Country Diary : Crows fly through branches of a tree

When we do the Wheaton Arts Fantasy faire in NJ, we often get together during the day with the Mystic Mercenaries Stage Combat Team and talk shop. We have a lot of fun and turn one another onto sources, video, show off new equipment and talk about our current projects. We discussed how the economy hurt recruitment. I’ve been thinking about it for some time and decided to share my musings (sorry dear readers) about members and some of the things that will thin your ranks if you run a group.

Bad economy-this is fairly basic, no money, no gas, no costuming no free time. If people have to choose between making a living and coming to practice-we completely understand this. We’ve been known to offer some financial help to dedicated members. This has sometimes come back to bite us but you don’t know unless you try.

Laziness –once again, not really a stretch to figure this one out. For me it’s a bigger stretch to put myself in those sparkly slippers and think as others do. I am not sure what it is about people who want to join groups (of any kind really) and then think there will be basic expectation of working toward a common goal, expected tasks and services. Or that putting on a costume and strapping on a sword suddenly makes you A STAR! I’m sure there is someone out there who has successfully done this but they haven’t yet worked for me. So I would say the percentage is against you in never having to learn basic safety and how to be part of a team, and then get on stage.

College, not exactly under economy but it’s a killer. We’ve recruited A LOT of college students but rarely do they stay. On the plus side, once they hit late twenties, there is an uptick in recruitment. So academia results in both a high and low tide of numbers.

Sex and significant others. Never underestimate the power of the basic drive to procreate-we certainly don’t. This dynamic is like mud thrown through a screen door-it may not all get through, but chances are you’ll get a little on everyone. One of my hot buttons is partners of members who decide that they would like to run our troupe via a member’s nether bits. That is-they start applying pressure to the partner to force the troupe leader to accept ultimatums, make demands and essentially make life hellish for everyone. We had one member who had been with us from the beginning and he was very enthusiastic and well-liked. We had even survived him dating and breaking up within the troupe (oy!)

But he picked up one girlfriend (not in troupe) that decided she was going to drive him like a front-end loader over our set of rules and behavior using the stick shift. She gave him a set of demands he was to present to us just before a show. At the rehearsal he walked up, told us he needed to spread his wings and that we weren’t offering what he needed and he’d have to leave unless we made some changes. Imagine the sadness and his surprise when we accepted his resignation and wished him the best and that we totally understood. Then we went back to work as we left him standing there taking it all in and absorbing it. He didn’t stay to finish practice and from what we overheard as he and his girlfriend left, that wasn’t what she expected either. Over the years I’ve had a chance to observe that “driver” follows a pattern and you’d think she’d learn that one never gets actual personal power via others.

More insidious is a strange type of foreplay that involves unwitting participants-that is, one person who dresses in costume, takes on a persona and a sword against a backdrop of others supporting the role of pirate, swordfighter, paladin what have you. This adds a layer of sexy and the Significant Other gets to enjoy some role-play. Great. But then the fact that sexy troupe member is now accepted and works with other sexy troupe members sets up a dissonance-they love that their partner does this but RESENT the organization for not keeping the mental game to the minimum two players. The rest of the troupe moves from backdrop to threat. That stuff makes my right temple pulse and twitch.

As years pass, my tolerance has gone to nil for this. When the female half of a couple joined and her husband came to practice, I had no issue. But after the third practice I had some plain words that boiled down to ‘join or don’t be here as a distraction.’ Pleasant surprise-he joined. A more common response is that we never see the troupe member again. Sad as we are, we have headed off a long-term problem. And this plays out over, and over and over.

Babies. Seriously, who can compete with babies? (Note: babies have decimated our numbers this year)
Favoritism, guilty as charged. Do a lot for the troupe; we’ll do a lot for you. Do not badmouth us or try to guilt, blackmail us or whine. We’ll bend over backwards to help people achieve what they need but we are not interested in being bent over against our will. I’ll let Queen Latifah speak for us

I can do it better-not a surprise to hear. As many faire craftspersons can tell you, they hear it often. So I take a line from them-“By all means and good luck.” Producing art is harder than it sounds.

And the last, just done. For sword work and fire, it can be grueling and some folks have other things they would like to do. As I like to joke
“What!? Something else to suck away my time and money?!”
We have reenactors who have other gigs, LARPers who have events, people who have long drives and/or kids and plenty of other activities that don’t involve hauling equipment or being bitten by mosquitoes. And if folks are done, they are done. Even I feel done with it at times-and we run the darn thing!

Our long-term plan, which we only half-joked about the week we formed Phoenix Swords, is that as long as my partner and I can still move, enjoy and entertain, it can be just the two of us out of the trunk. This takes the pressure off everyone else. And some years, we do kind of eye one another and cross our fingers that we have enough to keep going. But even with these pitfalls, if you have a fire, a plan and keep growing yourself and what you do-your energy will attract others.