Circus News

Sidestep into Street Theater and Take Control of Your Entertainment Career

Since the pandemic began, the entertainment industry has been thrown into chaos. Every performer on the planet has been forced out of their shows, their livelihoods, and in most cases, their life’s work. For the time being, a live audience is non-existent. For a performer, our shows are where we feel at home, and we are all now, in a sense, homeless. Like everyone else, my career as a live performer stopped on March 14th.

As the weeks turned into months, I started to doubt my own existence and self-worth. This led me to ask the question, If I can’t perform my shows anymore, what do I have to contribute to the world? Being a street theater performer, I used to have the ability to go out and perform shows and make a lot of money, pretty much whenever I felt like it. What I do still have is the knowledge of how to go out and make a lot of money performing street theater shows. Boom! There was my revelation. I needed to help performers take control of their entertainment careers, by sharing what I have learned over the years.

Just because shows aren’t yet happening in my city, doesn’t mean that performers around the world are not performing or using this time to work on building new skills. So, I started a Facebook group called “Tips for Street Performers” and began putting up videos with handy tips and hacks for street performers. The response was incredible, the group grew exponentially overnight and the reviews of my videos were nothing short of heartwarming. This inspired me to delve deeper into my craft and write a complete master class on the subject.

A street performer in Vienna stands high up on a pole in front of a large audience
This photo was taken street performing at the Karlsplatz in Vienna, Austria in 2018

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Street Performing Basics

The greatest thing about being a street theater performer is that you can take your career into your own hands, be your own boss, work when you want to work and make as much money as you want to. You don’t have to wait on someone to give you a gig, in order to have a career in entertainment. Of course, as a street theater performer, there are gigs, hundreds of them, all over the world. And they are highly paid gigs too.

But you don’t NEED them in order to be able to perform and make money. You can likely do this in the city that you live in, or somewhere close by. There are hundreds of places you can perform, all over the world, any time you like. 

  • You are the boss
  • You make your own schedule
  • You vacation whenever you want to
  • You create and direct the show
  • You keep 100% of the profits 

Your performing career will be completely in your hands and you won’t have to wait for a gatekeeper to approve you for a gig. So, if you are skilled in a circus discipline and you are currently out of work, you have the opportunity to become a world class, professional street theater performer.

There are 10 fundamental steps that you need to take to make it happen, I’ll keep it simple, and you tell me if it’s too difficult…hint, it isn’t.

So here goes…

Step 1- Develop Your Skill

If you are already in the entertainment industry, it’s likely that you already have a skill of some kind.

In street theater, the promise of your skills are what hook your audience in to stay and watch you. Whether it is acrobatics, magic, juggling, or dance. These are the tools that you use to draw your audience in, so you can win them over with your charm.

You need an edge over the average person, you have to be able to do something that they can’t. Whatever it is, it has to be well oiled by the time it reaches your show.

Step 2- Create a One of a Kind Show

Everything has been done in some way or another, but it hasn’t been done by you. The creative process takes inspiration from the things that we see, and adds yourself to the recipe to create innovative art. This is no difference with street performing.

You add your own personality and experience and build an act. You’ll want to eventually create an act that is as close to you as possible. Use what you know and add your own experience.

If you can do this, you will not only create an original act, you will create an act that can’t just be stolen by another performer, because they haven’t lived your life or experienced what it took to create the act. 

Streetshow
This photo was taken at the “Street Performance World Championships” in Dublin, Ireland in 2009. I won Critic’s Choice that year.
Step 3- Make It Portable

As a street theater performer, you are not only the creator and director of the show, but you are the roadie too, you have to bring your own equipment to and from the performance locations.

So, whatever it is that you use in your show as props, you need to adjust them so that they are portable. They will need to be taken apart and packed into some kind of bag and transported around.

This may take a little design and fabrication, but it can be done, everything is doable and there is nothing that can’t be built.

Your props are the vehicles to your skills, and good looking props will make it much easier for you to gather a crowd. 

Step 4- Look Good

How you physically present yourself to the audience is a considerable factor. You have to appear to be an attractive character. People are attracted to attractive people, it says so right in the word. If you want to attract people, be attractive!

Don’t mix up attractiveness and being good looking. Being good looking is something that you have no control over, being attractive is something that you can control.

Having pride in the way you look, whatever your style, is the first step to becoming a charismatic street entertainer.

Wear a costume specifically designed to make you stand out and feel powerful when in the public eye. You have to separate yourself from the audience.

Step 5- Sound Good

You will need a battery powered, portable amplifier that has at least 2 channels, one for playing music and one for a microphone. You will also need a wireless microphone so that you can move around in your show without a cable.

Invest in good sound equipment, sounding good is paramount to your show’s atmosphere. Focus on the tone and levels in your show, as they play a large part in audience comfort.

In recent years, there have been leaps and bounds when it comes to technology and portability of amplifiers. You can now buy lightweight and powerful amplifiers that can play to crowds of up to 1000 people. 

The best course is to not hunt for a bargain. Pick something that is mid to high end and that is durable. Doing a lot of shows makes for wear on your equipment and you’ll want something that will last you a long time. 

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A graphic representing the best set up for a street show, with a crowd builder, an opener, and then a hook
A visual representation of the perfect street show structure.
Step 6- Structure the Show Right

Holding every single person who stops, is a key step to a successful street theater show. In order to achieve this, you have to have a very simple show. Less is more.

Simply put, a street theater show has 2 acts, the “opener” and the “hook”.

The “hook” is your best act or trick, and you do that last. Your “opener” is your second-best act, and you do that first.

