Guest blog by Fenix-cofounder

History of the fire swords

Flaming F
Saturday morning while I was waiting for my wife to get up, I was watching a show on The History Channel called “Forged in Fire”.
They take blade smiths and have them make various different weapons that they then abuse and declare a winner based on who’s retains an edge, doesn’t break, etc.
(Cut coconuts, smash ice, hit rocks, etc.)

Looking at previous episodes of the show, I found that the very first person who won the first episode is a person who used to make swords for our sword troupe. That was back when he was the M in MP metalworks.

There was a time, more than 10 year ago now, where about half the swords the troupe used were made by him:
http://phoenixswords.atthefaire.com/galleries/swords/index.html

Of the 6 different fire swords the troupe has used over the last 14 years, he made 4 of them.
OK, it’s really 4 of 6 ½, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

It didn’t even start with us.
The sword group my wife and I were in before Phoenix Swords had broken apart badly. It was 14 years ago and there are still people mad at each other about it. (I’m one of them.)
At least 4 different groups formed out of the 35 members of that old troupe.
Phoenix Swords is the only one of those still going.

One of the others was one of the two founders of that previous group. He wanted to get into fire performance. He was a very good performer who came up with excellent ideas for ways to perform. (And, many bad ones too.)
But, he just wasn’t very good at running a group. Even when it was just him in the group.
So, we worked out something where he would perform with Phoenix Swords, but remain independent of our group.

He came up with the idea for the very first of our fire swords. He went to M at MP Metalworks with his idea and M built him a prototype.
It is a regular sword modified to be a fire sword. Other than the modifications, it looks just like a regular sword.
Our friend who designed it only had the one built. He didn’t sword fight with it, he just danced with it.
As far as I know, he only did one show with it:

Then, he quit performance. Sadly, we had booked several fire shows for him that he now didn’t want to do. So, that is how Phoenix Swords got into fire shows.
And, I did end up with that very first fire sword. Fire sword Zero is what we used to call it.

M liked the sword he had modified and decided to build a pair of fire swords from the ground up.
Two of our members (A & R) bought them and we added them to our growing fire show.

They looked cool. The hilts were bent up with little flame shapes. The pommels on the bottom were also cut to look like flames.
This made them horribly dangerous as it put a sharp point on the bottom edge of the swords. I can’t count how many times those bottom points cut someone using them.

A&R didn’t work out all that well for our troupe and ended up leaving.
They took their fire swords with them. They had paid for them, not us, and I didn’t like the design anyhow.

Tom had M make a new fire sword for him.
It was a monster. Almost 6 feet long (180cm) and covered in flame, not a lot of folks were willing to have him swing it at him. I usually ended up doing the sword fight with him using the original prototype myself.
At least it had a round pommel and not the pointy ends.

Sadly the swords really weren’t up for being used as fire swords. The heat of the fire caused them to warp.
Tom’s big one had a particularly bad bend one show where my wife had to run onto the field and take it away from him with the fire proof blanket. (It worked for the show as I was supposed to be fighting him for revenge for him beating my wife. So the audience loved her stealing his fire sword…)

There had been another sword group located in Kansas that we worked with from time to time until they broke up.
One of their members made swords. When he did some of the shows with us, he looked at the fire shows and said “I could do that better”.

So, in 2007 he made us two new fire swords. They were of the same basic concept of the previous swords, but more proportional to the swords we used in our regular shows.

The very first show we used them in, the one I was using broke off at the hilt on the second hit.
This led to the “I’m not Aragorn” incident at the post office:
http://www.fbhjr.livejournal.com/5958.html
He didn’t ask for the blade back, just the handle. So, I’m not sure if I should count that as a fire sword repaired or an additional fire sword. That’s why I say we’ve had 6 ½ of them in the troupe.

Either way, the broken one was replaced and it has held up very well for the last 9 years.

The hilt did break off last year, but Cosmicirony was able to fix it for us.

Looking back at it all, it is strange to me to see the person who made those original swords, that were dangerous to the user and bent when being used for what they were made to do, and see him win a sword making competition. Especially as the final test was they fired a bullet at the edge of the sword he made to see if the blade would split it in two without breaking.
It did!
I was surprised. His old swords would never have lived through that.
But, it has been more than a dozen years too.

I guess practice makes perfect.
12 years of practice seems to have helped!

