by Sue Basko, esq.
For rules on street performing in certain locations, please see:
The Tao is The Way. Laws and rules regarding street performing vary location to location. Some require permits, some do not. Some reserve spaces. Some limit the length of time a performer can stay in one spot and/or the overall time a performer can be on the street in one day. Some do not allow amplifiers. All limit the noise level. Some do not allow gymnastics, animals, fire, or other things that might be dangerous. But overall, there is a way of street performing that will make you welcome in most locations, if you are at the right time and place with the right permit.
The Tao of Street Performing, in simple rules:
1) You are not a monkey. In Santa Monica, there is a street performing act that has dogs jumping through hoops. Then a cute little monkey wearing a jacket runs in a circle taking dollars out of peoples' hands. This is cute. If you run around in a circle taking dollars out of peoples' hands, it is "aggressive solicitation," and will get you ticketed, arrested, or tossed out of almost any street performing location, and often banned.
Aggressive solicitation is one of the surest ways for a performer to be unwelcome on the street. The most you can do to collect money is to have a jar, coffee can, or open guitar case. Start it off with some money of the sort you would like to fill it - usually dollars. Keep an eye on your money jar so it does not walk away. Do not ask anyone for money. Do not name a price. Do not refuse to perform without being paid. Just perform and make it easy for people to tip you. If your tips are meager, you might be in a bad location or maybe your act is not so good. Try a good location. If you still don't get money, it's your act.
2) You are not interrogating terrorists. In U.S. jails housing possible terrorists, the jailers blast loud music to torment their prisoners. The usual picks are heavy metal , screamo, hip hop. Hearing such music, after a while, makes most people go mad. If you play loud repetitive beats on the street, bang on containers, blast a boom box, shout, sing off-key, etc., you are creating a nuisance or violating a noise ordinance. Depending on the location, you will be asked to stop, ticketed, fined, lose your street performing permit, or be arrested.
3) You are not Cirque du Soleil. Many locations forbid things such as acrobats, tumbling, fire, anything involving knives or axes or saws, animals, snakes, birds, and anything else that might pose a danger to the performers or the audience or to passersby.
4) You are not a home for runaways. Most locations forbid anyone under age 16 from street performing. Some allow young teens if they are in the company of their parents.
5) Don't let pickpockets gather around you. If your act draws a crowd, and if there are people who hang around a bit too much, ask them to move on. If you suspect they might be pickpockets, tell the police. Tourist areas, subways, and busy streets are prime areas for pickpockets.
6) You are not a crazy street person. Or at least, you are not supposed to appear like one. How to look like one: Bring a shopping cart piled with things. Bring a sign - a big piece of cardboard where you have written unintelligible things in black marker. The topics? War, economy, conspiracy, abortion, religion. Rant about chemtrails and communists or how people are going to hell. Play a keyboard or accordion with the same 2 notes over and over for hours.
7) You are not the only street performer. You must share the space physically and by not letting your sound emanate too far. Be considerate. Even if you think your act is far superior to the others, you still must share the time and space.
8) Be in tune. Be in tune with your environment. Be in tune with the vibe of the street. Be in tune with the people. Be in tune musically.