Page 10                                                           Spring  1985

On the road making friends of strangers  


MOROCCO -   by Danny Avrutick

South Morrocco enjoys a long tradition of street performing. Snake charmers, story tellers, musicians, comedians, acrobats, herbal medicine hawkers, preachers and teachers of things like science and dentistry all ply their trades for large crowds in the dusty lots and squares by the sooks (markets).


Alone or in groups, Moroccan street entertainers work extremely hard and long in the hot sun and usually for a pittance. They endlessly sing, dance, talk and run through clown skits. They don't just gather a crowd, entertain them, pass the hat and disperse them. Rather, the crowd gathers and stays put almost indefinitely. The performer periodically circulates to shake down the people for contributions with pleas, rhetoric and references to Allah. There is excitement over large coins and threats to pack it in when the pickings are slim.


Many of the street performers don't seem to do much; to endlessly build up without ever delivering any real display of skill. Magicians particularly seem to hardIy ever even gesture to pick up their rusty Chinese rings and tattered boxes. But people stay put on and on. Performers often break into prayers, cupping their hands or raising the right hand and the audience follows every step of the way.


I can't claim to understand the subtleties of the situation. All requests for audience response and participation are met with immediate enthusiastic cooperation. I once held up five fingers during a street performance (meaning that I was about to juggle five bean bags) and immediately five young volunteers sprung to my side.


Having supported myself as a street performing juggler and musician off and on for 13 years in the U.S. and Europe, I wanted to street perform in Morocco to complete my experience there.


I spent my first seven weeks in the country watching other performers, studying the dialect, and practicing juggling on the beach and hotel roofs. I occasionally played my plastic fife with the local musicians and did bits of juggling for people in private.


Based on observations of the other buskers, I wrote and practiced a speech in Arabic. I simply told about how I'm from Washington, D.C., and been traveling for many years in learning about different cultures and lives and sharing my art. Also I translated (with native help) some of the standard juggler jokes and drop lines.


I gave special attention to the money pitch, pleading in the local Arabic style.  "Look at how hard I've worked, and the sun is hot, and see how tired I am, and these things took many years of practice,  and though you think I'm a rich American I assure you I'm just a poor simple man... and I know you are poor people, but if only you could each give me a tiny coin, however small... Allah's blessings will be upon you..."


Avrutik - Big crowds, working wages

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