winne_pooh

I am an idiot. Seriously, I admit it. I am an idiot with a high pain threshold and sometimes I spread my idiocy to others. I will sum up this whole blog post with –if you are sick, you need to take care of yourself first, make sure you have backup and you can trust others to handle it.

My first working faire, I neglected to drink enough water and stay out of the sun. In my defense, the person running the volunteers didn’t have any idea who was doing what for how long and threw bodies at problems. That’s how my partner ended up working a dragon swing for six straight hours and why we both had sun poisoning. If you end up working under those conditions, take a risk and get yourself shade and water. You are just a cog in a wheel and faires, like any machine, will not grind down for the lack of one cog. You should let folks know if you can. But if you are in a situation where there is no clear chain of command-bigger issues and this is just the dangling thread at the edge of a big unraveling.

Making contract-our first big contract we had two people with relatives on deathwatches and I’d had a major event (physical/mental) that had me on opiates (legally) That job was a GRIND for us and I had one person say
“I can tell you are out of it because you are letting a lot of stuff slide.”
It was true, on major painkillers one should NOT sword fight. So I’d do the first acts and once my last fight was done, I was offstage and into the bottle.  In order to be “clean” in the day I skipped my evening doses and later found out my whimpering was heard by people sharing a room. This was unfair to them and to me and if I had to do it again, I’d take a step back and probably not do it again. But at the time I was a new leader and didn’t want to ask anyone to do what I wouldn’t.  I set a very bad example and won’t ever be doing anything that stupid again. And on the flip side of that coin, if I had been a real leader, the two people who came with us who were waiting on a loved one, I would have said “Screw that, you stay home.”

And on that note, we have rule #7 which states:
As professionals, troupe members and employees shall determine their own capabilities and comfort levels at our practices and performances. No troupe member shall be forced to do any performance, act or action that they do not feel comfortable doing. They are responsible for communicating their objection as soon as possible, so other plans can be made.

So, we did learn that it’s important to set rules when others can’t. we had a member who self-harmed doing a bit and when we learned on it we told them that they 1) needed to stop doing that 2) that continuing to do so even having been advised not to do that was a firing offense.

That person was eventually fired for not only that, but blaming us for aiding and abetting that harm. If you are a leader don’t play that game. Intervene early and often and bragging about hurting yourself is not bravado, it’s  not being smart enough to keep out of the way.  I am sharing these not because I’m macho but because I hope you will be smarter than I am.

As an example,  I had a combination of terrible allergies (am allergic to hay and horses, feel free to laugh) and a bad flu.   In between shows I would be under five or six cloaks, sleeping or drinking water. When the time came for the fire show, I couldn’t stand on my own two feet.  Two of the troupe members called a “rule 7” on me and threw me back into the tent. I clearly was not making good decisions and that effected not only me but the people around me. The people around you should be empowered to do that because as stated earlier, maybe you are not in your right mind.

I generally don’t bring up my injuries unless asked or if citing bad examples.   And getting hurt in performance happens but it’s not glamourous, it’s a sign of lack of rehearsal or poor skills if it reoccurs.  One of my sword teachers tells a story of seeing someone at a faire essentially do a scalp cut (which bled like a fountain) The people who did it thought it was “cool” but the audience assumed it was fake blood and booed it. So, in the end, not even the kudos they’d bled for in performance.

In twelve years we’ve had one hospital trip and it was a single stitch and a tetanus shot-just to be safe. The member showed off the “war wound” at the next show to forestall rumors of missing hands and a recreation of this skit ( gore, 1.49)

You are primarily responsible for you-it’s not about ego it’s about being the best machine you can be. If we look at how we treat athletes and racehorses-their trainers make sure they are 100% and can support everyone else. It’s not altruism, it’s business and if you can’t treat yourself as well as someone would treat a poodle at the dog show, then you need to rethink priorities. So stay hydrated, be well fed, be sure to be running at peak efficiency and then you, in turn can help others do the same.

medieval-snowball-fight-650x300

Recently we had a nice talk with another group and the person was respectful, full of good info and there was a mutual “attaboy!” shared. But something I never, ever forget, that there are twenty  five  (that I know of) fight groups in the MA/CT area alone. And there are at least ten fire performance groups locally, some of which have happily done jobs we’ve  turned down.

