What Is a Street Performance?

Dan Cavallari

The term "street performance" refers to a rendition of music, acting, or other artistic endeavor that takes place on a street or in a public place. Street performers, often known as buskers, can play music, sing songs, perform dances, or create art, and the general accepted practice for passers-by is to give monetary donations if they appreciate that art. Sometimes it is accepted practice to give consumable items such as food as a reward for a street performance. Some locales have outlawed busking because it can congest sidewalks or can be considered harassment.

Street performers may play music and sing songs.
Street performers may play music and sing songs.

Several types of street performance exist. The most common type of busking is generally the walk-by street performance, in which a musician or other artist performs while people walk by on the sidewalk. A group may or may not gather around the performer, and most people will simply continue on past the performer rather than stop to enjoy the art. Musicians often leave their instrument cases open so people can leave money inside as a tip or donation. This type of street performance does not always yield the most tips or donations, as many pedestrians simply walk past without stopping to donate or appreciate the art.

Circle performances, or circle shows, are performances that have a distinct beginning and end.
Circle performances, or circle shows, are performances that have a distinct beginning and end.

Circle performances, or circle shows, are performances that have a distinct beginning and end. If, for example, some buskers get together to perform a scene from Shakespeare, this street performance may be considered a circle show if people gather to watch. It is so named because people often gather in a circle to watch the performance. Many buskers who participate in such performances strive to control the audience in such a way that pedestrian traffic is not blocked; this prevents skirmishes with law enforcement that would otherwise break up the performance for code violations.

A type of busking that has become less common is cafe performance. This occurs when artists, actors, or musicians enter a cafe or other establishment to perform for short periods of time. This type of busking was much more common in the past, but in modern times, many establishments will not allow cafe busking because it can interfere with the ambience of the establishment. Some regions of the world still allow such busking, though the quality of the performances can either add or detract from the overall ambience of the cafe, restaurant, or other establishment, so many business owners would rather not take the risk.

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Discussion Comments


@Mor - I always feel terribly guilty whenever I go past a street performer these days, because I just don't carry cash on me all that often. I buy everything with my credit card and so I don't usually have coins or small bills to give to street performers.

It might seem a bit silly, but I almost think they need to get one of those machines where you can just wave a card over it and it gives a $1 donation or something like that.

I'm thinking that if cash keeps trending the direction it has been for the last decade or so, eventually that kind of technology will be inevitable.


@irontoenail - I would add to that, saying that you shouldn't give food in lieu of money. Street performers aren't beggars and they want to be paid for a service. But if they are obviously cold and there is a cafe nearby, I don't think most people would turn down the offer of a cup of hot chocolate or something like that.


Please don't give food to street performers unless you know for certain that it will be welcome. Even then, you should only give them something that is completely whole and wrapped in it's original wrapping, rather than something you might have already started or something that might be of suspicious origins.

If in doubt, you could always ask them, after the performance is over, whether an offering is appropriate and welcome.

It's possible if you don't have any other way to show your appreciation, they might like to be given a chocolate bar or something like that. But otherwise, I can almost guarantee that they would prefer to be given cold, hard cash. They can always convert it into food themselves if they are hungry.

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