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  • I guess I’m a street performer because of Amanda; I wouldn't exactly call her a friend, and I wouldn’t exactly call her a stranger, I might say she is an acquaintance, but that wouldn't be the right word either. So when people ask me how I know Amanda Palmer, I tell them this story about Ollie, and how we became a duo.
    I have known Ollie Luey all my life. Our mothers have been close friends for 30 years, so we were brought together before we were toddlers. Than as we got older, Ollie and her family moved from Brookline, Massachusetts to Dover, which is even further from my home in Medford than Brookline, and I sort of lost touch with her for many years. During these years she was learning the accordion and taking drum lessons from a man named Brian Viglione who was one of two members of this new, and not so heard of Brechtian punk cabaret band, called the Dresden Dolls with Amanda Palmer. Ollie, who was about age seven, got to know Amanda and Brian both quite well, and even appeared in one of their music videos. I was also seven when I joined the Open Air Circus in Somerville, where they taught me to stilt, clown and twist balloon animals. After that, I started going to Circus Smirkus camp every summer (which I still do). There I learned to juggle, make a human pyramid, and fly on a trapeze. Together with my five very circus-experienced cousins, we managed to put together our own show which we called the Wholey Mackerel Circus.

    It wasn’t until we were fourteen that Ollie and I reconnected. By this time Ollie had dropped the drums to dedicated herself to the accordion, and I had picked up the ukulele and continued to pursue circus arts same as ever. I don’t remember the exact details, but some way or another I ended up spending three days at Ollie’s house after not seeing her for something like ten years. We were both fourteen. Our mothers decided to sign us both up for a program at a place called the Peace Abbey located near Dover; it was a kind of a “summer day camp” except we were the only two who signed up. However, we had a great time hanging out with all the former flower children, and rediscovering our friendship,

    It was Ollie’s mom Judy who had the idea one night that we should put together a street act. I suggested we dress as harlequin clowns with painted faces, black and white striped tights, and top hats. That’s when Ollie pulled out a picture of Amanda wearing almost precisely what I had described and said, “You mean like this.” It was exactly what I meant, so Judy e-mailed Amanda to see what she thought of the idea, knowing that she was starring in a production of Cabaret down at the Oberon theater in Harvard Square. Amanda e-mailed back saying Ollie and I should perform in front of the Oberon that coming weekend to promote the show. She went as far as sending a t shirt for me to wear that read “Cabaret” with a large picture of herself on the front, which went perfectly with our black and white theme.
    Before the show, we went to the Cambridge Arts Council and got our street licenses, worked out the details, and went down to the Oberon Theatre that weekend. It was our first street performance. I remember we only made about a total of $5.11, but it was a night I will never forget. I remember getting out of the car with my balloons and seeing Amanda standing at the back door of the theater. I recognized her from the one video I had watched for their song Girl Anachronism. When Ollie arrived, she immediately ran and hugged Amanda, then I went over expecting to introduce myself and shake hands, but I was surprised when she stretched her arms out and hugged me too! I had never been greeted this way by someone I was just being introduced to, so I remember feeling a bit confused. At that time I had never heard of the Dresden dolls. I had no idea how famous she was. I just knew she was a friend of Ollie’s that used to be street performer, and that she was in some kind of band I figured no one had heard of. But during that next year she became my biggest role model and inspiration for the duo Ollie and Bianca.

    That night of our first performance, the drummer and the trumpet player in the band for the show came out at request from Amanda, and jammed with us for a few songs before the show started. Amanda was there watching and took a few photos with and of us (which she tweeted about later). After the crowd had gone in to see the show, we went into the lobby which was was full of Amanda Palmer merchandise: T shirts, CDs, jewelry, albums, even underwear. Everything was expensive, but I decided to spend the money we made that night on a pin with the same picture on it as was on the shirt (which we had to return). I wear it now on my suspenders every time we perform, along with many other pins of various things. Ollie bought a sew-on patch with the same graphic which she wears on the sleeve of her jacket, so in a way Amanda is always there when we preform, just as she used to in Harvard Square.

    So that was the beginning Ollie and I going out to perform every weekend during the summer. (We also have a nice little business entertaining at kids’ birthday parties.) We never expected to see the trumpeter, (Tom) and drummer, (Dov) from Cabaret again. But one day last year, a talent scout saw the video on youtube from that first night of us all playing music together, and e-mailed asking if we would audition for a television talent show called America’s Got Talent. The winning act would receive a million dollars! So we reunited, put act together, and auditioned. None of us actually wanted to make it on the show, and we did not. But the experience of working together and auditioning was something I wouldn't trade for anything. The experience led us to create Buskers Operated Toys our band’s name. We perform in Harvard Square occasionally during festivals and other events, and always in front of Amanda’s shows whenever she is in Boston. She is always very gracious and comes out to say hello and gives us hugs and takes a few photos. So I guess that’s why we do it, in the hopes that we might follow a similar path to Amanda Palmer’s.
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