anchor

Wasn’t sure what to tittle this blog post because “the haters” was not really what I wanted to address. Haters are easy, you know they are wrong, it might hurt your feelings but one big raspberry and several successful shows, later that wound is all healed.

Anchors are a trickier hazard to spot-they often masquerade as something else and are sugar coated in things like concern trolling and passive-aggressive tactics. They will gaslight you and make you so filled with self-doubt that you don’t even believe your biggest supporters any more.

When one performs at the faire, presumably you are there with at least a shred of ego because  you are jumping out on a stage and yelling “Loook.At.Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” But you do need a support system-the person who owns/run the fest, the staff that makes amenities like food and toilets happen, the people who staff the faire and the people who come to the faire. Without those thing-no need for performers. And let’s face it, performing looks easy-any two-year-old will tell you as much and climb on the table to do it. Sadly we are not all as cute as toddlers so we need to develop ourselves to be good performers.

But we all have self-doubts and I’m going to share some personal stories that you may recognize.

The mentor who really isn’t. When you first meet this person you will be so awed and amazed by them, you will kneel at their feet and soak up everything they have to give you. If they are a good mentor they will eventually become a peer and hope that you will outstrip them. If they are a bad mentor they will *seem* to build you up but pull out random pieces of your support system like some crappy game of jenga. I had someone who was there for me when it felt like the world walked 13 paces in a 14-pace fight and fired-we received threats,  bad press and evil emails. Initially this person taught me a few tricks, did some fight training with me and invited me to be part of their world.  All was pretty good until I started doing additional training, getting bad feedback and being told I was a terrible fighter because I kept changing the choreography.  I really thought this was the case so I started documenting everything, asking for feedback from others, and finally I gave up writing fights with this person because I just couldn’t seem to get it right. Other symptoms included random things costing me money or favors. I like to think I’m a “by the books” kind of person but I never seemed to reach that elusive goal of being somewhat equal. In the end, this person gave an ultimatum and it was so laughable that I just shook off the veil and saw clearly. Solution? Have more than one mentor and set yourself an internal scale of progress. If you never make the goals, that’s the sign of bad teaching. And if you are having problems, chances are someone else is as well so it’s good to compare notes. Once this person was caught on camera doing all the things they denied, that was the beginning of the end.

Your comrade-in-arms.(not) This person is beside you and supports you and is a good touchstone-until they aren’t. And it’s often insidious because by the time you realize this person is a frienemy, the damage and self-doubt are already there.  I would be told things like
“Well with your appearance maybe it’s better you do more backstage work.”
“You are a bit clumsy so why don’t you leave the acrobatics to us.”
“Maybe you wouldn’t get hurt if you worked a little harder at your skills.” (This was from someone *notorious* for hitting too hard and having fewer and fewer fight partners) As with anything, actions speak louder than words. I used to have self-doubts as my go-to and my reaction is often to work harder-and that will solve two problems 1) your skill level does go up 2) you start leaving detractors in the dirt.  When you see this problem from the outside, it’s important to approach the person who is being lied to and re-affirm that they are doing fine. In one case one troupe member was getting blamed for lateness and arguing. They day they blamed this person for causing lateness when they weren’t even scheduled to come to a show was an eye-opener. And on a later date, when the blamer thought I wasn’t around, picked a fight with the troupe member over a flap on a tent, and was shocked to find me standing there. I was a victim of this person as well and sadly some of these manipulators are so good because they are charismatic.

Your trainee (who knows better)-being in a position of power helps to curb this a bit. I have found the best antidote to this one is being self-effacing and humorous. If you are willing to laugh at yourself and admit fallibility, already this has taken away the weapon of superiority/inferiority.  And if this person can’t seem to learn from you, then it may be someone else trains them.  This person will also reference outside strengths continuously-and if someone comes in with a useful skillset, that’s great. But if they can’t learn what you do as a team, then it isn’t going to work out. I have NO PROBLEM with giving out the names of other groups and organizations and mentioning they might be a better fit. And yes, I hold back on some of the cooler tricks because I’ve been burned before.   If this person is just that amazing-well an ensemble is not the place for them,  bonne chance!

Your employer-nothing you do will satisfy this person. Perfectly innocent social interactions turn into head-shaking moments. You feel dirty every time you come away from working with them. These are all indicators. My partner and I become The World’s Nicest Incompetents. We make life easy for these folks by apologizing with extricating ourselves from their company. It’s like an uncomfortable date-it’s not you, it’s me. It’s been a real slice, gosh how could we ever do it again…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92I1eJgCHIM

And we’ve been told we’ll never work in Roswell, Ohio again. But from what I can tell, neither will any other renfaire acts. Sometimes it’s better to give up a job than to come away with a coating of slimy feelings.

