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Archive for the ‘Performance’ Category

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.

Bring the right Cables…

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

It might be as a result of the training I received as a Street Performer dealing with my own sound, it might be because I’m generally a bit anal about trying to make everything look and sound it’s best, not exactly sure, but I was reminded again of the importance of traveling with the correct cables the other day… I showed up to perform at Portage Place Mall on Friday and I was splitting the bill with a local magician. He came all prepared to plug in his MP3 Tech into the sound board that the client had provided, but the cable he brought wasn’t quite the right one for the job.

Thankfully I had the cable he needed or at least one that got things working and we were able to get his music plugged into the board and working fairly painlessly. It was one of those scenarios where a fairly small part of the equation was missing and could have created a significantly larger hiccup had I not been able to have a quick fix on hand.

I’ve encountered a number of instances when a client said that a sound system would be provided and I didn’t need to worry about a thing, yet when I showed up I was very happy that I had brought my regular gear on the off chance that something wasn’t as is should be. Especially when working with a new client or when you haven’t had a chance to check things out in person it’s always a good idea to show up with a few extra bits that might be needed. It’s always better to have something and not need it as opposed to not having something and needing it.

The one cable I never leave home with out is the mini plug stereo to quarter inch mono plug that I use to plug in an iPod to a soundboard. You can also have stereo mini jack to stereo RCA plugs or perhaps stereo mini jack to dual mono quarter inch to achieve the ‘stereo’ effect, but rarely am I in a situation where stereo sound is key to the equation. I find almost always that the stereo mini to mono quarter inch gets the job done. Now, I should mention that the cable I use is really a male stereo mini jack to mail stereo mini jack to which I attach a stereo mini to mono quarter inch adaptor. this simple solution has worked well for me for years and is something that any performer who uses an iPod should just have.

Actually if you visit the site (www.audiogear.com) that I used to demonstrate most of the above mentioned cables I was talking about you may even come up with some more solutions…

Don’t have one? Get one. Even if you have a fancier set up than an iPod running your music, having your tunes on your iPod and having one of these cables as a back up alternative could save your bacon one day.

Play nice with Photographers

Photo by: Leif Norman

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

I’m back in Winnipeg for another great run at the Circus And Magic Partnership and will be teaching unicycle for the next week, but have also been plugged into a couple of performance programs around town, so along with the teaching I’m also doing some performing. Everything is being organized in association with the Winnipeg International Children’s Festival and the people associated with the Festival are smart enough to know how important it is to have good photos from the various events that are being produced, so while I was doing shows at Portage Place Mall and again when I was performing at The Forks Marketplace I ran into Leif Norman who had been hired to shoot a little big of everything over the course of the week.

Now I’ve run into Leif at events produced by the Winnipeg International Children’s Festival in the past so I recognized him right away and made sure to touch base and chat a bit prior to the beginning of my shows. I like photography myself anyway, so I always find it interesting to chat with photographers, but the benefits of being friendly and nice to the pros who are capturing my show in stills has always been something I aim for anyway.

That tired cliché that a ‘Picture is worth a thousand Words‘ is not only true, but having great photos can help ensure that you land gigs in the first place, can make the media department at an event thrilled to work with you, can help generate excitement about your performance before you even turn up for the gig, can, in short benefit you in so many ways that if you don’t recognize their importance you can seriously limit your options professionally.

A lot of the time photographers are really protective about their work and the images that they create, and you need to respect this, because although the image may be of you, it was their skill behind the lens and shutter that captured the key moment that may help launch or further your career. I remember watching an Annie Leibovitz documentary in which Whoopie Goldberg said that one image that Annie had shot had more of an impact on her career than she could have possibly imaged. The value in this may be hard to recognize initially, but the value to you over time is huge and treating photographers with professional respect only makes sense.

So… Leif shows up at Portage Place Mall on Saturday and we have a great chat before my show and catch up a bit. During the course of my show I’m certainly aware of his presence and occasionally play to him a bit, but my main focus is on delivering a great show to the audience who’ve gathered. We chat after the show a bit and he mentions that he’ll be throwing some images up on Facebook… He’s being paid by the Children’s Festival, the Festival is using these images to promote the events that they’re doing, so getting the images up on Facebook benefits all concerned. A day later I check out the images on-line, see the image that’s attached to this post, drop Leif a line and ask for permission to use it with this blog post, he says go for it, and Boom it’s up.

