Archives for category: Renfaire performers

ramor

 

When we were at the symposium a few weeks ago, Roger Norling told the attendees he became interested in HEMA because he’d seen a fencing demonstration at a Renaissance Faire.  He’s not the first person from whom we’ve heard that and it’s good thing to keep in mind of you are doing sword demonstrations at a renfaire. It made me think of some things we keep in mind before we go out on stage.

People go to faires to have fun-it’s a good way to hook in anyone. People are receptive, they are in a good mood and if you sneak in some education under the radar-even better. One of the things I have to hold back on is overpowering the questioner. I try to let them lead the questions, tell me their story and then do a sub-conscious set of calculations to see what it is that *really* interests them. And be interested in them- If you are reciprocal then you learn some cool things as well. I’ve talked to veterans, active soldiers, survivors of gang violence, dojo runners, martial artists, other HEMA folks and just plain interesting individuals.  In many cases, we aren’t the sort of thing the person is looking for and I am happy we’ve taken the time to keep a set of links on our website to guide them on their journey.

We let people touch things. Humans are visceral creatures who like to work that instinct of feeling a thing to explore it. Often, just before our shows, we walk around and let the audience hold the longsword or one of the falchions. (As an inside fact, this is a good way to kill some time before the start and when people see non-performers with a sword, they too, want a sword. Audience magnet!)  We do sword lessons with kids at some shows (for pay) depending on our agenda for the day and we see recurring faces year after year. We talk about how swords “touch back” which is important. Just like fire it’s not “if” but “when” for getting a little reminder that there is danger involved with handling these things. People are amazed by the clearly used edges, the weight and yes if it’s a wet day…the rust.

Be casual and not preachy, exclusionary or elitist. I won’t lie, some people can pull off the “I’m am just that cool” vibe but that shine wears right off if you denigrate your audience and don’t keep learning yourself. There is a certain woman, media famous in the HEMA community that I used to admire. She still does good work but chose to make fun of tourists in her blog.  First-“if ya can’t say something nice…” Secondly, she was no doubt supported on this tour by someone who probably didn’t look like her but was vicarious with her by sponsorship.  And third, it was supposed to be about her sword studies, meetings etc. so off-topic. I am delighted to let folks of all stripes and abilities touch and learn about swords because “don’t be that guy.”  I won’t lie, I’m enjoying some of the folks side-by-side with me start to realize that perhaps scholarship is not just there for the younger folks to rip off and you too, will catch “the old.”

If you don’t get it out there, no one will know.  I’m not going to tally the number of times that I have calmly swallowed down some fury and carefully explained our position of research, that we don’t know everything and that maybe it’s not such a good thing to be bombastic and insulting to peers in the sword community. I often find myself mentally quoting our friends in Mystic Mercs.
“You do you.”
So yes, you may the most amazing swordsperson and scholar ever, but if no one else knows or you don’t share for review, well, it’s going to stay your special secret. Sure we wear silly costumes and are in a context of fantasy but do get it out there and do open that portal for someone who would only think this sort of stuff happens in movies or media with no connection. And you need to hustle- I won’t lie, I keep a public list littered with the names of dead and defunct sword performers, strictly for informational purposes of course.

bonnet

And Reenactors/historians, I’ve posted what I have to say about renfaires vs reenactment and, you’re welcome that I directed people your way.  We freely admit that history is cool and wish HALF of what we learn in our exploration was in public school textbooks. (George Silver and his call-outs to Italian fencers, Or Talhoffer versus Pirates on the Rhine) Many people want their sword show and their turkey leg. Others would like to know more and we are happy to direct them to more.  So sure we’re a little sketchy in our mixed-material, brightly colored outfits and we make jokes that encourage groaning but we do get out there and we do bring that first taste of history.   And if we can get them to bite down on that first bit, maybe we’ve just addicted them to some more education.

Or just made fabric-holics and clothes horses but *shrug*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

lipstick_Pig

There are/will be plenty of circumstances in which you just can’t express your true feelings at the faire and you will have to smile, make nice and be grateful that time is a linear river and even if you are currently  at a bad bend, gliding past the brown, finless trout  in the creek, that it will be over soon. Here are some times we’ve had to pucker up and kiss that porcine.

