This morning I am writing my blog from the luxurious Premier Inn Crew Central. I’m in the area visiting my uncle, who today turns 70. Sadly, I can’t stay for the festivities that will be happening tonight as I have a gig at the d20 Cafe later, and so must be on the 12:37 train to Watford Junction. However, I did get to spend some time yesterday with my family, including my uncle, what was all very lovely.
We were in the town of Sandbatch, and while we wandered around the cobbled square enjoying the local market day I could hear the constant jingle of bells. Either there were auditions for the role of Father Christmas’s reindeer for the local panto happening, or there were Morris dancers about. Interestingly, it was the letter. There was some kind of local dance festival and Morris dancers had descended. There were various different troupes* wandering around all looking very splendid. It was especially lovely to see that there were people doing the traditional dance of other countries as well.
The open entertainment feel got me thinking of my time street performing, more importantly, performing at Covent Garden. To me, growing up in London, performing at Magic Corner is the absolute pinnacle of street entertainment. I remember the first time I went there, stepped up, and tried to gather a crowd. It was a nightmare. I performed maybe four or five times my first day and barely made my travel costs back, let alone lunch. But I persisted and got better. The performer I am today grew out of the work I did on the streets, and it’s good to imagine that I could always go back and make a living doing street magic, though I am very out of practice now.
Though I don’t miss the harsh weather, hostile crowds, and lack of financial certainty, the one thing I do miss is the comradery. It was a real privilege to be a part of the magic that happened there. You are with a group of people who have honed their acts over years of performance. Not only is their magic outstanding, but their crowd skills are second to none. It’s mind boggling to see a person walk into a busy, open air space and without even seeming to try build a crowd around them. With what appeared to be effortless ease my friends are able to control a crowd, defuse angry drunks, and coax laughter and applause from the grouchiest of onlookers. Without their help I wouldn't be a professional magician today.
If you are ever in London on a weekend, I urge you to go and see these people perform. Some of the acts really are world class, and each of them works hard at their craft. All they ask is a little bit of your time, a round of applause, and a small financial contribution. It’s this last thing that is the sticking point for many. When I first had to ask at the end of my show for payment – called the ‘hat speech’ – I found it very tough. It felt like begging, which is embarrassing. But that’s not what I was doing. I wasn’t asking for a hand out. I was asking the audience to pay me for the work I had just done. It became easier to ask as I got better, more confident in my skills. When I saw people who had stood and watched me for twenty or twenty five minutes suddenly leave just as I extended my hat it would really irritate me. A street performer doesn’t ask for much. If everyone who watched gave just a couple of pounds it would make life much easier. When you consider that in that part of London you can easily pay £3.95 for a coffee, half an hour of entertainment is easily worth at least that. So again, let me please urge you to go to Covent Garden and see magic where it should be performed. Live, on the streets, bringing it out to the people. It’s been happening there for hundreds of years, and it needs to be there in the future. When I was a little boy I loved seeing the magic happen. As an adult, it really is an honour to be part of that proud tradition. So if you’ve got tickets to see a show, why not head down a little earlier and watch one of the acts? Taking a break from shopping? Get your coffee to take away and enjoy a live performance as you drink. All they ask is a few pounds, and it’s so worth it.
Now, gocheck out Owen's site, or click the video bellow to see one of Sergios amazing performances.
*I assume troupe is the correct word? What is the collective noun for a group of Morris Dancers? A jingle of Morris Dancers? A throwback?