Knife-Through-Head

When I received my first sword as a gift, I loved it but I am cursed with a singularly practical nature-I needed to be able to use it. I never regarded it as a toy although if someone wants to call it that for fun, I’m not going to judge them. I feel the way about swords that I was raised to feel about guns-don’t take/leave it out if you aren’t planning to use it, never point it at someone,  and don’t start anything because then you can’t take it back.

I did a chart of getting involved with swords (Here it is!) and I’m still tweaking it.

But here are my pet peeves.
Fantasy-Hey are you a pirate, samurai, chevalier  or barbarian? Awesome! I am so glad you decided to complete your outfit with a sword. It looks great in the sheath and thank you for sliding it carefully out so we can all admire it. Please be aware of where it is when you are *not* showing it to me. For instance if your rapier is sticking out of your belt and pointed straight back, say, toddler eye-poking height or beer-spilling height, or just plain annoying your fellow patrons at the crowded faire height. Or over your shoulder to complete a perfect Plank Gag with an edge! And let’s not forget, you aren’t actually a pirate, samurai, chevalier  or barbarian and bringing me into it without my compliance will not make me, my troupe, other patrons and your intended romantic audience very happy with you at all. Play along, sure, but if you whip out that weapon or waste my time being rude and belligerent I will do a fantasy re-creation for you-Make like a tree and leaf, then report you.

No, I will not duel you, we will not duel you, they will not duel you. I’m a big fat, sucking coward, yep. If you do this in the parking lot and surprise me while I am getting something from the car  I will not use my performance swords. You will get to meet my actual personality,  my friend Mr. Denty  and I will report you.

I am the Law (no you aren’t)  Folks think it’s a great story to intimidate people at a faire with swords, I have some very mixed feelings on it. If someone is in immediate need I fully see the reason for being menacing (And a friend has a story that makes me gasp every time I hear it) But that can open you up to so much liability and even the sword masters in European manuals have a section titled “Don’t fight the crazy guy.”  We were asked to “chase off some people harassing the festival” and my partner said
“No, that is not our job.”
Turns out, it was a group of patrons who came to the faire, demanded their money back,  warned off others and protested the faire-on public sidewalks. When the police arrived, these rebels were well within their rights (And it WAS a crappy faire)  We don’t get to just take swords to people we don’t agree with or like.  And who know what this could have led to such as…

An incident that happened in front of us where someone took a sword to an annoying teenage kid on an ATV. That was pretty bad but the rationalizations, the excuses and defense of it has never ceased to stun and horrify us. ‘Not your job’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. And if  I have to explain why this is bad I want you to go to a psychologist immediately, get yourself tested for sociopathy and do some serious self work. I have no idea what it is about refaires that engenders something like Jerusalem Syndrome  but check yourself, people.

Finally, I don’t want to read about you on the news. Turns out we did know that guy who pulled out a sword and was waving it around a politician’s fundraising office. Why? Because people who love swords and other offbeat things tend to wander in and out of one another’s social circles.  Life is hard enough for those who perform at renfaires without the yahoos whipping around a blade. (As one sword scholar likes to point out, “We are yahoos with swords and books!”) But if you are out there with your internet “Claymore, ” Please, please be smart about it. It’s an art, please treat it with reverence and respect, the blade, you and the people around you.

Folks, I have covered this in DRAMA. You are not the internet/renfaire police and we have police. Just send clues to the effected vendor or law enforement then back away.

We should not be doxxing people, creating a case of harassment, defamation or libel.

On some missing people who walked with a vendor’s garb

https://www.facebook.com/111456388883196/photos/a.1027735983921894.1073741835.111456388883196/1027734637255362/?type=1&theater

vikingvssamuraisized

You wanted my opinion on reenactment, here it is.
Sometimes when I read Facebook (mistake #1, I know) I see things that make me want to go live in a cave or just audio record truisms, strap people to a chair and put the player on “repeat.” I covered pretty extensively What Renfaires are and are not, so if you want to catch up, I’ll wait.
I recently saw a comment that said
“Renfaire performers give reenactors a bad name.”

that’s like saying “The Legends Football League makes The Patriots look bad.” Yes, it is both football, yes they both play hard but the end analysis is the audience and the outfits. Now some people might not mind seeing The Gronk in cute shorts (rule 34) and all that) but it’s not my job to make that happen, it’s my job to put on a good show.

