I have a few street performances under my belt. I don’t consider this my target venue but on occasions I’ve found that it can be a powerful business move and I do it at least twice a year or sometimes more. Many people have the misconceptions about street performances or street magicians in general. You think of street shows you think of a one or two things; a homeless person trying to make a quick buck or an eccentric (like David Blaine or Criss Angel) going around and interrupting strangers to show them something for the camera. The former is probably more closer to reality than the latter.
Street performing is NOT walking around and interrupting strangers. Yes people are taking 30 seconds to a full hour or so out of their day to watch you but it isn’t random – it is planed by the performer. Be the performer a musician, a magician, clown, juggler – whatever- each street performance is strategically planned out by the performer prior. The location, the clothing, how the performer intends to interact with the pedestrians walking by, how they will deal with the police or anyone who tries to give them trouble – all of it is well planned in advanced.
My earlier days in street performing I was honestly under the delusion that you had to be spontaneous and bug the living Hell out of innocent people in order to build a crowd. I’ve grown out of that mentality thanks to a book I will recommend later on.
Street performance that you see David Blaine do on TV does not exist. Street magic does not exist, it is a simple term used by the television networks to boost ratings. If you attempt to perform the same way as Blaine and Angel – your success rate will be ZERO. People do not like being approached by strangers. People are too busy and people are too cautious.
Busking on the other hand is what is meant by street performing. Busking is the art of attracting attention, building a crowd and passing the hat. Busking is the oldest form of theatre. I won’t go through the fine details in the busking process here – I do recommend picking up The Secret Art of Magic by Eric Evans & Nowlin Craver ( this book has been long out of print but you might be able to find it used on the web.) This book is two books in one – it is The Art of War by Sun Tzu and the Secret Art of Magic all in one. There are no revelation of methods in its pages – it is a guide book using Chinese warfare wisdom for the busker.
The two greatest threats a busker will face while out performing is the weather and the police. Being an outside performer – you are at the mercy of the weather. As for the police – they will look for any excuse to shut you down. Even though the right to assemble is a protected right and the right to travel is a Universally declared human right- many cities in the US have felt the need to charge performers or fine them for not paying. Usually the fee for a permit is $15 and it can cover you for a full year. When you are stopped by the police (even if you have a permit – some may insist that what you are doing is still illegal) just cooperate and leave the area. ( I am not an attorney, I will not go any further in giving you legal advice – use your best judgments – or you can purchase a pocket US Constitution from the ACLU at their website).
There is one other threat to the street performer – it statistically never happens but one should still use caution – other people. This is a bigger problem in Europe than it is in the US – pickpocket thieves like to stick close to street performers – picking the spectators blind. There is also the off beat chance (You probably never will have this happen to you) that someone in the audience will try to rob you as well. Best line of defense is keep everything close to you, locked up when not in use and never leave your items unattended.