The following notes are written from the perspective of putting on a Juggling show (as I am a professional Juggler) but they will still be of some use for other types of performance such as musicians, acrobats etc. Above all, the show should be car-crashable (people slowing down to see what is happening), fast paced with lots of things happening, and without any change of people getting bored (ditch the rubbish routines and any jokes or banter that isn ' t working!)
Your first decision when busking is whether to just perform your skills over and over again in the hope that people might stop and watch you for a few seconds and drop some money into your hat or whether you are prepared to put in a bit of effort and work on a show that lasts at least 10mins (but even better if it is for 20+ minutes) of their precious time. If you can create such a show using the guidelines below, then a sizeable portion of the audience you have collected will give some money for being entertained when you pass round the hat at the end (as long as you have the right patter to encourage them to do so!)
5 Steps to Creating a Busking / Street Entertainment Show
- Gathering an audience: I usually find that the best way to gather a crowd is to start laying out my props. This will get some peoples curiosity and alert them to the fact that something is happening! It may not bring them over, but they may just lurk in the background waiting till something happens before coming closer! If you can find enough curious people looking at what prop you are next bringing out your bag (and if your props are interesting eg binbags, parasols, rubber chickens, toothbrushes etc) to peak their curiosity, then you should be able to gather them when it is time to begin! If you want to mark an area that they must not step across, then use either a rope or a bottle of water (make a line out of water).
- First Routine: This has to be good! It is usually your 2nd best routine. of the whole show (as you build up to finish with your best). There are some people who have already been hanging around waiting for you to start the show and you do not want to disappoint them! If you do not have a lot of confidence at speaking, then perhaps a musical number to show off some of your skills is appropriate? If the audience can sing along and be encouraged to clap then this will alert others that something is happening and create a larger crowd!
- Middle of Show: Now that the audience has started to get to know you, this is the time when you can start letting them know that you will be passing round a hat at the end to collect some money. This is also the time that you might want to make some stars out of audience members by including them in some of your routines. Make the audience feel like part of the show as this will keep them interested.
- Final Routine: Do something impossible or possibly impossible. Say it's impossible. Make it look impossible. Build up to doing the final trick successfully by using as much Comedy and other skills as necessary, but do not let it drag out too long or else you will lose some of your audience! This is another good opportunity to use volunteers.You can make the trick look harder by gradually dropping a few times to build up the tension (as long as you also have some fantastic drop lines to cover yourself and keep the audience entertained)!
- Collecting Money: The hardest part of the show! You need to train the audience to not just disappear as soon as you have taken your bow. If you have made some good friends in the audience through your banter and picking volunteers, then they will most likely give you some money. You will need to develop some fantastic “hat lines” to help encourage the audience to willing part with their hard earned cash!
Volunteer / Audience Participation: Audience participation is usually the most memorable and funny part of street shows! If done properly, the volunteer should always be made to look like a hero and be able to leave the stage with a fantastic round of applause and cheering. If you can make the audience laugh and clap loudly, then this will attract more people to join them! You might even find that you have made some new friends who will be the first in line when you pass the hat round at the end!
Audience Control: If you have gathered a huge amount of people to watch your show, then you will occasionally need to stop your performing and expertly entrust them in to allow for other pedestrians to go about their daily business. If appropriate, you may be able to get some kids who can not see at the back to make up a new front row sitting down. Using a bottle of water, you can draw out a line, and asking the audience to move right up to the line in one swoop is much better than picking on individuals. This becomes easier with practice, and if you can find entertaining ways of herding the crowds, then it can become an enjoyable part of the show and also help the audience to feel like an audience! The first row should act like a fence which should stop other people from walking onto your stage.
Stage: Leaving the stage area creates a mystery (but come back quickly and have a reason for leaving that is explained as soon as you return!) Bringing a volunteer on at any point in the show can renew the audiences concentration and energy. Jumping up high or doing some high tricks, as well as making full use of however large a stage are you have helps change peoples background and perspective.