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Currently  our troupe is taking a summer hiatus –some are spending family time, some going away, some of us are doing all of the above and working on some historical research. So we are not doing as many events as in years past, thus, not pulling in large amounts of money! So when you run a business that is NOTORIOUS  for underpayment and appreciation it’s best to go in with clear expectations of how one defines success.

Our Charter has only slightly changed in fourteen years. Note that the first line does not say “get every penny we can” or “do Vegas” or “We should sell stuff.” We often joke that the troupe is our ‘boat’ or ‘kid in boarding school’ we do our absolute best to make the costs even but there are unforeseen circumstances  and it’s good to be willing and able to take that financial hit if that happens. So no, getting huge wealth rewards is not listed here.

So taking a look at the first line in our charter
Phoenix Swords is an organization created and maintained for the purpose of performing acts of entertainment and historical recreation.

We are an organization-a collection of people. We are only as good as the talent we attract and cultivate. We can’t operate in a static state and it’s important that the people who are part of us are invested and enthusiastic. And because we are an organization the good and bad are reflected back at us. That our drama quotient is pretty much nonexistent in our team is a pretty good start! We need to have a standard operating procedure and a vibrant human presence.

..created and maintained for the purpose of entertainment
This is why we are not in the SCA, doing  highly specific reenactments. We are informed about our material but we  make jokes about Robin Hood and connections to modern events. (Some folks call that  less than expected, we call it making a connection) We  invest in clothing that can be cleaned easily and gives lots of movement. In many cases we have kit that is made of modern materials for fire safety, rough handling and frankly-gaudy! Our job is get out there, get the crowds attention, keep them invested and then-Bam! The show is over.

… and historical recreation
This one informs our research and material development. We have a joke in our historical show
“Is this the way they did it? No! They used to kill and maim one another, so we’ll be recreating those techniques so that we can do our additional shows today!” 
Bringing actual techniques to the public gives us a great deal of pleasure. It’s fun to cite sources!  We’ve had people call us out at shows and my husband lugs the translations and manual facsimiles so that folks can see that No, we *aren’t making it up as we go along.

And our unwritten agenda-Nostalgia Generators-we do this so people have a good time. If anyone walks away from our shows who had fun, learned something or just thought “that’s cool” for a few minutes we have absolutely done our job. And if we succeed with all of the above-Success!

And I never fail to go back to this well
http://jamesclear.com/ira-glass-failure

 

But at least we didn’t break any glass at the glass museum!

scrub

Many performers have what we call “theme weekends.” It’s not the fun ones that faires have, like “Steampunk” or “Star Wars Invasion.” Nope they are things like “Guess I’ll go off my meds without warning!” or “Hey, we never knew he was sociopath but here’s proof!” Our theme this weekend was “Broken Things”

We decided to leave early to beat traffic and broke our first thing-the longest trip to Southern NJ we have ever taken. A 5-hour trip took 8.5 and every traffic app we own said “Are you New York? Sucks to be you!”  Thanks technology, glad you were able to show us our choices in multiple formats and colors.

But we reached our intended event location, unpacked and while getting into bed received a text from one of our members (paraphrased)
“Hey, just wanted to let you know I have broken a finger on my right hand”

I would like to say that my first response was “OMG are you okay?” But I am one of those bastard troupe leaders and my first questions were more Law and Order than Florence Nightingale. Followed then by “I’m so sorry. We’ll work something out in the morning.” Both my husband and the members husband said they understood I was in shock since we were running short of staff and this was quite the show-stopper when you run a sword-fighting troupe.  But the good news was that our member is a trooper so we ditched the complicated choreography and she decided to go on left-handed.

Next, we decided to set up the tent. So I popped open the canvas bag and nearly upchucked my non-breakfast. A mouse had decide to do its strychnine-laced death dance inside our tent bag, leaving stinky decomposition, body imprints and semi-poisoned yellow stains like polka-dots across our shelter.  It was potent enough that when I pulled the first piece of canvas the rest of the troupe began sympathetic retching.