In this sort of application this casual approach to the use of the image seemed cool to all concerned, but were I to end up using one of the images that Leif took for additional promotional purposes, I’d make sure to check in with him again to make sure he was cool with it. It doesn’t take much to extend professional courtesy to people who capture great images of me, but it never seems to be unappreciated or unnoticed. Make the effort.


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.

The Fun at Festivals…

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

As I was driving back from Seattle today I was reflecting on all the fun I had over the weekend watching, participating and performing in Moisture Festival. When I got home I had a Facebook notification that I’d been tagged in the photo that accompanies this post… It was shot by John Cornicello, one of the official photographers for Moisture Festival and should you care to check it out on Facebook you can see a slightly larger version of the shot here.

Taking part in a Festival like Moisture Festival allows you all sorts of opportunities to both blatantly and subtly market yourself –

On Stage – Be Great! Do a fantastic job! Have the audience rolling in the ailes and leave ’em wanting more and chances are you’ll get invited back. If you’re easy to work with and do a great job you will be well remembered and when they think back about who they enjoyed having in the line-up, you’re name will likely surface when it comes time to think about who to invite back!

Back Stage – Help promote an awesome hang! Moisture Festival is the sort of event where the hang is as important, if not more important than the pay cheque. Actually, there’s no question that the hang is the most important aspect about this particular festival. Enjoy the hang, contribute to the hang, wallow in the hang, BE the hang. Succeed at this and you will be wanted back! Period!

Off Site – I crashed on an air mattress at my friend Matt Baker’s house and thoroughly enjoyed the visit with him and his girlfriend Lara. Being awesome off site includes doing things like being a gracious house guest. Tidy up after yourself, contribute to the consumables (food and beverage) and when possible contribute to the over all harmony of the environment.

Before going down to Seattle for Moisture Festival I had pre-determined that this trip was all about having fun and that’s exactly what I had! It was a great trip from start to finish! Whether this premeditated determination to have a good time contributed to the fabulousness, was the cause of the  fun or completely unrelated has little bearing on the fact that I got to reconnect with some great friends, meet all sorts of new people who quickly became friends and had a ton of fun taking what I do and sticking it in front of the audiences at the Festival.

There’s no substitute for being awesome, so whenever possible exercise your awesomeness and you’ll be amazed at the results. In the midst of the fun you’re having while being awesome, you may not even notice it, but this will be some of the best marketing you’ll unconsciously be executing.

Print a Map?

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

I’m learning more and more that I’m a bit Old School when it comes to certain things, but I remember the days before iPhones and GPS units for cars (man I’m starting to sound like a grandpa here) and having a map to get you from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ even in this day of electronic wizardry can still save your bacon if the electronics fail you…

I’ll admit that I’m a bit late to the party when it comes to having this navigation thing sorted out and I’ll also admit that I’ve always been fond of maps… I think this goes back to the time when I was about 10-year’s old on a family trip. We were in Los Angeles having arrived late morning and my mom thrust a map into my hands and said… If you can navigate our way to the hotel and we’ve got time in the afternoon after we’ve checked in, I’ll take you and your brother to Knott’s Berry Farm. Never had a kid had such a good incentive to take an interest in reading and using a map and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Doing the show is the fun part of the gig, the lead up, the getting your crap in the car, to the venue, into the venue, set up etc. All that, that’s that’s the work. The last thing you need is to not be able to find your way to the gig or find yourself lost…

Years ago (well before the modern age you kids live in) I totally screwed up getting to a gig because although I had directions, I didn’t have a map and hadn’t looked at a map. This had the compound effect of me not really knowing where I was going and also not really having a sense of how long it was going to take for me to get there… I ended up arriving right as my show was supposed to be starting as opposed to the 45 minutes early that I typically like (time to get loaded in and set up etc). When I did arrive it turned out that the client had also misjudged what the start time of my show should have been and the crowds that had been there forty-five minutes earlier were now gone. The show was cancelled, I got back in my car and drove home very frustrated.

Now, in the last few weeks I’ve received a TomTom car navigator (a lovely GGOL from one of the performers who played at Robson Square during the Olympics) and also recently bought an iPhone. I’m becoming quite a fan of the TomTom navigator because not only does it plan the best route to get me to where I’m going, it also gives me a sense of how long it’s going to take to get there. This is AWESOME! I should have invested in one of these things ages ago!

I’m headed down to Seattle this weekend to perform at Moisture Festival and took some time today to program in a few key addresses so I don’t have to fumble with the unit when I get to town. I programmed the address where I’m staying, the theatre where I’m performing and the house of a friend who I’m going to visit. With all of these plugged into the navigator I should be good to go, but I still took the time to head over to Google Maps and print a couple of maps out as well just as a back up. I likely won’t need or use them, but what can I say… Old habits die hard…

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.