First, we are still here after twelve years and we have at least 50% of our original members and our maintenance is often measured in years.  We do our best to never badmouth anyone else, because everyone has a learning curve and needs to start somewhere.  When you are bad to your members,  we often end up with your disillusioned ex-members. And no one lives in a vacuum, the renfaire circuit LOVES gossip and sadly, many race to spread bad news.  We’ve had our detractors and we’ve outlasted them. I am not saying longevity is the measure of GOOD, mind you, but it does say something if you’re still in business.

Teach me your tricks.
Say WHAT? Although folks don’t phrase it that way, well okay, some have and the chutzpah made my eyebrows disappear behind my shirt collar.   In most cases, folks are enthusiastic and don’t realize what they have asked. And if they are more than 250 miles away from our home base, I have no issue with it. This is a rule many faire organizers have as well-which stinks for certain types of professions-Actors for instance. We’ve had a well-known group teach us some fire tricks and that was kind of them. Remember no one is obligated to share anything and it’s essentially training your competitors.  In many cases I will treat folks to the fire hose of information and let them sort it out. It’s knowing WHAT to do with the information that is the important part.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery:
To be honest our group was founded with a “we can do this better” attitude. In an example of parallel evolution, many fighting and fire groups have a similar model. It usually comes down to leadership differences and what comes out on stage. Performers should tinker for a niche,  because if you just copy someone outright-they have been doing it longer and better and you will do poorly head-to-head.

Using someone’s good name to enhance your own. This is a great strategy-if you actually worked with those folks. When we first started we had people gunning for us-so we beefed up our CV with a number of organizations and came back swinging. We have the opportunity to use the name of several respectable institutions in what we have built and can name names and make references.  We’ve been quizzed by rightly cynical people and had to stand and deliver.  We don’t mind , we really have done what we say we have.  The flip side is people who are either slippery or have outright lied. Earlier this year we had a faire organizer try to verify that someone worked with us and my answer was “Who?” What many people forget is that although we appear quite corporate,  it’s still very one-on-one and I have no issue with embarrassing someone who is riding our hard-earned public reputation undeservedly.

The renfaire is not the cone of silence , once the word has left your lips, it gains a power on its own.   I’m not saying you aren’t entitled to opinions, I’m just saying there are repercussions to blurting things aloud.  So if you run around adding your two cents about other acts or the organizer of other folks in general,  chances are, they’ll hear it. Early on,  one vendor employee was going on about how our group had no shows, and members were defecting and how could anyone be part of us, when our member answered
“Why don’t you ask the leader himself? He’s standing right there.”

The absolute worst sort of competitor is the one who steals your material and then performs it in front of you. It’s a special sort of backhand that tests the resolve. In some ways it is illuminating, it lets you see the material caricatured so you can analyze it and it tells you it is time to develop new material. After all, who needs to get a double dose of well-worn routines? Won’t lie, when I see this happen, it makes my right temple twitch and my eyesight go red for a bit-but we channel that into something productive and no one goes to jail.

And if a show doesn’t suit us? Well we will pass it on to someone we know. And it works back the other way as well-it’s how we’ve snagged some shows. So competitors don’t have to be enemies, they are our peers, our mentors, those we teach  and sometimes a very unflattering mirror. For the long haul, it’s best to focus on your personal best, rather than what the other guy is doing. But it doesn’t mean we’re not sneaking peeks at one another and assessing for the future…

I like what Richard Branson has to say and this is shared from linked in

Behind the Scenes: How I Write Blogs

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140915225156-204068115-how-i-write-blogs

I admire his need to connect!

Zoomandbored

There have been plenty of OMGWTFBBQPOLARBEAR moments and maybe I’ll write about them-like the time that within 30 seconds of setting up the tent it was smashed to pieces against a building-but today I’ll share some funny ones.