Me, the one with the best sense of smell, but used to bad odors (thanks to a former job at a natural history museum) and the member with the worst sense of smell pulled the sides out of immediate vicinity. So we had no tent for the weekend and fortunately did have real estate for scrubbing and airing.  But we had to keep our fingers crossed that the wind kept a certain direction during performance. (see scrubbing picture above)

So out we went with impromptu dialogue and fight bits and during our first stage performance with the main cast, my sword broke. My partner told me
“Hey I broke your sword!” which was completely in character and so I finished the set pommel-less. (Yay, not the blade! See a previous entry for THAT story)

And then, in our Historical show, while doing a high-arc halberd maneuver the haft of the pollarm cracked. Luckily, it was well-anchored at each side so while it sounded spectacular, it stayed in place and we finished with another weapon. I was fairly sad since I’d been so excited to do the poll arms part of the demonstration.

But Mr. Murphy and his law were not finished with us. While waiting to go on, another performer sat in a chair it pretty much dissolved under him.  It was ungainly, but fortunately no one was hurt.

It wasn’t all breakage and tears-we  ran into a former member who now lives in PA, gave our God daughter her first sword and she was able to perform with us and had FANTASTIC weather and a really good time.

Martyrdom-of-Saint-Hippolytus

I’ve been doing this blog for a number of years,  and  have yet to talk about the experience of organizing a renaissance faire. I’ve done three.  Every single one has made me cry. All in different, terrible ways. I open with this because making this only one blog entry is impossible so I’ll isolate some general things in this one, rather than take on those additional entries.

Organizing a faire has three major costs, financial, emotional and social.  At the end of it you will be bleeding from a thousand cuts and if you wonder why so many successful faire organizers are rampaging arseholes (they don’t have to be, mind you) it may be  that you need to grow a thick skin and be willing to cut babies in half (aka King Solomon)

First, read this: So you want to start a renfaire:
Have you finished? No really, go back and read it.

So let’s say you have hit this checklist and still think it’s worthwhile. Great, now watch this video (skip in 30 seconds)
http://www.metacafe.com/watch/an-6sxl27Ytmhbbbu/the_producers_2005_empty_safe/

I have violated this so many  times because I am a perfectionist. And as a performer, I made sure all my performers were paid in advance. And all my bills as well. Many organizers rely on their vendor fees to support the cost of the faire. This is a big gamble and doesn’t always pay off. It might go great the first year but if vendors don’t get a financial return, they don’t physically return. And if you are in a fire/show/event rich area like we are, you are competing to get the interesting sellers.

You can put on a good small faire for about 2-3 thousand dollars (not including site) and *a lot* of volunteer help. And no matter how much you budget-it won’t be enough.  Having sponsors is great but you may be making a deal with the Devil as well. I’ve seen some pretty scary “partner interactions, some people do believe that paying sufficient amounts of money means they’ve bought you, body and soul. It’s a tough thing to have giants signs for a business in the middle of your medieval town. It’s your call.

Emotional. Yeah. If you have a good support network that is a great thing. Running a renfaire is a lot like getting married, it’s a big commitment, it’s expensive, it has a lot of moving parts and it produces Bridezillas. Oh, and  so many unexpected, rampaging drama llamas. My husband told me that he could spot me  across fields 1) by the timbre of my voice 2) the rocketing projectile of the top of my head soaring through the air.

I am sure I made terrible remarks about unborn children and peoples naughty bits. My only defense is that it was in response to some fairly WTF things. Like vendor coordinators quitting within three weeks of a faire after finding out they hadn’t sent out any vendor contracts or a person who was going to help me advertise simply vanishing.*poof* So not only was I putting out fires, I was getting into hazard gear and putting out different kinds of metaphorical  fires. And you will be a terrible friend, and faires have cost me friends. Nothing like a giant mess with you at the top of the pyramid . And the best-run faires generally aren’t democracies. As that perfectionist,  I was a rampaging beoch who was willing to take the hit, so the folks helping me could run interference and have a stick to brandish. The flip side is that I judge faires, and I judge them to a high standard. I will forgive a lot if they have accessibility,  potties, places to sit, people to help and lots of  food.