I have biases, I *absolutely* have biases. There is one act I deeply resented for making a 60-second swordfight into a 25 minute show. And that to prep for our show, I generally had to sit through 15 minutes of it and bite my tongue. But you know what? They were another act paid to be there, they kept to their time slot, their fans were there to see them and even if it didn’t thrill me, it thrilled someone and I could be respectful of them. There are so many pieces of advice in life that boil down to “don’t be that guy.” But people clearly don’t get it.

We have reenactors in Phoenix Swords, we have LARPers, we have sword collectors, we have gamers and we have people with physical limitations-and everyone has something to give. But I focus on the reenactors for this blog. One of our guys to this day teases me that he would “never join a renfaire group” and makes mouth-breathing noises. He was at one point a full-time reenactor and he is paid to do presentations. Much as some faire stuff will go up my nose, the stories I hear from the other side of that fence make me blanch. And I have a considerable amount of reenactor friends. I am friends with them because they embody some of the following traits.

Education-this is their love. And since all of them have experienced public schools they know very well how history is made bland, tasteless and functionally useless without human context. They work every time to make sure that the people with whom they come in contact go home with some useful or enlightening piece of information. These people track down facts like sea lions eat fish-relentlessly. And they read and gather and if new facts come to light, they change accordingly. They understand where people start from and they try to connect. Some of them are fairly stern about costuming and first-person presentation but they do it with an uplift mentality-that is they will loan out kit (costuming) train people, work with them and bring them into it with help. Sometimes they forget and I am *delighted* to poke holes in that, which is why I think they put up with me. I’ve gone to some events and I enjoyed it quite a bit but owning a troupe is expensive outlay and I would disappoint any reenactment group I joined because I have other commitments and priorities. Although I have pinky-sworn with a number of friends that when I am retired, they have dibs.

Commitment-My reenactor friends are not dabblers. They make my five-tote, closet-full costume collection look like a tug boat next to the Queen Mary. They have developed skills to support their personas-outdoor cooking, raising tents and camps, building fires, using traditional weapons, authentic hand-stitched items with accurate materials and colors. Some of them are professionals in their art and they have sunk in, feet-first with no regrets. I honestly think most people could not live for periods so roughly and live half as well. They almost had me after feeding me fire-baked food all day. But that is commitment in storage, materials and the ability to haul these items. And it requires a level of physical ability to move that stuff along. Sad to say, I haven’t seen many wheelchairs at reenactor encampments . (That’s another blog post)

Graciousness-Some say this is a lost art in our modern society. That a veneer of civility has been planed off in an effort to make all things to all people. The people with whom I am friends carry this graciousness less as an article of clothing and more as a part of themselves. They have a kindness and genteel manner that carries through the ages effortlessly. Sometimes it can look a bit silly to some people but it always makes me smile. It’s the offer to share food, to make guests comfortable, to offer what they have and to be aware that people can be comrades without the need to walk around with hands in one another’s pockets. And often it is made most obvious when dealing with an uncouth visitor or patron. They are kind and informative and try to see past any unintended brusque behavior, honey rather than vinegar.

And then there are the others. Bad reenactors give reenactors a bad name.
The pissy, elitist or disrespectful yahoos with no respect for history, other people and basic social standards. Like any hobby it is often the loud, stupid ones who get the attention. (Ask any Metalhead or Cosplayer) I know these people too, and I am not friends with them. The people who use “history” to perpetuate shitty things. A friend who is deeply involved with Viking/Icelandic history was *appalled* with the number of white supremacists who tried to haul him aboard the hate train. Those who just want to use guns or cannons to be bullies or ‘the cool kid.’ Or people who start their own reenactment group to snare and oversee others in a misguided power play. And the Farb Squad people. I have no problem with wanting to be all that, but if you are making fun of others that’s not a productive use of your time-as a friend likes to say “Stitching, not Bitching” Being snarky is not improving your authenticity game, it just alerts others you are an arse. (And thanks for that  douchecanoe semaphore BTW)

And why this really went up my proverbial nose is that reenacting is not necessarily entertaining. This is something many reenactors forget-that just because YOU think it’s cool, others don’t. You are at an advantage at a reenactment event because people are there to see that. But if you are at a town celebration or a renaissance faire, you’d better get that groove on or you are just weird people talking funny about boring stuff. And then my friends, you have now strayed onto MY turf and we have spent years tinkering with how to hold a crowd or make connections. So if you decide to cast aspersions onto renfaire entertainers, please remember, we don’t (or shouldn’t) go to your events and take a crap on your welcome mat.