Your hook needs to be strong, because that is your big promise, and what you will use to draw a crowd, and hold a crowd until the end of your show.

For example; let’s say your hook is Diving through a hoop of fire.

The whole show needs to revolve around getting you to that trick. Everything else that you do in your show, including your opener, is just an interruption leading up to delivering your hook.

You should keep repeating your big promise, in this case it would be “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to dive through this hoop of fire.” But there is always something that interrupts you from getting to it…  

But first, I have to build the hoop.

But first I have to dip the torches and get the fire ready.

But first I need to block off this area so nobody gets hurt when I light the flames.

But first I need to warm up my body with some acrobatic fire juggling tricks (opener.)

But first I need to get a volunteer to light the fire for me.

But first I need to ask you for tips.

Then you start a slow hand clap, pause, take a run up, and dive through the hoop of fire.

That’s the structure of a successful street show in a nutshell. You just insert your own skills.

Step 7- The Tip Speech

Once you have set up your hook and are ready to perform it, you have to pause and deliver a short speech to your audience, in order to make them reach for their wallets.

 This should not take a long time but it should answer these 4 questions; Who? Why? How? And How much?

  1. Who are you? Introduce yourself. 
  2. Why are you out here doing this? Tell the audience your motivations for doing what you do. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
  3. How do they tip you? You need to give them an exact call to action about what they need to do in order to tip you. For example, “Please step forward at the end and place your tips into this     red bucket”
  4. How much? Like any good sales pitch, always save the price until last. You need to give them a suggested tip amount, if you don’t do this, you won’t make nearly as much as you should. Don’t price it too high, $5-$10 is usually the sweet spot.

If you can deliver this speech with a mix of confidence, sincerity and comedy, you will have them pushing each other out of the way to pay you.

A large crowd gathers around a group of street performers
Gathering large crowds is part of the plan to travel the world
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Step 8- Travel the World

Being able to adapt your show to any situation will make you a more resilient and versatile performer. You will no longer need things to be just right, so you can perform your act.

Travelling to other cities and countries will strengthen your adaptability, because you will be forced to adapt daily from show to show.

There is street performing in most western countries, throughout Europe, the UK, North America, Asia and Australasia. There are hundreds of performance locations all over the world that you can travel to and perform on.

You will never have to have a gig in order to visit a new place. You can just arrive with your equipment and start working. Some places will have a permit system and some will not.

Most street performers are connected through Facebook groups, and it’s as simple as putting up a post and asking about locations and permits in whatever country you are going to.  

Step 9- Market Your Show

Once you have developed a solid street theater show, you can start to market yourself in order to start performing at street theater festivals. 

You will need 3 things to do this:

  1.    Uncommon looking promotional photos that are so incredible that they could be used on a billboard or the side of a bus.
  2.    A short promotional video that leads with your most unique attributes and showcases your act in under 2 minutes.
  3.    A unique marketing message that is focused on your strengths and what you bring to an event.
Step 10- Go Professional

The key to getting paid larger amounts of money for street performing, is to have access to performing in the very best locations in the world. 

Performing at street theater festivals can be the most lucrative shows that you will ever do. Everyone that comes to watch, knows what to expect and they come ready to watch, ready to laugh and applaud, and ready to tip you. Not only will you be able to make 4-5 times more money in tips as you usually would, but you will sometimes be paid a fee to be there.

There are hundreds of festivals running all over the world, during all seasons. 

This is an industry that has its roots in Europe, and has spread to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan and has more recently started to bloom in The USA and China. Every year I see more and more events popping up for me to perform at. There are many that don’t even require an invitation, just a sign up.

You can literally book yourself into festivals, in a never-ending season of summer, that traverses continents and hemispheres. You get to see many different parts of the world and take amazing vacations between festivals.

So, there it is, 10 steps to becoming a successful street theater performer.

Who knows how long this pandemic will last and when indoor shows will be safe to perform in again. What I do know is that “outside” is seen as safe right now. Inside is not. That’s why every restaurant now has outdoor seating.

Street theater performers are sometimes looked down on by other performing industries, and for no good reason. We do what we do out of love, we build enormous careers, we travel all over the world and get paid colossal amounts of money to do so. 

Some of the best circuses and variety shows all over the world are populated by the world’s best street performers, including Absinthe, Opium, and Tape Face in Las Vegas.

The reasons are; Street theater performers are the most versatile of performers, they make great hosts, they are resilient and self sufficient, and they can deal with any situation that arises.

When you can make a show work in a street situation, you can make a show work anywhere, and the same can’t be said in reverse for stage performers.

Performing Street theater is a way to forge your act in fire, making is possible for you to absolutely murder, on any stage that you perform on afterwards.

So, is it time to take your show outside? 

If you would like a more in depth insight, you can watch my free training video “12- Steps to a High-Income Street Performance.” Hopefully, it can help you build a World-Class Street Theater Performance, and also help you take control of your entertainment career.

Because, when you are a street performer, you always have a gig.

All photos provided courtesy of Al Millar. Feature photo was taken at Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston in 2017.
Al Millar
Street Performer -United States, Australia
Al Millar is a street performer with 24 years, 38 countries and 22 street performing awards under his belt. He is internationally acclaimed and respected on the street performing and festival busking circuit. Originally hailing from Sydney, Australia, Al now lives and performs out of Boston, USA.

Al Millar

Al Millar is a street performer with 24 years, 38 countries and 22 street performing awards under his belt. He is internationally acclaimed and respected on the street performing and festival busking circuit. Originally hailing from Sydney, Australia, Al now lives and performs out of Boston, USA.