Emotionally I found running a faire to be like having a an alien baby-extreme pain, emotional anguish and then it was born with a full set of teeth and chewed its way out anyway.

Socially-running a faire killed my social life. It turned all my friends into potential assets, people who disagreed into obstacles. And people will fight you about some of the most unbelievable things-

  • No, you can’t park in the swampy field, you will not get out
  • No,  I have spent my budget for performers and I don’t feel that your steampunk/neongypsy/cowboy/ cousin is a good fit anyway
  • No, I am not changing the lot assignment the night before for YOUR sense of aesthetics

It’s a shame the song “no” wasn’t around when I did faire organizing because I would just put these lyrics on a quickly-triggered MP3 on my phone to play on repeat
My name is no, my sign is no, my number is no
You need to let it go, you need to let it go

Were there pros?
Yes there were.

For the third one, I put on the faire I always thought I could with the great people at Ye Olde Commons. We had nothing but positive feedback except for some accessibility issues.  My troupe did a fantastic job – huge shout-out to Monica and Valkyrie for going above and beyond. And I owe so much to my husband who came in and helped me deal with a butt-load of unexpected problems, he was my hero. And all the troupe members who uncomplainingly took on extra and kept me sane.

Some things I had that at all of the faires that I am proud of
Excellent Acts, who, to this day still are friends and we had some very fun after hours times as well as fun in daylight with the patrons. Also, some acts that will never be seen again, ever and are diamonds in a chain of many lives.
I treated the vendors very well-many were disappointed I couldn’t do it again.
I got to mix some stuff together which was a tasty fusion delight and patrons will never know how by-the-seat-of-our-pants it was until it came together beautifully.
Larger faires trying to poach my acts-not realizing that many of these people did it as a personal favor.

But I don’t think I can do it again. I’ve done it on a smaller scale as an anniversary party  and my friends and family had a blast. (And in fact, people are on me to get the next one organized) My hat is off to those who organize faires but I much prefer being a performer.

And on that note: you cannot perform AND run a faire effectively. Just. Don’t. You will do both-poorly. It’s too much crazy in one bottle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There are/will be plenty of circumstances in which you just can’t express your true feelings at the faire and you will have to smile, make nice and be grateful that time is a linear river and even if you are currently  at a bad bend, gliding past the brown, finless trout  in the creek, that it will be over soon. Here are some times we’ve had to pucker up and kiss that porcine.

From my partner on being polite:
There are shows, organizers and other acts that I just won’t work with. As far as I know, they won’t work with me either. But, that usually isn’t a problem. However, I do not blame the folks who work for the people with whom I am angry. And, that leads to some interesting conversations.

While we were doing our show Sunday a member of one of those groups  came up to us. He told us that he thought what we were doing was very cool and he thought we should perform at the same faires his group was doing. He mentioned one faire that is on my “hell must freeze over, crumble to dust and blow away first” list.
“Sorry, we’ve got something that conflicts with that,” I told him.
“That’s too bad!” he said. “They’re really short on acts this year and could really use you.”
“That’s too bad. But, I’ll be in Chicago.”
Then, asked about another one that is just on my “if they pay full price, sure” list.
“Doing a show in New Jersey then,” I told him.
Then he asked about the show that refused to pay us two years ago and hired someone else last year.
Told him we were busy then too.
He assured me my group would be missed and then moved along home.
“You were very polite to him,” my wife said.
It’s not his fault. He probably doesn’t even know what they said about us”