Now a sampling of sites and friends who reenact (not a complete listing!)
Wachusett Mountain Men 
(http://www.telegram.com/article/20080908/NEWS/809080342/1008/NEWS02)
Romantically Bent -clothier
Salem Zouaves
Guild of Saint Moritz
Saugus Iron Works
Andy Volpe
Normans of the Southern Sun
Musee de venoge

And you could google this but for the sake of completeness
http://www.reenactor.net/
https://www.facebook.com/groups/2209101458/

BikeMermaidL

We’ve had some fairly frustrating conversations with marketers and website consultants about “growing our business” and it’s fairly clear they have *no idea* what it really is we do as a troupe who does sword shows and fire shows. We’ve been around for 13 years as of September and although that’s probably 80% “sheer cussedness,”  we’ve always had a clear vision of who we are and what we want to do.

How do you define success? Well if we based it solely on money we’d have some larger economic issues. We knew when we started we did not want performing as a full-time job-we have personal and profession success elsewhere. But we do feel it is important to have money enough to support the endeavor and have found that most employers will often not respect the free act (which has its own hazards) and there are costs with maintaining insurance, practice space, storage space,  equipment and training. So getting the balance of money with job satisfaction and effort is an ever-changing juggling act.

All things to all people is not workable
If we had taken the advice of others we’d be the star-wars-pirate-steampunk-fantasy game sword fighting, fire juggling, acrobatics and vendor act. And yes, wouldn’t that be unwieldly? It’s not that we haven’t flirted, investigated or dabbled in other things-it’s just that it didn’t speak to the expertise we already had. We did peek a bit into Steampunk but the outlay in new materials, costuming and development would have cut into getting sword teachers, replacing equipment we already possessed and needed to replace/fix.  We have added and subtracted things over the years-puppet shows, kids skits, large-scale complex acts (Historical Deathmatch as an example.) And as for Star Wars-there are so many specialists now, that there’s no need for us to maintain that piece. What we will always keep is the historical sword research,  demonstrations and the comedy sword fights. And Fire show-even though there are fire specialty groups, we have a well-oiled machine, and it keeps a nice balance and break from just swords.

How do we stand out from other groups?
In our state we have 22 sword groups and with that level of saturation it can be hard to keep busy. We differentiate ourselves with historical research,  developing new demonstrations, bringing in sword trainers and doing bi-yearly assessments with the people who trained US. We have noticed that everyone suffers from what we call “photocopy syndrome”  That is, if you have a document, copied from a document, from a document, the quality degrades. (Think cloning for you scientists out there, screen record for you video pirates) Every time you take a step from the original it gets rougher and less clear. So it’s good to step back, get a view from someone outside the organization and get things back into balance. We have insurance and we practice almost every week.  As for the two founders, we DO practice every week. We may be older and slower but we know that like sharks-keep moving to stay alive.  And  not everyone does what we do or is interested in performance.  As we like to say,  our group is universally reviled by history buffs, stage performers, fire acts and WMA enthusiasts.

Our shows are strongly informed by our talent pool and requirements
We always put forth our best foot but sometimes we are hired for larger jobs and not everyone can do every thing. Sometimes our best fight partners for a particular sequence are not available and we may put another “fight module” in place. It’s seamless to the person hiring us but all our performers have strengths and weaknesses and we prefer to lead with our strengths. And if we have a large job that needs dancers, musicians or fire specialists then we will sub-contract that expertise rather than exhaust our usual players. I will often sacrifice stage time so that I can fill in as a stage manager, or do less fire act to be a spotter. There are no small roles when it comes to a performance. Our job as leaders is to uplift, enable, praise and raise.  And occasionally kiss boo-boos. The best show is one with an excellent support staff so the stage hams can get out there and do what they do best without distractions.

Our performances are strongly seasonal.
We do travel quite a bit but here in New England we have about four decent months to get out and do what needs to be done. Faires here are spring and fall heavy and the events try to do their best not to overlap one another’s weekends.  We have two HUGE faires and a bouquet of smaller events that bloom during that time. It makes me wince and pull faces to say “no” to a job, but we’ve experienced the days of splitting the troupe to do concurrent jobs and I think it hurts performance and morale to do it.  And I won’t lie, doing a job in Florida in March is a very nice break from some of these Massachusetts winters.  The harder part is keeping discipline to keep working and developing when most would rather stay in, cocoon and eat comfort food.

