lian

With spring coming (eventually) I look forward to swinging  around swords and fire without so much hazard and clothing. But winter does lend itself to sitting down, reading manuals and doing some interpretation and scholarship. This generally leads to some peer review, some plays from history and if we’re lucky, a shared class and a new demonstration for the historical show.
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V_fire_14

One of the first experiences I had at a faire nearly put me off them completely. But I’m a born mistake maker-you know the person who has to do it twice to make sure of it. And in many cases that has saved me from making a hasty decision I may have regretted. Last entry I talked about non-renfaire entertainments with a “medieval” flavor. They are varied and wide just as being in a renaissance faire can be a buffet of what we take in for ourselves. So it really torques me when people explain how it is that I am expected to enjoy and or participate in a renaissance faire. It really goes right up my proverbial…nose.

Going as a patron-anything goes because one PAID  TO BE THERE.

When you are part of the ambiance,  having fun is not the number one priority-it can be a high one but you are paid to do a job (even if it is comp tickets) So I have been thinking about the experiences that I  personally enjoy.

I am a strange person who enjoys the setup as much as the show-fortunately we have others like that as well. Our group basically travels like a field trip-they get dressed, pack a lunch and expect a tour guide with written directions. If that’s what you want, that’s what you get- it leaves more head space for a performance, but I can’t go on comfortably without lists, discussion and touching everything.

Doing a good job-when we engage and it goes well that really warms me up inside. It means weeks and years of hard work have dragged our sorry butts here and we have earned a laurel crown that we get to wear until the next show. And it’s an accomplishment, it looks easy to be an entertainer but especially here in the Northeast, there is a certain cynical element that one needs to cannon-blast through to reach the audience.  We have to tone some things down when we travel to other parts of the country (that’s another blog entry) but when you have built a show brick by brick and it stands, there is nothing like it.

Being in the moment.  It’s funny to see how different this is for each different performer. For me it’s getting on-site and sitting down after setting up the tent, the moment before I have to start practicing our first bit for the day. It is especially satisfying if I get to sit in my own chair, but barring that, sometimes it’s just sitting on the grass or a cloak and taking in everything around me. And then it is listening to how a sword sounds or getting a sense of the performance space.  A habit I have is “walking the plot” or getting a sense of how big the stage is, how weapons fall in a disarm, where there may be holes in the ground or red ants, or a loose rope stanchion. Knowing it helps work in or with it. The performance itself passes in a blur so I rely on cameras, friends or other performers to tell me how it went. I don’t have a lot of mental capacity onstage and so it’s my game face and the task at hand. And being in the space is part of the greater faire as well. My eyesight isn’t the best at distance and I can’t wear contacts  so I rely on some of these same things to procure water, find a bathroom or just chat with visitors to the faire. I have what we jokingly call “retail face”  because no matter where I go, people expect me to know where items live, the location of first aid and the bathrooms.

There is the bonding element that is important. My devoted percentage to this seems to be smaller than that of most people. I’m fairly binary-can I get through this with you or not?  Sometimes the answer is “just through the performance.”  This is something of a lifesaver because I don’t generally need the approval, desire to be liked or friendship of another performer, this allows me to work with the ‘tough cases.’   Often we’ll have that “bee in a bonnet” at a job and it’s my duty to close my fist around it and take the sting for the team. My partner does this as well, we tag-team often. When it’s positive I really enjoy it. I may not need it to be as salacious, raucous or epic as everyone else, but I still enjoy it. And I like hearing how it went from my fellow performers-the retelling is part of the experience as well.

Faire hangover-I think this a different experience for everyone. My “day job” is at a conservative workplace with high politeness standards and indoor voices. I enjoy it very much. But when the time comes for doing performance I have to turn up the decibels,  be more outgoing and put on my arse-kicking boots. (I fact have to do this at practice every weekend so *shrug*) But without the filters, profanity limiters and hijinks ensuing, it can be hard to squeeze that genie back into the box. Fortunately for me, one of the bigger shows falls at a time where I have some transition. When I don’t have that, I’ve seen the reaction by my other set of employees and it’s like getting a face full of megaphone. But the two worlds are very different experiences and sometimes it’s hard not to laugh when placed back-to-back to one another.  I feel blessed to have both available.

If you asked many other performers it’s another set of the quiet and loud moments in different amounts, like a recipe or a sound check-tweaked to your personal needs and outputs. It’s not one thing to all people. So while I tell faire participants to get their friends involved, I do so with this caution-let their experience be their own and compliment yours, not clone it.

blog_knight blogwench

We are a bit spoiled, we cater to renaissance faires and in that respect there is expectation built into how our audience receives us. BUT if you want to appeal to a wider audience sometimes sacrifices must be made in order to be nimble enough for mass consumption or you just have to be in such narrow band that you are a take-it-or-leave it kind of act. The first one that comes to mind is the Badpiper-he is a kilted guy who plays a flaming bagpipe. Is it Celtic? Is it musical busking? Is it flame performance? Yes it is all of the above and you can hire that for any event that comes to mind except for perhaps a paper and accelerants convention.

