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Performer Guise

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This trope involves a character or characters carrying out an infiltration by disguising themselves as an entertainer - often something along the lines of Wandering Minstrel in any historical/historical fantasy setting.

The benefit of the guise is that entertainers are a category of strangers likely to be welcomed by otherwise suspicious people. Unlike Dressing as the Enemy, which can be readily exposed, even if Faceless Mooks applies, an entertainer usually doesn't need to prepare any kind of elaborate cover story/back story. Having the right skills helps, but there's a lot of skills that could work with an entertainer disguise. And if you don't have any appropriate skills, well, that just explains why you're traveling around looking for work.

Compare with Delivery Guy Infiltration, which similarly involves disguise aimed at making a character Beneath Notice. Also compare with Dirty Harriet, with which it sometimes overlaps (prostitution could be considered a type of performance). If the character goes meta with this and pretends to be an actor portraying themselves, then you have For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself. When actions, rather than people, are passed off as a performance see Film Felons or It's for a Book.

Characters using a Performer Guise often (but aren't required to) use an Instrument of Murder; if not, Senseless Violins may come into play.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk: Guts and his group have used this excuse at least once to explain their eclectic appearances. Several onlookers remark there is no way Guts' massive sword could be real, and must be a prop. That disguise didn't last long, since monsters attack the village and Guts' group jumps in to defend them.
  • In latter chapters of D.Gray-Man, Allen hides from The Order by disguising himself as a clown. Though considering that before the series started he WAS a clown, this may actually be more of an inversion.
  • One episode of Digimon Adventure had Agumon and Palmon infiltrate Etemon's base, posing as PunkAgumon and RaggaePalmon, respectively.
  • Fist of the North Star. Legends of the Dark King starts off with this instance, when Raoh disguises himself as a performer with a giant koto, though the disguise is not too convincing considering how huge he is. When the ruler of a local area requests to hear him play, he then calmly smashes said koto and then declares that he cannot play the koto.
  • Pok√©mon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea. While staying with the Marina Group family circus in order to protect the Manaphy egg, Jack "Jackie" Walker wears a clown costume disguise to fit in with the other performers.
  • In an episode of Samurai Champloo, Jin infiltrates a Yakuza-run brothel by disguising himself as a surprisingly convincing geisha carrying a biwa (a traditional Japanese instrument similar to a guitar). When asked to play a song on it, he pulls his katana from the neck, and reveals that he is actually a samurai. He also happened to have smoke bombs hidden in the body of the instrument.
  • Slayers. Lina and her friends joined a troupe of wandering actors to hide from bounty hunters in Season 1.

    Comic Books 
  • The Avengers: In the first (1963) issue, the Hulk is hiding out as a clownfaced circus strongman/robot.
  • Tintin: In Tintin and the Picaros, General Alcazar's revolutionaries borrow the bus and costumes of the Swinging Extravaganzas to infiltrate the Carnaval in Tapiocapolis.

    Fan Words 
  • In one Suikoden fanfic, several of the heroes are spying on the neighboring country disguised as wandering performers. It helps that two of them are professional entertainers, and most of the rest have talents that will work for entertaining. The last has an okay singing voice, but is unable to put the proper emotion into the songs.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 47 Ronin: The ronin halt a group of kabuki performers who are going to perform for Lord Kira's wedding ceremony and some of them assume their guise, while the others do a silent assault on Lord Kira's fort.
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939): Holmes, for some reason, pretends to be a music hall song-and-dance-man (and performs 'I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside').
  • The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother: Sigerson and Sgt. Sacker don costumes and perform in a play in order to retrieve the Redcliff Document.
  • In The Court Jester, an assassin operating in the guide of a jester is impersonated by a good guy played by Danny Kaye.
  • The "Mariachi Trilogy" (El Mariachi, Desperado, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico) runs on this trope, often combined with Instrument of Murder, dealing with the protagonist and/or other characters going to locations in the guise of a Mariachi looking for work, and then killing their targets (although in the original film, the protagonist was an out-of-work mariachi guitarist Mistaken for Badass).
  • In the Miss Congeniality sequel, Gracie Hart and Sam dress up as dancers (the latter as Tina Turner).
  • In the first The Naked Gun movie, Drebin disguises himself as opera singer Enrico Palazzo.
  • Early in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the protagonists pose as a band, the "Soggy Bottom Boys" (having just waded a river), to get money off a blind radio station operator, never knowing that their recorded song subsequently becomes a huge hit. At the end, they pose as a band again to sneak into a political convention, and are completely surprised when their performance rockets them to stardom.
  • Octopussy:
    • James Bond disguises himself as a clown so he can infiltrate Octopussy's circus and warn her about the nuclear bomb that is about to destroy the Air Force base where her circus is performing.
    • Later in the movie Octopussy's female agents dress up as entertainers in order to infiltrate Khan's palace.
  • Andre Moreau in Scaramouche does this out of necessity, joining his ladyfriend's Commedia dell'Arte troupe in order to evade the forces of a corrupt nobleman.
  • Time Bandits:
    • While Kevin is staying with King Agamemnon, the title robbers infiltrate the festivities pretending to be jesters and magicians and make themselves (and Kevin) disappear by using a time hole.
    • Later on, the title robbers perform in front of Napoleon Bonaparte in order to get close to him so they can steal the loot from his conquests.
  • Under Siege: Some of the terrorists infiltrating the U.S.S. Missouri dress up and perform as musicians during a party for the ship's captain.