 

NERF

 

This last weekend  we attended the 2016 New England Reenactors Faire. In the past we’d gone as visitors and last year we gained two new troupe members via our member Andy who was wandering the aisles.  This year we took it into our own hands to try and get some more members after the Great Baby/Marriage Decimation of 2015-2014. So we paid for a table and settled in for a wait.

I’ll be honest, as a renfaire performer I wasn’t sure what kind of reception we’d get at a mostly reenacting event but I have to say that all the vendors were lovely, and trusted us to watch their tables and were willing to chat about their businesses,  contents and interests. (And to be honest, there were *some* renfaire folks there as well.)

Some things that stood out:

Everyone is working like crazy to get people into their group.
We all have an “aging out” issue and we are going up against some activities that still feed the urge without being as complicated. At LARPS you can be the hero of your own story. With performers and reenactors  it’s a lot of work without a lot of reward and not everyone gets a turn at being a star. In SCA you can apply to be a royal or do battles. I’m not saying these things don’t overlap but the sexiness factor of reenactors is lower than  a Science Fiction Cosplayer with lucrative contracts. You need to drive that fire internally and that means purpose and hopefully some maturity. (Your mileage may vary)

Everyone’s fingers are in several different pies
Most reenactors I chatted with did a number of periods and although they had a favorite, they dabbled in everything from Roman to 19th century.   And plenty of folks had SO’s laughing and groaning about “Not another time period!”
But it’s definitely an itch and it’s not in one spot!

Everyone has their fringe element.
We had an unfortunate turn that sprung from having a Persian helm on our table. It was meant to be s show and tell or touch piece. It was not our “Tell me how much you hate Muslims” invitation.  I want to thank whomever came over and distracted that gentleman and led him away from the table because it was not a good time for anyone in the vicinity. But he was the exception, not the rule. We had people far more interested in introducing people to the hobby than we did going on about witch hunts about inaccuracy so…yay!

Lastly, I was happy that they had such good attendance and everyone was so down-to-earth. If we get members, then it was a good investment. If not, we still had a nice time.

apple

Normally these blog entries are about general troupe stuff but for this one I’d like to be both more specific and more general at the same time.  My husband and I run Phoenix Swords and we do this because we are driven by our interests. We like:

  • History
  • Swords
  • Theater
  • Creating things
  • Education
  • Applause

These combine nicely into running a sword performance troupe. But if that was all there was to keeping a group going, then everyone would be able to do it.  And in addition, if we never brought anything new into the mix, we sure wouldn’t be able to do it this long a time. We feed into what the troupe does by doing the following things;

We do research. Sure there is Google and Wikipedia but anyone who is claiming to do historical work needs to bring more to the table than that. We’ve taken the time either go through or paid a translator to read and decipher sword manuals for us. We have peers who do this weekly and we share our material so that it may be presented to the public. And yes, we also get to have our work critiqued-if you can’t stand to have that happen, then perhaps you are doing it incorrectly. I’ve described the process here.  But when someone asks the hard questions, we can back up what we have done and over the years, earned some respect.

Collecting and composting-works for gardens and works for your mind . I like to have a sponge-like mind and keep photos and notes and sometimes just let things rattle around in my brain.  I have a friend with a hard drive full of just *stuff* related to her historical interests (You know who you are) another with a thesis that keeps growing offshoots and interests. And you should collect physical skills as well. I never thought that a six-week course in Capoeira(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capoeira) would make a dent (and the class collectively were the ages of myself and my husband…ouch) but to this day I still do some of the exercises because they are of benefit!  Feed into that need to grow and give yourself time to absorb it. I once had a joke that took two years to come to fruition. Maybe I’m just slow, but we’ll just say that it wasn’t ripe enough yet!

Have fun, this seems like a no-brainer but sometimes we can forget to do that. I am grateful for our friends, troupe members  and Godkids because they remind us that what we are is actually pretty cool. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that it’s not always the lists/packing/unpacking/training slog and that our work impacts other people. We go to see movies, we goof around with light sabers in the living room, we throw objects at one another,  we come up with silly fight ideas that might just get made into a show. Some events I look forward to because they are giant “think tanks” with other fighters and fight groups.  In that instance we exchange ideas and we can do some physical motion, be silly and use props. And when we took vacation this year, it was to a number of historical sites and we learned quite a bit you can’t just pick up in books. If you can’t funnel fun into your end result *somehow* then you should be setting a time limit and be making A LOT of money to sooth that ache.

