Category Archives: how to be a statue

the importance of protecting personal space

people love to fuck with street performers. living statues are seen as particularly easy targets, because it is assumed that a living statue can’t move no matter what happens. as i’ve said countless times over the years, i firmly believe that protecting myself is significantly more important than holding a pose, and i am completely baffled by anyone who thinks otherwise.

i read a story, ages ago, about a female living statue and a drunk man. it was a pretty typical scene of jackassery. he’s making lewd comments, inching closer, gaining bravery with every second that passes. soon enough, he was all over her, grabbing her, flat out sexually assaulting her. she held her pose. eventually he wandered away, and her audience was impressed that she never reacted to anything he did to her. i read this story, and i wanted to track her down and slap her. why would you do that? why would you allow anyone, intoxicated or not, to treat you that way? i am not impressed.

if you give people an inch, they will eventually take a hundred miles. there’s a performance artist, marina abramovic, who is mentioned often when wyatt and i have conversations about my busking and the bullshit i have to deal with from my audience. here’s why:

To test the limits of the relationship between performer and audience, Abramović developed one of her most challenging (and best-known) performances. She assigned a passive role to herself, with the public being the force which would act on her.

Abramović had placed upon a table 72 objects that people were allowed to use (a sign informed them) in any way that they chose. Some of these were objects that could give pleasure, while others could be wielded to inflict pain, or to harm her. Among them were a rose, a feather, honey, a whip, scissors, a scalpel, a gun and a single bullet. For six hours the artist allowed the audience members to manipulate her body and actions.

Initially, members of the audience reacted with caution and modesty, but as time passed (and the artist remained impassive) people began to act more aggressively. As Abramović described it later:

“What I learned was that… if you leave it up to the audience, they can kill you.” … “I felt really violated: they cut up my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the audience. Everyone ran away, to escape an actual confrontation.”

now, obviously, her performance was very different than mine. but i do think the basics of humanity are exactly the same. people will test you. that is a fact of performance art. and if you do nothing, they’ll keep going, they’ll want to know exactly how much they can get away with. that’s why i don’t let people get away with poking, grabbing, slapping, or crowding me. i know that if i let people get away with seemingly harmless actions [that certainly wouldn’t be considered harmless under normal day-to-day circumstances], inevitably i will find myself in a much more serious situation. it’s fucking absurd for anyone to expect me to tolerate invasions of my personal space just because i have chosen to perform on the street as a living statue.

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how to look like a statue.

the ability to stand mystifyingly still is, obviously, important. but overall image is very important when you’re a living statue. your costuming and makeup can determine the number/kinds of people drawn to you, and subsequently determine your success as a busker.

first, you need to decide what you want to be. a realistic statue? a mannequin? a doll? a non-human creature? whatever kind of character you choose, really take the time to think about how you’d like the finished product to look. be mindful of how appealing your character will be to the general public. will small children be more likely to see you as a fairytale, or a nightmare? will you only appeal to people of a specific subculture? are you trying to make some kind of political or social statement that will offend more than half of the people who see you? you should be excited about your performance, but if you’re trying to actually make money, you should also try to create a performance that people of any age and lifestyle can be excited about, too.

now you need a costume. i’m a busker with a very limited budget for costuming, and i have no real sewing skills to speak of, so i have learned to be resourceful. thrift stores, department stores, ebay, etsy, amazon… it’s possible to find the perfect garment at an affordable price if you’re not in a rush. always be on the lookout. i’ve stumbled upon awesome costume pieces while shopping for other things, or just killing time browsing through stores i wouldn’t normally walk into. i have also spraypainted clothing to achieve the right color. this can be tricky or downright frustrating, depending on the fabric type and how well it holds the paint. also keep in mind that spraypainted clothing is stiff and easily creased, and it may not fit the same way or be as comfortable as when you first tried it on, pre-painting.

what about your hair? depending on your chosen character and costume, you may need to cover or temporarily change the color of your hair. hats, head wraps, and wigs are the easiest solutions. you can also use spray-in temporary color, or liquid makeup that’s designed to be used on hair. spray colors require a lot of shampoo to remove. liquid makeup works best on hair that is styled tight against the head, and any styling products you use should be completely dry before you start painting.

important costuming tip: try to cover as much skin as you possibly can! the less skin you have to cover with makeup, the less prep work you’ll have to do, and the less stressful your busking experience will be. but be conscious of the weather. too many substantial layers on a hot summer day will lead to overheating, sweating, makeup melting, and general unpleasantness.

and on the subject of makeup… unless you have experience doing theatrical makeup, this may require some practice. there will be some trial and error. some products may work better with your skin type than others. if you’re going for a realistic statue that is not a straightforward white or metallic, you may need to do multiple experiment sessions mixing and layering various products to get the look you want. note: any makeup can be rubbed off easily by clothing/accessories. try to keep the line where your clothing ends and your makeup begins away from body parts with lots of motion [wrists, elbows, shoulder area, neck, etc].

i have always bought my makeup from mehron [ http://www.mehron.com ]. most costume/party/halloween shops carry some mehron products. i’ll go through the list of products i’ve used over the years.

products that have not worked out for me:

– greasepaint / clown white : this provides okay coverage on my face, with a powder dusted on post-application to set it, but i always had trouble getting decent coverage on my neck and chest. it’s also a royal pain in the ass to clean off, and my troubled skin didn’t appreciate any of it.

