They harbor dreams of a summertime gig

Auditions: Performers try out for a chance to join the warm-weather lineup of entertainers who play at Harborplace.

April 15, 2001|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

After a couple of hours of auditions for Harborplace performers yesterday, the pattern was becoming clear: The crowd would swell when emcee Jerry Rowan was filling time between acts with his first-rate juggling and comedy routine, then dissipate when the groups trying out for a summer spot would take to the pavement.

But, just when you thought it was safe to get out of the bright spring sunshine and go into the Light Street Pavilion for a soda, along came a dozen kids from Cherry Hill playing under the name of St. Veronica's Young Steel Orchestra. The Caribbean rhythms of their steel drums brought dozens of dancers down the steps of the amphitheater - from children barely old enough to stay on their feet to an older gentleman who was having the same trouble for a different reason. A couple skilled in ballroom dancing found a spot amid the tiny toddlers. All were having a good time together.

The crowd swelled around the performers, clapping in time. When their 15 minutes of audition fame were over, people cried out, "More!" The Young Steel Orchestra got the day's only encore.

And that is what street performance is all about - the unexpected.

"You never know what's going to happen out here," said Rowan, who started working the bricks at Harborplace when he left the Ringling Brothers circus in 1982.

Take the act of the Lobotomy Brothers - a routine by local jugglers Philip DePaulo and Steven McGinley that dazzled with its swirling choreography of objects flying between the two performers. Except those pesky pins and flaming torches kept falling to the ground. At times it was part of the show, but other times it was clearly unexpected.

Variety of performers

The dozen acts that appeared yesterday were trying to join the 50 or so performers who are allowed to entertain at three locations around Harborplace during summer. They get their pay by passing the hat.

It was an eclectic mix that tried for the spots. Peter Irish, a College Park resident who said he is a veteran of the streets of San Francisco, fought the breeze to make big soap bubbles that would float over the crowd, before performing amazing feats with little beanbags that he flipped from feet to forehead with aplomb.

Three 12-year-old girls from Prince George's County called themselves Angels with Attitude and emoted through several grown-up songs. A group called Hands Down played North African frame drums accompanied by a soprano saxophone that seemed a bit intense for this setting. Four men called Swingsation grabbed the crowd with some doo-wop a cappella numbers.

Coffeehouse style

Matt Adorn found out about the auditions the hard way. The Baltimore County elementary school teacher brought his guitar and original songs down to the Inner Harbor a few weeks ago and after a few numbers was informed by authorities that a permit was necessary for such busking. A few phone calls later, he got his spot in the auditions.

His skill as a guitar player and songwriter was evident, but it was not clear that his introspective, coffeehouse-style act would make it in this more raucous atmosphere. Outdoors is a tough room to fill, especially when the spectators are no longer looking at you but watching the 3-year-old wandering around at your feet carrying a dollar bill he's supposed to put in your open guitar case. The unexpected.

"Talk to the audience," Mike Rossman called out to Adorn after one song. One of the organizers of the auditions, Rossman is a veteran juggler who has been judging the tryouts for 10 years. "There are some acts whose 15 minutes is 14 minutes too long," he said. "Others you want to go on forever."

Rossman was trying to help Adorn out. The folk singer tried a little repartee but acknowledged later that it wasn't his style.

A master at work

It will be at least a week before these hopefuls find out whether they will be invited to join the Harborplace entertainment schedule. Clearly, some will make the cut, but, not surprisingly, none showed the aplomb of Rowan, a veteran of comedy clubs who has appeared on the David Letterman show and is a Harborplace favorite. He worked the crowd like a master while riding his unicycle and his tiny bicycle - and, of course, juggling.

"You have people from all walks of life, all races, all incomes, all types, all here together," he said of performing at Harborplace. "Where else does this happen? I can do a convention for a company like Hewlett-Packard and make a lot of money, but everyone there dresses the same, acts the same, looks the same.

"Out here is a comedian's dream. It's all types of people getting along together. Isn't that what life is supposed to be about?"

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