Cross Pollination!

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

The Olympics in Vancouver saw so many performers descend on town to perform including six members of the Big Nazo Lab from Providence Road Island… I had no idea that they were going to be in town but ran into Erminio Pinque in costume on the corner of Granville and Robson one night just bringing Art to the crowds and being involved in the excitement on street level.

I’ve always had a great deal of respect for the work that Erminio does not only as a builder of some of the most amazing foam monsters and creatures you will ever see, but also for his love of creating renegade video and capturing the raw energy of the moments that he embraces… It’s awesome!

Anyway, I called Erminio this morning trying to figure out if there was going to be a way for us to hook up and hang out. Over the course of the conversation he told me about the Big Nazo Blog which was launched a bunch of weeks back and helped captured the build up to the gig they were in Vancouver to do. I ended up spending about an hour poking around an checking out stuff that was posted on the blog and getting a better sense of what they had done while they were in town to perform during the Olympics.

Got some time? Then I highly recommend swinging by their blog and checking out some of their fun!

I ended up hooking up with the Big Nazo Crew at Yamato Sushi on Davie Street in the evening and I handed out CBG Ball Caps for the whole gang… On one level this was a promotional move as all swag is, but on some the level I was trying to find a way to say… Man… I wish we’d had more time to hang out while you were in town, here, take a little bit of me back to Providence with you…

Erminio and I dove straight into reminiscing about the fun we had in Halifax the year we met and some of the craziness that took place at the Halifax Busker’s festival. The year was 1988 I ended up hooking up with Brian Hulse and a group called Twist and Shout (Dave Rave and Henrick Bothe) on about day three of the 17 day run and forming a sort of Boy Busker Super Group which we called The Bounty Brothers… Erminio and the Big Nazo Crew did a show at the time that included having a monster come out and eat a small child… The flood of memories was awesome! At the end of the evening as we headed out of the sushi restaurant I took the crew past my car (very much the sort of thing I thought would expect a Nazo creation to drive around in) and took the snap that accompanies the post.

Hanging out with the Nazo Crew and checking out their blog was really good for me as it was a great reminder of how important it is to sometime dream REALLY big and dive head first into the adventure of creating art and performance that connects with people and has a really positive effect on shaking up the status quo

I think if you can mix art and performance with a bit of anarchy there’s something really powerful and really magical that results. After having spent two weeks crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s it with the Robson Square Gig for the British Columbian Provincial Government and needing to be accountable, it was great to have the reminder that sometimes you really do need to shake it up a bit.

Tools in your Tool Box

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

Still in the middle of the BC Street Jam program on Robson Square at the moment. It’s been a great run to date and today was the last day of the run for two great acts – The Chairmen and Mike Battie. It’s a pleasure to work with these two acts, because the totally ‘Get it.’ I was talking with Bob from the Chairmen after his show last night and really just thanking him for making it so easy to bring the Chairmen in as an act in the program.

Every gig is different and each environment dictates a certain acceptable or expected behaviour from the people fronting the bill. Working a straight street pitch is one thing, working for a corporate client is another, doing work on cruise ships another beast all together. Each venue needs to be approached as it’s own entity and appropriate behaviours learned for each. It’s been really interesting for me to be involved on both sides of the equation with this project during the Olympics, both as an act as well as part of the production team, because I’ve become even more aware of how important it is to make sure the performers involved in the program help promote the positive image of the end client in this particular case the Province of British Columbia.

In my conversation with Bob we used the analogy a mechanic pulling out tools from his toolbox to work on different jobs and compared that to what a performer needs do every time they work with a different client. A great set of skills, appropriate costuming, good promo, these are all a given. You need these ‘tools’ if you want to get the gig in the first place, but beyond this, the ability to recognize that when you step out on stage (and off stage for that matter) you are actually a representative of the client who booked you is critical. Understand this successfully being able to executing any tweaks to the content of your performance to keep your show and it’s image in line with that of the end client is critical if you want to craft a win-win scenario that might see you working for that client again.

Now for true ‘Artists’ these sorts of restrictions placed on their creative head space may appear too limiting and for that sort of performer, working for certain clients may not be the best option, but having the ability to adapt and conform a bit will open WAY more doors for you work-wise. Having this understanding of how your show reflects on the person who’s hiring you could well be one of the most important tools in your toolbox.

