Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lights. Camera. Action! An Essay On Buskology And Action Research

Brrr! Pie-a-cap, I’m standing in my brown work boots, wearing lined blue-jeans, a knee-length, split-leather black coat, and red cotton gloves with the fingers cut out (for frailing on my banjitar). I’m strumming in the only area that is lamp-lit during the dark supper hour at the Extra Foods parking lot on Broadway Avenue in Regina, Saskatchewan. My fingers are frozen.

The weather is brisk but so is my business. The consumer parade of shoppers, for whatever reasons, are very generous this evening. My first two consumers each toss a fin into my banjitar case – this is a first, having the first money into my buskpot being two five dollar bills! It’s the usual crowd of shoppers that is contributing to my cause. Always there are people who stop and compliment me on my banjo playing. Always there are those who are curious of what exactly is a buskologist. And always, there are the excited and laughing little ones delivering coins from their parents to toss into my case.

Conceding to the cold, I phone my ever reliable buskmate, Baron, to drive over and rescue me from this hyperboreal buskapade. When he arrives we decide to go over to the Mercury Café to count my coin and order some food. I must mention that I’ve munched lots of time at the Mercury Café and the food there is delicious. The Mercury Cafe is an old-style diner, serving burgers and fries and nachos and milkshakes in the 50’s and 60’s food fashion. The décor shows off old signs from those bygone days of Coca-Cola ads, and a picture of the original Safeway store across the avenue, complete with 50’s style model cars and trucks parked in the shopping lot – which is coincidentally one of my favorite buskingdoms.

As we munch I am discussing with Baron on the reasons I made so much money tonight! It could be because I was strumming there in the chilly weather and people wanted to warm me with their generosity. It could be that it was payday for lots of folk, being the last Friday of the month. It could be that I was brightly illuminated beneath the main lamp post of the parking lot. And it could be all of the above, which brings me to my title, Lights. Camera. Action!

Lights. Shine a light on anything and that thing becomes noticeable. One of the simplest ways to draw attention to something is to shine a light on it. Me, standing alone and iridescent, strumming in a dark parking lot, is a literal interpretation. Metaphorically shining a light is most always a ploy for a product or purpose, more/less funding, the value/waste of a particular convention, the intent/discrepancy of the practice.

Metaphorically shining a light is always politically based, therefore, personally biased. Some people are forever lobbying for something, and the practical tactic is to shine a light wherever there is the concern. Shining a light forces people with power to become accountable, encourages debate on policy, makes things that are thick, thin enough for at least a translucent public view.

Whatever one does in this life, with intents selfless or selfish, altruistically or greedily, benevolent or malicious, having a light shine on it is good. The pursuit of truth is a worthy endeavor, to actually see truth can be life-changing.

Camera. We are all of us in someone else's lens, in either a public or private eye. What we do or say is always being scrutinized by somebody, be that person a stranger or a confident. We are ever being monitored while at home, while at work, while at play. In anyone’s rolling film of life, first impressions are continuously conveyed or redeemed.

It is difficult to keep private. Not many of us want to work in the backrooms of libraries, nor keep the watch from the garret at island lighthouses. We are featherless, gregarious creatures who just want to get along in a community of sorts. Most of us congregate into cities (this is not an epiphany); few us want to get rustic. In the city all of us are on public display for significant periods of our day. In country life, too, we are public, though our viewing public is in fewer numbers than it is in the burbs.

In the camera, we ought to watch our step. If we step out of line we are crucified; if we stay in line we are fine. Marching to the beats of most of the other drummers produces the ordinary; marching to a different beat can produce the extraordinary. And then again, the more extraordinary one becomes, the more visible, the more illuminated one becomes.

Action. Without action there would be no lights and no camera. Lights and cameras have little importance and little meaning without action. Action is more than a snapshot of intent. Action is more than a puzzling smile. Action is putting things into motion. To act accordingly is to do accordingly. Things are only done when action has taken place. Doing nothing never works. Creative procrastination is a strategy by which most issues/problems/concerns will eventually go away, but doing nothing never will work when it comes to the act of fixing things. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Any change, slight or significant, is usually better than no change.