Because we run the group, we don’t have some of the constraints our members do.  If we don’t like an idea, it doesn’t get financed. If we have an opinion, it’s generally going to be the final say.  The not-so–fun side is we have to do all the drudge work (can you say financing ,travel,  taxes and repair?) And yes, we as bosses will take criticism, because it’s safe to say that although we try to see things through the eyes of our folks, we have a limited view. And that is one the strengths as well-getting new input to keep things fresh, current and interesting!

With the performance season coming up we have to get out into the cold and remember that when spring comes, we have to hit the ground running and that we do this for…reasons!

Splenda Lawsuit

Being a performer is like being a contractor in any other profession. You sign a contract, you go to the site, you do your job. However, as any plumber, landscaper, computer programmer or other professions will tell you, jobs are like trail mix. How you ask? It’s generally bag of flakes, fruits, candy and mixed nuts-often heavy on the flakes and nuts.

With items like town fairs, corporate parties, and renaissance faires –they are concerned with liability, they want to cover their assets and they want it in writing. Explaining these things to your backyard party planner  in a way that doesn’t get strange quickly can be a task. We have had private parties that were lots of fun (just did one that was a repeat performance) weddings that were a blast, and kids birthday parties that made us smile a lot.

But I suspect you aren’t you aren’t reading along for the “Everything was butterflies and kittens and we received a great tip” stories.  (As an aside, never take a job that is run by a “committee” unless you have a hard contract)

Two parties where it all went kind of sideways.
The goth club Halloween party

It’s never a good sign when carnies have turned down a job and then it is offered to you. Another non-written rule that came from this this is that anyone who hires you with less than three weeks to Halloween is probably not someone for whom you’d like to work. But one half of us were on our way to the Mobile faire and the other half stayed behind to do a scenarios at midnight. The troupe was the second act on the docket, the first being an NC-17  uhm “scene” with a lot of props and not much clothing. Our folks are pretty easy going and tried to be polite in a small dressing area but it was definitely distracting. Also distracting? The club had low ceilings and no one knew how to shut off the strobe lights. But the show had to go on, so our folks-in makeup, prosthetics and dodging table, patrons and working in a strobe did their thing. They tried a storyline and the patrons didn’t seem to get it.
*A scripted disarm and when one patron tried to grab the sword while smirking
“Nice fighting D’Artanian” our member dragged the patron AND the sword across a table to continue the fight.
* No one seemed to sense how much danger they posed/could have received in a cramped space with swords and limited light
* at the end of it someone yelled “You Suck!”

But it did end, our folks went backstage and the DJ/guy in charge gushed about how great it was and asked if our folks wanted to stay and do more (with no additional pay) When told what a lone member of the crowd had critiqued he said.
“That’s great, you actually got a reaction out of them!”

emoji

 

The Bridal shower.

This party is why we have a “no surprise party” clause in party contracts. It started out innocently enough when the Mother of the bride wanted us to stage a sort of ‘hero saves princess’  scenario for the bride and groom-with the couple’s full permission. Fenix typed up a script, it had an equally opportunity scenario for the groom and all the sword fighting would be done within our group. In fact, we had some fairly funny adult humor built into the fights and our players did such a good job that those who couldn’t do the job were sorry about it. We were double-booked for the day  and our most easy-going, funny players were doing the coed bridal shower while the rest of us did a festival.  After all, expectations were set and it was a happy occasion!

We had a signed contract, the Mom holding the party had made sure our folks would be fed, could stay for the party and she loved the skits. It was all good.
(Cue unsettling music)
So our “bad guy” (who is a giant marshmallow and a sweetheart)  “stole” the bride to another part of the party and our “crazed substitute” bride  (for you movie fans think either ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’ or ‘Black Swan’)  the guest have a rollicking good time until it’s time for the rescue. Sadly, at this point it’s clear that 1) the groom cannot tell reality from fantasy 2) the Mother of the bride has set this up to show her daughter that her beloved is a possessive jerk with ISSUES  3) we have danced into this public mess and are now part of the drama playing out publicly.

Our members had their hands full keeping the groom from grabbing a sword and doing what he wanted. And then, when the ‘bad guy’ was brought to justice by our players, the groom had to be manhandled off our member and reminded that we are just actors paid to be here and he needed to cool his cajones.  Only an application of a strong arm seemed to get through. Needless to say, no one seemed to find this part humorous.

And nobody wanted to stay for dessert (imagine)…..and we received a better tip, but NOT WORTH IT.