Why won’t you burn?!!! Or Whoah…!
As people who do a fire show, it’s a challenge to come up with new and interesting ways to make a show last longer or be different from others. First, it has to burn for a bit. We make a bunny out of various materials (it was for a fire safety speech at a particular show –they didn’t get “Fire is bad, M’kay?”) but when it went up, it wouldn’t catch and then *whoosh* away with Mr. Bun. And the crowd reaction was “Burn more bunnies!” so you can only do so much.

There were the fire horns…there is only a tiny picture of this because it lasted a very short time. We did a beautiful set of spiral horns, set on the Kevlar and “whoosh” just two big fireballs to either side of Fenix’s head. We never did use those in performance. (The only photo of this)

fire_horns Fire sword-we had one that didn’t do well with the changing temperatures and at one show it bent into a ‘u’ and was wielded by our “villain.” He was able to hit it back semi-straight but at that point-integrity unknown! So I had to run out with a duvatyne and grab it out of his hands. Still in character, he pulled back, finally I used his real name, kicked his shin was able to get it offstage and his partner was ‘victorious.’ To the audience it looked like someone he’d defeated earlier came on and stole his sword, never realizing that I was making sure shards of flaming metal didn’t get sheared off into the crowd!
Another thing that burns when you don’t want it to is marshmallows. Except as part of a fire show. We soaked them in fuel, we bought various kinds of marshmallows, but they remained intact. We even did a set soaked in peach brandy. That failed. But it was a beautiful, tasty failure and we still make them occasionally for ourselves.

Daggers
These little lovelies are their own set of problems. I’ve had so many issues with daggers being where I need them that I make it a point to tell anyone using them in a show that they need to have alternate plans in place. For me it has been-fallen out of someone’s side sheath and we had to use an improvisational dagger. I’ve had mine taken when someone forgot their own for stage and had to wrestle it back for my own fight. Or the ever popular-stuck in the frog or belt at a key moment.

Fenix-couldn’t get to his dagger fast enough so had to use a crab puppet to hold off his opponent until he could free it.
Monica had hers drop out of a boot so had to use hair extensions to strangle her opponent

I had to sit still while someone used use a long knife and had to park it in my cleavage for laughs (the bloody one never came out on stage, it had fallen out of its spot)

Guns, many of our members over the years have loved these but they never make the correct cues. The only time it worked in our favor is when one fellow was teased mercilessly by kids in the crowd about it not going off and that it was a “fake” gun. So he packed extra for the finale and so, *click, click, KABOOM* And no one said anything because we all couldn’t hear. We try not to use them. And I have a bias against cannons.

General Props-oh the tales. The lost ball for the “Princess and the Frog,” skit. Substituted fire bucket-turns out someone ‘played’ with the ball earlier and didn’t put it back. The person who had ONE JOB and yet failed to bring the one item onstage and we had to invent a reason to “fight.” I love props but realize they are just another opportunity for things to go sideways at a show. For me, if my work does not include a kit I’ve examined myself, I’m not interested in doing the show because it’s a pet peeve.

What is the take-away? the more you work with your audience and general talents, the better it will work out for you in the long-term. And although it may make for funny stories (later), ideally you want to look smooth, be safe and not have to improvise or flail with a found object! But training and practice makes sure that you can.

kids

As you may have read in recent updates, babies are decimating our numbers. Our members joke about “just making future members” but the fact is that childcare is paramount and given the choice between practice and show, members (wisely) choose being with  their kids.

We are not without sympathy to this and we occasionally have our Godkids with us, and for the first time we had them on a working day under our supervision.  Renfaires are a much more forgiving place for “bring your child to work” but even this can be both lovely and problematic.

One friend forbid another friend from dating what he referred to as “renrats” or what is often a moniker for kids raised at renaissance faires.  (Long story, another post) These kids often are pretty tolerant of a wide variety of people, have some odd speech tics and because they are raised in what is considered an alternate lifestyle by many, just don’t give a fig for more conventional social mores. I’ve met some great “renrats” and have met some awful ones and we’ll talk about both examples.

