This Episode proudly sponsored by:
This episode is proudly sponsored by Dolphin Creative – a company who is proud to support street theatre and all of the incredible characters who make up this world. Where ever you perform: Dolphin Creative salutes you! For more information please visit DolphinCreative.org – Huge thanks to Stuart and his team for sponsoring this episode and two more to come!
- Interview by: Eric Amber
- Interviewee: James Jordan
- Original Recording Date: April 30, 2015
- Date: Aired: January 15, 2019
- Location: Jame’s House in Calgary
- Mixed and edited by: Magic Brian & David Aiken for The Busker Hall of Fame
Comments: Where there’s a pitch, there’s a way. Even if the way is riddled with bureaucracy, red tape and prejudice, performers can either learn to adapt to their environment or move on to another spot. But it can often be well worth the hard work and dedication it takes to build a busker program in spite of any obstacles if you’re willing to put in the time.
James ‘Jimbo’ Jordan loves his home town Calgary, Alberta, Canada and did not want to “move on.” Despite the lack of street performing awareness, the challenges faced because the venues that lend themselves to doing street shows aren’t exactly user friendly and winters that are so cold you’d be crazy to perform outdoors, he persevered. Using knowledge from his experience working other successful pitches around the world James returned home and developed a show that almost can’t fail.
Eric Amber connected with James to riff on what it takes to make things work and the challenges James had to overcome in the city more known for oil money and white cowboy hats than a vibrant street theatre scene. In the end, not only has he made it work, it’s made him a better performer where ever else he travelled around the world.
Bonus Materials from James’ varied career with commentary from James himself –
It’s important to not take yourself too seriously when working a difficult pitch. Always remember that you are simply inviting people to stop and watch you perform, they have every right to refuse your offer. If you take yourself and your performance too seriously you run the risk of being offended when people choose not to watch, and it’s a slippery slope that could lead to a cranky street show or worse.
The pitch in Calgary, four pedestrian paths meet and traffic has a steady trickle from all directions. Some will commit early and sit on the steps and others will stand around the outer edge. Through out the show it’s wise to remind the standers that there are seats available. Children fill in the grass and play on the rocks, parents enjoy the show from the steps, and there are always cyclists zipping through the back edge of your crowd so keep the standers tight.
There is a wide open plaza above the circle stage, shows here are much easier to build and can get massive. Bylaw officers will shut these shows down if your crowd starts to block the flow of traffic. I keep my shows up here small and short. There are balloon twisters, caricature artists and musicians that make the best use of this space, setting up your show here could upset their flow so ensure you have talked to them first.
As much as that plaza might appear to be the better pitch, the circle stage just looks so damn good when its full. I have often finished a show in the plaza and been asked by punters why I didn’t use the amphitheater that was clearly designed for my art form. All the buskers are working together to enhance the over-all vibe of the space, and leaving the amphitheater empty seems to spoil it a little.
Here is an example of why it’s so hard to work with bureaucrats. Canada Day 2017 they wanted to better control traffic in the busiest part of the city during celebrations. They saw street performers as a problem so they fenced off the pitch so no one could perform there. It was cruel, rude and ugly and worst of all those fences stayed up for 3 full weeks after Canada day was over. The pitch never recovered that year and people stopped coming to the park with their kids for the rest of the summer. I’m still angry about this and seeing this picture make my blood boil every time.
There is always Stephen Avenue, during Stampede there are tourists that walk up and down and love watching street performers. The rest of the year it’s a ghost town on the weekends and during the week there are only lunch hour shows where people can only stop and watch for 10 or 15 minutes, so short and sweet is the key there.
When you work in Calgary be prepared for a slightly slower gather, being a magician here has it’s advantages. I have an arsenal of small short effects that engage and amaze while I wait for the front edge to fill in. This is my favorite part of my show.
Once that front edge is built I shift gears to the meat and potatoes of my street cups act. I have been working my cups here for so long and never have a problem with returning observers spoiling the surprise ending. In fact I would love to see one or two more cups acts to share the pitch with. Please don’t be discouraged to come work here, all are welcome to work my pitch in Calgary and we will all work together to make sure you get everything you need out of your visit.
Vaudevillian is the title I use for my indoor show. Sometimes I get selected from a fringe lottery, some times my show is included in a theatrical season. The poster was designed by the incomparable Ryan Pilling, my friend and cohost of the Garden Varieth Show.
OMG what a bargain! I can’t believe you are getting this invaluable book for free with this episode! My copy of this book is dog eared and highlighted with notes written on every page. I hope you find it as useful as I have.
Find out more about sponsoring this podcast by emailing magic@BuskerHallofFame.com