The Moisture Festival Podcast -Lindsay Benner

In this episode we hear talk with festival favorite Lindsay Benner. We discuss how she was able to see Bill Irwin at a young age and the impact it had on her.

She tells us about her first street shows in San Francisco and how she really had to take a different approach than she expected. We learn about how she was able to stretch out a 7 min cabaret act into an award winning 45 minute show. A fantastic glimpse into the world of the ultra awesome Lindsay Benner. 

Balls in Hat Routine!

The last couple of weeks I started working on a Balls In Hat routine that I learned from Jimmy Talksalot. It starts with two in the hand and one in the pocket and ends with a nine balls coming out of your hat! It’s a really solid routine!

You can see parts of it in this reel from the fair I was performing at:

@louiefoxx Magic at the @sanmateocountyfair! #magic#sanmateocountyfair #sanmateo #closeupmagic #magician #bayarea #countyfair #louiefoxx #magictricks #cardtrick ♬ original sound – Louie Foxx

There’s a ton of great info and routines on Jimmy’s Substack. There’s free info as well as stuff for subscribers. It’s $8 a month to subscribe and totally worth it to read and watch all the content he has up there. The magic and essays are focused on street magic, but there’s a lot to be learned there if you don’t do street magic.


Ambient Busking…

Recently I took my street organ out to do some busking at the Pike Place Market in Seattle.

Street organ

Performing an ambient set, versus doing an show is very different and something that’s new to me. It’s a very different mindset than trying to build a crowd. It’s shorter interactions with people than when doing a show. What I would do is spot people about half a block away and try to pick a song that would get them dancing as they approached me.

@vintageorgan Dancing Queen on the Street Organ! #abba #dancingqueen #pikeplacemarket #streetorgan #coverband #louiefoxx #barrelorgan #busker @pikeplacemarket_official #streetperformer ♬ original sound – vintageorgan

While I was there I ran into puppeteer Rob D’Arc! He also runs a flea circus and we’ve working together a few times over the years.

street organ with rob d'arc

In an hour of street performing I made exactly $40

street performing hat

What I learned it that doing ambient street performing you have a lot less control of your “hat” than you do when doing a street show. With a show you can pitch your hat, with ambient, you don’t have a lot of time to catch people.


Rough Street Pitch!

When I was in Mexico there were a lot of “ambient” street shows. Those are shows like a guitar player that you walk by, maybe watch for a song, and then move along. There were very few “circle” street shows that were longer presentations that built a crowd.

There’s a lot that goes into a circle show, like getting people to stop, uniting those people into an audience and getting them to commit to watching the whole thing.

One of the few circle shows that I saw in Mexico City was a dance/acrobalance group.

The challenge with the spot that they picked was that right in front of their performing area was a road. I understand that they needed a larger footprint for their show, so they were pretty limited to locations and they fit in this one.

The active street meant they could build maybe one row between them and the street. Then the second row of people would be across the street. I’m going to bet you’re not surprised that no one really watched from across the street.

Ultimately with the challenges of this location, they only managed to pull a handful of people into their crowd.

street performing pitch

They were doing some cool stunts, but this is a good example of where soo much more goes into street performing than simply having a good show!


Human Calendar Stunt…

The other day I was at the Pike Place Market and walked by a street performing pitch and saw this:

Unfortunately Mr. Unity wasn’t there, so I can only form my opinion based on his milk crate stand.

It looks like he does the day of the week birthday calculation. This is something that I’ve personally never understood why is impressive. It’s clearly a math calculation, not a memorization feat (at least when I’ve seen it). And the end result is something that I didn’t know or have any connection to.

I think if it was reversed and you told the magician the day of the week you were born on and the year, and they told you your birthday, it’d be much cooler. However, I’m going to imagine that would ultimately give the magician a 20-25% success rate, unless there some some fishing for where in the month the birthday is.


Busking in Sydney

Walking around the area where the cruise ships dock in Sydney, Australia, there are a good amount of street performers. Lots of ambient, music acts and a couple of them were cultural acts. I’ll talk a bit more about the acts in a bit, however the thing I noticed was all the acts with amplified sound used the Roland Street Cube EX. That’s the same one I use for my street show PA, so I guess I’m part of the “cool kids”.

One of the first acts we came across was this kid who was playing guitar. The sign he has in his case says that he’s deaf and he’s actually playing.

I’m not a guitar player, but to my untrained eye, his hands didn’t really match up with the sound. I could totally be wrong, but if I’m right, it’s a solid hustle!

Then there was this guy with the drum.

For the little while we watched him, he didn’t really do anything remarkable. I’m sure that he’s great, and that’s simply based on his sign boating about how many social media followers he has.

That’s the take away, signage is a lot more important now to busking than it was when I was a teenager and did it for money.

Then there were two cultural acts. The first one was just guy singing and making music.

It was really an ambient act with no engagement with people (that I saw).

