Street performing came after my first summer of doing the Mechanical Magician around L.A.
I had to go up to San Francisco and while I was up there I looked into the Club scene thinking I could get some work as the Mechanical Magician. During the time I was up there I saw people doing street performing at Fisherman’s Wharf for the first time.
I had done a little bit of street stuff before. I never thought I could make any money doing it. I was watching these jugglers, mimes, clowns, and magicians on the street and they were making good money at it.
I did get a gig in a club in San Fran, but they only paid me 50 dollars for 4 nights work. I was getting 250 dollars in L.A. for 3 nights work. Believe it or not I took the job because I needed the money. It was then I decided to try street shows.
When I worked the first hour on the street I came back with 65 dollars in my hand. Who needs clubs anymore? Work the streets! That’s where the money comes from.
I decided to move up north, I played in San Francisco on the Wharf for 2 years. Winter and summer. Then I was told about Europe and how people respected street performers there. In America people think, “Why don’t you get a real job!” If you are on the street you can’t be very good, that is American thinking.
In Europe you are doing a real job, you’re making people happy.
In Europe, in the 1980’s there were Jugglers, Acrobats, Mimes, Clowns, Magicians; it was like a circus happening everyday! Any day of the week you could see some really beautiful shows happening. In all the major cities of Europe.
When I first saw the Pompidou Center in Paris in 1983, there were performers everywhere! There was about 12-13 performers, all doing their shows at the same time, and thousands of people walking around watching it all. So sad it doesn’t happen anymore.
All through the 70’s and 80’s there was beautiful art going on, and I was part of it. When I went to Zurich, I met people I had met in Paris, or in Berlin. I played in Düsseldorf, Rotterdam, London, so many cities I could not recall them all. I played in all these cities and you would bump into friends and meet new performers.
It was the best of times if you played in the streets of Europe.
When winter came I flew to Australia and I did the same in Australia.
The street performing scene in Australia didn’t break lose until late 80’s. But I was there in ‘83/’84 and I was the only street performer in Surfer’s Paradise. There was no other performance going on. Same in Sidney, Melbourne. I made a whole lot of money.
When it was winter in Australia I went back to Europe again. I did that from 1983 till 1990’s. I’m still performing now but I stopped going to Australia when married Marta. I called it “following the sun”, I was very good at that.
I’m still doing street performance and festivals, but it’s not like the old days.
The man on the box changed everything
First of all, back in the 80’s every day was like a festival. There would be 3 or 4 performers using one space. There was always something happening everyday of the week.
Back in 1985 I was just coming back from Australia. I had a room in Amsterdam and there was this man on the Dam Square. There were some jugglers, a guy tying balloons, a magician I knew and this black man standing on a box, and he had a sign that said “The Original Human Statue” and he had a cup in his hand for tips.
I didn’t think a lot about him, he did not look like a statue, and he didn’t have a costume,and he did not stand still like I could. Some people were watching him, but no one was giving him any coins.
I worked for about a week in Amsterdam and this guy on the box was there. I didn’t get in his way. He got angry when nobody gave him any money. He would get off his box and scream at the people.
I headed off on my tour through Europe, winter came I went back to Australia. I was back in Europe in 1986. I was walking from the train station to my room in Amsterdam and there is a man standing on a box, not the same man from last year, somebody else. He had a cup in his hand and he was pretending to be a statue.
I walked another two blocks and on the other side of the street was another guy on a box with a cup in his hand! Then I walked some more and there was another man on a box.
That summer I counted 11 different “Crate Slugs” in Amsterdam. I call them crate slug because they stand on a crate and move slow like a slug.
I thought, “This is not good.”
That was in ’86. When I moved around Europe that summer, there were more “Crate Slugs” in France, in Germany, in Switzerland, and even up in Denmark, they started multiplying everywhere. By 1989 there was even a guy on a box in Sydney.
By the time the ’90s came, there was no more good street performers. The real good performers left the streets to do festivals and paid gigs. The circus had left town.
I was having problems getting crowds on the street. Before these guys on the boxs showed up, I could stand on a little walking street in any city and within 2 or 3 minutes I would have 30-40 people watching me.
Because I start my show standing still waiting for a coin in my hat, people think I am just another “Crate Slug” (without a box) and I can not get anyone to stop and watch me.
Sometimes when there are 5 or more of these guys in a city I can’t get anyone to stop and watch me. I would have to leave town.
I do believe the human statue invasion killed street performing (as I use to know it). They brought down the level of performing everywhere. They have no show, there is nothing really entertaining about them.
The joy of being a Mechanical Magician
It never gets boring. I’m a people person and I watch them with laughter in my heart. How they respond to me, it’s the funniest thing and I love it and I never know what a person is about to do.
I love making people laugh, the freedom, I’m my own boss, I like the travel.
What is there not to love about it?