September 29, 2010
Bread and Roses is a San Francisco Bay Area non-profit organization that's well connected to musicians and other performers in the area. That's not surprising because it was founded by folk singer Mimi Farina who, with her sister Joan Baez and their friends have personal connections to some of the finest performers in the world.
I was asked to play a small part in their fairly large mission: “... uplifting the human spirit by providing free, live, quality entertainment to people who live in institutions or are otherwise isolated from society.” Last year they presented over a thousand performers to nearly 28,000 people in hospitals, child day care and elderly convalescent homes, drug rehabs, special needs schools and detention centers. In my case this time I was to present a solo show to fifty boys in a juvenile hall. I'd played juvis before on my own and with groups of friends and they are almost invariably among the best shows I do all year. They like the act and laugh in most of the right places but there's something more on both sides.
I'd thought about this “something extra” each time. My family moved around a lot when I was a kid and we often lived in rough neighborhoods and I played a minor role in minor gang life back then but that didn't seem to account for the connection. My high school, Eastside in Paterson, New Jersey, was depicted in the news and later in a major Hollywood film as a tough one where the principal roamed the halls with a megaphone and a baseball bat maintaining discipline but … well, I might not be as soft as they were expecting when they heard that “the bubble guy” was coming to perform for them but in the end I ain't really tough and I'm doing a bubble show not bulldogging or flashing gang signs so it isn't that either.
In most of these performances I follow the show with a questions & answers period where people mostly ask how-to questions but on college campuses and juvenile halls I'll often be asked very direct questions about the business of performing. A question about whether the sponsors pay for the airfare or direct questions about fees are often greeted by laughs from more sophisticated audience members but I can often tell that the person asking the question is nothing but serious. I guess there are reasons why we don't normally discuss these things in public like this but when I answer as openly as I'm asked there's a nice connection that opens up so this time I did. I told them about different prices for different show situations, I told them that the show I was doing for them today was for no money, I told them about the most money I ever got for a single performance, I told them how overseas sponsors will sometimes be asked to pay to bring my “off-stage assistant” and I got a laugh when I translate that term to mean "my girlfriend" (it was once my mom, it would now be my wife).
They dug in. They asked specifics about the bubbles and about my life and I answered as spontaneously and honestly as I could. There was a fun bounce to the dialogue and I'd told about my days street performing, living on the streets and sleeping in the bushes. One kid surprised me first by asking “You were on the streets? So you started at the bottom?” I agreed that that was true and he looked me directly in the eye and spread his arms wide while leading a slow loud round of applause … among the best applause of the night, beating out the one for the tornado bubble (their favorite).
That was the highlight of the evening for me but the county employee who was charged with attending to these young men made it close when he finished the event by recalling for them that I'd told about how I got started with bubbles by focusing on this one thing when coming home from a factory job. He noted the fact that I had found a way to make money from something that I liked doing and he encouraged them to think it through and to find some legal way to make money doing something they liked. He gave them a list of things they might consider but he got a big laugh from them and from me when he ended with “If you like selling drugs … become a pharmacist.”
Many of my favorite Varieté performers create a memorable character on stage and then they respond to situations as that character would. In my case, I feel best and my audiences like me best when I'm completely me. These guys call on deeper degrees of honesty and somehow they know it when they hear it. I like being taught by good teachers.
September 24, 2010
The Open Space for Arts and Community will also be the location of Moisture Festival shows on April 8th and 9th when the Moisture Festival returns to Vashon during our 2011 festival.
Here's a sample video of the "services" from last year's Church of the Great Rain.
September 22, 2010
I happened to come across these wonderful photos, apparently taken in England, in the 1940’s or 1950’s of the Billy Smart’s Traveling Circus. The color photos convey a wonderful ambiance of what circus life must have been like at that time. Billy Smart Junior's family was known for creating one of Europe’s largest touring circus. He was also known for dating a string of beautiful and famous women, including Diana Dors, Jayne Mansfield and Shirley Bassey.
via: onion magazine
September 7, 2010
If you see old news footage of hippies in the 1960s and '70s, whatever the event: a folk or rock concert, political demonstration, street theater or just something called A Happening, somewhere in the crowd you'll see some hippie idiot blissfully blowing bubbles. I was one of those hippie idiots. There aren't too many scenes that couldn't be made brighter by the flow of lightweight iridescent spheres.
I'm not sure what the other bubble blowers from those days are doing now but I ... well, I kept going. I found a number of bubble tricks and those tricks eventually took over the street show that I'd picked up along the way. I had a puppet show aimed, not at children but at an older audience.
My show was all right, it entertained and amused conscious college students and others back in the day but … I wasn't a great street performer. I could entertain them once I had their attention but for a theatrical performance the art of street performing includes the opening act, which is that of gathering a crowd and turning them from unrelated passersby into an attentive audience.
Those who are good at street performing make a clatter and a clash, hollering out to get attention and then, assuming that people want exactly what he/she has to offer, they get right to it. I was too shy for that. I'd stand with puppets on my hands in New York's Central Park, San Francisco's Powell & Market or college campuses anywhere and I'd speak to passersby *suggesting* that they might want to wait around to hear what I would say. "Excuse me, I have a show and .... hello, would you like to hear a ... does anyone want to see ..." useless … people kept walking.
Once I'd developed a few interesting bubble tricks, though, I wouldn't need to talk to them at all. I would blow a smoke bubble and occupy myself in bouncing it from arm to arm. I didn't even need to look at people, just bounce the bubble and they would call others over "Hey, come here, watch this guy, watch when it breaks." When there were ten or twelve people I'd catch a smoke bubble on the wand, jiggle it and then, touching and breaking the film within the ring of the wand the smoke would escape in a straight column as the bubble rapidly deflated … the volcano bubble.
Seeing that, those who had gathered made a sound together. With that trick it's a combination of a laugh along with a sort of mild fireworks oooouuuu and aaaaahhhhh. But it didn't matter WHAT sound they made, it was the fact that they made one sound together. That made them an audience. I wasn't shy about talking to an audience, it was only the individual passersby who had given me the willies … But they were an audience and I was the center of attention:
“And Now Folks for Tom Noddy and the Travelin' Puppets, Political, Social and Spiritual Satire with Puppets.”
I'll write more as the mood strikes … sometimes it'll be more about me and what I do but, mostly it'll be about the world of street performing, the New Vaudeville movement that we gave birth to as well as the European Varieté scene and other interesting observations from my travels around the world.
September 5, 2010
Caela Bailey Moisture Festival performer (Dangerous Flares and Moistetts) seen here belting it out at a recent solo performance with the Heavenly Spies. "Caela is the honorary blues singer of The Heavenly Spies- yet another reason to love them. Her cover of “I Put A Spell On You” was mind-blowing. Not an easy feat for a little lady and such a big, big song. But she did it- effortlessly."
Via: Burlesque Seattle Press Photo: Chris Blakely
September 2, 2010
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