To use a hockey analogy, you need to not only be good on the ice, you need to be good in the locker room as well.

Having a sense of the bigger picture that your show is fitting into at a large event like this one I’m currently involved with is just a part of the job. The BC Street Jam program is just one part of the larger Celebrate British Columbia at Robson Square Programming. The result is that each show that’s part of the BC Street Jam ends up being one small element in a much larger picture made up of many other elements. The more harmoniously the individual parts flow together, the better the results are going to be for the entire program and the happier the end client is going to be. Playing well with others just make the whole thing work.

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!

Tapping into your Fan Base…

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

OK… So I admit it… Just two short weeks ago when I posted that I’d created a Facebook Fan Page I was a bit sceptical about the how’s and why’s of it all, but I’m becoming a convert. I think this is in part because at the end of the shows I’ve been doing on Robson Square during the Olympics I’ve been mentioning to people that if they liked the show, they should check me out on Facebook and they have… Someone (Gina Johnstone) even sent me a link to a video she had taken… How cool is that!?!?

OK… It’s not like I’ve got a gazillion Fans who have actually signed up to the page at this time, but I’m starting to wrap my head around the importance of building a bit more of a resource on-line to specifically reach out to Fans and not only for me to reach out to Fans, but for Fans to reach out to me… I Fans can interact more immediately with a Facebook Fan Page than I had at first realized and the ability for them to post pictures and videos to the Fan Page is pretty cool.

I’m a big fan of Steve Martin, have been for years and around about the beginning of this year he posted a little video of himself playing banjo and inviting his Fans to create a video to go along with a song that was inspired by his dog running around the back yard. He offered a cash prize for the best video submission and then sat back and waited to see what people would come up with. What a cool way to create a music video! Let other people do it for you! Ha!

My friends in the Barenaked Ladies have also got an amazing dialogue going on with their fans and have had videos created for them by Fans as well. The BNL boys have actually done a pretty amazing job of reach out to fans and giving them the tools necessary to play with the originally recorded music tracks for creating new and interesting mixes of BNL songs and generally making the relationship flow both ways… Artist creativity flows out but then is reciprocated by some amazing Fan based creativity.

Since creating the Fan Page on Facebook there’s been a slow rumble of interest from people who are connecting to the page and connecting to me and slowly but surely I’m learning how to feed Fan interest with this page… Hopefully over time it will continue to grow and I’ll be able to tap into the the creativity and brilliance of some of the folks who’s watched my show, had a laugh and saw something there they might be able to contribute to – who knows where it might lead. Should be fun finding out!

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!”


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

My friend, Ben Robinson, from New York sent me a couple of links to some on-line video footage of the great magician Slydini. The videos were included as part of an article by Dick Cavett and the footage was originally shot for the Dick Cavett show back in 1977 and 1978. If you’ve got the time, I highly recommend swinging by –

Conjuring Slydini


Conjuring Slydini (Part 2)

– and give yourself enough time to enjoy the fact that this man’s artistry was captured on video tape and preserved.

The article that accompanies the video is also great and it’s clear that Dick Cavett had an enormous respect and admiration for his mentor. The article was also containes a hint of melancholy as it seemed as though in his later years Slydini more or less vanished from the public eye and was virtually unknown. Were it not for the fact that some of his artistry had been preserved on the Dick Cavett show, we might not have such a wonderful record of what this man was capable of.

At the beginning of the second video Dick Cavett introduces Slydini as primarily a retired magician who at that stage of his career was doing more teaching and coaching than performing. And I was somehow struck by the fact that it would have been even more amazing to see his work ten to twenty years prior to then these videos were shot. As an older man his grace and poise, the fluidness of his moves and the precision of his sleights are obvious, but to have seen his work when he was a young dashing man must have been amazing. Still it’s clear from the footage taken on the show that Slydini had rehearsed his moves and tricks to perfection.

I have another magician friend named Greg Moreland who teaches magic classes on cruise ships and I helped him out with one at one point. Something he said really stuck with me –

“Don’t practice until you can do it right, practice so much that you can’t do it wrong.”

From watching Slydini and from reading the article written by Dick Cavett it was clear that Slydini shared this eye for perfection and work ethic.

In a day and age when the breadth of our knowledge is vast thanks to the ability to google just about anything and know a little about a lot, it was refreshing for me to slow down to appreciate a craftsman at work. Although I don’t consider myself a huge fan of magic, I am a fan of great performance and it was a treat to be sucked in to watching Slydini as he captivated his audience.

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