  • Downplayed? (maybe): In Loren Estleman's The Adventures of Johnny Vermillion, Pinkerton detective Rittenhouse is trying to catch a gang of actors who rob things during their own performances, by the actors who aren't onstage at the moment. Rittenhouse has no skills in entertainment, but he goes undercover as a circus-performers' agent.
  • In Best Served Cold, the protagonist Monza chooses to take revenge on one of her enemies, a prince, by crashing a party along with the rest of her crew. Monza disguises herself as a prostitute and the other members take on a role suited to their skills. Monza also hires various performers who can also kill with their instruments/tools of choice, just in case. Violent hilarity ensues.
  • Bored of the Rings: After Sorhed was defeated at the Battle of Brylopad, he and the Nine Nozdrul slipped out of the mopping-up cleverly disguised as a troupe of gypsy acrobatic dancers.
  • Ciaphas Cain: In For the Emperor, Amberley Vail, the Glamorous Wartime Singer who Cain absolutely does not fall head over heels for at first sight, turns out a few chapters later to be an undercover Inquisitor.
  • The Circle Opens: Done in Shatterglass. When a murderer is targeting the female performer social class, female cops are sent in disguised as yaskedasi in a last-ditch effort to try and find him. Unfortunately, their terrible acting and performing skills simply makes them more conspicuous, at least until Tris points it out and gives them some suggestions.
  • Discworld
    • Some supplementary materials imply that Lord Vetinari's persecution of mimes is more than simply devoting all of his oppression on a common target of mockery. Rather, the mimes as well as the Fools Guild are indicated to be part of a dark secret society.
    • In Jingo, Vetinari himself goes undercover as a street performer in order to stop a war (It Makes Sense in Context). When asked later how he learned to juggle like that, Vetinari replies that compared to all the factions and disasters and competing interests he has to juggle all the time as patrician, a few knives and plates and melons are easy.
    • In Maskerade, Andre is a watchman who has gone undercover as a musician in the Ankh-Morpork Opera House (although he has come down with a bad case of Becoming the Mask).
  • Dragonback: At one point in Dragon and Thief, Jack and Draycos hide from two thugs by jumping onto a balcony... which turns out to belong to a house hosting a Wistawki marriage ceremony, which is the kind of party one does not crash. Jack brazens it out by pretending that the party had hired "Jack O'Lantern and his Amazing Electromechanical Assistant" as entertainers, and puts on a genuinely impressive juggling show. It turns out the host actually knew they were uninvited, but is so pleased by the show he keeps the secret and even pays them.
  • Everworld: The first group of people the heroes meet are Vikings, and tell them they're minstrels. They keep that act up by singing "My eyes have seen the glory of the mighty Viking lords", and it works perfectly. Later they run into a leprechaun border guard who tells them their act is a stinking pile of manure, and they have to give him the bottom half of a satyr that's been sort of wandering near them to get through.
  • The premise of the Fools' Guild series is that there is a secret society of spies who take on the role of The Jester for their espionage purposes. The main character Theophilos has taken many identities, among them that of Feste (he's also implied to be the Fool from King Lear).
  • Gor: In Magicians of Gor, Tarl joins a Commedia dell'Arte troupe in order to have clear passage to Brundisium where there are plots afoot. His cover is as a knife-thrower (and he really can do it).
  • In Han Solo at Star's End, Han and his companions must pretend to be entertainers in order to get into the title prison facility.
  • Heralds of Valdemar
    • In Winds of Fury, Elspeth, Darkwing, Skif, Nyara, and Firesong infiltrate Hardorn as part of a traveling carnival. (Elspeth and Skif are "guards", but the other three are officially performers.)
    • Vanyel pretends to be an ordinary minstrel early in Magic's Promise, and an elite Bard later in the novel.
  • The Legendsong Saga: In Darksong, the myrmidon trainees form a globally recognized supposedly-Fomhikan acrobatics troupe. While mostly used just as a training exercise, it also allows the myrmidons to gather and spread information between septs and spy on powerful people. It was also instrumental to the original plan of getting Durian back out of the nightgarden safely after her callstone deal.
  • In Mattimeo, the evil Slagar the Cruel and his band of slavers want to infiltrate Redwall Abbey to kidnap the children. They achieve this by disguising themselves as a circus troupe, and while his goons perform, distracting the Abbeydwellers, Slagar goes around placing a drug in their drinks to make them fall asleep so his slavers can grab the children.
  • Nick Velvet:
    • In "The Theft of Twenty-Nine Minutes", Nick gets a job as a Stage Magician on a riverboat in order to pull off the theft.
    • In "The Theft of Leopold's Badge", Sandra Paris knocks out a dancer and steals her costume - leaving the dancer Bound and Gagged in a maintenance closet - to give her access to a gallery where she plans to steal a Van Gogh. This becomes a case of Colliding Criminal Conspiracies as the dancer she knocked out and impersonated was also a thief.
  • Shadowmarch: Princess Briony takes shelter with a group of actors. Apparently, she's pretty good playing herself.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire.
    • During the event known as the "Red Wedding", people were betrayed and slaughtered at a wedding by their professed allies, and a fair amount of the killing was done by crossbow wielding mercenaries who had pretended to be (not very good performers} up until their cue to start killing.
    • Tom O'Sevens, a Wandering Minstrel, is a member of the semi-heroic outlaw group, "The Brotherhood Without Banners", and uses his professional cover as a means to move about inconspicuously and infiltrate the castles of the Brotherhood's enemies.
    • Mance Rayder, the king of the Wildings has skill as a musician, and uses it to go undercover on two occasions. In A Storm of Swords, he recounts that he was one of the musicians present during the feast in Winterfell which occurs early in the first novel of the series. Later on, in A Dance with Dragons, he is a sort of Boxed Crook and is sent again to Winterfell, which is now in enemy hands. He again disguises himself as a minstrel, and is accompanied by his "Spearwives", who pretend to be camp followers.
  • Zones of Thought: Played with in The Children of the Sky. Ravna and company stumble onto a backwoods village loyal to Tycoon, one of the Big Bads. Their plan was to impersonate a noble and his entourage to get through without being hassled, but Ritl's Bad "Bad Acting" makes this unbelievable. Amdiranifani decides on the fly that the group is a traveling circus instead.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blackadder: In "The Black Seal", Prince Edmund's childhood rival disguises himself as a retired Morris dancer to get close to and capture Edmund, before The Reveal.
  • Bones: Booth and Brennan go undercover at a circus as a knife-throwing act — Booth learned knife throwing in the Rangers, Brennan is his Lovely Assistant.
  • Dinosaurs: During the "Nuts to War" two-parter Roy, Earl and Charlene go to the front in order to visit (and possibly rescue) Robbie, who has been drafted into the army. They go disguised as a Girl Group a la The Andrews Sisters.
  • Doctor Who: Combined with Mistaken for Special Guest in "The Romans" when he Doctor is mistaken for a dead lyre player named Maximus Pettulian, and decides to assume his identity after being attacked by an assassin.
  • Get Smart:
    • Max and 99 go undercover as actors at a small dinner theater in order to uncover a KAOS plot.
    • The Chief gets demoted to field agent and goes undercover as a singing waiter to uncover a KAOS plot.
  • Parodied in Monty Python's Flying Circus, where Superintendent Harry "Snapper" Organs draws on his Bristol Rep experience to pursue the Dinsdale Brothers by touring the world in various theatrical roles, and the camera cuts away to press clippings panning his performance as Sancho Panza in Man of La Mancha.
  • In the final episode of Police Squad!, the police discover that a drug ring is using a local nightclub to distribute the drugs and launder money. Frank Drebin goes undercover as a stand-up comedian and singer in order to investigate. In keeping with the running gag of Drebin being ridiculously competent at everything, ever, he immediately has the crowd in stitches even though his jokes are on the level of "I just flew in from L.A., and boy are my arms tired!"
  • Shadow and Bone: To infiltrate the Winter Fete, Inej and Jesper use their acrobatics and sharpshooting skills respectively to join up with a performing troupe while Kaz and the Conductor dress up as palace guards.
  • Wonder Woman (1975): In "Amazon Hot Wax", Diana Prince goes undercover as singer Cathy Meadows.