It takes a village to raise a child but only one child to raze a village.

Although kids can generally roam free at faires pretty safely, the other denizens shouldn’t be raising your kids.  At the last faire, we had packs of roaming kids that would ask questions, hang out with us and we would hang out with them as well. They were polite and adorable and because it was a small faire generally a look up and couple of steps would let any parental figure do instant reconnaissance.  Most ren kids know that if they need food or water, most folks at a faire would give it to them and because it IS a small community, if anyone did harm, the community would be on them like scarab beetles on a corpse.  I’m not saying that the community is immune to all the plagues of the real world, but if I had to pick a place to have kids explore and have some autonomy, that would be the place I would do it. But they should have some rules. These are my observations

Politeness-same as any setting-please and thank you are important as is understanding that it is polite to ask before grabbing anything.  Most ren kids have better sword handling etiquette than visiting adults. I say MOST because some, raised around it, just assume everyone knows that they know enough to be safe. Not the case.  Because the community is so tolerant, sometimes the kids forget that they are not, in fact, little adults.

Looking out.
I am not the most maternal of persons but generally if I see a child doing something potentially hazardous I’ll intervene. If I see a kid swinging like an orangutan on a maypole or rocking a set of stocks,  I will be sure to say something to the child, 2) say something to the parents 3) call security knowing I did due diligence. I generally won’t touch children unless it’s a “walking on to the highway” situation. And yeah, I will scoop up your toddler if they head into a fight ring during a show because I’m a jerk like that and you aren’t on my insurance as anything but “hazard.”

Not my problem:
I see plenty of kids and situations that will mix in a not great but certainly non-fatal way. I can’t speak for anyone else but if I see a running child who is not looking vs vendor with strangely placed racks, I might shout-out but frankly, unless I’m a superhero, it’s going to happen.  I might  help clean the resulting debris and make sympathetic noises but at the end of the day, I’m going to go home and chuckle about a lesson learned and what a kid covered with pots of glitter looked like and will look like for years later. (Glitter, it’s a plague)

Finding the owner: This is a bad example.   We did a faire where I kept finding a fairly rude little girl in our tent. Our folks are nice and kept an eye on her but we had shows to do and had to boot her several times.  We figured out that she belonged to a couple running gaming booths behind us and we’d push her in that direction.  Eventually she went up to the right person. He was an older gentleman and said
“Young lady, you come with me.” And she did-right to the on-duty cop. When escorted her back to her parents, they started to berate her and the police had to correct them, it was not the *child’s* fault that she had the opportunity to wander off with a stranger.  There are bigger endemic issues when strangers feel obligated to act on behalf of your kids and are better caretakers. (I qualify that because lots of people have opinions, it doesn’t make them right.)

Warn people:  We warned both our Godkids and troupe members that there would be eyeballs in both directions. We did not expect them to take care of our charges but if they thought they needed water or were being rude, they were qualified to say something and act if necessary. And the troupe members were asked to muffle the f-bombs, and inappropriate jokes, which was a good idea anyway.

Their stuff-I have seen firsthand how a well-meaning parent will bring what I call “The Collection” that is, everything modern society has told us we need to care for children. It’s one thing to bring activities but when we start to talk about multiple strollers, play areas  and enough food to feed the mercenary troupe, well, it can be problematic. Ordinarily it’s not an issue because faires are open spaces but if you have paid for a vendor spot or are trying for authenticity, it can put a damper on things. And there are ways around it, one group I know is creating historical “child minders” or another dedicates a “kid tent” behind the others where all of the accoutrements can be stashed but available.

Our stuff: Swords and fire,  it’s right on our sign and business card. Has this stopped parents from berating us? No, but it gets a good laugh after the festival.  Our swords are in a rack in the tent, or we allow children (with a parent) to ask politely.  I have nudged a dog with my foot, the alternative was setting it on fire, I think the owner understood. I have yet to apply it to children but then, in those cases I was the spotter and treated them to a spritzer bottle-works with cats too.