– fantasy f-x : my experiences with the white/grey shades have been terrible. this stuff tends to flake off as soon as it dries. i do not recommend using the light colors for any significant coverage. i have never noticed the flaking issue with the dark colors, though, and have no complaints about the black/browns.

– hyper-formance creamblend : no. just, no. you’ll go through this fast trying to cover large areas of skin. it doesn’t really ever dry, so even if you set it with a powder, it’ll rub off pretty easily.

– starblend : this is wonderful as a setting powder, but i didn’t have the best of luck using it solo. it’s a dry powder that has to be applied with a damp brush or sponge. darker colors are easier to work with than lighter colors if you’re aiming for a solid finish. works fine for certain skin types, and a certain level of patience. but i decided it just wasn’t the best makeup for me after trying to work with it for a couple of years. getting consistent and opaque coverage with the white was too much of a chore for me.

products that i absolutely swear by:

+ metallic powder : amazing. it’s a loose powder that you can apply effortlessly with a brush, sponge, or your bare hands. a little goes a very long way. a word of warning, though: the gold, copper, and bronze will oxidize on your skin. these colors are not recommended for use in hot sweaty weather. you’ll end up looking like some sort of swamp creature.

+ paradise : this moist cake is a little tricky, but when you get it right, it’s fabulous. apply a thick coat with a lightly dampened soft foundation brush or sea sponge. allow to dry about 75%, then gently press some loose starblend on top of the paradise. the result should be consistent, opaque coverage. if you get this makeup wet after it’s dry and set, it will be a pain in the ass to fix. approach with caution.

no matter what kind of statuesque entity you’re going to be, put in the effort to be awesome! make sure your look is cohesive and as polished as you can possibly manage. this is not the time to do anything half-assed. remember, you’re creating an illusion. you’re creating magic.


how to stand still.

this is, obviously, one of the things people ask me about all the time. how do i stand so still? well, it’s not easy. but it’s not necessarily as difficult as you might think.

practice. practice. practice. just like any other physical activity, the more you do it, the better you get at doing it. already being in decent shape is also helpful.

do not overexert yourself. i’m guilty of doing exactly that every now and then, because i get cocky, or i stop paying attention to what my feet and legs are doing, and then i find myself stuck in a pose that’s very difficult to hold, and all i can think is “oh, please, someone help me! save me! put something in my tip jar, i don’t care what it is, just get me out of this!” and then i start to get a little shakey. it’s just not good. i’ve been doing this for nearly six years now, i should know better by now. but that just goes to show how easy it is to forget.

relax and let your skeleton support you. don’t use muscles that you don’t have to use. tension is your worst enemy! a tense muscle quickly becomes a shakey muscle, and shit just goes downhill from there. keeping your feet at least hip-width apart will help you maintain balance without having to work too hard. keeping your arms low and close to your body is much easier to hold than bringing them up and out. also, posture. i cannot put into words how important it is to keep your spine in proper allignment while performing as a living statue. i used to have a terrible habit of sticking out my chest, but also letting my abdominals relax completely, hollowing out my back. after every performance i’d end up practically disabled for a day or two from a very sore and tender lower back. then i started bellydancing, and realized how atrocious my posture really was. always keep the abs engaged. [gently] suck in that gut! your back will thank you.

the most important factor in this equation, though, is the mind. you need patience. you need to be able to ignore little discomforts, like an itch, or a tickle in your throat, or a sneeze trying to form in the depths of your sinuses. you need to simultaneously maintain focus on what you’re doing, what’s going on around you, and also not get frustrated or bored and just give up. when i perform on the street, i only move when a kind stranger drops a donation in my tip jar. sometimes, that means waiting for what seems like forever. sometimes there’s a lot going on around me with a large audience, sometimes i’m performing for no one. now, i’m not going to say i never opt for a break when things are very quiet. but i generally try to keep going, because one never knows when a crowd could form.

there’s also the matter of people being assholes. what are you going to do if someone pokes you? slaps you? grabs your ass? tries to get a rise out of you by pretending they’re going to steal your tip jar? gets all up in your face and starts telling racist jokes? i, personally, am a firm believer in self-defense. there are too many living statues out there who tolerate all kinds of harrassment because, apparently, staying in character and holding your pose is more important than defending yourself against the drunk who is trying to grab your crotch. and to that, i say, are you crazy?! if you wouldn’t let someone do something to you while you were grocery shopping, why would you allow it to happen while you’re performing? if someone makes uninvited physical contact with me, i do not hesitate to grab, slap, poke, or push them. if they get out of arm’s reach too quickly, then i’ll at least flip them off. one of my biggest regrets is not abandoning my performance to tackle the douchebag who snuck up behind me and screamed right in my ear. or at least shouting to my audience to grab him so i could get the cops involved. but, people are stupid, shit happens, and you can’t let it get you down.