So can you learn from our mistakes? Absolutely, contracts, listening to your gut and having other options are great. However, if you were starting out like we were you really can’t afford to turn down too many jobs. We’ve had some great private parties (and those are a few blogs forward) that were very lucrative. But being in a unfamiliar situation where you are at the mercy of an employer’s circumstances can turn quickly so be sure that you have good team mates, that you have it in writing, and have an escape plan!

 

 

 

turtle-in-shellI know that you really enjoy watching (insert “Being There” joke)  the acts at the faire but yes, you as a shy person or as an introvert (a person who needs alone time to recharge) or even a shy extrovert (A person who needs a social script but once that’s set there is no stopping you)  or and outgoing introvertmany of the people you see onstage are *just like you* the majority really are extroverts (that’s why they were drawn to this. )But like any slice of life, it’s not generally made up of just one type of person. With the success of books like “Quiet” it’s important to note that it’s not just the arm-flinging hams that have something to contribute to entertainment. And not just behind the scenes.

What an introvert does:
Because going into a situation is like a social obstacle course, most introverts are actually pretty good at reading people and they can especially do a low-key approach to personal interactions. Although a lot of folks are very good at being the center of attention, sometimes they can be overwhelming.  The introvert knows to bait the trap with an interesting hook, look or object that invites participation. This also lets the invited person set the pace of how much or little this scene will play out interactively. Although the extrovert gives permission to be  loud, the introvert knows how to target the more reticent audience member.

We listen to everything. And although the extrovert is funny, the introvert has been tweaking the joke for weeks and observing crowd reactions. The introvert saw the lady in row three wincing and the Bubba in row five cracking his knuckles. We are the ones who pull aside a main player and say.
“Dude, you need to stop doing ‘x’ it’s really getting to people.”
Sometimes that is the reaction you want, most times, even if it played well in Peoria, maybe not so much in Nantucket. (And that limerick is RIGHT OUT)

We make excellent “straight men” and “fall guys” because we don’t need the spotlight (usually)  We are happy to be the brunt of a joke or do non-speaking parts. We had an excellent introvert that told us
“Look I can never go on stage again, it was too much.” And we were all sad to hear it because he stole the show with gestures and mugging.  I think our hams were somewhat relieved. My super-secret power is being able to hit the dirt and sound like a sack of wet mice. And to “take a kick.” Sadly, we can’t do that any more because it’s too convincing. When you have to hold back a crowd after a stage fight, that fourth wall crashes in an unpleasant way. Now our fights have to be “less graphic.” Thanks pseudo-chivalry inspired by faires!

Often we are the more eloquent speakers-not because we are in any way better than an extrovert, but because we show our distain in a different way. Most extroverts are firecrackers-BOOM! Then it’s all over and they feel better. Sadly, a lot of damage can be done in very few seconds. Introverts (and well-trained extroverts) are accustomed to taking that extra few seconds to speak. Delaying the exact words “YOU ARE A DUMBASS”  and saying something a little less pointed can save jobs, lives and working. We  are the folks who are genuinely happy to have the show over. We don’t mind jobs like: watch my stuff, stay here and act as a point person, or be the unexpected quiet person that pops up unexpectedly at the sword rack when grabby hands think no one is around.  And generally we don’t have to tell everyone else what a rough day it was, because we assume everyone involved in it already knows.

So although we don’t get the loud accolades, knowing that it all went smoothly, that we had our moment onstage and people really enjoyed themselves, this is how we get our moments at the renfaire. And how we help the “hams” get theirs.

BeakerHands

Guest blog by Fenix

There was a time about a dozen years ago where I thought we had killed an audience member.  The bad news is, he did die.  The good news, for us anyhow, was we didn’t kill him.

We had been hired to perform and entertain at the annual business meeting of an agricultural group.  Back in the early 2000’s we were very popular with that group and did a lot of shows for them.

We were doing sword fight demonstrations and there were about 20 or so people watching the show.

We had been specifically introduced to Howard.  He was their oldest member who was in his late 80’s and mostly blind.  He was very excited to have sword fighting done in their meeting hall and had his wheel chair pushed right up to the edge of our safety area.

My wife and I were doing our performance fight.  We’ve been doing it for years and can go fairly quick with it. (Still true now…)  There is one part where there is a series of high and low blows as we move around some.

The following all happened in a matter of a second or two.  But, it seemed much longer at the time.

As we went through it, I struck high and my wife blocked.  I struck low  and my wife blocked.  I struck high and my wife’s sword wasn’t there.  Her hand and the hilt were, but the blade was no longer attached to the hilt.

I had no problem stopping before hitting her, but looked to see where her blade was.

