NEW YORK NY – Modern-day artists who entertain on city streets, within transit stations, and at public parks are upholding a centuries-old tradition of bringing performances directly to the people. A 12-year-old Benjamin Franklin, for example, was a public singer on the streets of Philadelphia, according to the website CityLore.org.
While Franklin depended solely on the strength of his voice to earn a penny or two, today’s “buskers,” as they’re commonly known, often rely on technology to help them solicit a day’s wage from passers-by. They bring instruments and amplifiers, cameras and television monitors, and props galore to wherever they intend to play, and set up stage in spaces they believe (or hope) people will congregate.
Travelers and tourists usually constitute a large portion of their audiences. That seemed to be the case Saturday (Sept. 15, 2012), on Centre Street in Manhattan at the east side of Steve Flanders Square, where a troupe of break-dancers (pictured) gathered to perform for those using the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade to walk across the East River.
City dwellers have, for the most part, already seen almost every kind of performance imaginable. From classical theater offered at curbside to the antics of The Naked Cowboy in Times Square, there isn’t much New Yorkers consider “new.” For those visiting the Big Apple or other major metropolitan areas for the first time, though, witnessing a street performance can be enthralling and exciting. It pays to have a digital camera or camcorder handy to capture the moment for future memories.
Busking is a job, like any other. There are overhead costs (in New York, performers who use sound amplifiers must pay a daily or weekly permit for the privilege), slow periods (rain and snow storms tend to discourage performers and their audiences alike), and tough days (dog attacks, pigeon bombardments, and the occasional tip bucket theft).
While some street performers are highly talented, and most love their art, almost all are “in it for the money.” They’re hoping you’ll tip them, either because you liked what they did, or because you’ll feel guilty if you don’t, or just out of sympathy. You are not required to tip, and you cannot be forced to do so.
If you’re inclined to tip or donate, what’s appropriate? There are no set rules, so the first rule is “whatever you’re comfortable with.” Kristen’s Guide, written by Kristen Brooke Beck as a “practical guide to a happy life,” suggests a 15-percent of the performer’s fee if the performer was hired (a rarity on the street), or $2 if the performance was free. If you made a special request of the performer and he or she compiled, Kristen says, kick in $5.