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hibernating

Generally in our troupe we take off some of December- this year all of December so we could do other things and everyone seems to have enjoyed the time off. But in addition to developing new historical sword demonstrations I also enjoyed a lot of media input thanks to Netflix and my digital TBR pile (as well as a physical one)

The series Monarchy
This was well-researched and some folk may find it a bit dry. But it was solid, had that dry British humor and some Historical tidbits we hadn’t heard before. I agree with some reviewers about it skewing away from some of the sexual issues and bawdy bits but I think anyone over 12 would be able to watch it as they skim over certain things with language parents will understand but you might have to explain later to the kids. (Note: also on Netflix)
Marco Polo on Netflix
Do not listen to Rotten Tomatoes, this is a fairly high-end epic series. If you remember some, like Shogun and others, this is *much* better and employs some terrific Chinese actors who deserve more screen time. Joan Chen has been a favorite for a long time and she and Benedict Wong pretty much make all the other actors superfluous every time they are on screen. Although the series revolves around Marco Polo, he is one of the least interesting characters. Sure we had some historical quibbles (Weren’t BOTH sides using cannon at this point in history? Wasn’t the Empress Dowager more politically active?…well you get the idea) But if you wanted to give someone a leaping off point to be interested in global culture this is a good start.
If you wanted to read something similar there is the Conqueror Series by Conn Iggulden, and LOTS of fiction thrown in to make the characters relatable. Some instances read similarly but the costume, culture and POV is pretty well-done. I can’t speak to how well the historical timeline runs and the author admits he leaves out some of the darker aspects to keep it somewhat enjoyable.
On youtube, can’t say enough nice things about Anglophenia on YouTube, head over there right now. Views and tidbits about British Culture and language. The accents episode is endearing.
The Art of Combat has been reissued via Amazon UK, sadly, not here in the US
And a shout-out to our friend Jessica Finley and her Medieval wrestling book. She founded the Great Plains Fechtschule, ran another academy in VA and is now starting a Historical European Martial Arts group in Canton, GA -if you are in that area-recommended.

I read and watched a lot more but it would only relate to what we do tangentally (history, swords, fire)

However I will leave you with a fun recommendation of this book: As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride which , if nothing else, absolutely hits home when they discuss that lovely swordfight that had to be extended last minute…

Hope you take a look at some of these, and as always, I’ll be uploading anything we find interesting to our Facebook page.

jousters1

For twelve years we have worked for a particular organizer and we have been with him through his financial and personal ups and downs. He’s been loyal to us as we have been loyal to him. This year he finally had the opportunity to use  his own property  and save the cost of renting a site. This had downsides-it was marketing a “new” faire and there was another in direct competition  that fared poorly head-to-head and they had not put in the dues of mistakes. In spite of all the altered event still pulled in respectable numbers and everyone had a good time.

I’ve run a number of faires, and if you have a stable staff-it mostly gets easier but it is never, ever, the same. But I do love working this type of event even with the quirks.

First the Pros
You know who is running the show, chances are you’ve even had a beer or two with person since they were actively courting you as an act. Large faires don’t bother and often the discard rates of acts is high with them. The organizers of small faires want the community to form a relationship and for locals to be invested. This means seeing the same acts , “neighbors” if you will, time and time again. And if it all hits the fan, you know the top of the food chain.

Intimate locations-this doesn’t have to mean “small” but it does mean you know your neighbors and you can work together if need be.  This is one of the first faires a complete stranger ever asked me to watch their booth. In other cases the vendors knew our group on sight and had a bit of a “I know where you live,” as backup.  And knowing one’s location  means flexibility of acts and stages. In our case there was a stage conflict so we just went with the flow and were able to work with another act to share a location. It was very informal, we all had face-to-face discussions and we happily left behind charged crowds for the next act. And with this location, it might be perfect for a scavenger hunt because the site was a maze of tents and new things to discover. Although large sites can have wide lanes and indoor amentities,  the small child in me loves getting lost in all the unexplored corners that  can’t be taken in at a glance.

Setting the tone,  traditional faires were the locals getting together and holiday are when your fellow villagers came out for Spring, made fools of themselves and everyone made memories. Having a site  that was not paved, with plenty of trees and having artisans working on-site without access to electricity was so wonderful.  And dogs were welcome and part of the event, since I like animals this was just more good news and added to the overall atmosphere. And the fest was not made up of only fresh young faces and I found that far more inclusive. Because of a heavy SCA presence,  plenty of period tents, armored people, and costumed participants, it said “festival” to me. There was much less of a fourth wall between the performers and patrons, we had a number of great conversations and heart-to-hearts that might not happen at a bigger and more formal event.