    Video Games 
  • In Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Ezio infiltrates the Sultan's palace disguised as one of the extremely annoying Italian street minstrels from Assassin's Creed II. The nobles' reaction to his singing is as bad as you'd expect—and that's the whole point, since while they are busy booing at him, his fellow assassins pick off bad guys among them with impunity.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, if you get yourself imprisoned in Fort Drakon and have Oghren and Sten haul you out of there, they will pretend to be traveling circus performers to get past the guards. Likewise, if sending Zevran with Oghren, they will pretend to be "The Famous Broma Brothers".
  • Dragon Quest IX. At the beginning of the game, you lose your Celestrian powers and go around as a human of the Minstrel class.
  • Fate/Grand Order: during the Salem Singularity, the protagonists realize that blending in among the intensely xenophobic Puritans is going to be tricky (especially given this is during the height of the witch-hunt hysteria), so they pretend to be a travelling theater group to explain any oddities. They actually do perform several plays during the story to keep up appearances.
  • This is the entire schtick of Tantalus, a gang of thieves/theatre troupe from Final Fantasy IX. Which lends them some air of sophistication and allows entrance to royal palaces, for both mission briefings and action.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Oracle Games: Both of the Oracles are pretending to be entertainers at the beginning of their respective games (singer for Nayru and dancer for Din).
  • In Skies of Arcadia, Belleza, one of the Empire's generals poses as a traveling dancer and joins up with Vyse's group.

