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EST. May 2000 (AD)




Advice For the Modern Street Busker

By Diane Sokoloski

Street busking is an admirable occupation that looks good on a resume. Anyone who suggests, no matter how truthful it may be, that you can not hold down a regular job, is woefully unaware of your resourcefulness of character and unique talents. By talent I mean something to do with the arts. A talent predicting which streetcar is full, or when your pasta is al dente is not suitable.

- Appearance can make or break the street busker. Ill fitting clothing from which a certain amount of body hair is visible, is a guarantee of low income.

- Remain at home if you have one, and play for your mother or pet, if you have one.

- You must be clean, well groomed and look like you just stepped down from a wedding cake. People will assume you are regularly employed and they will feel better about parting with their money. The ironic fact of life is, if you were gainfully employed as the musician or dancer that you are, you wouldn't be on the street in the first place.

- Location is important. Seek out places where economic activity is evident. Abandoned buildings, closed stores and empty fields do not constitute a financial district. Avoid the haggard working stiff and anyone with clenched fists. Depending on their level of self-esteem that day, they may feel it is your duty to serenade them at no cost.

- Evenings can work well if you choose your spot carefully. A popular upscale nightclub may yield some profitable results. A place that has broken windows or that smells like a litter box is not a good idea. Avoid biker bars or strip clubs where people are angry and frustrated. Most likely after losing an arm wrestle, or getting rebuffed by Buxom Brandy, the men leaving the establishment will not be in the mood to hear your soulful rendition of Plaisir d'Amour. You would be a beacon for their pent up anxiety and they may feel compelled to show you their collection of switchblades and steel toed boots.

- You have permission to use your cello or music stand as a shield or weapon.

- Season must be taken into consideration. Spring and summer months are best. You may try to do your act in January but it will be tough gathering an attentive crowd during a blizzard. Use common sense. A banjo solo will not sound very crisp with mittens on. Is it realistic to think that you can juggle those flaming rings during a hailstorm?

- At Christmas time stand close to the Salvation Army person. The ringing bell will attract people's attention, and they might think you're with the Sergeant. Take advantage of that giving spirit.

- A roped off police area is good for a crowd as long as the crime is over. Danger is imminent if you wish to perform on your clarinet while a bank robbery is in progress. Police officers may think you are a decoy set up to distract them while the perpetrators exit the scene. Some opportunistic bank robbers may even snatch you up to be used as a hostage. What torture that would be- hundreds of onlookers standing by to witness your fate while your open clarinet case sits empty!

- To be arrested is not a good thing, however once at the police station you may try to sing and dance in the jail cell. If you ask for money, be prepared for a heavy beating from individuals with names like Bill The Bicep or Rick The Razor.

- Avoid funeral homes and places of worship. People contemplating the spiritual world do not want to be brought back down to earth with your Jimi Hendrix electric guitar solo. Performing at the grave site is gutsy but could work. Everyone is trying impress God, so a soothing Ave Maria may move them into an act of generosity as they pay their last respects.

- Do not hang around elementary schools. You'll get a great crowd, but the youngsters will probably put dandelions, glittery stones and plastic dinosaurs in your money bucket. Local Block Parents will not hesitate to notify the police pedophile unit.

- Emergency areas of hospitals are a no no. Unconscious people find it difficult to go into their pockets for money. Individuals with mental disorders may look at you nervously and get secret messages. Being loudly told that you are Beelzebub with your instrument of evil is not good for business.

- People with small pets are a possibility. Try a playful How Much is that Doggie in the Window?, and the pet owner may even give Biffy the paper money to carry over and drop in your basket. Stay away from any dog whose neck and pectoral muscles are bigger than yours.

A rewarding career awaits those who follow these guidelines!

©2004 Diane Sokoloski


Diane Sokoloski earned a BA in music and BEd as an Artist in the Community. She has performed in children's theatre, political theatre, musical theatre, puppet shows, stand-up comedy and yes- as a street busker. Diane had brief experiences as a police officer and a high school teacher but her psychiatrist advises against talking about it.

Diane's writing credits include numerous magazines, newspapers and her humorous erotica can be read online in Toronto's NOW magazine. She contributes regularly to The National Post's satirical column- Post Mortem.

Diane is working on a children's book based on a true story about a skink who travelled across North America in a lunch box.

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