The summary: You can let your kids run at a renfaire, but if you aren’t responsible, don’t count on us to be, we’re at work.

boxed

Sometimes when I write these things people ask
“Are you making this up?”
No, sadly I am not. So let’s “go there,” shall we?

Organizers-When you do performance you owe the organizer what you contracted (and that falls back on the organizer as well) You should show up on time, do the shows in a slot, do your best job and then collect your pay. What you do not owe the organizer is 1) your personal life 2) access to your circle of friends 3) use of your equipment 4) security 5) more than what you are contracted for in black and white.  6) favors.  From past entries we all know what a hot button the term “faire family” is for me. Often we are happy to do more than expected but only on a volunteer basis. We’ve been known to hold snakes, watch kids, pull a shuttlebus out of the mud, set up tents and chairs, load trucks and move wheelchairs over terrain-all because we were either asked nicely or offered to do so. The good thing about my blog is now I will dispense some practicalities.

When organizers start “fudging” terms, you need to be polite, use computer voice and point to your contract. If this does not shut down this behavior feel free to bandy about words like “contract dispute,” small claims court, local violation, police intervention and lawyer.  We designate my partner to do these things because he is large, eloquent and can hide his temper better than I can. (Let me be clear, we are equally pissed off but he is less likely to act impulsively) You may well not get paid and that’s when you bring in others that are an authority on the matter.

True Story: Organizer tried to make us be friends by threatening our paycheck

Fellow performers-whether it is the water cooler at the office or the middle of a field, you owe your coworkers at least basic civility. This means keep your stage times, be non-obtrusive while waiting to come on, announce them if they follow you, warn them of any hazards (ex: there is a problem with the stage, a certain patron may be an issue,  and look out you are about to get drafted for the Royal Parade)  If you are nice you’ll share water, shade, stories, etc. DO NOT join in drama (feel free to see my post “Drama”)  Some performers are scoping for after-hours fun, if you are game, fine. If not, a polite “no thanks” should be sufficient. All things equal, working at the fest means we swim in a location full of sexual innuendo, scatological jokes and more. And if you aren’t ready for that, well, not sure what to say. For me, the line is crossed when I’ve said “don’t like it.” Have removed myself and then it’s as though the words never left my mouth, or invited worse personal boundary violation.  And some people play the “Rennier-than Thou” game. I always let them win. Because at the end of the day, I have a full, solid, life that I enjoy and the only person I have to one-up is me and my personal standards. If you are experiencing personal bullying then it’s a step too far.

I admit our troupe gives one another verbal shots to the arm, but if someone has a grievance we do our best to address it. And if you have issue with others but it’s not enough to try to rectify, well that’s when we have what is referred to as “Car Conversations.”  It’s often a long ride back to sleeping arrangements and you can blow off steam with your fellows there. Otherwise, keep your trap shut.
True Story(s):  Fellow performer managed to insult every member of the troupe within less than two hours. Had to isolate person to prevent murder.

Patrons and volunteers.
Volunteers (long sigh) sometimes they are great. I love it when they are helpful and fresh and happy. Not so much when they become tin gods and decide to be a mouthpiece for the organizer. If a volunteer has not been specifically appointed my contact, we will be that annoying act that verifies everything. It’s the sign of bad organizer if they have not pointed out who can and cannot speak for them. I can put three-year-olds to shame if someone points and states
“Because I told you to.”
Then, stubborn becomes a mission.
I will do as security requests –if possible. We had one festival that every year we would be told we could not bring out equipment through the back gate or the front gate and when we inquired how, we were told to follow orders. So we handed everything over the fence and when stopped, pointed out our parameters (while continuing our fire line) and asked for an alternative plan. EVERY YEAR we encountered this until  finally they decided that letting us into a gate was easier than dealing with our loopholes. (And to be clear, we weren’t driving onto the site, just carrying our gear)

