Archives for category: Renaissance Faire peers

Martyrdom-of-Saint-Hippolytus

I’ve been doing this blog for a number of years,  and  have yet to talk about the experience of organizing a renaissance faire. I’ve done three.  Every single one has made me cry. All in different, terrible ways. I open with this because making this only one blog entry is impossible so I’ll isolate some general things in this one, rather than take on those additional entries.

Organizing a faire has three major costs, financial, emotional and social.  At the end of it you will be bleeding from a thousand cuts and if you wonder why so many successful faire organizers are rampaging arseholes (they don’t have to be, mind you) it may be  that you need to grow a thick skin and be willing to cut babies in half (aka King Solomon)

First, read this: So you want to start a renfaire:
Have you finished? No really, go back and read it.

So let’s say you have hit this checklist and still think it’s worthwhile. Great, now watch this video (skip in 30 seconds)
http://www.metacafe.com/watch/an-6sxl27Ytmhbbbu/the_producers_2005_empty_safe/

I have violated this so many  times because I am a perfectionist. And as a performer, I made sure all my performers were paid in advance. And all my bills as well. Many organizers rely on their vendor fees to support the cost of the faire. This is a big gamble and doesn’t always pay off. It might go great the first year but if vendors don’t get a financial return, they don’t physically return. And if you are in a fire/show/event rich area like we are, you are competing to get the interesting sellers.

You can put on a good small faire for about 2-3 thousand dollars (not including site) and *a lot* of volunteer help. And no matter how much you budget-it won’t be enough.  Having sponsors is great but you may be making a deal with the Devil as well. I’ve seen some pretty scary “partner interactions, some people do believe that paying sufficient amounts of money means they’ve bought you, body and soul. It’s a tough thing to have giants signs for a business in the middle of your medieval town. It’s your call.

Emotional. Yeah. If you have a good support network that is a great thing. Running a renfaire is a lot like getting married, it’s a big commitment, it’s expensive, it has a lot of moving parts and it produces Bridezillas. Oh, and  so many unexpected, rampaging drama llamas. My husband told me that he could spot me  across fields 1) by the timbre of my voice 2) the rocketing projectile of the top of my head soaring through the air.

I am sure I made terrible remarks about unborn children and peoples naughty bits. My only defense is that it was in response to some fairly WTF things. Like vendor coordinators quitting within three weeks of a faire after finding out they hadn’t sent out any vendor contracts or a person who was going to help me advertise simply vanishing.*poof* So not only was I putting out fires, I was getting into hazard gear and putting out different kinds of metaphorical  fires. And you will be a terrible friend, and faires have cost me friends. Nothing like a giant mess with you at the top of the pyramid . And the best-run faires generally aren’t democracies. As that perfectionist,  I was a rampaging beoch who was willing to take the hit, so the folks helping me could run interference and have a stick to brandish. The flip side is that I judge faires, and I judge them to a high standard. I will forgive a lot if they have accessibility,  potties, places to sit, people to help and lots of  food.

Emotionally I found running a faire to be like having a an alien baby-extreme pain, emotional anguish and then it was born with a full set of teeth and chewed its way out anyway.

Socially-running a faire killed my social life. It turned all my friends into potential assets, people who disagreed into obstacles. And people will fight you about some of the most unbelievable things-

  • No, you can’t park in the swampy field, you will not get out
  • No,  I have spent my budget for performers and I don’t feel that your steampunk/neongypsy/cowboy/ cousin is a good fit anyway
  • No, I am not changing the lot assignment the night before for YOUR sense of aesthetics

It’s a shame the song “no” wasn’t around when I did faire organizing because I would just put these lyrics on a quickly-triggered MP3 on my phone to play on repeat
My name is no, my sign is no, my number is no
You need to let it go, you need to let it go

Were there pros?
Yes there were.

For the third one, I put on the faire I always thought I could with the great people at Ye Olde Commons. We had nothing but positive feedback except for some accessibility issues.  My troupe did a fantastic job – huge shout-out to Monica and Valkyrie for going above and beyond. And I owe so much to my husband who came in and helped me deal with a butt-load of unexpected problems, he was my hero. And all the troupe members who uncomplainingly took on extra and kept me sane.

Some things I had that at all of the faires that I am proud of
Excellent Acts, who, to this day still are friends and we had some very fun after hours times as well as fun in daylight with the patrons. Also, some acts that will never be seen again, ever and are diamonds in a chain of many lives.
I treated the vendors very well-many were disappointed I couldn’t do it again.
I got to mix some stuff together which was a tasty fusion delight and patrons will never know how by-the-seat-of-our-pants it was until it came together beautifully.
Larger faires trying to poach my acts-not realizing that many of these people did it as a personal favor.

But I don’t think I can do it again. I’ve done it on a smaller scale as an anniversary party  and my friends and family had a blast. (And in fact, people are on me to get the next one organized) My hat is off to those who organize faires but I much prefer being a performer.

