Performers such as Michael Rosman will pass a hat to collect a few coins, but the Baltimore accountant will tell you he sweats through his juggling act for more than just money.
He performs before crowds at the Harborplace Amphitheater each summer because it's fun.
"It wouldn't be worth it to do it for the money," the 25-year-old said after auditioning yesterday to perform in Harborplace's Street Performers Program. "It is just a lot of fun."
Mr. Rosman and his partner, John Barry, were among the 56 acts that auditioned at the Inner Harbor yesterday and Saturday for the chance to perform this summer at the outdoor amphitheater. The acts ranged from jugglers to solo singers and a cappella groups.
Visitors yesterday to the Light Street Pavilion -- rain and sleet forced the tryouts indoors -- observed more than just a variety of auditions. They saw performers showcasing an international art form known as "busking" -- that is, passing a hat to collect a few coins or dollars for their efforts.
"Tips and contributions are what we survive on," Mr. Rosman said. "We don't get paid from Harborplace to perform. And we don't have to pay them to do our act, either."
Each year, those such as Mr. Rosman and Mr. Barry who have auditioned before must re-audition to play before the summer crowds at Harborplace. The auditions also give newcomers, such as guitar soloist Eddie Brooks, an opportunity to join the roster of acts.
Mr. Rosman and Mr. Barry, like the other performers, were given 15 minutes to wow a panel of judges with their "variety, comedy and juggling act."
The judges -- members from Baltimore art and theater groups -- reviewed acts for their entertainment value, uniqueness, professionalism and ability to draw a crowd.
About 35 of the acts will be chosen to perform on a rotating schedule at the amphitheater this summer, said Michelle Wright, special events coordinator for Harborplace Gallery.
Successful groups will be notified by letter within a couple of weeks, she said.
Mr. Rosman and Mr. Barry, who bill themselves as the New Street Theatre, drew a large crowd, members of which showered the duo with coins and dollars. They wowed visitors with their act, which included juggling on "six-foot unicycles of death."
"It's a great stress reliever," said Mr. Barry, a 31-year-old liquor salesman from Baltimore.
"[The act] is a lot of fun and a great way to meet people."
The pair gained a fan in Devonna Graham, a prep cook who was passing through the Light Street Pavilion when the juggling caught her attention.
"They were really funny," said Miss Graham, who dropped a dollar into their hat. "I just thought it was great how they juggled and got the audience involved."
Singing renditions of "Jailhouse Rock" and "Old MacDonald," an a cappella group known as Freestyle Plus inspired visitors to clap and sing along during their audition. The Baltimore-based Freestyle Plus has performed at Inner Harbor the past two summers.
"It's entertainment," said Glenn Hardy, a Baltimore nutritionist and one of the group's four members.
Among the first-time auditioners was Mr. Brooks, a regular performer at Fells Point and other Baltimore pubs. He was hopeful that the judges would deem his repertoire of Jimmy Buffett, Grateful Dead, Eagles and comedy songs worthy of summer crowds.
"I've never performed at Inner Harbor before," said the 37-year-old Elkridge resident. "I perform solo and try to get the audience involved in some of my songs. I thought the Inner Harbor would be a good place to be this summer with the ballpark opening up."
Since the street program began in 1980, performers have dazzled city residents and visitors with their juggling, comedy, magic, music, dance and mime. Many original Baltimore acts have performed in Harborplace and then gone on tour nationally, organizers said.
"It's been a terrific turnout today," said a purple-haired Laura Green, master of ceremonies for the program. "Everybody has been very professional. We have people auditioning here who have come from all over the country. The street performers program here is recognized as one of the finest in the nation."
Chris Buylla brought his magic tricks all the way from Pittsburgh, hoping his audition would secure him a spot on the program's summer rotation.
"There's not a lot of street opportunities in Pittsburgh," Mr. Buylla said. Actually, there are none. I like this art form, and that's why I'm here."
Mr. Buylla, a full-time magician who performs regularly for corporations, said he didn't expect to get rich passing the hat in Baltimore, but he wasn't going to disappear either.
"Let's just say I have other goals than just money," he said.