————–

We’ve had people who, despite what we interpreted as a DIRE difference of opinion, call us to work for them again. (which always makes one of my eyebrows shoot into my hairline) but if they want to hire us again, that’s fine. We just lever what we colloquially call “The @$$hole Tax” and although we’ve had people express surprise at this, they will generally accept this. We think this is because we are pretty good-natured and if you manage to annoy us, you’ve probably REALLY annoyed other acts who are not as mercenary as we are. We’ve had paycheck standoffs and with one organizer it seems that was the key to respect. Others wouldn’t work for him but we did because  1) we always had a contract 2) wouldn’t back down 3) he paid us on time, every time.

——————

Someday I’ll talk more in-depth about what I consider the worst performance job ever (and members vary on what that was) But in a short story-the person who hired us, lied to us about show duration and to her boss about how long we’d perform. Another person tried to block our paycheck and actively get us fired on-site. Finally, they left us to perform all day, on a soccer field with no shade and we should have been suspicious that they mentioned they hadn’t been able to hire three more local troupes. There were other factors but that is the only job where we had to actively keep troupe members from committing assault and when my husband and I sat down in the car, closed the doors and simultaneously said “F*ckers”

First, deep breath. Better coming in than going out.
1) is anyone hurt physically? Okay then you won’t have to file charges and deal with that can of worms.
2) Are there apologies to be made? If by  you, make them. If by them, chances are you will never get one. But you are definitely not going to be able to force that. If you can’t choke that down-walk away and do a “tag” with another troupe member.  I am very grateful for the number of times that we have been able to do this for one another. You know it’s past that when we kick a third person up to grab the paycheck and chat. Our excuse is usually “herding cats and packing up.”
3) Is it over and you can go home? Savor this moment. You may have been hostage to someone else’s whims for a time for a check but that time is over.  It’s an important boundary to have. As I’ve said to troupe members after a long-distance trip
“I love you guys, but I don’t want to see you for a week.” And it’s key to disengage and give yourself time to absorb the experience.

Sometimes these bad experiences continue long past where polite society would recommend they be SHUT DOWN.  Although you don’t have control over crazy circumstance you can control how you respond to these things. And I highly recommend that you envision pulling that stick out, twisting to a sharp, red point and applying that to whatever piggy has just dragged you through the mucking and smile. Because it kills them when you smile, and you get to both walk away away, much improved.

Last night we rushed home, crammed in supper and headed off to the Worcester Art Museum to see talk by Doctor Jeffrey Forgeng.  We hadn’t seen him in some time but it was nice to get a hug. (I’m not name-dropping, I’m just expressing surprise!) In fact, it was a bit like old home week for the (now defunct) Higgins Armory sword/study guild and we tried to catch up a bit with some of the other folks who arrived to hear/see about this beauty and the Meyer Fightbook (The Art of Combat (Die Kunst des Fechtens).

longsword

First Jeffrey talked about his own journey from studying medieval practices to swordplay to historical swordplay. He featured some of his works and translations and discussed his sources.

jeffrey

And we only had the opportunity to see the book as a slide (it will be displayed later-http://www.worcesterart.org/exhibitions/jeppson-idealab-art-of-combat/)But Curator Bill McMillan brought around the longsword so we could ooh and ahh over it. It’s in superb shape.

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And then Kendra and Mark from CHEMAS (Cambridge Historical European Martial Arts Studies Group) demonstrated some longsword and dussack technique.

sword_03

Post-talk I toddled over to look at Mark’s new dussacken and hold them.  My partner cornered Jeffrey with questions. And Andy confirmed that the cover of the treatise (it’s been rebound) was from a recycled manuscript of/about Boethius

From there off to a reception where we chatted for a bit (some of us looking up reference material)

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And we popped in to enjoy  The Last Judgement Tapestry and confirmed that Justice wasn’t having with all that sin nonsense at the point of a longsword.

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But if you get a chance when it opens , be sure to pop in and see both the longsword and the treatise.

