10 Different Types of Street Performers

Street performing acts are as vast and varied as the imaginations of the artists who create them. And with the explosion of the internet and social media, I feel like the creativity of street performers has exploded as well and the bar has been set even higher.

Street performing is the end-all-be-all guerrilla art activism . . .

Don't want to wait for the audience to come to you? Then bring it to them! Right smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk!

In order to get a pulse on all this boundless creativity, I've identified 10 different types of street performers that touch on just a few of the main trends we are seeing in this art form nowadays.

10 Different Types of Street Performers:

1. The Statue: this type of performer may paint themselves all in gold, or come up with an unusual outfit to appear like a statue. Holding still is their main game. And then some statues are even kinetic - moving when prompted by a coin dropped into their hat, or as a surprise as passersby move closer to inspect them.

2. The One-Man Band: this performer is a complete orchestra, band, or cacophony of sound all emanating from one human with instruments for appendages. This performer impresses the crowd with how many instruments they can play at once and the cleverness of how they've assembled the arrangement.

3. The Flash Mob: this type of performance depends on the element of surprise and turns an ordinary restaurant or train station into a full on organized mounting of a show. Often entailing an ensemble of people and advanced planning, the flash mob has been used again and again for not only artistic purposes, but as a marketing tool - even Oprah staged a flash mob in Chicago with the Black Eyed Peas!

4. Social Experiment: eye gazing experiment anyone? Hugs for free? The social experiment performer is one who is typically "testing" human nature with different kinds of interactions. Sometimes comedic, sometimes revealing, sometimes touching - and maybe all three, these have become widely popular over the last 10 years with social media and the internet.

5. The Magician or the Sleight of Hand: one of the oldest games in the world of street performers - "Where's the money, is it under this shell or this shell or this one?" This performer engages the passerby in a game and for a moment or a few minutes the "audience" gets to lose themselves to their desire for challenge and fascination.

6. Quirky Talent: Do you have a map of the U.S. that when people stand on it, you can tell them their exact zip code? The performer with a quirky talent engages the audience with wonder and leaves them questioning, "How did they do that?"

7. The Solo Talented Artist: Have you ever been graced with a lone flute drifting throughout the train station? Or a storyteller perched on a bench? Singer/songwriters, violinists, rappers, crooners, tale weavers - sometimes all an artist needs to do is to take themselves out in public . . . and play what they're good at.

8. The Ensemble: Break dancing crews, barbershop quartets, a band getting their rehearsal on in public. It's awesome to see a group that you can tell has worked together, creating fun and sharing a sneak peek of their show in a public space.

9. The Community Igniter: a drum circle, a capoeira group that urges passerby to pick up an instrument, a salsa band, Lindy hop dancers . . . these are the performers that blur the line between audience and performer - everyone is encouraged to become a participant and the result is a surprise party in the street!

10. Site-Specific Work: This is where the performance engages directly with the place where it is performed. Doing a performance in the woods, where one of the players climbs down a tree in the middle of a scene? Playing music inside a cave, using the acoustics of the specific place as an integral part of the piece. This is site-specific and can get creative and wildy fun. Especially with groups that hang off of buildings like Bandaloop. Every year, The Trolley Dances, in San Francisco are a great example of site-specific work, taking audience members on a journey throughout the city to view different pieces throughout.

. . . and this list doesn't even begin to really encompass all of it!


Want to know more about street performing? Like how do you captivate an audience when they’re on their way to somewhere else? Listen to this podcast episode What You Can Learn from Street Performers where Holly spends the day at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf and talks with two street performers: Adam White, the M.C. of Bay Area Breakerz, break-dancing crew; and Jonathan Strange, an award winning magician. Find out what it takes to gather a crowd, keep them entertained, and get them to pay when the show’s already over! Go to the podcast episode now>>

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