BikeMermaidL

We’ve had some fairly frustrating conversations with marketers and website consultants about “growing our business” and it’s fairly clear they have *no idea* what it really is we do as a troupe who does sword shows and fire shows. We’ve been around for 13 years as of September and although that’s probably 80% “sheer cussedness,”  we’ve always had a clear vision of who we are and what we want to do.

How do you define success? Well if we based it solely on money we’d have some larger economic issues. We knew when we started we did not want performing as a full-time job-we have personal and profession success elsewhere. But we do feel it is important to have money enough to support the endeavor and have found that most employers will often not respect the free act (which has its own hazards) and there are costs with maintaining insurance, practice space, storage space,  equipment and training. So getting the balance of money with job satisfaction and effort is an ever-changing juggling act.

All things to all people is not workable
If we had taken the advice of others we’d be the star-wars-pirate-steampunk-fantasy game sword fighting, fire juggling, acrobatics and vendor act. And yes, wouldn’t that be unwieldly? It’s not that we haven’t flirted, investigated or dabbled in other things-it’s just that it didn’t speak to the expertise we already had. We did peek a bit into Steampunk but the outlay in new materials, costuming and development would have cut into getting sword teachers, replacing equipment we already possessed and needed to replace/fix.  We have added and subtracted things over the years-puppet shows, kids skits, large-scale complex acts (Historical Deathmatch as an example.) And as for Star Wars-there are so many specialists now, that there’s no need for us to maintain that piece. What we will always keep is the historical sword research,  demonstrations and the comedy sword fights. And Fire show-even though there are fire specialty groups, we have a well-oiled machine, and it keeps a nice balance and break from just swords.

How do we stand out from other groups?
In our state we have 22 sword groups and with that level of saturation it can be hard to keep busy. We differentiate ourselves with historical research,  developing new demonstrations, bringing in sword trainers and doing bi-yearly assessments with the people who trained US. We have noticed that everyone suffers from what we call “photocopy syndrome”  That is, if you have a document, copied from a document, from a document, the quality degrades. (Think cloning for you scientists out there, screen record for you video pirates) Every time you take a step from the original it gets rougher and less clear. So it’s good to step back, get a view from someone outside the organization and get things back into balance. We have insurance and we practice almost every week.  As for the two founders, we DO practice every week. We may be older and slower but we know that like sharks-keep moving to stay alive.  And  not everyone does what we do or is interested in performance.  As we like to say,  our group is universally reviled by history buffs, stage performers, fire acts and WMA enthusiasts.

Our shows are strongly informed by our talent pool and requirements
We always put forth our best foot but sometimes we are hired for larger jobs and not everyone can do every thing. Sometimes our best fight partners for a particular sequence are not available and we may put another “fight module” in place. It’s seamless to the person hiring us but all our performers have strengths and weaknesses and we prefer to lead with our strengths. And if we have a large job that needs dancers, musicians or fire specialists then we will sub-contract that expertise rather than exhaust our usual players. I will often sacrifice stage time so that I can fill in as a stage manager, or do less fire act to be a spotter. There are no small roles when it comes to a performance. Our job as leaders is to uplift, enable, praise and raise.  And occasionally kiss boo-boos. The best show is one with an excellent support staff so the stage hams can get out there and do what they do best without distractions.

Our performances are strongly seasonal.
We do travel quite a bit but here in New England we have about four decent months to get out and do what needs to be done. Faires here are spring and fall heavy and the events try to do their best not to overlap one another’s weekends.  We have two HUGE faires and a bouquet of smaller events that bloom during that time. It makes me wince and pull faces to say “no” to a job, but we’ve experienced the days of splitting the troupe to do concurrent jobs and I think it hurts performance and morale to do it.  And I won’t lie, doing a job in Florida in March is a very nice break from some of these Massachusetts winters.  The harder part is keeping discipline to keep working and developing when most would rather stay in, cocoon and eat comfort food.

After all  this time, I am happy to give a hat tip to folks who are starting new acts. We know how hard it  is starting out in faires. And within our parameters we are happy to tinker, change up and work with our folks to give them tools, training and space to be great.  We try to refine what we do for good performance not to be the latest and greatest-but then we have a limited history span and in our case, it’s an advantage! So if we are not donning space suits or goggles, now you know why!

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