The maleta (suitcase) is the traditional symbol of the street performer. I rescued mine, someone was filling her with rubbish assuming her worthless due to having a bust buckle, I not so calmly proclaimed that she was treasure emptying the offending articles into a bin. I filled her with my things and strapped her awkwardly to the handlebars of my bike and cycled her home. The very first time I wandered around Plaza Brasil in Santiago on a Sunday, I was circling closer to the centre, still not 100% sure if I was going to perform, suitcase weighing heavy in one hand and hoops in the other. A street vendor stopped me as I nervously marched round, pointed to the suitcase with an eager grin and asked me if I was going to do a show. I shared my nerves and told him a bit about myself, he geed me on and told me to get out there, pointing to two possible spots and sending me on my way. I plonked myself down in the middle of the dusty plaza wracked with nerves, I looked over to where his cart was and he had wheeled himself round to get a better view, giving me a big thumbs up. Drawing as much attention to myself as I possibly could through the art of being daft, I over expressively coughed, hummed, made eye contact and very slowly transformed from the only ‘gringa’ in the plaza to the only performer in the plaza. I put the last touches to my make-up as the circle gathered round me and the curiosity pressed at my sides. I pulled out my ‘speaker’ which was actually a cardboard box covered in gold paper with a gold paper cone sticking out of the top concealing a phone and one of those little plug in capsule speakers. At home the cardboard gramophone of sorts seemed quite loud, the contraption outside in a busy plaza fighting with the traffic, birds, trampolines… Only attracted strange looks. I died a little inside and got on with it, danced for two songs, first with one hoop and then with two, all the while with three girls huddled over the ‘gramaphone’ swaying with cupped ears to hear the miniature sound that I was dancing to.
Since that first performance I’ve advanced to a speaker although still small, actually audible. The current show is about 15 minutes long and I speak, have jokes and audience participation. I’ve come quite a long way. What hasn’t changed so much is the bag of nerves I deal with in order to get myself out of the house.
I have to slowly trick ‘little me’ into going. Little me is the voice inside of my head that is absolutely scared of everything I do, if she had it her way I’d never leave the house at all. Thanks to her I often leave later than the time I intended to, luckily the gentle mixing of my British internal clock with the running joke called ‘the time’ out here in Chile means I now leave the house stress free and still manage to get to where I’m going more or less on time (in fact half the time as with appointments and events even though I’m ‘very late’ by my standards I still manage to wind up being early). The pressure builds slowly over the day as nerves confuse themselves with excitement and day to day distractions leave me forgetting in blissful periods what my chosen profession calls for me to do. Little me gets more vocal after lunch as I try my very best not to eat too much but often do and I’m left wondering whether today I’ll perform with washing machine stomach or not. Finally when I’ve faffed enough and look at the time and decide I really had better do something about heading out, that is when little me gets quite loud and starts to become louder than big me, she starts to win. As the list gets longer of all the things I could do instead and the battle back and forth between little and big gets louder, it builds up until it seems the only thing that will give me peace is to let her win and declare (to an empty room) ‘I’M NOT GOING!’. Once I’ve hit that stage, I momentary let myself believe that I’m really not… decide a nap is a better idea, actually lying down in the bed for a few minutes. There have been times when little me has truly won and I’ve napped, and others where I have fought her hard and leaped out of bed slapping my cheeks and doing a big physical wobble in the middle of the room to get myself going. Somewhere between the two extremes I decide that actually I’ll just get my suitcase packed first and see how I feel. I now have a piece of paper in my suitcase that says what I need to remember (as I have learned the hard way that checklists in this really can help). Especially if as you can see from the passage above one has to spring out of a bag of nerves to get going, I once even forgot my hula hoops. Small details are what usually slip the net, make-up remover or the red shorts that go under my dress for example. Charging my speaker is also where I sometimes fall short, finishing a show once with the very quiet practically inaudible sound of the music from my phone, but we all know that the show must go on. So packing my suitcase while little me is still looking the other way arms folded convinced I’m not going is a very calming and also quite empowering act to do. It reminds me that I am going to do my show and that I know it, I know my tools, I know my jokes, I know my art, I can totally do this. Little me starts to soften and helps to remind me of anything I’ve forgotten, mental notes such as don’t pick the same kid out twice for the audience participation (it’s mortifying).
Once the suitcase is packed and my hoops folded ready for travel all bungeed on my little cart I look at it and think well maybe I’ll just head out to the spot to see if there are people. The very last thing I’ll do is my stretches, it helps calm my mind and starts prepping my body for what is about to come. Still not totally convinced I’m going to perform but it’s better to be safe than sorry and the stretches sure wont do me any harm. I always do another quick warm up just before I start the show but quite often when the public see you nearly ready and the mix of anticipation, nerves and excitement build to a point where it’s best to just get going on that energy rather than drag it out any longer with a big warm up.
Finally I make it out of the door, attracting curiosity as eyes dart from suitcase to hoops to me and I walk a little straighter, my head a little higher and the corners of my mouth start to push at my cheeks. Little me quite likes this feeling and big me loves it, looks like I’m going after all.