Pirate Productions
Hawking, a forgotten art!

      This is not about a medieval hunting sport. This is about the art of getting, gaining, maintaining, and celebrating in the attention of others. It is the entertainment of the spoken word turned to profit. It is, my friends, that quintessential piece of environmental theater obnoxious balls to the wall street cinema! This is a discussion about why we do it, how we do it, and what it is we do when we do it! If this all sounds like a PT Barnum sideshow then you are getting the right idea.

      Why do we hawk and why is it important to us? Hawking is an opportunity to entertain and for many of us that is enough, but for those who make their living trading in crafts, wares, or services hawking is the last, great, truly free, form of advertisement. Historically it was the primary form of initial cold call advertisement for street merchants around the world. If you have a booth or a product and you want people to notice it, you have to grab their attention. There are many ways to do that. You can dress up your booth to catch the attention. You can hope to be in the optimal position at each event. You can send out flyers or set your hair on fire. Personally hawking is safer than trapping, subtler than bludgeoning, and less likely to induce terror and nausea than standing naked in the street. If we reach out with our voices and perhaps not so gently nudge people out of their catatonic cattle state we can get them to come, visit, and look at our wares. Sitting idly by while the great mooing masses pass in hopes someone will find your display either colorful enough or intriguing enough to pique their curiosity is for those without ambition. Today distances are too far so we use television, radio, newspaper, and the internet to do our hawking but it is very much the same. SALE! SALE! SALE! Sunday! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! Come to our store and buy our stuff. "We represent StuffMart! All you need is lots more stuff!" (Sorry gratuitous children's video flashback.) Corporations pay large amounts of money so consultants can decide what color to make their boxes and bribe retailers to set them at the right level. Stepping out in front of someone and saying "Hey! Look at this! Isn't it wonderful? Wouldn't that lovely lady by your side just love one of these?" is in its own way more honest. No psychobabble head games, just straightforward in your face "LOOK AT WHAT I AM SELLING!" There can be an integrity in it lost in modern ad campaigns. As a fair promoter, producer, and entertainer I Hawk to move traffic around the site to where I want it, to interact with the customers, to entertain, and possibly to make a lasting mark on someone's day. It is a moment I know is repeated to friends. "There was this guy and he was selling free programs. Yeah! He was shouting out 'Purchase your free programs he--ere!' like it was a ball game." "Oh and these people would walk by stop and then ask 'did you say free?'" "It was soooooo funny!"

      How the hawking is done is what separates the rocks from the gems. Any fool can stand up, shout "Free BEER!" and get hundreds of people coming over to see what is up but unless you have some witty way to make everyone laugh over being tricked they will not be happy with you. It takes someone with imagination to come up with a rolling diatribe. It is well worth it to create a catchy phrase. It is probably 12 years since I last heard the old man repeating at end of the day "Toad in a hole, steak on a roll, two for the price of one. Fill your hole with a roll, two for the price of one." but I still remember it. One of my favorite things to do at fair is "Purchase your free program here! Finest piece of parchment in all the shire! Written on, upon both sides, by a master scribe. Drawn upon by a blind, drunken, dyslexic, apprentice cartographer from France." In order to truly hawk you start with what you are trying bring to people's attention. Do you want to merely tell people what it is? Do you want to stand in the middle of the street pointing and see if they look out of curiosity? You can then expand upon it with dialogue. Remember that in a moving street environment like fair or a street festival you effectively have a new audience every 10 to 15 seconds. You do not have to have 8 hours of original material. All you need is four to five lines you can intermix. You can start with two and slowly add as inspiration hits. You can repeat them every 30 seconds or so taking breaks periodically as you slowly go insane. Think back to some sideshow barker or the children at your last vacation calling "Chicklet!" That is hawking.

      The idea is to get attention and perhaps bring a smile to the people so they will come and look at what you want them to see, buy your products, and allow you to make a profit. Never use two words where fortyseven will fit. A clever turn of a phrase is more important than absolute clarity. You want to break through their subconscious and make them think about what you are saying. If it is just a monotonous drone, it will never catch their attention. Play with tempo, pentameter, inflection, and volume. You can sell your products and provide the customer with a show. You are your own advertising! Rejoice in your vocabulary. This is an opportunity to tell the world "Hey I know I am not a poet, songwriter, or rock star, but I can be entertaining damn it!" So, think up some phrases, slogans, or calls and try them out at your next event. It adds to the festivity and can help with booth traffic. Failing that hire some buxom maid in a bodice to lean over the counter and wave at folks. That sometimes works to.

Skull and Crossbones
Any Comments?
Email me at