Patrons, you owe them a good show, a friendly face, knowledgeable input and a smile. After that, it’s a bourrée  offstage or to your next act. Like retail, it’s okay to do what we lovingly call “scrape off” someone onto your manager. Sadly, two of us are the managers.  I’m pretty good at the polite nondescript face, my partner is the master of Irish diplomacy. And we’ve both been known to sucker in other members if we just aren’t in the mood to hear about the sharpened katana in the attic for the mailman. (Little joke there,  it’s a line from our “Fox and Cat” skit) But we don’t engage if it is about sex, gender roles, body parts or “Duel me!”  Here are some gems I recommend
On bewbs and other bits: “Yes, I did grow them myself” and “No they are my balls, I wear them on my chest so they don’t chafe.”  “Nope ya can’t touch!” and “and they chime when I walk, too” and “Your Mom’s lipstick.”
On Badassery: “Sorry you aren’t on my insurance.” “Sorry I don’t have my sparring gear. What school did you say you were with?”
Ideally, you don’t engage at all. But if someone says something inappropriate, often I’ll just walk away. Let them explain to the organizer why you didn’t answer a question that included a reference to naughty bits.

True Story: I don’t mind friendly people but you’d be surprised at how fast a smile and kind word can morph into your fellow troupe members physically pulling you into a van in motion, to get away.

Finally, sometimes it is the whole festival (or seems like it) I’ve worn those uncomfortable, nail-filled, three-inch heeled shoes. If the “personality” of a faireground  endorses bad behavior there isn’t much you can do about it. Especially if it happens with the blessing (and participation) of the organizer. It’s awful and uncomfortable and often people will turn on those who point out the bad behaviors. I am not sure what to tell people about this. I have a friend who loves her home faire and bends over backwards to support it. But some of the stories I’ve heard would make me bail and hope for better elsewhere-and sometimes there isn’t an elsewhere for being in a festival.  In these cases, your community theater, the local help organizations and others would love to have you. Or you can be bull-headed like we were and start your own thing. (Hard road, be warned!)

So many true stories that need to be blog entries. To give you an idea of the scope, I turned to Fenix and asked
“So would you want to write up a ‘when it goes bad’ entry for me?”
“How could I narrow it down?
And I didn’t have an answer.

But the good does outweigh the bad, otherwise, why do it at all?  I have noted that many people who have been successful, for reasons not clear to me, DO NOT warn others of the pitfalls.  And sometimes if the person does speak up they are accused of crying wolf.  There isn’t a one-solution-fits-all and no one can warn you of *everything.*  I am a big proponent of going in with both eyes open and somewhat prepared. And even being in this business for twelve years, we still have situations over which there is little to no control and we have to fake it until we make it. So these blog entries, some cheery, some not are primarily to pass on what I wish someone had passed on to me. As always, if you want to chat, just go to our website (phoenixswords.com) and drop a line.

fire_014

How did a sword troupe come to work with fire? Someday I will talk about how I ended up in/running a sword troupe but today I want to talk about a much bigger turn that led to a stranger place.

I have a friend who is an idea factory. He seriously churns out things as a side note that I wish I could catch and tuck away for later. We’ve diverged in path significantly but initially we were both interested in working at renaissance faires and had worked together in a troupe. He didn’t want to do sword work any more-he wanted to play with fire. My strength is that I make things pretty and am very good at promoting OTHER people.  We made an agreement that we’d put him under our troupe umbrella and handle boring things like promotion, act details and contracts and book shows for him.   We did that but unfortunately he became bored with fire and performance. He sold us his props and I found another colleague from the same group that did fire but with different tricks-and he too, was done with swords. I breathed a sigh of relief, same deal, shows covered.

And then, he had to give it up as well. Sadly, we still had shows scheduled.  I begged him and he agreed to train me and any interested parties in Phoenix Swords how to use and be safe with fire. Little did I know how many people think fire is sexy and how much it would change  the face of the troupe!

I bought some props for me to try-fire fans. They looked a little less intimidating than say, juggling or devilsticks.  We had two dancers that took to this immediately and wrote up a set of choreography to do.

fandance1

Undeterred, I found a bigger set of fans-which then were bought by a member and he took them over as his thing.

