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12 May 2008 @ 10:26 am
Street Performing Abroad  
Hi everybody!
Hope you are well today.

I have a tale to tell.
So, I used to be a "hardcore busker" (I suppose, technically I still am), but in the last couple of years I have been working mainly the festival circut and of course, the corporate circut instead (ie. "getting soft").

This year, I decided I was being lazy and booked a trip to Italy to gain some international street experience (international festivals are not an accurate expression of the street vibe, I've been told). I chose the North of Italy for a few reasons:

1. I have family there if I get screwed (and I speak the language in case I get in trouble)
2. It IS the self-proclaimed home of street performing, after all!

I only booked a month because I had no idea what I was getting into, as well, I have already been booked up for festivals at the end of May and did not want to back out of them. In retrospect, despite the fun time, I am glad I wisely chose to come home.

What can I say about Italy? Obviously, as the rumors say, Europeans are SO much more respectful and enthusiastic about street performing. They treat it like the art it is. However, there are a few things to look out for. I'll break it up into "general busker information" and "Italy-specific information".

General Busker Information

-Permits: Always, always ALWAYS get a permit, especially if you have an act like a circle show or do site animation which is challenging to exit stage left in. It also covers your ass when you get approached by the police (if that happens--and believe me, it happens). I managed to perform without a license in Verona, but that was due to luck and also due to point number 2. You may have to wait a few days for your permit to clear, so budget that time.

-Don't ever trust government offices or city informational websites for your street performing information: talk directly to other performers. They will give you the heads up on the depth of police involvement in monitoring performers (whether or not you are likely to be checked for a permit or shut down). And while you are at it, tip them, too. Good karma goes a long way!

-Be friendly and respectful towards the "competition". Remember, you are on their turf, and they are probably worried about you sitting on their pitch or taking it over. Avoid turf wars (if you can, they still happen because, let's face it, some people are jerks and look for a fight) by telling people right off the bat you are just passin' through and ask them for ideas on where good pitches are. Sometimes they will mislead you (see above "jerk comment") but overall people are generally friendly and willing to help out a stranger.

-Represent your country! People love it and it makes you feel good. Also remember, as you are representing your country, you are also representing your country's street performers. Other performers should be encouraged to come and visit, so be inviting.

-This may sound like an obvious one, but if you are like me and like to live dangerously you may not do this: for the love of God, bring enough money to get you out of trouble if you land in some hot-water. I wanted to light a fire under my ass, and thus, did not bring any money with me. It was fun and adventurous, but there were times I was seriously worried, and I was kind of stuck in a crappy city for a few days longer than anticipated because I was not making enough to get out. It was scary for a while, but luckily a good day got me out.

Italy-Specific Information

-Stay away from Venice!!!
In the last year, they have cracked down on street performers and run a tight ship. As of earlier this year, mimes, living statues and circle shows have been abolished due to ridiculous reasons. The only performers allowed to work are musicians and puppet shows. In respect to the first point I made, don't trust governments: I managed to get a license to perform my acts (living statue and mime) without them telling me I am not allowed to perform! Being shut down was fun times.

-Verona = Love. Awesome city, awesome people and great vibe. You can get away with doing a circle show in the main piazza in front of the arena. I did, it was fun. Of all the major cities I hit, Verona was the nicest to work and the most laid-back.

-The season in Italy begins a month early: April 25th kicks off the festival season. There is a LOT of work between then and autumn. Don't be afraid to hit up festivals and ask for busking rights. Generally, they are thrilled to have "international" performers at their wine festival, or polenta festival, etc. Just make sure you have a translator on-hand to help out with the details!

-Don't be assertive/aggressive with regards to money. Unlike in N.America where I find performers have to educate their audiences in how to respond to street performing, Europeans know the score. Any mention to money on signage, or reminding the audience to pay up will result in people feeling offended and leaving your show. Even hat speeches need to be worded a bit delicately.

That's about all I can think of for now. If you got through reading all of this, you are rewarded with

Verona, with one of the twenty Charlie Chaplins they have.

Caorle (the only photo from that town where I DONT look like a drag queen)

A bunch of Cops and I at the Sagra Di Vino in Casarsa:

I love how all these photos managed to somehow cut out my crowds. Thus, they are (for the most part) unusable for promo but I like 'em anyway.

Hope you found this informative, and let me know if you yourself have traveled to Italy, and if so, what your experiences were like!

(x-posted to cirque_enciel and others)
Rob Vincent: applauserob_t_firefly on May 12th, 2008 02:37 pm (UTC)
Great tips, and lovely photos! Thank you for sharing your experiences.
J.H.Holliday, DDS: the crowdoc__holliday on May 12th, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC)
Haha. I love your icon!
Thanks for taking the time to read it! :)
junegloomyjunegloomy on March 20th, 2009 01:03 am (UTC)
Hey, I just joined up to comment you.
You experience has actually inspired me to do this abroad. Do you have any advice on customs or anything a green traveler would need to survive for a month?
J.H.Holliday, DDS: mime tom waitsdoc__holliday on March 20th, 2009 01:58 am (UTC)
Re: Hey, I just joined up to comment you.
Hi there!

rule #1: dont tell customs why you're traveling. Tell'em you're a student going on vacation. Hide your costumes, if possible, buy your makeup while you're there.

rule #2: that means building a pedestal when you get there, not traveling with any conspicuous gear

rule #3: remember YOU are the guest in whatever country. Respect the regulars but that doesn't mean being a push-over. Ask around which pitches are available and stick to them. There's a reason why three other people are vying for one spot (it may be the only legal pitch in that city)

rule #4: absolutely get your license for whichever city. Ask the locals what to do because most government offices know dick about street performing legalities. If nobody has a clear answer, go to work anyway. It's better to beg forgiveness than ask permission. Know your rights and always have your passport on you.

rule #5: if this is your first time performing abroad, take a reserve cash-flow. You may not make money because competition is very fierce.

Just a reminder: I do this professionally but even I'm not immune to theft, bad financial days or being arrested. Always have an out and at least one person aware of wherever you go.

If you have any more questions, please feel free to email me: kate.mior(at)gmail(dot)com!