From my partner on being polite:
There are shows, organizers and other acts that I just won’t work with. As far as I know, they won’t work with me either. But, that usually isn’t a problem. However, I do not blame the folks who work for the people with whom I am angry. And, that leads to some interesting conversations.

While we were doing our show Sunday a member of one of those groups  came up to us. He told us that he thought what we were doing was very cool and he thought we should perform at the same faires his group was doing. He mentioned one faire that is on my “hell must freeze over, crumble to dust and blow away first” list.
“Sorry, we’ve got something that conflicts with that,” I told him.
“That’s too bad!” he said. “They’re really short on acts this year and could really use you.”
“That’s too bad. But, I’ll be in Chicago.”
Then, asked about another one that is just on my “if they pay full price, sure” list.
“Doing a show in New Jersey then,” I told him.
Then he asked about the show that refused to pay us two years ago and hired someone else last year.
Told him we were busy then too.
He assured me my group would be missed and then moved along home.
“You were very polite to him,” my wife said.
It’s not his fault. He probably doesn’t even know what they said about us”

————–

We’ve had people who, despite what we interpreted as a DIRE difference of opinion, call us to work for them again. (which always makes one of my eyebrows shoot into my hairline) but if they want to hire us again, that’s fine. We just lever what we colloquially call “The @$$hole Tax” and although we’ve had people express surprise at this, they will generally accept this. We think this is because we are pretty good-natured and if you manage to annoy us, you’ve probably REALLY annoyed other acts who are not as mercenary as we are. We’ve had paycheck standoffs and with one organizer it seems that was the key to respect. Others wouldn’t work for him but we did because  1) we always had a contract 2) wouldn’t back down 3) he paid us on time, every time.

——————

Someday I’ll talk more in-depth about what I consider the worst performance job ever (and members vary on what that was) But in a short story-the person who hired us, lied to us about show duration and to her boss about how long we’d perform. Another person tried to block our paycheck and actively get us fired on-site. Finally, they left us to perform all day, on a soccer field with no shade and we should have been suspicious that they mentioned they hadn’t been able to hire three more local troupes. There were other factors but that is the only job where we had to actively keep troupe members from committing assault and when my husband and I sat down in the car, closed the doors and simultaneously said “F*ckers”

First, deep breath. Better coming in than going out.
1) is anyone hurt physically? Okay then you won’t have to file charges and deal with that can of worms.
2) Are there apologies to be made? If by  you, make them. If by them, chances are you will never get one. But you are definitely not going to be able to force that. If you can’t choke that down-walk away and do a “tag” with another troupe member.  I am very grateful for the number of times that we have been able to do this for one another. You know it’s past that when we kick a third person up to grab the paycheck and chat. Our excuse is usually “herding cats and packing up.”
3) Is it over and you can go home? Savor this moment. You may have been hostage to someone else’s whims for a time for a check but that time is over.  It’s an important boundary to have. As I’ve said to troupe members after a long-distance trip
“I love you guys, but I don’t want to see you for a week.” And it’s key to disengage and give yourself time to absorb the experience.

Sometimes these bad experiences continue long past where polite society would recommend they be SHUT DOWN.  Although you don’t have control over crazy circumstance you can control how you respond to these things. And I highly recommend that you envision pulling that stick out, twisting to a sharp, red point and applying that to whatever piggy has just dragged you through the mucking and smile. Because it kills them when you smile, and you get to both walk away away, much improved.

001_spear

I’m one of those folks who gets ideas. Unfortunately I am not a crafty, handy or sporty person so unless there is an outlay of money, it just won’t happen.

For years we had lived with pop-ups and although I couldn’t fault the price, the ease of setup or the packing, I hated, hated, hated how it looked.

At one job, we had just finished setting up the tent and as I was putting car away, winds from the Gulf Coast picked up our last popup, smashed it against a building several times and functionally rubbed its pneumatic  backside in our collective faces.

It did, of course, rain that weekend and one member had a bit of hypothermia (solved) But from that moment there was a certain determination to have it NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN.

So I chatted with a tent-maker from Mobile, Al and he almost always had a tent of his design at these events and had made tents for the Gulf Wars participants. Plus, his were rated for hurricane winds. Sure we could have bought yet another popup but my mind was made up.  I took some savings, picked some colors, did a payment schedule and planned to pick it up at the next southern festival.

When it arrived it was great.  We put it up with four of us and it looked amazing. And then he and his wife left with the containers it had come in.  Now I did have a moment of  “Hey, you’d think for this price…” But hated the totes, and we needed something collapsible.

One quick trip to Wally-world and Savers later, two golf bags and a canvas carry-all plus the bungeed center pole and we had a tent that was 1) professional-looking 2) could withstand high winds 3) was a great place to store our stuff.

360 view of the tent from the inside (before loading with stuff)
http://360.io/nRjZnG

In fact, at that first faire, we saw two EZ-ups give their lives and try to eat some fire performers. They were like two scary, sharp-edged tumbleweeds of death. All that people could do was clear the way and wait for them to land. Unsurprisingly, the same building that was the end of ours was the final resting place of these.

So now to sing the praises of the tent

It CAN be put up with two people but it’s ugly and time consuming. With four it’s pretty fast and with six it’s a pretty easy, especially if at least two are veterans at it.

People come by JUST to look at it. Some people poo-poo it’s “authenticity” but I point out it’s nearly identical to the ones that the BBC and Royal Armouries use for themselves. (But carefully avoid that perhaps ours is a bit more showy with flaming sword scallops) In fact, we received one job on the basis of the tent. (QUOTE: You have to bring your sword to our event! Oh and you do a show too?) And some people are content to just come and take a peek at it-and it’s a good opportunity to chat.

It’s a green room when many events don’t provide one.  I do feel a little guilty when our troupe members have a place to hide away out of the weather or just patrons. But then I remember the evil Gulf Coast wind and I make my peace.  Since we have a lot of valuable props (swords especially) it’s good to have a place to tuck them out of sight.  We do our best to never leave it unattended and some members have slept in it overnight.

tent_interior

It’s just a nice place to be.  I have a lot of pictures of the inside of the tent-usually I do panoramas so the viewer can “be in” the tent with us. We carry three suitable chairs and a fuzzy throw, as well as a number of tapestries. I’d have lanterns and rugs but my partner and husband growls a bit at all the “stuff” and sometimes we sacrifice if we need to carpool with more people.

Sometimes we help make the magic. I feel with the tent, that a lot of folks have a visual cue that “Hey, I’m going to festival!” I’m thrilled when faires use us in their publicity material and we had someone run up and say
“That’s the tent from the website!”
I’d really rather it was from our awesome shows, but I’ll take it. I suspect that one faire uses us as a “Hey this is the demarcation that this is it where the faire begins and the parking ends!” And we are MUCH bigger than a traffic cone.

But I love our tent, and on a rainy, windy day it’s a big canvas hug that tells us we’re worth that much excess,  that much finery.

Guest blog by Fenix-cofounder

History of the fire swords

Flaming F
Saturday morning while I was waiting for my wife to get up, I was watching a show on The History Channel called “Forged in Fire”.
They take blade smiths and have them make various different weapons that they then abuse and declare a winner based on who’s retains an edge, doesn’t break, etc.
(Cut coconuts, smash ice, hit rocks, etc.)

Looking at previous episodes of the show, I found that the very first person who won the first episode is a person who used to make swords for our sword troupe. That was back when he was the M in MP metalworks.

There was a time, more than 10 year ago now, where about half the swords the troupe used were made by him:
http://phoenixswords.atthefaire.com/galleries/swords/index.html

Of the 6 different fire swords the troupe has used over the last 14 years, he made 4 of them.
OK, it’s really 4 of 6 ½, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

It didn’t even start with us.
The sword group my wife and I were in before Phoenix Swords had broken apart badly. It was 14 years ago and there are still people mad at each other about it. (I’m one of them.)
At least 4 different groups formed out of the 35 members of that old troupe.
Phoenix Swords is the only one of those still going.

One of the others was one of the two founders of that previous group. He wanted to get into fire performance. He was a very good performer who came up with excellent ideas for ways to perform. (And, many bad ones too.)
But, he just wasn’t very good at running a group. Even when it was just him in the group.
So, we worked out something where he would perform with Phoenix Swords, but remain independent of our group.

He came up with the idea for the very first of our fire swords. He went to M at MP Metalworks with his idea and M built him a prototype.
It is a regular sword modified to be a fire sword. Other than the modifications, it looks just like a regular sword.
Our friend who designed it only had the one built. He didn’t sword fight with it, he just danced with it.
As far as I know, he only did one show with it:

Then, he quit performance. Sadly, we had booked several fire shows for him that he now didn’t want to do. So, that is how Phoenix Swords got into fire shows.
And, I did end up with that very first fire sword. Fire sword Zero is what we used to call it.

M liked the sword he had modified and decided to build a pair of fire swords from the ground up.
Two of our members (A & R) bought them and we added them to our growing fire show.

They looked cool. The hilts were bent up with little flame shapes. The pommels on the bottom were also cut to look like flames.
This made them horribly dangerous as it put a sharp point on the bottom edge of the swords. I can’t count how many times those bottom points cut someone using them.

A&R didn’t work out all that well for our troupe and ended up leaving.
They took their fire swords with them. They had paid for them, not us, and I didn’t like the design anyhow.

Tom had M make a new fire sword for him.
It was a monster. Almost 6 feet long (180cm) and covered in flame, not a lot of folks were willing to have him swing it at him. I usually ended up doing the sword fight with him using the original prototype myself.
At least it had a round pommel and not the pointy ends.

Sadly the swords really weren’t up for being used as fire swords. The heat of the fire caused them to warp.
Tom’s big one had a particularly bad bend one show where my wife had to run onto the field and take it away from him with the fire proof blanket. (It worked for the show as I was supposed to be fighting him for revenge for him beating my wife. So the audience loved her stealing his fire sword…)

There had been another sword group located in Kansas that we worked with from time to time until they broke up.
One of their members made swords. When he did some of the shows with us, he looked at the fire shows and said “I could do that better”.

So, in 2007 he made us two new fire swords. They were of the same basic concept of the previous swords, but more proportional to the swords we used in our regular shows.

The very first show we used them in, the one I was using broke off at the hilt on the second hit.
This led to the “I’m not Aragorn” incident at the post office:
http://www.fbhjr.livejournal.com/5958.html
He didn’t ask for the blade back, just the handle. So, I’m not sure if I should count that as a fire sword repaired or an additional fire sword. That’s why I say we’ve had 6 ½ of them in the troupe.

Either way, the broken one was replaced and it has held up very well for the last 9 years.

The hilt did break off last year, but Cosmicirony was able to fix it for us.

Looking back at it all, it is strange to me to see the person who made those original swords, that were dangerous to the user and bent when being used for what they were made to do, and see him win a sword making competition. Especially as the final test was they fired a bullet at the edge of the sword he made to see if the blade would split it in two without breaking.
It did!
I was surprised. His old swords would never have lived through that.
But, it has been more than a dozen years too.

I guess practice makes perfect.
12 years of practice seems to have helped!

 

eelslap

As I mentioned in the last blog entry, for reasons not clear to me, people will go to the sword fighters before the EMTs. (Yes, I put my foot down and will *escort* certain people) And it’s true we do get injured but not for the reasons you think we do.

I’ve had performers be taken out of the roster by cardboard boxes(two in fact, one with blood poisoning, one with a concussion) but as that wasn’t directly related to a performance, I’m going to try to stick to the ones that happened at/because of a show.

Twisted Ankle; this one has happened so many ways that I’ve stopped counting
1) Stepping out of a van to unpack for a show
2) Getting caught in a gopher hole in a field
3) Running to a performance (We have an unspoken rule that goes under “be professional” that covers this. So when people run, they get glares)

Deep cuts from
1) the crosspiece (not the blade) that required a stitch
2) fence posts
3) Using a pocket knife while cutting rope (we now use either the whole rope or bungees.)

Burns
1) baking cookies for crew,  burned hands,  so had to call out of a show
2) This one gets its own paragraph.

At a show where we were exclusively doing fire, our most popular fire eater walked up and said
“Ithnant do the thow Ibumm ma mouf”
Yeah, I didn’t understand either so with some pantomime and charades I figured out that she had burned her mouth and couldn’t do the show. It stumped me-I hadn’t seen her practicing and she had a cast iron mouth with no gag reflex. I had to ask how she’d burned her mouth. How, you ask? On a perogi. Not a torch with white gas, a perogi. And it had been hot enough to damage her lips and mouth  so she couldn’t do the show. (At least not that night)

And then there are head injuries
When using swords, we are *very* careful about these because first of all your brain is in there! And then head injuries bleed like Niagara Falls.
1) Doing a recovery roll into a truck ramp (Ta-Da!)
2) Stepping into a tree
3) Hitting self with own hilt

Anyone who tells you they have never had a ridiculous injury must be wearing a bubble-wrap suit. I’m not saying that if you have a red marker on your personal insurance as “hazard” that is a good thing, I’m just saying every show that you do takes you another percentage to doing the unexpected. And all the safety training in the world will not survive contact with Murphy’s Law. It will only help your percentages. And this is a great way to bond with other performers and to help people sort of unthaw around you if they are intimidated. My partner, always the silver lining guy, will grin and say
“Sympathy tips!”

And if you enjoyed the image above-eelslap.com

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!

puppyinhat

Atelophobia is the fear of not being good enough or imperfection… makes the afflicted person feel like everything they do is wrong.

Everyone has bad days, for a variety of reasons and for this blog piece I’m specifying the fear of not being good enough to do or run an act for the renaissance faire.  Unless someone has a deep theater or busking background before their first appearance at the faire, then they are probably correct, but that shouldn’t stop you.

We are all babies when we start out. We throw our caution to the wind, we wear our heart on our sleeves and we wobble out to the audience with our arms raised.  In many cases our desire to please is enough to charm most people, but in many cases it isn’t and we get smacked down or fall under our own weight and ungainliness.

That’s why it is imperative that despite that misstep, that we learn, gather ourselves and do it again. And again. And how do you measure that bit of success? That’s up to you but I feel it in crowd reaction, feedback from others and a sense of how I accomplished what I set out to do. (Evoking good questions, getting kids to approach and experience, attaboys from my peers) And more importantly it’s how you handle it when  it goes poorly.  And statistically, that will happen.

Please note I’m not talking about faire drama, or being personally abused because that should absolutely not happen, and if it does, needs to be stopped immediately. But not everyone will love what you do, which is a strength and a weakness. If someone loves singing acts, we will not be their cup of tea and that is perfectly okay and I won’t take it personally.

In our early days, I absolutely took it personally.  That anger and resentment was the fuel that kept me going. But it is NOT a good long-term motivator-it burns you from the inside out and your detractors would only have satisfaction to know you are doing it. And I suffered from experiencing imposter syndrome even though the facts were laid out in front of me. It was ridiculous, I’d been studying with well-respected sword teachers who liked me as a student and I still felt like I held everyone back with my clumsiness and endless questions. (Sounds like your typical YA  novel doesn’t it?) But the fact is, you can be as angsty as you like-it won’t get you one step closer to self -improvement, only work can do that. And you have to focus on getting better, it’s the one thing that shuts up all the inner self voices that  are haranguing you. That’s what I tell the folks in Phoenix-this is OUR time and you need to focus and *I* need to focus, too.

So the long-winded answer is this, none of us will ever be good enough for everybody, but we should be good enough (eventually) for our own sense of peace. I’m not saying rest on your laurels. (Because if you are, you’re wearing them in the wrong place) But even if you are the worst juggler/sword fighter/jester/luteplayer ever, at least you took the first step to becoming the act you imagine yourself to be.

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