 

 

 

 

bearbutt

There is, of course the traditional kind that is from Loki and after hours gambols, but this isn’t that sort. The type I’m talking about is this kind; standing in the living room, surrounded by dirty clothing and leather articles, you feel like you were just booted out of Narnia and are still holding a handful of dry leaves as the only proof you were ever there.

I often feel this way after the Gulf Coast Renaissance Faire. It’s sizeable and the purists may poo-poo it but I love it because it’s inclusive and unpretentious. It is “Y’all want to have a good time?!” sort of rolled into a sandwich and swallowed whole. This faire welcomes Zorros, Samurai,Cosplayers, gamers, furries, pet enthusiasts, lost country faire goers, your Uncle Fred and anyone who has put on a coin belt with a pirate hat or velvet tights with a tee shirt. You can buy mead to go with your fried pork rinds and we always see the aluminum siding guy-usually near the girls scout cookies, camel rides, climbing wall and bouncy castle. The owner did it as a gateway faire of sorts, bringing the magic to people had never been to one before.

This faire had a warm welcome for Phoenix Swords even before our full  inception. They were the first large faire to invite us to perform, they have had us as an act since the beginning, and we are the folks that organizer, Steve, says

“Just do what you do and we know you’ll keep them entertained.” So yes, we’ve done hour and a half sets when other acts bailed, we have performed for the last five people at the faire,  and we’ve had folks break that fourth wall and give whip and devilstick lessons to the patrons. We work the gate, we work the lanes, and this last time, my husband was actually escorting people with electronic tickets to the gate!  But we do this for love and because faire does well-we do well.

And coming down year after year means we have relationships –with people who are staff, who volunteer and are regular patrons!  We had one family who told us
“Come stay at our place before the faire!” Which is generous but no one wants a house that smells like over a dozen performers. (As it is, we tip housekeeping staff generously at the hotel, because who wants hay on the carpet?)

I’m not saying that our faire lives don’t inform our day jobs and cross back again. But they are two different workplaces that are VASTLY different. It’s a tough thing to have people tell you how happy they are to see you, offer you booze, clap for you, sing with you under the stars, offer up their secret dreams and then…go home to shuffling papers, writing email  and generally have to keep how much you use swords or fire under wraps, lest you upset the apple cart.

For me, being free of social media, the phone, housework and all things attention-demanding is a terrific vacation. I might put something on the Phoenix facebook  to pique interest but then, done. And at the faire you are a mythical creature. As my  friend Amy has said, when you put on the uniform, you ARE the job. When I pop on my @$$ kicking boots and kit, I’m out to do THE THING-which is be friendly,  make connections, inform, and before all else, entertain! It requires high energy levels because you have to give out to get back! And it’s fun to be a stealth performer, you know, just  quietly make your way out on stage and then BLAM the volume knob goes up to 11 and you are blasting into the crowd with unseen energy. I’m reasonably good at it and can walk through a crowd with a handful of swords or a pollarm and no one looks up from their corndog.  But I have to be careful stuffing that genie back into the bottle because when I’m tired, my “filters” are thin and frail.
EX: In costume at rest area, woman obstructs bathroom:
ME: Stare if you want but if you don’t move, I’m peeing on your shoes!

And let’s face it, if your title was “Queen of all you survey” or “favorite jester” or Naughtiest bandit” those are some big boots to put away and not take out again for a while. I’m not telling people to live in a small way out of costume or character. It’s not bad it’s just different. If you didn’t have a little royalty, bandit or clown in you, there would be no wellspring for that performance. But it’s definitely a superlative that we set out on stage, freak flag unfurled for the masses and waving free-very empowering. Sort of our terrifying, naked, vulnerable selves.