  • Girl Genius. After going on the run from Castle Wulfenbach, Agatha hooks up with a group of traveling performers almost all of whom turn out to be sparks on the run as well.
  • Schlock Mercenary had a story in which a number of the mercenaries, including the title character, went undercover at a Martian circus.

    Western Animation 
  • In Amphibia, Hop Pop is invited to join a travelling theatre guild. While he's living his dream, he learns that the crew are actually thieves who use their performances as a distraction to rob the deserted banks. In this case, they started out as legitimate actors, but that didn't pay the bills.
  • The episode "Adventures in Squirrelsitting" from Disney Television's Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers has three of the five Rangers pose as hired entertainers in order to distract the patrons and staff of Fat Cat's casino so that Zipper and Gadget can recover Tammy and Bink from Fat Cat's office. Notable for having both Chip and Dale become Crossdressers to ensure rapt attention.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Scorpia does this accidentally when infiltrating an underground (and underwater) soiree in hopes of finding Prince Peekablue. When she sees him emceeing the event, she gets up on stage to try to talk to him, but he disappears behind the curtain and the spotlight goes on her, so she quickly pretends to be a singer.
  • The Simpsons: According to one of Grandpa Simpson's stories about World War II he got trapped behind enemy lines and rode out the remainder of the war disguised as a music hall girl a la Marlene Dietrich.
  • The TaleSpin episode "A Spy in the Ointment" has both Baloo and Rebecca dress as gypsy dancers to distract the High Marshall of Thembria while a purported secret agent switches packages in his office.
  • Time Warp Trio. Joe will often pose as magician in an attempt to get out of trouble for being somewhere the characters shouldn't be (they have little to no control over where they Time Travel to).
  • One episode of What's New, Scooby-Doo? has Daphne and Velma go undercover as belly dancers to get a closer look at some restaurant patrons, since the gang can't get a reservation.