Image

The word “investment” has four separate definitions in Mirriam-Webster. In other locations it is listed under cultural, financial and sociological categories, This is in keeping with what performing is for most individuals-it would be nice to compartmentalize how to approach it, but it is nigh-impossible. No one I have ever met felt that becoming a renaissance faire performer was without cost and often acknowledge that if many knew the end result, would leap in so gleefully, feet first. Not that there is another way, mind you.

For stage there are unions and legal standards. Not so for many faires-they are impromptu affairs that are often made by committee. I was a person who fell into the “Let’s do a show!” trap and try not to let the performers who work with me fall into that too deeply. Here are some thoughts for long-term performers to ask themselves.

How much of my time? The answer is quite a bit. No act forms fully realized from inside someone’s head and it will not only need to be swaddled, nurtured and practiced-but subject to critique by friends, peers and complete strangers. You’ll notice that a lot of acts have small, friendly venues where they try out new material. Like the Emperor’s New Clothes or The Evil Overlord checklist #12, there is nothing like a sharp-eyed kid to shred your wonderful idea and force a complete rework. That’s right, I used the word WORK. And just like your day job it will need to be supported by reliable transportation, time planning, physical and mental labor. I have been unpleasantly surprised at the number of people who want to join our troupe without considering this. We never throw someone onstage with no time invested in training. The amount of time invested will impact success. But time invested with no feedback, or review is wasted time. So if you think you’re going onstage impromptu, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

Effort. I was once given a truism that allowed me to survive some terrible jobs. “You are paid for your time, not for your soul.” Sadly this doesn’t apply to performance. Your employer is, in fact, paying you to pour out your soul onstage-and you’d better do a good job of it. This means the training mentioned, it means lugging your tools, food, first aid, possibly shelter and costuming. It’s easy to do a good show in the sunshine, fresh in the spring to a willing audience. It is far harder to do that show in the rain, cold, overheated, with cranky patrons and less-than-optimal factors. Whether you are in a warm, shaded glade or sweating buckets on a soccer field or asphalt-it has to be the same quality. Like the one-armed bandit, some days you will get the jackpot, some days it’s just repetitive motion and you come away poorer for the experience. The trick is to  go out and do it again as though every day was a winner-and incrementally, you are a winner but that’s a pay-off you may not see for months or years. I like to quote Joe DiMaggio
There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time, I owe him my best.
(Source: The Sporting News April 4, 1951)

Friends and community, as with any toes into new waters, you may encounter minnows, you may encounter piranhas. Some folks in the community would like to take far too much advantage of newcomers in return for very little. But some peers in the community are  great and deserve kudos for all they bring to shows and the environment. But if one sees the same faces again and again and will lend a helping hand, this has proved to be one of our favorite “investments” in what we do. Within Phoenix Swords we have especially close bonds because these are the people we rely upon to be our spotters, partners and to use dangerous objects with implicit trust. And we pay back too, with tent help, moving and any heads-up about site changes.

Last but certainly not least-money.  All sorts of groups-reenactors, LARPers, community theater, social clubs-all of these and more are suffering as the economy is suffering. As of 2008 quite a few events simply stopped happening. Because we have been through this sort of crunch before, we have spare costumes, weapons and will cut costs internally in other ways.  Performers even with the backing of a group have to have money for gas, cleaning, food, repair and re-supply. It’s not impossible to do this on a limited budget but there does have to be a budget, even if just volunteering.

In summary, there are costs to being a performer, not all which are apparent at the outset but need to be taken into consideration.  This the title “Investment” hopefully with has served as a way to jump-start thinking about the tangential parts of having fun on stage.

Advertisements