GCRF_2017_SM
Photo credit Danielle Helms-Phoenix Swords Fire Breather, Tom.

Coming off a show where we do a lot of fire is often big adrenaline high. The one we did recently in FL had a lot of great ingredients-two hams semi-competing for the crowd. An experienced crew and spotters and everyone being “all hands on deck” because we were down two performers due to injuries. (side note: Neither injury was dues to swords or fire and happened outside performance) We had to do a show, we had a great crowd and it was Big Fire.

But talking to others post-show I was reminded of some truisms I think others have forgotten

Just because you think it’s cool doesn’t mean everyone does.  It might be thrill-inducing for you to bring things on fire around your body parts but if you forget about your audience or don’t transmit that energy, it’s rather onanistic and dull

Things on fire are only three times more interesting than normal things. Have you ever watched someone twirling a staff? But if it goes on for more than a minute you’ve pretty much seen what there is to see.  Fire dancing-better be an interesting dancer. I’m not saying you have to be standard or rigid-I have seen interesting dancers that traditional dancers would frown about but they did odd poses or non-synchronous moves that had mystery or were just up there having a good time and invited the audience along. One I know would open with
“Not so much dancing as lumbering and lurching on fire” and did a power-filled set.

Which leads to

If it’s not brilliant, it had better be funny or short.  I admit it we’ve had the “Oh Sh*t” Shows where a dancer twisted something and couldn’t go on or a subcontractor was a no-show last minute or any one of a number of problems.

I hate, hate, the Butt Fairy school of performance design not just because it’s dangerous but it also is brown and smells funny.  But folks I have done what I needed to do including;

Fire Jousting-two long, one-ended staves, mounted two short members on two tall ones and doing passes holding a shield. To our hired musicians’ credit, they knew cues when they saw them (with a heads-up) and made it a good two minutes.

Fire Dancing myself-I basically acted as a distraction while my partners fueled up and came out to the front of the stage and took over –that was perhaps 45 -60 seconds but it let the show be smooth and I didn’t try to grab thunder.

Fire Dancing Two: Grab sparklers and Can-can while others set something up

Fleshing(fire on the body/skin) with jokes: we had traditionally set women’s chests on fire but we had two young men and needed to pad time so yes, we did set chests on fire we are equal opportunity. We also occasionally trotted out “Jose the Human Wick,” who is the most hirsute troupe member we have and is an audience favorite. (No people, it’s the filler!) It smells *terrible* when we finish.

Cool costumes do not make a good show they help, it’s nice to see but JUST LIKE THE SWORDS you need to test your costuming while rehearsing. We have one performer where we joked
“It’s your turn to put out his crotch” because he likes flamboyant (And apparently flammable) scarves.  Given my choice of fire costuming I prefer as much black as possible-I want people to see the fire and soot is a pain to get out of clothing. I’m not here to discourage, I’m just here to state facts.

boyle

Because you are fine with fire doesn’t mean others are okay with it. And if you mess this up you give people like me migraines. A friend was MCing for our show, went to see some other shows,  and she came back to the tent somewhat pale-I guess a fire performer was enjoying the audience reaction and was walking into the crowd with lit staves. She would back up, he would move forward, there were no barriers.  No shock here, the fire marshal wanted fire plans from everyone the next year.

Another story-Fire Breather stationed on a stage next to the pony rides. Fortunately, this didn’t end in tears and lawsuits. But we were called in later -we were not the act in question. Our leader, Fenix, was asked to acclimate the horse and ponies to fire by walking calmly in circles past the horses with a lit torch that he waved about in the air. There is quite funny video of this- the troupe looked on and hummed a certain football chant.

Finally, Fire is fun and wonderful. Some people may not think so and I say they can’t come to my bonfire or BBQ (Sorry southern folk…cook out, apologies) I’ve trained A LOT of fire-loving people and pointed them to resources-it doesn’t have to be MY favorite form and I wish them well.

But I want fire to be exactly that, fun, wonderful and interesting,  not scary, perplexing, awful or cringe-inducing. (And yeah, we all have those days) So I’ve shared these thoughts with you.

