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.

sword_02

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)

frank

 

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.

justice

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.

 

 

001_spear

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.

I’ve been terribly neglectful and I apologize.

Some things that have contributed:

  • Stresses at the day job
  • A case of Bronchitis that was quelled only by two rounds of antibiotics and a hospital trip
  • A really nice trip to Wales and to the Leeds Royal Armoury in the UK

And all else was consigned to not giving a rat’s patootey.

Not promising anything but hopefully I can finish ONE of the six posts I’ve started, we might have a thing going.

:)

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!

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