However the second one was a group and the guy had some showman ship flair!

Of all the acts I saw, he was the only one that built a crowd. He did little talks and call and response things, like “we call this a ____…everyone say ____” and talked to the audience.

With a big cruise ship in town and it unloading and loading passengers, doing something cultural is smart. Ship passengers want to feel like they’re learning about where they’re visiting, and I think this was the act that connect with the audience the most because of that.

Also, while I’m not knocking the other cultural act that was using a percussion instrument, I’d bet 90% of the tourists want to see the digeridoo. Sure there’s a lot more to aboriginal culture, but honestly are you busking to teach people or make money? Yes, you can still teach people and if that’s in your heart, you absolutely should do what’s authentic to yourself and goals. However if you’re going to try to convince people to give you money, you need to figure out how to deliver that message in a way that will reach them (and their wallets).


To Lure With Spectacle…

To lure with spectacle by jimmy talksalot

A while ago I got the book To Lure With Spectacle by Jimmy Talksalot at the recommendation of my buddy Skip Banks. I was having an issue with my street show and he said the book might help me.

The issue I was having was mentally I was getting upset at people that would stick around for one trick and then leave. It’s a small percentage of the audience, and it really bugged me. In the book Jimmy writes about audiences “doing you a favor” by watching versus you doing the audience a favor by performing for them. This is a huge mental shift and really helped me out. I’m no stranger to performing for a transient audience, but sometimes you forget things and a refresher course is needed.

If you are thinking about street performing or want to make your street show better, I totally recommend this book. I don’t busk, I perform street style shows at fairs. The huge difference is at the end, I don’t ask for a tips. If you’re in the fair market, this book is also very worthwhile!


Extreme Street Performing…

In Seattle one of the spots that people street perform is at the Pike Place Market. The challenge there is there is a permit system and a lot of rules. However if you cross the street you are still in an area with high tourist traffic and there are no rules.

I was just down there and across the street from the Pike Place Market on the corner, there was a crazy set up for a band doing a street show!

The band didn’t even fit on the corner, they spilled out onto the street. The have their own power supply, five speakers and even a giant umbrella! This is some next level street performing, you can hear them blocks away!

One of the things with most street performers is the ability to be mobile. The time it takes to set up is time you could be performing, I’m going to imagine this set up is a pain to unload from the car and build before you start performing, then you have to take it down at the end of the day. Then you factor in that there are 3-4 people involved and everyone gets a piece of the hat. I’m curious how long they can do this and still be profitable AND how long before they get a ticket for being in the street. They’re set up at a busy intersection.

I do like that they’re doing what they need to do to bring their art to the people!

Hula Hoop Act…

Over the weekend I performed at a busker’s festival, and shared the stage (aka bank parking lot) with Hillia Hula. She does a hula hoop show.

Hillia has great costuming and is very likable onstage. Being likeable is 90% of the game. Personally, in my show I’m a slow burn, you really don’t like me until about 10 minutes into the show.

As for the tricks, they are pretty standard hoop tricks, and she does them well. There was nothing in the show that I hadn’t seen before. If she had a couple of original routines, I think she’d really blow up.

In hooping, I don’t think there’s a lot of innovation in new tricks that I’ve seen. Pretty much every does a very similar show. Dizzy Hips is the only act I’ve seen that has a couple of original (as far as I know) hula hoop tricks. I will say my knowledge of hula hoop tricks is very limited, so Hillia may be doing some original stuff that to my untrained eye looks like something I’ve seen before.

If you get a chance to see Hillia’s show, check it out, it’s a solid street show. You can learn a lot by watching it.

Street Performing 101…

When I was a kid starting out, I used to take a bus into downtown and street perform. I still ocassionally street perform, but not usually in the normal context of plunking a table down on a street corner. When I perform at fairs, sometimes I will do a “found space” show. These shows happen on the fairgrounds and are pretty much street shows. The main difference is that the show doesn’t end with a hat pitch. I don’t ask for money.

Yesterday I performed at a busker festival, and I was one of the paid acts, so I didn’t have to ask for money. I did after my first show, but the second show I couldn’t because there was a presentation after me and they wanted me to hold the crowd and introduce the guy that was going to talk.

From the one show I did where I did a hat pitch, I remembered how important it is to actually have a hat pitch. My non existent hat pitch didn’t really work. There are essentially two elements to a good hat pitch. First is the plea, you tell them why they should tip you. Usually these start with, “This is my job…” and then tell about how tips are your income. You then do your final big trick and go into the call to action, where you tell people to put money in your hat. There are a million stock lines for this, like “Remember Tipping isn’t just a city in China…” Things like that. It’s the running lines of patter during the hat that fill the awkward, empty silence and while people are digging out their wallets.

In my opinion, having a strong hat pitch and a good show will make you more money street performing than having a good hat pitch and a strong show. If you’re thinking about street performing, be sure to work on the hat pitch!