircases on either side of the stage make it easy for performers to leave the stage and enter the audience or have audience members join the performer on stage for volunteer bits.

Technical support in Sound of Music Theatre takes the form of the Production Manager who runs the space, one technician on sound, another on lights and if required there is also back stage help as well. In other words there are plenty of hands on deck should you require any special effects or added assistance in making your show work. I spoke of transitioning my show to work well for the cruise ship audience and this has more to do with the attitude with which I deliver my material as opposed to how successfully I tap into the technical aspects of what ship venues can provide in the way of support. I barely scratch the surface in terms of what sorts of effects I ‘could’ use in these theatres, but keeping it simple seems to keep the rehearsals short which in turn keeps the technicians happy. Happy technician, happy show seems to be a fairly safe way to opperate for me.

Show requirement-wise I’ll be doing a thirty minute set as part of the Farewell Show during this particular contract. I’ll do that same thirty minutes for two different seatings, one at 7:00 pm and the second at 9:00 pm on the last night of the cruise. Also included in the show will be a sneak-peek of the cruise video that is produced on-board, appropriate funny and thank-you’s from the cruise director and a short production number by the singers and dancers as well as a passenger dance number I believe. Variety acts seem to get this spot in the farewell show a lot on Royal Caribbean Ships, so depending on how you look a things either this is a great because it’s far less work than what I typically do for Princess, or it’s not as good because you spend a lot of your time waiting around to work. For me, the chance to come back and play on the Monarch again is a treat and I’m thoroughly looking forward to my shows on Friday!

Theme Parks

2009-12-23Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

For many years I worked in Japan and one of the venues that hired me again and again was the Hokkaido Marine Park in the small town of Noboribetsu on Japan’s North Island of Hokkaido. This park’s main focus was on the large aquarium, seal and dolphin shows and the daily penguin parade. Now beyond just being an attraction for marine life, the Park was also a tribute to Noboribetsu’s Sister City in Denmark and the main aquariums were housed in a replica of a Danish Castle. From the front doors of the Castle you walked over a draw bridge that went over the moat, then down into a Danish town square. It was the perfect setting to put a ‘Street Performer’ and although I don’t think I have any Danish in my background, my blond-ish hair and white skin were enough to make me an attractive choice for the park to use in this space.

The gig itself was a pretty standard three thirty-minute shows a day sort of arrangement and I worked six days a week during contracts that lasted anywhere from four to seven weeks. Doing that many shows really honed my show and allowed me to try out new ideas and work on my Japanese a lot. I also found that after about a week or so of doing shows I got into a rhythm, a groove that just clicked along and on some levels I lost track of time as I got into the daily schedule and really enjoyed getting out and playing for the crowds everyday.

While I was on the GRAND Princess last week I was working with Magician, Peter Gossamer, and his assistant/fiance Carol who are looking forward to going into their third season of doing shows at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. They got to play in a theatre that held eight hundred and fifty people and performed for six weeks straight to packed houses. They used this opportunity to debut new illusions, work with a larger cast which included a couple of additional dancers and also worked ‘the back of the room‘ by selling simple magic tricks and souvenirs. They made a killing!

Steve Martin talks nostalgically about his days working for Disney and Knotts Berry Farm in Los Angeles in his book “Born Standing Up.” He starts off by selling programs at the front gates of Disney, then working in the Magic shop before moving over to Knotts Berry Farm to work in the little Vaudeville House the Bird Cage Theatre where he worked from the age of 18 – 22. At the end of the book he returns to the Bird Cage and there’s a sense of longing as he describes the sense of wanting to return to the youthful excitement of his performances in the venue.

The grind of doing so many shows isn’t for everyone, but to me there’s a sense of satisfaction in having pumped it out and having had a positive impact on so many visitors to one of these attractions. I often had people come up to me after a day at the Park I worked at to tell me that I was their favourite memory from their day. In a weird sort of way this always left me feeling like I’d done an honest days work for an honest day’s pay and kept me grounded in a way that I always found incredibly pleasing.

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