What I’m trying to say here is that it is statistically impossible to be wrong 100 percent of the time. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. If you can’t seem to get anything right and no one offers a solution, often it’s a relationship and situation set up to fail. No amount of hard work on your part is going to make it work because you are still the only person invested in a solution or fix. For me it’s been interesting watching the follow-up in how it turns out with these personalities-at least two of them have sworn they were better leaders, performers and human beings and yet, burn through organizations and friends in cycles. I’m not saying anchors are useless, sometimes they are there to stabilize a boat (and we’re grateful when they make us look good by comparison!) but if they keep you from sailing, it’s time to cut them and make your own way. And the Dalai Lama calls these people personal gurus-those who try us, reveal things about ourselves and teach us compassion.

fansThis gif is meant to be self-deprecating :)

Before reading this, I’d like folks to not internalize it but really think about walking around in the shoes of your favorite performers.

I still remember our very first fan letter and I am friends (online mostly) with our first and most loyal fan and last year invited he and his family to our anniversary party where the troupe performed in street clothes, we all had fun, drank great wines, beers and hung out together. When I see him it is hugs all around.  There is a family we know a good 1200 miles away from us and I really feel like part of their lives and it’s a big, stinking lovefest. There is another blog post about that –probably this winter. These folks and other hold special places in our hearts and are part of why,  even in the worst of circumstances, we slog out onstage and do our bits.

But generally our days-to-day fans don’t receive this level of access. And it’s not that we don’t appreciate that they came to the performance and gave us feedback and handshakes and laughter, but we know the social contract says that we all have fun at the fair and then everyone goes home.

What DO you owe your fans?

You owe them a good to great show, and if it’s not a great show you owe them showing up and giving it all you have-onstage. We have done performances in *terrible* weather conditions and in completely unsuitable venues. (And in one of those we watched the bride realize that the location had changed her plans as well and we sort of kept the swords out of sight! Never, ever, cross the bride, people!) Our favorite example is from our first show (not Phoenix Swords) where it was raining hail, in a lightning storm with freezing temperatures. The organizer told us
“IF no one shows up, you don’t have to go onstage and can pack up.”
But one lone kid, in a thin nylon jacket with blue lips showed up and we said
“This show is for YOU, kid.” And on we went, and sadly for the act after us, we attracted all the remaining die-hard faire-goers  and they had to go on after us. (You’re welcome!)
That’s an extreme example but if even one person shows up, you need to go out and do your job and give it your best shot.

You owe them gratitude
They showed up for you. Of all the acts in the faire they chose to come to yours. One of our longtime subcontractors (who is amazing and unsurprisingly, going into politics) is good at names and faces and deliberately chats up crowds before a show. He points people out to us, he works with making it a personal experience. We try to do the same (some of us better than others) and we have been rewarded with people choosing to go to ALL of our shows in a day and then coming back the next day. They are also the people who know that it is okay to laugh or clap at the right places and they tell the rest of the audience the cues you love to hear. They are the ones who chat you up to others and I am not above pointing out the organizer if the patron wants to give positive feedback.  Many organizers personally work the gate and if they hear about your show, thank your audience for coming.

You owe them timeliness-do your best to make this happen. Even as another act I have been known to make sub-vocal growling noises at acts *sauntering* on to stage late. Lateness is a sign of disrespect of the time of others.

You owe them feedback and answers-perhaps not AS the show is going on but several of our shows are education-based and we owe it to the crowd to be knowledgeable about what we do!

You owe it to them to be safe.

You need to render aid when needed.

You owe them service and professionalism. Our shows don’t mean a clean uniform at the end of the day but we do need to have *started* neat, clean and with nothing unsightly hanging out. And try not to use bad language or exclusive language and terms-well, unless you plan to explain it.

What you don’t owe your fans:

Personal information
justification for what you do
Putting up with bad socially/legally behavior
Access to your equipment or gear
To always be “onstage” (This one is tricky, sometimes you need that character break for potty trips or if you have your mouth wrapped around some food.)
Mind reading
Instant recognition-sorry folks, just jog my memory. If you have changed your hair color facial hair, style and have grown a few inches-bear with us, we are human!