Dragonwing2

In the meantime, two members invested in a set of fire swords and took over that part of the business-my second fire guy was nice and continued to train anyone interested. This led to us starting a division called “Phoenix Fire” because we had to do something about the fire training cutting into the sword training.

The shows we’d booked to that point involved the whole troupe and although we did a little fire work as a gate finisher at some faires or as individual bookings, it became clear that we had a full act on our hands and we needed to get a much more formal stage guide in place.

Stepping back a moment, as soon as I heard fire guy #2 was going to leave, I had to jump into the wonderful world of fire safety and performance with both feet.  At that time, the only place anyone heard of doing what we do was with Burning Man or the occasional poi spinner or secret  fire gatherings that were world-of-mouth. Like any subculture-first you have to FIND it and then you have to go in full-on invested.  The places where I found the best information were at Home of Poi (in Australia) on Tribe.net  and I read, read and read. And coming into it as an outsider I asked firefighters, burners, fire lovers, people who liked to grill-anybody and funneled all that into something we could use. Long story short, apparently I went about it the hardest way any human being could. But when I was finished, we had working procedures for safety, stage and tools. MSDS sheets for fuels (we don’t mix)  an annual training, training booklet, step-by-step bits for each tool and a checklist with a quiz.  And we made mistakes-and apparently had a reputation for being “safety Nazis.” The nicer people were just happy we showed up with tools and I was roped into doing a fair amount of spotting for other fire acts. One subcontractor expressed concerns about our first aid kit so I brought it over. His response was.
“Well, I asked about first aid and it appears we can survive a plane crash with this.”
(Our full first aid kit is bigger than carry-on luggage)

Friends and I have often discussed “the Curse of competence” that is, we inadvertently get so good at something that other folks start taking it for granted. Although I’d been the one to start the big push for fire, I did not get a significant piece of the stage action for nearly three years. I knew how to do most of the tricks and bits and could pinch-hit, some of the performers actively discouraged me from being onstage. We eventually figured out  1) they would have to share stage time (and honestly I don’t begrudge it) and 2) good spotters are hard to find. 3) Because, reasons.

So I developed (with some help from the internet) my own fire tool and we put it together. It had the bonus of being dangerous for men to use. That would be the fire meteors-which we’ve since discovered is the second most dangerous fire tool out there. And for me, I had to use the bigger monkey fists because I wanted the extra weight. (My gorilla arms, so hot)
meteors

But honestly, it began to be too much to be a stage manager, a spotter, props person AND help run the sword troupe. I tried delegating with mixed success.  One summer we had some really awful interpersonal incidents. And when some barriers were removed (and some people) there was sudden peace and re-arrangement. We  stopped doing a certain faire and it eventually disappeared. And now there are three to four troupes in the area that specialize in fire, it’s been an easy transition back to doing historical and stage sword work, with a bit of fire.

Some things we stopped doing were letting people go from practice to performance before a year with us (and fire) We used to have an issue with people staying just long enough  to learn the tricks and then become competitors-or that we were not “burners” so they were disappointed.   We have learned to ask A LOT of questions of anyone who wants to hire us. One would think inviting someone to come and play with fire in your backyard/venue  would lead to concerns but in a number of cases it’s good we were proactive!

Anyway the summary of how I ended up working with fire is that I had to learn to make my bookings. Plenty of others have different reasons (and THAT is another whole blog entry)  but it is pretty cool to work with once you realize it’s not an “if” but a “when” you will get burned.  My partner teases me about being a little nuts to do it, and it did take two years before I could bring myself to fire-eat.  But it does illustrate that you can start by being a certain thing but your business ends up going in a different direction. Some of the troupes I’ve seen ended up doing more marketing and less performance. Others saw how lucrative it was to sell the tools they use and ended up as vendors. Some started with weapons and that became the focus of their show.  But by its very nature, fire can consume and not just with physical properties so be sure to be aware of ALL its aspects, even the commercial ones.

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