And on that note: you cannot perform AND run a faire effectively. Just. Don’t. You will do both-poorly. It’s too much crazy in one bottle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

vikingvssamuraisized

You wanted my opinion on reenactment, here it is.
Sometimes when I read Facebook (mistake #1, I know) I see things that make me want to go live in a cave or just audio record truisms, strap people to a chair and put the player on “repeat.” I covered pretty extensively What Renfaires are and are not, so if you want to catch up, I’ll wait.
I recently saw a comment that said
“Renfaire performers give reenactors a bad name.”

that’s like saying “The Legends Football League makes The Patriots look bad.” Yes, it is both football, yes they both play hard but the end analysis is the audience and the outfits. Now some people might not mind seeing The Gronk in cute shorts (rule 34) and all that) but it’s not my job to make that happen, it’s my job to put on a good show.

I have biases, I *absolutely* have biases. There is one act I deeply resented for making a 60-second swordfight into a 25 minute show. And that to prep for our show, I generally had to sit through 15 minutes of it and bite my tongue. But you know what? They were another act paid to be there, they kept to their time slot, their fans were there to see them and even if it didn’t thrill me, it thrilled someone and I could be respectful of them. There are so many pieces of advice in life that boil down to “don’t be that guy.” But people clearly don’t get it.

We have reenactors in Phoenix Swords, we have LARPers, we have sword collectors, we have gamers and we have people with physical limitations-and everyone has something to give. But I focus on the reenactors for this blog. One of our guys to this day teases me that he would “never join a renfaire group” and makes mouth-breathing noises. He was at one point a full-time reenactor and he is paid to do presentations. Much as some faire stuff will go up my nose, the stories I hear from the other side of that fence make me blanch. And I have a considerable amount of reenactor friends. I am friends with them because they embody some of the following traits.

Education-this is their love. And since all of them have experienced public schools they know very well how history is made bland, tasteless and functionally useless without human context. They work every time to make sure that the people with whom they come in contact go home with some useful or enlightening piece of information. These people track down facts like sea lions eat fish-relentlessly. And they read and gather and if new facts come to light, they change accordingly. They understand where people start from and they try to connect. Some of them are fairly stern about costuming and first-person presentation but they do it with an uplift mentality-that is they will loan out kit (costuming) train people, work with them and bring them into it with help. Sometimes they forget and I am *delighted* to poke holes in that, which is why I think they put up with me. I’ve gone to some events and I enjoyed it quite a bit but owning a troupe is expensive outlay and I would disappoint any reenactment group I joined because I have other commitments and priorities. Although I have pinky-sworn with a number of friends that when I am retired, they have dibs.

Commitment-My reenactor friends are not dabblers. They make my five-tote, closet-full costume collection look like a tug boat next to the Queen Mary. They have developed skills to support their personas-outdoor cooking, raising tents and camps, building fires, using traditional weapons, authentic hand-stitched items with accurate materials and colors. Some of them are professionals in their art and they have sunk in, feet-first with no regrets. I honestly think most people could not live for periods so roughly and live half as well. They almost had me after feeding me fire-baked food all day. But that is commitment in storage, materials and the ability to haul these items. And it requires a level of physical ability to move that stuff along. Sad to say, I haven’t seen many wheelchairs at reenactor encampments . (That’s another blog post)

Graciousness-Some say this is a lost art in our modern society. That a veneer of civility has been planed off in an effort to make all things to all people. The people with whom I am friends carry this graciousness less as an article of clothing and more as a part of themselves. They have a kindness and genteel manner that carries through the ages effortlessly. Sometimes it can look a bit silly to some people but it always makes me smile. It’s the offer to share food, to make guests comfortable, to offer what they have and to be aware that people can be comrades without the need to walk around with hands in one another’s pockets. And often it is made most obvious when dealing with an uncouth visitor or patron. They are kind and informative and try to see past any unintended brusque behavior, honey rather than vinegar.

And then there are the others. Bad reenactors give reenactors a bad name.
The pissy, elitist or disrespectful yahoos with no respect for history, other people and basic social standards. Like any hobby it is often the loud, stupid ones who get the attention. (Ask any Metalhead or Cosplayer) I know these people too, and I am not friends with them. The people who use “history” to perpetuate shitty things. A friend who is deeply involved with Viking/Icelandic history was *appalled* with the number of white supremacists who tried to haul him aboard the hate train. Those who just want to use guns or cannons to be bullies or ‘the cool kid.’ Or people who start their own reenactment group to snare and oversee others in a misguided power play. And the Farb Squad people. I have no problem with wanting to be all that, but if you are making fun of others that’s not a productive use of your time-as a friend likes to say “Stitching, not Bitching” Being snarky is not improving your authenticity game, it just alerts others you are an arse. (And thanks for that  douchecanoe semaphore BTW)

And why this really went up my proverbial nose is that reenacting is not necessarily entertaining. This is something many reenactors forget-that just because YOU think it’s cool, others don’t. You are at an advantage at a reenactment event because people are there to see that. But if you are at a town celebration or a renaissance faire, you’d better get that groove on or you are just weird people talking funny about boring stuff. And then my friends, you have now strayed onto MY turf and we have spent years tinkering with how to hold a crowd or make connections. So if you decide to cast aspersions onto renfaire entertainers, please remember, we don’t (or shouldn’t) go to your events and take a crap on your welcome mat.

Now a sampling of sites and friends who reenact (not a complete listing!)
Wachusett Mountain Men 
(http://www.telegram.com/article/20080908/NEWS/809080342/1008/NEWS02)
Romantically Bent -clothier
Salem Zouaves
Guild of Saint Moritz
Saugus Iron Works
Andy Volpe
Normans of the Southern Sun
Musee de venoge

And you could google this but for the sake of completeness
http://www.reenactor.net/
https://www.facebook.com/groups/2209101458/

firebreather

It is terrifying how quickly bad news can spread-especially at a location where there are theoretically no mobile devices and everyone is working all day. Now if it’s a rumor that we are amazing and that we poop gold nuggets-we might let that one slide. Generally thought, it’s the BAD rumors you have to quash if possible.

The first part is reacting to hearing it. The first time you might be caught off-guard. That’s why I like to use a five-second filter or channel Thomas Jefferson  My partner takes a deep breath and smiles.  My filter is excellent but it has boundaries,  in twenty minutes it may not hold. But in the moment one must step back, disassociate and react calmly or with humor. You should acknowledge the rumor, thank the person for telling you (even if you suspect the source might be invested/poisonous) and let them know you’ll be aware and do your best to deal with it. And that’s all you owe the person who came to you.  In fact, it’s better not to act immediately (I’ll cite an example later in this entry when one shouldn’t wait) but ruminate on it a bit.

“Your reputation is in the hands of others. That’s what the reputation is. You can’t control that. The only thing you can control is your character.” 
― Wayne W. Dyer

Now to do damage control-I usually do a “check in” with friends and associates and get a more balanced view. If you run a group, it’s important that everyone is on the same page. You put together an action plan-we will say this, we will not say this and give your folks a unified face.  You will need to address the rumor point by point and have logical ways to refute them. And you may need to bring it up yourself to key people (often the OTHER gossipmongers)  and make light of it or stare it down like your cat planning to steal your sandwich. Be firm, and calm, not angry. The worst thing to do is to become upset or start counter-rumors. DO NOT “fight fire with fire” because then, you could catch your own ass on fire.  If it’s something really damaging –you may need to go to organizers or influential people in the community. You can start with something like
“It’s come to my attention that; [x] and I would like to address any concerns with [y] and [z] and if you have any questions or concerns, please be sure to come directly to me and we can discuss them.”

By heading it off in this way, you are slowly leeching the power of the rumor and the rumor-starter and bringing everyone back into the reality of doing safe, good business. Don’t be afraid to enlist people to help you. I have had defense come from unexpected quarters because we have a reputation as levelheaded people and these allies were in places we didn’t know they needed to be.

Some people say that one should confront the rumor-starter. I have found that in 99.9 percent of these instances, the person will lie about having started such a thing and if anything, I’ve made them feel important by recognizing them. I’ll acknowledge the rumor and I may even subtly drop hints that such actions won’t be tolerated, but the person or persons don’t deserve even notoriety. I’m still a bit of a pill and am not above some petty social embarrassment, but it’s always about making the statement of living the better life rather than playing at equal vitriol.

And now some concrete examples. At one point  the story that we were fighting unsafely- rumors that cropped up like cockroaches. It got to the point where we had a checklist of “How?’ Where?” “Why?” that could be traced back to one really terrible human being. In fact, over the years a number of strangers have come up and apologized for believing and spreading that. And folks, that didn’t happen overnight, it took YEARS and a whole lot of taking the higher path and really didn’t take away all of the sting. Even now, some people will not accept all of the logic and facts that have piled up because that would require admitting that they were wrong.

A second example was a fire breathing incident –our firebreather had some stray hairs that resulted in a burnt cheek. Even though the performer re-did the trick immediately after, the rumors were that “someone had blown up on stage!” So we had to walk through the faire, chat with people, be seen by vendors and then do THE WHOLE SHOW-including the fire breathing again that night.  And still hear stories about “The guy who blew up on stage!” (It was one disappointed Fire Marshall)

Accept that the truth will not be accepted by everyone because it would spoil a good story. There are faires that *every single time* I have to point out that the rumor mill that names, places, dates and actual events are completely wrong and I’m told I “spoil the fun.” That “fun” impacts my bottom line so soak me in salt water and christen me a wet noodle.

And although it is hurtful to accept, some people just spread malice.  There isn’t a rhyme or reason other than they need to strike out-often at innocent  or undeserving targets.  The why isn’t important but making sure that you take care of you and yours is the primary goal.  I’m not saying you aren’t entitled to feel hurt, angry and betrayed-that’s healthy. But  rumors are vapor, in time they dissipate and you will outlast them.

medieval-snowball-fight-650x300

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…