Amsterdam comes alive as street performers earn their living
July 24, 2003
SuperFrank is not a superhero.
He rides a bicycle to work, towing his gear on a trolley.
“When it’s a warm, sunny day, I say, ‘This is going to be difficult,” SuperFrank says. “The best weather is (in the mid-60s), a little cloudy, no wind. Then I say, ‘Yes, this could be a good day,’ and I get excited.”
SuperFrank, a.k.a. Frank Van Dijk, works from the top of a unicycle. He juggles and performs magic and hopes the people who stop to watch his act will drop some coins into his can. SuperFrank is a street performer in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam might be the most laid-back big city in the world. There seem to be more bicycles than cars. It is legal to partake in certain activities considered improper elsewhere.
On good days there can be 20 or more street performers working Dam Square in the heart of Amsterdam. There’s the Grim Reaper, Michelangelo and The Mask. For visitors, Amsterdam is like a year-round carnival. For SuperFrank, it’s a living.
“When you expect a good day, an interesting gig, it’s kind of a second sense,” he said. “Before a show, if it looks like it could happen that day, you get nervous. You feel it. It’s a very emotional, personal thing.
“When you have a good show for a good crowd and get a nice response and everything goes perfect — it’s a rush. A kind of a high.”
SuperFrank, who was born and raised in Amsterdam, said he performs about 150 shows a year. He’s been street-performing for money for 16 years. Now that he’s 40, SuperFrank acknowledges he might have to adjust his act if he loses a step.
“I do other things, as well,” he said. “I provide an Internet service.”
SuperFrank knows most of the other guys working the street. (Yes, almost all are men.) He said sometimes he feels envious — but not jealous — when one of his colleagues outshines him.
“We are a small world,” he said. “Everybody knows each other. Over the years we bond with each other. Like in every small scene, I have people I like and people I don’t like. In general, there’s a family kind of feeling.”
The crowd that encircled SuperFrank on the day I met him was six people deep. He performed for 25 minutes by juggling flaming batons and making things disappear from atop his 6-foot-high unicycle.
SuperFrank had a microphone attached to his lapel and bantered with the crowd through a small loudspeaker.
“There have been weirdos,” he said. “I’ve had a bottle thrown at me.”
This crowd smiled and laughed at SuperFrank. They cheered for him when he finished. SuperFrank then made a short speech before the people dispersed, asking them to toss coins into his can. They had enjoyed his show, he told them, and he needed to make a living.
Most did not contribute coins, but some did.
“Of course it’s income,” SuperFrank said. “I give my speech about money and I’m very appreciative of it. It’s very important for me.
“People will say things to me like, ‘My father has been depressed for four months after my mother died, but he was laughing while he was here. Thank you for giving him an unforgettable day.’ Things like that,” says SuperFrank, “cannot translate into money.”
To some, it makes him a superhero.
For more on SuperFrank see the Web site: www.superfrank.com