After all  this time, I am happy to give a hat tip to folks who are starting new acts. We know how hard it  is starting out in faires. And within our parameters we are happy to tinker, change up and work with our folks to give them tools, training and space to be great.  We try to refine what we do for good performance not to be the latest and greatest-but then we have a limited history span and in our case, it’s an advantage! So if we are not donning space suits or goggles, now you know why!

puppyinhat

Atelophobia is the fear of not being good enough or imperfection… makes the afflicted person feel like everything they do is wrong.

Everyone has bad days, for a variety of reasons and for this blog piece I’m specifying the fear of not being good enough to do or run an act for the renaissance faire.  Unless someone has a deep theater or busking background before their first appearance at the faire, then they are probably correct, but that shouldn’t stop you.

We are all babies when we start out. We throw our caution to the wind, we wear our heart on our sleeves and we wobble out to the audience with our arms raised.  In many cases our desire to please is enough to charm most people, but in many cases it isn’t and we get smacked down or fall under our own weight and ungainliness.

That’s why it is imperative that despite that misstep, that we learn, gather ourselves and do it again. And again. And how do you measure that bit of success? That’s up to you but I feel it in crowd reaction, feedback from others and a sense of how I accomplished what I set out to do. (Evoking good questions, getting kids to approach and experience, attaboys from my peers) And more importantly it’s how you handle it when  it goes poorly.  And statistically, that will happen.

Please note I’m not talking about faire drama, or being personally abused because that should absolutely not happen, and if it does, needs to be stopped immediately. But not everyone will love what you do, which is a strength and a weakness. If someone loves singing acts, we will not be their cup of tea and that is perfectly okay and I won’t take it personally.

In our early days, I absolutely took it personally.  That anger and resentment was the fuel that kept me going. But it is NOT a good long-term motivator-it burns you from the inside out and your detractors would only have satisfaction to know you are doing it. And I suffered from experiencing imposter syndrome even though the facts were laid out in front of me. It was ridiculous, I’d been studying with well-respected sword teachers who liked me as a student and I still felt like I held everyone back with my clumsiness and endless questions. (Sounds like your typical YA  novel doesn’t it?) But the fact is, you can be as angsty as you like-it won’t get you one step closer to self -improvement, only work can do that. And you have to focus on getting better, it’s the one thing that shuts up all the inner self voices that  are haranguing you. That’s what I tell the folks in Phoenix-this is OUR time and you need to focus and *I* need to focus, too.

So the long-winded answer is this, none of us will ever be good enough for everybody, but we should be good enough (eventually) for our own sense of peace. I’m not saying rest on your laurels. (Because if you are, you’re wearing them in the wrong place) But even if you are the worst juggler/sword fighter/jester/luteplayer ever, at least you took the first step to becoming the act you imagine yourself to be.

bubble

I am thinking of you-that’s right, you with the poet shirt, jeans and  maille jewelry, this is for you :)

A friend of mine with The Guild of Saint Maurice told me she never went anywhere without wool inserts(for shoes and boots.) Since we know someone with an alpaca farm, I made use of their store and bought two sets of Alpaca Wool Inserts (scroll down on the page)

As it happened, when we met for historical study, another friend mentioned she dances with a group and spends long times on hard surfaces-so I gave her a set. I would like to give these a big thumbs-up. I’m not sure it can take the pounding that concrete gives (I’ll still use Gel Soles) but on more forgiving surfaces it’s great and a bonus is that will keep your feet warm!  My dancing friend gave an endorsement for inserts light slippers in cold New England ballrooms!

Gloves-these folks are less expensive than a number of other places and get your order out FAST. So if you are buying gloves especially (but be sure to check out some of the other items) I order 4-5 pairs of their soft leather gloves and 2 pairs of the harder leather. (We are very hard on gloves, and we pass on old pairs to new members)
Darkwood Armoury

Need garb/costuming? Have no idea what? Not at a renfaire?  These folks have a good range of initial items. Recently once of our members realized he was missing a simple shirt and couldn’t wear his older stuff-easily solved, two quick oufits! Will I vouch for historical accuracy-no. But a serviceable items, quickly gotten and machine washable, plus great sales.
Renstore
Looking to move up on the kit chain? A bit more pricey but I love everything I’ve bought.
Historic Enterprises
Want to make your own?
Reconstructing history (patterns)

Starter swords-don’t invest big if you aren’t sure. We recommend the practical longsword. Kult of Athena

Like to have a little ring to your sword blows? Takes a beating and keeps on beating? Starfire

Boots-buy them in person, sorry :) But a starter vendor is often Son of Sandlar or House of Andar.