Bonne flame Y’all!

roleplayerI love it when people go to movie premieres in costume, or if they make a good run at getting into the atmosphere at a faire. But when people dress in a costume and attempt to distract from an event, well a line has been crossed.  There are times when someone dressing up is more like outfitting as the King of Burger King and stealing all your fries while you are eating. I’m going to give some bad examples and let you be the judge when I describe what flew up my…nose at a recent museum trip. So here is my personal opinion, although this is the business blog, I’m not going to claim it is how ALL of Phoenix Swords feels.

Here is a general idea;

Example 1

Couple refused entry to Victoria’s Butchart Gardens because they’re too … Victorian
http://news.nationalpost.com/news/doff-your-hat-or-you-cant-come-in-couple-refused-entry-to-victoria-garden-because-theyre-too-victorian

And the contrasting view

Putting Things In Their Places: Vox’s Much-Despised Victorians
https://saintanselmhistory.wordpress.com/2015/09/11/putting-things-in-their-places-voxs-much-despised-victorians/

Example 2
Parking Scam:
http://towingutopia.blogspot.com/2008/05/here-is-great-story-with-lots-of-local.html

Now as someone who has worked at both museums and Renfaires I have a pretty high tolerance for costumes and exuberant behavior. But as I’ve said in previous entries-people should be aware of CONTEXT and whether or not they make things difficult for the venue. Most folks working at these places are NOT making the big bucks and when you make their life more difficult you are not “putting it to the man” you are just making some low-paid employee unhappy and causing risk and problems

I went to a museum this weekend  to see a replica ship. Some people totally got into the spirit by wearing funny hats and amusing tee-shirts. They clearly were there to drink beer, eat chowder, buy souvenirs and have a good time. The family dressed as Saxons-not so much. They made sure to station themselves next to this draw and when people asked them questions they made sure to draw attention to themselves and “quote history”  at people.  They were not there to have a conversation, or to add depth, or even meet like-minded people. They were lucky that they were not shut down by museum employees (and this one DOES have costumed reenactors in specified locations) but we had the impression that the museum folks were a little overwhelmed by the number of  visitors and events happening concurrently.

We live in New England, people are accustomed to costumed interpreters and some asked
“Do you work for the museum?” To their credit,  they did not pretend to do so. But if you are making it a point to stand out and be costumed, you are intimating that yes, you ARE part of what is going on.  Good playtrons(Costumed visitors)  at a faire will make it a point to know where bathrooms and first aid is and follow the rule about sheathed weapons.  And will make a point not to detract from the act/event/thing that everyone else is there to see .

You need to examine WHY you have dressed up. If it’s to be part of something, that’s a good start. If it’s to be the center of attention –then unless you are working there, you should reconsider trying to hog the limelight.

It would be great if visitors could distinguish good and bad information but often they’ve come someplace to be entertained and then perhaps educated.  If I hear someone talking about “blood grooves” in swords at a faire where we are working,  I have been known to drop what I’m doing and leap in like Wonder Woman with a lasso of truth. I have to bite my tongue at many museums because if I do that then I am being just as bad as the first person.

Paraphrasing Jeff Foxworthy, you might be a glory parasite if:

  • You are taking away from a main event that is not you on stage
  • You are out of context and not in a good way
  • You actively came seeking confrontation
  • You have to speak loudly and make eye contact perhaps expose body parts to flaunt what you are doing (and aren’t onstage)
  • You do not allow interactive conversations, it is all you-talking.all.the.time
  • You are acting like a rebellious teenager with a fresh spite piercing
  • You don’t work there and distract people from those that do

And most people who do this know they are doing it. I won’t say there isn’t the occasional clueless person but if we approach all interactions politely and yet that person is *extremely defensive* without cause…yeah.

Reenactors and enthusiastic costumed people can add a great deal to cultural institutions but we need to do it cooperatively, otherwise you’re just an asshole. And frankly I don’t want to deal with the fallout you cause every time I have to put on my kit and go to work. So JUST DON’T DO IT.

 

Jockey-Riding-a-Horse-on-a-Carousel--107265

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

lipstick_Pig

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.

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.