One activity that seems to capture the attention of many foreigners in Chile is an activity referred to as “haciendo semaforo”o "semaforeando", or street performances at stoplights with the aim of winning tips from their audience of anyone passing in traffic. In most areas of the US this is not permitted (and such restriction enforced) so it is fairly new, or generally just interesting as often one’s exposure to the whole activity is limited to a few seconds whizzing by out the micro window.
Some routines artists perform at the stoplight are:
- Spinning pins, flags or fire
- Contact ball (one hand sized ball and body movements used to create illusions)
- Diabolo (an hour-glass shaped spool spun along a string between two sticks)
- Mano a mano (one person lifts the other into the air and they do stunts/show force)
- Soccer tricks
- Cheerleading shows
- Magic shows
- Shows on stilts
- Creative shows- For example the marionette [above] and upside down man [video at bottom]
- Also, a common character is the old man that marches with stuffed animal, recently, a teletubby, and cane, (who is rumored to be rich but marches around like a nut for alcohol money)
So, a little about how it all works. This is all subjective, and these are my interpretations and gatherings of how it works in Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. I am well aware that there are tons of variations, exceptions, etc… but I wanted to take at least a stab at covering most aspects the best I could. People who do this do it for a wide variety of reasons, some because they enjoy the activity, like the flexibility of that type of work, maybe they need a relatively easy way to make money, etc... There is no good generalization, but many seem to form part of a sort of alternative crowd that like to practice different aspects of circus talents.
First of all, the key is a good stoplight. A good intersection has space for people to walk and the necessary space for an uninterrupted routine. They don’t want people cutting in front of them or to have to pause or limit movement. Cars must arrive on time every time, its wasted time to be at an inconsistent light. A good intersection will have minimum of one normal car at the front of each lane every time, and ideally 4 or 6 cars will have an unobstructed view. If a truck or micro is in the front, the cars behind them won’t see the show, and the drivers (older males doing their jobs, who are on the road all day) probably wont give anything.
The ways people react vary. If the act is pretty stationary and common, like juggling, most people in the crosswalk won’t give a second glance. Generally, people on foot won’t give a tip unless the show is really unique. The people in cars sometimes give. Hopefully a couple cars stopped at every light will give something, but sometimes just 1 or 0 will. Some people will smile, congratulate for a nice show, and enjoy it. Others will pretend not to watch, or deliberately avoid watching. Some will stare blankly. People from all 3 categories might tip for it though; so its possible they give because they appreciate the show, give out of habit, or give out of an assumed obligation or uncomfortably.
100 pesos is standard, 50 is ok, giving less or a handful of change… well it adds up. The artist will be really pleased to get 500 or above from a person or car. I would estimate that most probably go home with at least one “huevo frito”, but anything above more occasionally [Oh, and as in the picture, sometimes other random things or foreign money. Though, the picture is not representative as that's almost 30 mil in coins.]
As an audience member: If you take a picture, its pretty much acknowledging you like the show. You should pay something worthwhile, in my opinion….maybe 500, but more likely 1 or 2 mil. Same thing if you smile and enjoy it and whatnot. They are performers trying to entertain you to make money. If they entertain you and don’t make money… well, it happens and that’s the gamble an artist takes in showing his or her work, but hopefully its not just because you are a tightwad. In most aspects of society you pay money for things that entertain you, in this case you are even left the option to pay after. If you don’t have money on you, etc… that’s OK. Though, don’t bother explaining “Sorry, I only have a 20,000…” because that might be almost taken as a smug insult.
Not as easy as it seems: Think about it…. Most lights run every 30 seconds to one minute. If its every minute, they'd have to do your show for like 50 seconds (usually something at least mildly physically exhausting), then run through the lines of cars where they may or may not receive money. Having only a few seconds to relax, then they do it all over again. Meaning in an hour they'd do the routine 30 times… if every time someone gives 100, they'd get 3,000 in an hour. But they wont be able to last too many hours at that pace, most shows have a large physical element, and street performing requires a lot of mental strength and motivation.
Also, street performing may not be encouraged in some areas. For instance, in Vina street shows are prohibited without applying for a permit, and police officers that are feeling in the mood can fine a street performer or take them to the station. Offenders might receive a UTM (Unidad Tributaria Municipal?), which is a fine upwards of $30,000. (Last I heard, $38,000)
Last of all, the money. The amount someone makes really varies a lot on a lot of the factors mentioned above. In Vina, many artists go out and stick at it until a specific goal is met. $6,000 might be an attainable goal on an average day for about 2 hours. A great show, really good traffic flow, or a generous commuter might send someone sailing above that. A bad day might come short. Tourist vans might be jackpot though, as sometimes they are more likely to hand over a bill. A friend once had a tourist bus hand over $40,000!