Stuff/accessories

Phoenix Swords own list
Links we’ve compiled

Disclaimer: I don’t do sales for these people or receive any gratuities. I am not a “kit” purist, I post these to help out new folks to the renfaire community.

gas1

We often have to ride that fine line between being practical and looking somewhat authentic.  One of the jokes I make when someone dismisses some of our equipment. (We are performers first and only in a limited capacity reenactors) my response is
“Historically if they could have used it, they would have!” and we have a good laugh about it. That’s why we have tapestry covered folding chairs, bungie cords and other items. But one has to be inventive about hauling around equipment and storage so I’m sharing some of the ways we do that or-

 How a troupe has used perfectly ordinary items for a nonintended use

sword_rackTool RackThis is a Rubbermaid tool rack. It collapses down into two bases and some short plastic legs and it fits flat in the car. If you’ve packed up a car for an event, one can appreciate a device that anyone can manhandle out of the car and can sit in the boot of most SUVs. We have two troupe-colored covers fastened with elastic and a safety pin. The rack is held in place by the very bungies that kept it a unit. It’s a terrible tool rack because it is HARD to take tools in and out but a GREAT sword rack because handsy people can’t just grab things and it is always a good idea to move a sword, slowly and carefully within the confines of a tent.

Car roof webbing: This turned out to be too elastic for most of our rooftop needs but when even the sword rack takes up too much room it makes a great hanging web for storing those same swords. One of the limitations is that it does not have the same capacity as the rack but if you have few people but need more real estate inside the tent-it’s ideal. And it takes up even less room than the tool rack. Available at most automotive stores

Hockey bags-Over the years we’ve tried a number of different sword bags. We use gun cases for our more expensive swords. (Aside, did you know that at certain southern airports no one blinks at a gun case but tell them that you are checking in a sword and they freak out? Just sharing that information so you are prepared) But frankly, the gun cases take space and so we have found the most tough and resilient bags are hockey bags. They are built to hold skates with blades, meant to be manhandled and some of the larger ones come with wheels. Golf Bags are also a good all-around choice for a number of items-we use them for tent parts, sword bags and general equipment. They are easily available and inexpensive so can tide you over until you can invest in something higher-end. We generally buy at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Back in the early days…our current tent is much nicer
popup

Pop-ups and poles-we used popups for years.  I honestly thing these are the heart of all small renfaires. The bigger festivals can afford to be fussy but this is the town that appears overnight  so that you can have a renfaire.  Also some folks have limited hands and mobility so this is much easier than a canvas and pole set-up which generally takes a minimum of three-to-four people. We love having our tent but when doing one-day festivals, or when it rains,  I miss having a popup. And you can really make them zing with covers and accents and in some cases, I think they add a certain insouciance that reminds stuffy faires of their roots. Some folks have cover designs online and some folks sell them.  We used to buy our tents at Dicks (see above) or there are good sales to be had in the winter at Elite Deals. And if you can’t afford sides you can grab inexpensive tapestries (see below)

Organizer bits-our favorite is the hanging shoe rack which is perfect for all those faire gifts, wallets,  glasses etc. and did you notice that it packs flat?

tapestries

Bedspreads/tapestries/Curtains –these are great for covering gear, coolers, setting up change areas and dealing with water control.  We pack a bag of nothing but these to bring with us. I generally but from Indian Bedspreads but if you are inventive and crafty you can do canvas floor cloths as sides (google will bring up a host of DIY sites)

The last item I have on here is not authentic but such a great windfall that I have to share. We use an inflatable cooler  for keeping water and other  items corralled. The Inflatable Pirate Chest.  it’s cheap, it’s ugly and it is hard to blow up but it does the job and packs into a tiny bag. We didn’t have high hopes but it has survived two years with us.

Two of our members-Valkyrie and Monica are amazing at coming up with new ideas for making us light, mobile and efficient (several of these are their brainchild) And I am sure that many of you out there are coming up with some great stuff. So feel free to share in comments and I hope you found this useful. With any luck, we’ll have found a NEW batch of artifacts in a few years and will be revising this blog post!

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