And I still see some of these interactions turn sour. I’ve received my share of cranky emails and snarky remarks. But we are basically kind, polite people and if someone wants to turn that into a personal crusade, nothing we would have said or done would change that.

Love us or hate us, we’ll still go out and do our best for you in a show. And if you do like us, be sure to tell us because we DO appreciate you and you are the ones who let us do what we love. So thank you fans and we owe you one.

firebreather

It is terrifying how quickly bad news can spread-especially at a location where there are theoretically no mobile devices and everyone is working all day. Now if it’s a rumor that we are amazing and that we poop gold nuggets-we might let that one slide. Generally thought, it’s the BAD rumors you have to quash if possible.

The first part is reacting to hearing it. The first time you might be caught off-guard. That’s why I like to use a five-second filter or channel Thomas Jefferson  My partner takes a deep breath and smiles.  My filter is excellent but it has boundaries,  in twenty minutes it may not hold. But in the moment one must step back, disassociate and react calmly or with humor. You should acknowledge the rumor, thank the person for telling you (even if you suspect the source might be invested/poisonous) and let them know you’ll be aware and do your best to deal with it. And that’s all you owe the person who came to you.  In fact, it’s better not to act immediately (I’ll cite an example later in this entry when one shouldn’t wait) but ruminate on it a bit.

“Your reputation is in the hands of others. That’s what the reputation is. You can’t control that. The only thing you can control is your character.” 
― Wayne W. Dyer

Now to do damage control-I usually do a “check in” with friends and associates and get a more balanced view. If you run a group, it’s important that everyone is on the same page. You put together an action plan-we will say this, we will not say this and give your folks a unified face.  You will need to address the rumor point by point and have logical ways to refute them. And you may need to bring it up yourself to key people (often the OTHER gossipmongers)  and make light of it or stare it down like your cat planning to steal your sandwich. Be firm, and calm, not angry. The worst thing to do is to become upset or start counter-rumors. DO NOT “fight fire with fire” because then, you could catch your own ass on fire.  If it’s something really damaging –you may need to go to organizers or influential people in the community. You can start with something like
“It’s come to my attention that; [x] and I would like to address any concerns with [y] and [z] and if you have any questions or concerns, please be sure to come directly to me and we can discuss them.”

By heading it off in this way, you are slowly leeching the power of the rumor and the rumor-starter and bringing everyone back into the reality of doing safe, good business. Don’t be afraid to enlist people to help you. I have had defense come from unexpected quarters because we have a reputation as levelheaded people and these allies were in places we didn’t know they needed to be.

Some people say that one should confront the rumor-starter. I have found that in 99.9 percent of these instances, the person will lie about having started such a thing and if anything, I’ve made them feel important by recognizing them. I’ll acknowledge the rumor and I may even subtly drop hints that such actions won’t be tolerated, but the person or persons don’t deserve even notoriety. I’m still a bit of a pill and am not above some petty social embarrassment, but it’s always about making the statement of living the better life rather than playing at equal vitriol.

And now some concrete examples. At one point  the story that we were fighting unsafely- rumors that cropped up like cockroaches. It got to the point where we had a checklist of “How?’ Where?” “Why?” that could be traced back to one really terrible human being. In fact, over the years a number of strangers have come up and apologized for believing and spreading that. And folks, that didn’t happen overnight, it took YEARS and a whole lot of taking the higher path and really didn’t take away all of the sting. Even now, some people will not accept all of the logic and facts that have piled up because that would require admitting that they were wrong.

A second example was a fire breathing incident –our firebreather had some stray hairs that resulted in a burnt cheek. Even though the performer re-did the trick immediately after, the rumors were that “someone had blown up on stage!” So we had to walk through the faire, chat with people, be seen by vendors and then do THE WHOLE SHOW-including the fire breathing again that night.  And still hear stories about “The guy who blew up on stage!” (It was one disappointed Fire Marshall)

Accept that the truth will not be accepted by everyone because it would spoil a good story. There are faires that *every single time* I have to point out that the rumor mill that names, places, dates and actual events are completely wrong and I’m told I “spoil the fun.” That “fun” impacts my bottom line so soak me in salt water and christen me a wet noodle.

And although it is hurtful to accept, some people just spread malice.  There isn’t a rhyme or reason other than they need to strike out-often at innocent  or undeserving targets.  The why isn’t important but making sure that you take care of you and yours is the primary goal.  I’m not saying you aren’t entitled to feel hurt, angry and betrayed-that’s healthy. But  rumors are vapor, in time they dissipate and you will outlast them.

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.

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