Fixing what needs to be fixed. I already mentioned the stage issue, but we  helped others erect a tent unexpectedly, sorted out our own site issues and did our best to make the lanes and directions as easy as possible for the patrons. We were empowered to make things seamless and we did what was needed in the moment-no bureaucracy. Anything that went askew was a learning experience,  and not blown into bigger proportions by a large staff playing telephone.

Cons:

Limited bodies-once issues pile up it becomes more of a firefight and less of a priority-setting list.

Less money coming in the gate

Heavy reliance on volunteer help (and sometimes not the best choices) This speaks to training, accountability, background checks and personalities.

Overall though, I LOVE small faires-mostly because contributing to the fest in such a direct way is a rush and a responsibility. Everyone has their own style and that shows up more plainly in a venue that is not competing with “more of the same” to attract big money. One of my biggest peeves at bigger faires is feeling as though they are all working from the same template: “Turkey legs-check! Women in corsets-check!  Some comedy act where the guy wears a jingly, horned jester hat-check!…” (you get the idea)

After being around a while it’s nice to have a choice of venues and especially to have favorites that are happy to have you year after year. And the  good, smaller faires are the masters of turning a business venture into a pleasure for everyone involved

conway

I am sure that plenty of people who work at renfaires are going to laugh about this-“That won’t be me.” Or “Oh Yeah, I feel that” or the hardest to laugh “You haven’t seen anything yet!”

I started late, in my thirties, and I feel that a lot of women are in the same boat-that we’ve survived most of what life has thrown at us, we don’t have much to prove and are generally stable in who we are and know our capabilities. That’s not untrue of plenty of men but I find that there is a bigger age gap in whom you find at the renfaires.

When I first started, I had no endurance, couldn’t make a fire if it didn’t involve briquettes and a grill and didn’t realize how much you should carry in a car to be *really* efficient. Not saying I have it licked, but my friend Jess was right on the mark when she said that you have “ a groove” when you hit a decade.

Then: I would wear expensive outfits and buy a lot of accessories.
Now: I have a good base wardrobe of inexpensive stuff with and overlay of carefully collected pieces that match. I have come to realize that a good pair of boots and your basic poet shirt can get you through many periods of time. There is a reason most folks start with this. And the base accessories are all necessities. The first time you take a tuck and roll with a cup on your belt-done with the fripperies!

Then: I would do the two days of the festival and be ready to rock and roll, having terrible “faire hangover” (a form of nostalgia) and just chuck the dirty clothes in a bag and get to them whenever.
Now: We start the day with Advil and caffeine, we rest quite a bit and let the younger people do the heavy lifting when available. When we get home we write down the important stuff, throw the laundry in while we have some comfort food and enjoy 21st century amenities. (We actually have something we call “Emergency clams” kept in the freezer for coming back home and tossing into the oven) We are better about getting online and following up with customers (it’s easier than back in the Cretaceous) Sometimes we build in a “sanity day” post faire to rest up and not fall into a week of chaos.

Then: Do ALL the things! Stay all the nights!
Now: pfft, right. You young people go to fire off at after-hours parties. Ain’t no party like a clean shower and delivered food party, in my hotel room. It has been noted by our subcontractors that this amenity is greatly appreciated!

Then: Hopping out of the car!
Now: Groan and slide out of car. Sigh and start unpacking immediately.

Then: Throw it in the car!
Now: Specialized bags and boxes. For long distance trips may make 2-3 runs at the packing.

Then: What did that person mean by saying that to me?
Now: Oh yeah, that douchebag. Did they bother you, too? HAHAHAHAHA! Where do you want to eat supper?
Then: Maybe someone has a {blank} I can borrow?
Now: The leatherman is in the glovebox, the rest is in the med kit.

Nowadays I consider some of our best investments to be regular car service, AAA and having jumper cables in the car. I still remember my husband asking –
“Hey, was that (subcontractor) by the side of the road?” So we called and yes, indeed it had been them and so we banged a u-ey and pulled in behind. Within minutes we had snacks, had set up chairs, were playing cards and blowing bubbles by the side of the road. Renfaire people are a fun time and that never changes.

And although I don’t quite as excited going to the faires as in the past, in some ways it’s better. We have long-term friends, we can plan for (some) hazards, everyone knows the drill and we are the ones who chuckle and shake our heads at all goings-on. And the tent, that’s our own little sanctuary, we really appreciate it.

So yeah, there is arthritis, and fatigue and making lists but it’s still fun to be part of it all. And there is one thing that will be funny and just get moreso as I age. It’s someone in their early twenties coming up and telling me that 1) they have it all figured out and 2) they are too old for this stuff.

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.

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