Last January I started memorizing Chaucer. Which was weird.
I plowed through August, by which time I had The Miller’s Tale and the General Prologue memorized, and I started on The Knight’s Tale, which is a beast, well over 2,000 lines long.
I was in Vienna last August and had made up my mind to do a recitation in the First District, but my son told me it was illegal and crazy. One of those two critiques made me give up.
After that I kind of lost my drive. In late November I picked things up again and found that even though you can remember things quickly, you can forget them even quicklier. So there was a bit of re-memorizing that had to be done.
I decided in December to go to Santa Monica and do a street recitation. Burned from Vienna, I checked the law first, being a lawyer and everything. You can street perform without a permit unless you want to do it on the Third Street Promenade or near the pier, in which case you need a permit ($37) and you have to follow certain rules. The main rule is that you have to move every two hours.
If you’ve never busked, well, it’s intimidating. I found a spot, leaned my bike against a tree, and started in on The Miller’s Tale, which is in Middle English, and which sounds like babble. My heart was pounding.
It’s one thing to memorize something and recite it alone on your couch, where it’s quiet, and a whole different thing to do it with hundreds of people passing by, music in the background, and every variety of noise and racket going on.
Plus, there is performance stress. Even though no one cares, I CARE. And even though no one understands Middle English, I DO. And even though no one is listening, I AM.
A couple of people stopped and listened for a few minutes; it takes about 40 minutes to recite The Miller’s Tale. Mostly people ignored me. Another thing: Projecting your voice in open air over huge ambient racket is hard, and your voice gets tired fast. The whole thing was exhausting, slightly disappointing, but not too much.
I’d overcome a lot of fear and done a public performance. There were a lot of things to work on, things like some kind of signage so that people knew what I was doing in addition to simply being crazy.
My permit expired 12/31/19, and I did a couple of more performances. By the way, they check your permit constantly; I displayed mine in the spokes of my bike, leaned nearby.
Each time I performed it got better and a few more people stopped to listen or to video short parts of the recitation. A handful of people actually knew what it was and seemed impressed.
Now that it’s 2020, I need to go pick up my new permit.