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Recently we had a nice talk with another group and the person was respectful, full of good info and there was a mutual “attaboy!” shared. But something I never, ever forget, that there are twenty  five  (that I know of) fight groups in the MA/CT area alone. And there are at least ten fire performance groups locally, some of which have happily done jobs we’ve  turned down.

First, we are still here after twelve years and we have at least 50% of our original members and our maintenance is often measured in years.  We do our best to never badmouth anyone else, because everyone has a learning curve and needs to start somewhere.  When you are bad to your members,  we often end up with your disillusioned ex-members. And no one lives in a vacuum, the renfaire circuit LOVES gossip and sadly, many race to spread bad news.  We’ve had our detractors and we’ve outlasted them. I am not saying longevity is the measure of GOOD, mind you, but it does say something if you’re still in business.

Teach me your tricks.
Say WHAT? Although folks don’t phrase it that way, well okay, some have and the chutzpah made my eyebrows disappear behind my shirt collar.   In most cases, folks are enthusiastic and don’t realize what they have asked. And if they are more than 250 miles away from our home base, I have no issue with it. This is a rule many faire organizers have as well-which stinks for certain types of professions-Actors for instance. We’ve had a well-known group teach us some fire tricks and that was kind of them. Remember no one is obligated to share anything and it’s essentially training your competitors.  In many cases I will treat folks to the fire hose of information and let them sort it out. It’s knowing WHAT to do with the information that is the important part.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery:
To be honest our group was founded with a “we can do this better” attitude. In an example of parallel evolution, many fighting and fire groups have a similar model. It usually comes down to leadership differences and what comes out on stage. Performers should tinker for a niche,  because if you just copy someone outright-they have been doing it longer and better and you will do poorly head-to-head.

Using someone’s good name to enhance your own. This is a great strategy-if you actually worked with those folks. When we first started we had people gunning for us-so we beefed up our CV with a number of organizations and came back swinging. We have the opportunity to use the name of several respectable institutions in what we have built and can name names and make references.  We’ve been quizzed by rightly cynical people and had to stand and deliver.  We don’t mind , we really have done what we say we have.  The flip side is people who are either slippery or have outright lied. Earlier this year we had a faire organizer try to verify that someone worked with us and my answer was “Who?” What many people forget is that although we appear quite corporate,  it’s still very one-on-one and I have no issue with embarrassing someone who is riding our hard-earned public reputation undeservedly.

The renfaire is not the cone of silence , once the word has left your lips, it gains a power on its own.   I’m not saying you aren’t entitled to opinions, I’m just saying there are repercussions to blurting things aloud.  So if you run around adding your two cents about other acts or the organizer of other folks in general,  chances are, they’ll hear it. Early on,  one vendor employee was going on about how our group had no shows, and members were defecting and how could anyone be part of us, when our member answered
“Why don’t you ask the leader himself? He’s standing right there.”

The absolute worst sort of competitor is the one who steals your material and then performs it in front of you. It’s a special sort of backhand that tests the resolve. In some ways it is illuminating, it lets you see the material caricatured so you can analyze it and it tells you it is time to develop new material. After all, who needs to get a double dose of well-worn routines? Won’t lie, when I see this happen, it makes my right temple twitch and my eyesight go red for a bit-but we channel that into something productive and no one goes to jail.

And if a show doesn’t suit us? Well we will pass it on to someone we know. And it works back the other way as well-it’s how we’ve snagged some shows. So competitors don’t have to be enemies, they are our peers, our mentors, those we teach  and sometimes a very unflattering mirror. For the long haul, it’s best to focus on your personal best, rather than what the other guy is doing. But it doesn’t mean we’re not sneaking peeks at one another and assessing for the future…

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