Action takes stamina. Action is adventurous. Action means moving from here to there; here being real; there being imaginary. Action is pragmatic. Theory is abstract. Action is sensory. Theory is insensate. As opposite as these seem, these two, action and theory can act in harmony, symbiotically and synergistically.

When theory heightens action, and action deepens theory, this is known as Action Research.

Action Research is both pragmatic and abstract, both sensory and theory. Action Research is an idea which one can apply to improve a particular practice, usually somewhere in Academia. However, from my banausic buskologist perspective, all buskers ought to apply Action Research to their artifice of busking.

Action Research always starts with a conundrum or a concern. Faced with a conundrum or concern, the action researcher will go through a series of phases (reflecting, planning, acting, observing) called the Action Research Cycle. In the Action Research Cycle, reflecting, planning, acting, and observing go around and around and around.

To illustrate this cycle, I shall offer some busking examples. One of the concerns which all buskers face is that of monetary gain. How can buskers maximize their monetary intake?

A busker, reflecting on this concern, would have to consider his/her inventory of both technical and tactical skills. How well do I have to play this particular instrument (guitar, banjitar, pennywhistle, whatever)? And once this is accomplished to the degree of the busker’s personal satisfaction, the next question to consider would be, Just where is it that should I be busking?

Remember, fellow buskers, the action research cycle I am presenting is mainly for a mercenary purpose, all other benefits will be abstract and therefore, ancillary. (I could easily argue that these other ancillary benefits, i.e., joy and freedom, are really not ancillary, but are integral to our buskingdoms, but that is for another ship to sail.)

Following these questions a busker must do some real planning. This plan could suggest practice, practice, practice for instrument proficiency. And this plan could also mean checking out various venues at varied times. When is the downtown mall the busiest with people out shopping? Do I want to busk indoors or outdoors? Do I prefer the sidewalk, the park, or the parking lot. Am I a summer, fair weather, or seasonal busker? Do I prefer the security of my established buskingdoms or the excitement of buskations? Do I prefer the cockcrow or owlhoot? Do I prefer the dawn sun or gloaming moonlight? You must also plan your busking persona. Do I go as myself? Or do I don my duck costume?

Next, the busker must act. A busker has to get out there and busk. The best practice for a busker is to practice while busking. Whenever I practice I always just go busking, or whenever I go busking I always practice. No matter if I make a lot or very little money, it is more than what I’ll make at home, practicing on the couch in my apartment. Practice ear candies, practice concertos. Practice riffs, practice songs, practice sets.

Observing is easy. How many people are passing by? How many people are stopping to chat? Am I getting flak? Am I getting praise? What is their demeanor? And what is my demeanor? When I count my coins, how much have I made? Know this, fellow buskers. The more people you meet, the more money you make. Our sales are solely determined by volume and numbers. It’s all in the baseball stats. The more swings you take, the more doors you knock, the times you play, the more money you’ll make.

Near the end of the day, over an Americano Decaf, reflecting whether or not you accomplished what you needed to on that day is essential. Did you do your best? Did you experience joy? Did you experience a few laughs? And the most important, for this particular Action Research, Did you make a dollar?

And then you begin again. Reflecting (what worked or what didn't work?), planning (same ol' or new strategy?), acting (new look or new places?), observing (noted this or that?). These phases of Action Research are never démodé and ever go round and round and round on the research carousel. I’m not suggesting that buskers abdicate whatever they’re doing that works for them; I am only suggesting that if something isn’t working, if things are not so copacetic as they could be, that employing action research can be helpful.

For a busker, Action Research could be life-defining and even life-altering, though we know that most busks rarely fit neatly into whatever strategem we've decided (and that is precisely why they are referred to as buskapades).

But so what. Fellow buskers, with a little imagination and a big resolve, even when confined within disjointed circumstances … we can uprise from pauperism to plummy!

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