How To Be A Street Performer


I was working as a videographer for a professional team of street performers, a group of five young men and women who juggle, walk on stilts, dance and do acrobatics. I was there to document the start of their tour, which would take them from Cleveland to New York City, Boston and Philadelphia.

First stop: Mallory Square in Key West. As a boy I used to come here with my family every year for vacation. The place had changed. The old pier is gone and the little shops have been replaced by tourist traps selling T-shirts, sunglasses and sunglasses straps that look like leis made out of Mardi Gras beads. But there were still plenty of performers.

Street performing is not easy, but the members of this team make it look effortless. They laugh and joke with one another as they practice their routines over and over again before that night’s show. But as I talked to some of them, I realized how hard they had worked to be in this position — traveling the East Coast doing what they loved and getting paid for it!

The first thing you need to know about being a street performer is that it’s not as easy as it looks. Sure, you see a guy standing there with a guitar and some crates, playing for change. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. That guy has been working at it for years, and most likely has spent many more hours practicing than he has performing.

The second thing you need to know is that success on the streets depends on your attitude. You can be the greatest player in the world, but if you don’t have a good attitude towards your audience, they may not stick around long enough to hear how great you are. It’s important to understand that your audience is supporting you, and that without them, you wouldn’t be there performing.

Here are some things I have learned over the years:

On a recent visit to Mallory Square, I saw a street performer catch on fire. Well, he didn’t actually catch on fire; he was merely covered in flammable liquid and set ablaze. It was part of his act and it garnered him a healthy crowd. He had one of the larger crowds that evening, in fact. The entire square was filled with people watching performers of all kinds. I saw someone juggle chainsaws, a woman swallowed swords and a man sang while playing the saxophone upside down. It was quite an experience but what really interested me were the conversations I had with some of the performers after their acts.

I met a man named Taz who swallowed swords for a living. He’s been doing it for over 10 years and has performed all over the world including Japan, Germany and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, which is the largest arts festival in the world. Taz told me that his act isn’t as easy as it looks: “It takes about two hours to get ready for the show each night. I have to shave my body completely so that there are no hairs for anything to get caught in my throat. Then I have to coat my entire body in vaseline so

From Mallory Square in Key West, Florida, street performers pose and perform for the sunset crowd. Some of these people are very talented and make a living out of their performances. Others are just clowning around, trying to get a few laughs and some tips.

The more elaborate performances are pretty well choreographed. The performers know when to start and stop their acts so they can get maximum exposure and coverage from the tourists. They have their spots on the corners or at the center of the square where they can be seen best. It is all about getting people’s attention so they will watch the performance. Then it is up to the performer to keep those people interested enough to throw some money in their hat.

The performers take into account the mood of the crowd before starting a routine. You don’t see any acrobatic stunts or juggling acts when there is a lot of boisterous activity going on near by as that would just distract from what was happening nearby.

Arthur has been a full-time street performer for more than ten years. He’s played at many of the world’s best known locations, from the Las Vegas Strip to Venice Beach, California and even in Vancouver, Canada near my home.

Arthur was kind enough to answer some questions about what it takes to make it as a street performer.

Mallory Square is the home of one of the most unique spectacles in Key West. It’s not a particular building or sight, but an event that happens every evening just before sunset. The Key West Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square is a celebration of the sun setting in the west and the moon rising in the east. It’s also a celebration of life, art and community as it draws artists, street performers and people from all walks of life together to watch the spectacle unfold.

Every evening before sunset, artists, jugglers and musicians set up shop on Mallory Square to prepare for tourists gathered at the harbor to watch our famous Key West Sunset. It’s a unique opportunity for these street performers to showcase their talents and make a few bucks while doing so. If you’re heading down to Mallory Square this summer, stop by around 5:30 pm and enjoy the show!

Though there are many talented performers present at Mallory Square every night, here are some that you can expect to see:

– Glass Blowing**

– Fire Breathing**

– Puppets**

– Unicycle Jousting**

– Sword Swallowing**

– Tumbling**

– Juggling**

Mallory Square, Key West. 5 p.m. A crowd of a thousand or more is gathered to watch the sun set into the Gulf of Mexico. A dozen street performers are plying their trades before the show: jugglers, fire-eaters, escape artists, contortionists. I have come to be one of them.

I have a mental routine prepared that I think will work well in this setting: juggling three balls plus a ball balanced on my nose—a real crowd-pleaser, as I’ve learned in practice sessions at home—followed by a finale in which I catch three knives thrown at me by a blindfolded friend.

Before going on, I check out the other performers to see how they’re doing. The escape artist is working with a large but sparse crowd. A juggler and a unicyclist are getting good tips from their audience of about 100; a slackrope walker is drawing almost no one; two mimes are playing to an audience of two kids and their mother; and so on. My heart sinks when I see that there’s another juggler already working the crowd. He’s not very good: his tricks are simple, his timing is erratic, and he drops things often.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *