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Sometimes we need to see our curses as blessings. Even with the first troupe we joined exploding into chaos, had it not happened we would not have our own troupe still going over a decade later. And as we struggled to get some footing and we met others with similar problems, we were again, fortunate to meet others in the journey that helped us all. We need to cling together in our shared delusions 😉

But how do things become “a thing?” The ideas come from somewhere and coalesce. The French have a term folie à plusieurs which means, “the madness of many.” It’s usually coined in reference to psychological illness but I feel we can easily apply it to starting performance groups.

As a start, someone, somewhere, decides to put on a festival. Then someone, in that locale decides
“This needs entertainment” And grabbing from templates that span their influences and ideas something creeps into our reality and someone pays some money (or not) to come and see it. And once we’ve hit that part, well clearly it is real. (Sorry Velveteen Rabbit)

I can only speak from what I have seen. I have seen troupes formed to sell swords, to show off costumes, to “look cool,” to emulate an act seen elsewhere, to live out a childhood dream and my favorite reason-this can be educational! There are less savory reasons to start a performance group and those do not last very long.

But to keep all of this hanging together everyone involved needs to agree that the group is an entity, that it serves a purpose, and though it is fun to perform, it scratches an individual’s particular itch.  Within Phoenix Swords, we have reenactors, college students, professionals who like to do process perfection, hammy actors, and others. I say others because that will cover a host of reasons I don’t understand and won’t pretend I do. None of these interests are exactly the same priority levels but do have intersections:

Swords and weapons
A need to show off
An understanding of how to do this without skewering the other person

And a subset
Personal goals
playing with fire and other scary objects

And to some degree the personalities have to mesh somewhat. This is especially true if you go on the road together.  This cracks the delicate psyche of many people and some groups never experience it or have to experience it. But I’ve found that if you can clear the hurdle of working together for a year and get through a road trip, an unseen rite of passage happens for the members and a trust barrier is crossed. There are people I’ve performed with I disliked intensely, but we made an agreement that once we stepped onto the ground armed with swords, those took priority over our delicate sensibilities.

So what do we have so far: Agreement on objectives, common interests and then what is the engine-a fire to do well and work.

So many groups fall out over this last point-even the most fun activities in the world can wear on the individual over time. Usually this about the level of WORK.  I learned long ago that my level of commitment and drive should not be set as a marking point because, well, as a troupe leader I am VERY invested.

TANGENT:!While living with roommates I learned an important truism. I would complain that I was stuck cleaning all the time and that my roomies were slobs. A friend told me that the problem was on my end because *I* could not tolerate below a certain standard of cleanliness. My roommates would gladly live in a garbage-infested hovel but if I did not, I had to just suck it up and pull out the scrubbing bubbles. So I just stopped and cleaning became a bigger priority for the others because I wasn’t taking it all onto myself. So what is the point?-the point is that that you need to work out what is the “level” ahead of time by communicating this. NOT doing it is one of the death knells of performance groups.

Back to the point, we run a benevolent dictatorship. We finance it, we get the jobs, we set the rules. And we didn’t get it all right all of the time but we have a working model that is revised and try to communicate as best we can. We tell the members “this is the level of work we expect from you.” And it’s not a democracy or a commune and anyone who would like to start that is welcome to do so. (And believe me, that has happened a number of times!)  Facebook would call it “complicated.”

And groups of performers who last, transform madness into a shared madness that is communicated to an audience, and may, in turn, make those participants into madness generators themselves. It is my hope and prayer for EVERY group that performs that it is a good, viral madness. Be a happy emotional contagion.

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