So when I am feeling sad while I shake out some underthings and red clay comes filtering out, or shake a boot and a stone that traveled 1300 miles with me rolls onto the carpet. Sure I’m a little sad and it will be a while before I’ve wrestled  a bit back into my “faire mouth.” But it’s a hangover I wouldn’t give up and although it’s a bit painful, it’s an addiction I can live with and enriches.

 

Bonus: While looking for suitable images, I came upon this term Faire l’andouille and now you’ve learned something new.

 

 

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I’m one of those folks who gets ideas. Unfortunately I am not a crafty, handy or sporty person so unless there is an outlay of money, it just won’t happen.

For years we had lived with pop-ups and although I couldn’t fault the price, the ease of setup or the packing, I hated, hated, hated how it looked.

At one job, we had just finished setting up the tent and as I was putting car away, winds from the Gulf Coast picked up our last popup, smashed it against a building several times and functionally rubbed its pneumatic  backside in our collective faces.

It did, of course, rain that weekend and one member had a bit of hypothermia (solved) But from that moment there was a certain determination to have it NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN.

So I chatted with a tent-maker from Mobile, Al and he almost always had a tent of his design at these events and had made tents for the Gulf Wars participants. Plus, his were rated for hurricane winds. Sure we could have bought yet another popup but my mind was made up.  I took some savings, picked some colors, did a payment schedule and planned to pick it up at the next southern festival.

When it arrived it was great.  We put it up with four of us and it looked amazing. And then he and his wife left with the containers it had come in.  Now I did have a moment of  “Hey, you’d think for this price…” But hated the totes, and we needed something collapsible.

One quick trip to Wally-world and Savers later, two golf bags and a canvas carry-all plus the bungeed center pole and we had a tent that was 1) professional-looking 2) could withstand high winds 3) was a great place to store our stuff.

360 view of the tent from the inside (before loading with stuff)
http://360.io/nRjZnG

In fact, at that first faire, we saw two EZ-ups give their lives and try to eat some fire performers. They were like two scary, sharp-edged tumbleweeds of death. All that people could do was clear the way and wait for them to land. Unsurprisingly, the same building that was the end of ours was the final resting place of these.

So now to sing the praises of the tent

It CAN be put up with two people but it’s ugly and time consuming. With four it’s pretty fast and with six it’s a pretty easy, especially if at least two are veterans at it.

People come by JUST to look at it. Some people poo-poo it’s “authenticity” but I point out it’s nearly identical to the ones that the BBC and Royal Armouries use for themselves. (But carefully avoid that perhaps ours is a bit more showy with flaming sword scallops) In fact, we received one job on the basis of the tent. (QUOTE: You have to bring your sword to our event! Oh and you do a show too?) And some people are content to just come and take a peek at it-and it’s a good opportunity to chat.

It’s a green room when many events don’t provide one.  I do feel a little guilty when our troupe members have a place to hide away out of the weather or just patrons. But then I remember the evil Gulf Coast wind and I make my peace.  Since we have a lot of valuable props (swords especially) it’s good to have a place to tuck them out of sight.  We do our best to never leave it unattended and some members have slept in it overnight.

tent_interior

It’s just a nice place to be.  I have a lot of pictures of the inside of the tent-usually I do panoramas so the viewer can “be in” the tent with us. We carry three suitable chairs and a fuzzy throw, as well as a number of tapestries. I’d have lanterns and rugs but my partner and husband growls a bit at all the “stuff” and sometimes we sacrifice if we need to carpool with more people.

Sometimes we help make the magic. I feel with the tent, that a lot of folks have a visual cue that “Hey, I’m going to festival!” I’m thrilled when faires use us in their publicity material and we had someone run up and say
“That’s the tent from the website!”
I’d really rather it was from our awesome shows, but I’ll take it. I suspect that one faire uses us as a “Hey this is the demarcation that this is it where the faire begins and the parking ends!” And we are MUCH bigger than a traffic cone.

But I love our tent, and on a rainy, windy day it’s a big canvas hug that tells us we’re worth that much excess,  that much finery.