I saw it off to my right, slowly (to me) flipping end over end through the air, right towards Howard to the side of our area.

The rotating of the blade as it flew through the air worked out wonderfully.  The point dipped down in front of Howard and the body of the blade rotated over his head.

It did not touch him as it passed over and slammed into the wall behind him with a loud thud.

Time resumed its normal flow at that point.

All of the people in the room realized what had happened and EVERYONE rushed over to Howard.

“Howard, did it hit you?!?!?” people shouted.

“Did what hit me?!?!?” he shouted back.

“Are you OK?!?!?”

“What’s going on!?!?  I know something happened, but not what!”

The situation was explained to him and he calmed down.

We resumed our show, maybe going a bit less fast.

To our surprise they hired us again the next year.

When we showed up the woman who organized the event came up to me.

“You have insurance, right?” she asked.

“Yes.  I can show you the information if you need.”

“Because last year one of your swords broke.”

“I remember it quite well.”

“And, you almost hit Howard.”

“Yes, I know.”

“And, he died.”

Welcome back to the world of slow motion.

My first thought was “What will I tell the insurance company?”

Then, I replayed the events of the year before.  I could still see the blade spinning through the air towards Howard in my mind.  I could still remember him sitting there at ease because  he didn’t know it was coming.

I knew it didn’t hit him.  I knew he had been OK after it passed over him.  I knew he had sat there for the rest of the show and asked questions afterwards.  I knew we had let him hold a sword and see how it felt because he couldn’t see them.

I knew he had been OK.

“Howard died?” I asked as time once more resumed its normal flow.

“Oh yes, two weeks ago.  He was so looking forward to being at another one of your shows too.”

“That’s so sad,” I said to her.  Inside I was saying “IT WASN’T US THAT KILLED HIM!  YAYYYYYYYY!”

After the show the organizer came up to my wife and told her what a sensitive man I was.

“When I told him of Howard’s death, I could see it really moved him.”

“Oh yes, it did,” my wife honestly replied.
After 308 shows in 13 years, that is the closest we’ve come to hurting an audience member.  May that always be true!

eelslap

As I mentioned in the last blog entry, for reasons not clear to me, people will go to the sword fighters before the EMTs. (Yes, I put my foot down and will *escort* certain people) And it’s true we do get injured but not for the reasons you think we do.

I’ve had performers be taken out of the roster by cardboard boxes(two in fact, one with blood poisoning, one with a concussion) but as that wasn’t directly related to a performance, I’m going to try to stick to the ones that happened at/because of a show.

Twisted Ankle; this one has happened so many ways that I’ve stopped counting
1) Stepping out of a van to unpack for a show
2) Getting caught in a gopher hole in a field
3) Running to a performance (We have an unspoken rule that goes under “be professional” that covers this. So when people run, they get glares)

Deep cuts from
1) the crosspiece (not the blade) that required a stitch
2) fence posts
3) Using a pocket knife while cutting rope (we now use either the whole rope or bungees.)

Burns
1) baking cookies for crew,  burned hands,  so had to call out of a show
2) This one gets its own paragraph.

At a show where we were exclusively doing fire, our most popular fire eater walked up and said
“Ithnant do the thow Ibumm ma mouf”
Yeah, I didn’t understand either so with some pantomime and charades I figured out that she had burned her mouth and couldn’t do the show. It stumped me-I hadn’t seen her practicing and she had a cast iron mouth with no gag reflex. I had to ask how she’d burned her mouth. How, you ask? On a perogi. Not a torch with white gas, a perogi. And it had been hot enough to damage her lips and mouth  so she couldn’t do the show. (At least not that night)

And then there are head injuries
When using swords, we are *very* careful about these because first of all your brain is in there! And then head injuries bleed like Niagara Falls.
1) Doing a recovery roll into a truck ramp (Ta-Da!)
2) Stepping into a tree
3) Hitting self with own hilt

Anyone who tells you they have never had a ridiculous injury must be wearing a bubble-wrap suit. I’m not saying that if you have a red marker on your personal insurance as “hazard” that is a good thing, I’m just saying every show that you do takes you another percentage to doing the unexpected. And all the safety training in the world will not survive contact with Murphy’s Law. It will only help your percentages. And this is a great way to bond with other performers and to help people sort of unthaw around you if they are intimidated. My partner, always the silver lining guy, will grin and say
“Sympathy tips!”

And if you enjoyed the image above-eelslap.com

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 50 other followers