Archives for posts with tag: acts

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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Stealing Material

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If you believe the Greeks, there are a limited number of narratives and you’ll see the same themes over and over. Sometimes I feel as though there are a finite number of acts one can see at the renaissance faire. (Of course I think renfaires often have the tied cat problem as well but that is another blog post) So we have our jousters, our lane acts, our cast of royals or characters, musical groups, acts to appeal to children, etc. Each renfaire has its own “recipe” for what makes it the event that someone loves. In many cases this involves liberally mixing and matching traditions from different eras, costuming, mores and modernisms.(Because renfaires are not reenactment-and you will see that line in many, many of my blog posts)

Parallel evolution takes place, items change and emerge in similar ways-it is the nature of entertainment. Heck, the beginnings of our historical show grew out of the Higgins Armory Sword demonstrations and how they present-but we also were part of the team that helped to develop the material. And THAT approach came from how it is/was done at the Leeds Amoury in the UK.  These days, we either read/interpret manuals within or work with other groups to present the works and plays.**

But back to generalities, Jousting-two riders going at one another with weapons, sword acts-swordplay under some pretext to fight, the main “plot” of a faire-usually Man vs. Man (see above) and it takes some practice and guile to hold a modern audience for that key twenty-five minutes and make them love you.  So with that in mind, one of the most offensive actions one may witness at a renfaire is STEALING MATERIAL. I’m not talking about recreating works of Dumas to bring musketeers to life, or liberally retelling the tale of Arthur-those, I feel, are more of an homage and may even cause people to *gasp* read a book.

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 Stealing from “Big Business”

It is one thing to use a line or a reference, especially if your show is satirical and parodies something well-known to the audience. What is not cool and possibly life-damaging? Stealing from organizations like “Overlord of the Mouse”  and “Game of Big Bucks Network” and using their characters, lines, songs to make large sums of money. Seriously, change some of it so it’s recognizable but not a whole-sale lifting. This is a good example of walking that line (video)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5Vo0gazKX0

Stealing of Patter

Quite a few acts have spent YEARS perfecting how they interact with audiences. For every joke that hits it out of the park, there were many, many moments of silence, crickets or offended looks. Each act works hard on what they use for their shows and if they are smart they change it up.  Some folks I’ve worked with (not in my group) have STOLEN another act’s jokes and used them at the same fest. We’ve had it happen to us. It was jaw-dropping when it occurred. We had a little disclaimer we use before our fire show and the act ahead of us at a small fest used the exact lines that we do.  We were so astonished that when Fenix approached and mentioned;
“Sooo, that opening sounded a little familiar to us.” At first the performer laughed it off but then realized that they had been nailed and sort of half-assed apologized. But the act in question had made it such an integral part that the person unwittingly used it AGAIN at the next show. At that point we sort of face/palmed and moved on. This act was not a serious threat and we had a little fun with it when we did our next show. This person is also why we have an informal policy of not training anyone who doesn’t make a year commitment to the troupe.  And we’re not jerks, Normans of the Southern Sun (A reenactment group from the Gulf Coast) asked to use our “pointed stick” patter and being 1200 miles away, we have no issue since 1) they asked nicely 2) it’s not the same show.

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Stealing the spotlight
It’s a big pond, it can be competitive. Something we hear over and over
“I could do that, that looks easy.”
And we say “Godspeed.” Especially with the fire. Because you know what, you CAN buy accelerants at the Mart of Walls, get a lighter and say
“Look over here!”
Do we recommend it? No, not at all. Because it is difficult to do WELL and SAFELY. A rival fire act did some gorgeous stuff at a recent fest-they freely admitted they’d seen us do it. But they were terrifying in their lack of concern for the audience. And the next time we did that fest, the fire marshal asked for insurance and a fire plan-which we happily mailed over and offered to meet and discuss before the show.  We still had a show, they did not. And something interesting has to happen for 1-3 minutes per performer, if it isn’t interesting to begin with, it will only be twice as interesting on fire, something many acts forget.

Same is true of swords,  we’ve been doing sword shows for eleven years and any place we’ve been with a certain organization which somewhat rhymes with My Variety of Me-ate of Smacker-prisms, we do something similar and WE have been accused of stealing their thunder, until we get on stage. Entertainers and demonstrators can overlap but if doing a show, you still need to be entertaining. It’s not enough to ape what others do. Or, even if you love something, you have to be able to make connection with the butts in the seats, YOUR love is not sufficient.

My bullet point Public Service Announcement

  • Don’t Steal Copyrighted material, it’s illegal
  • If you mimic only what you see, you are not creating something worthy of you and your audience
  • If you are stealing the basis of someone’s act-remember, they already do it better than you do.

 **These folks translated the sickle manual for us, you should show them love on Facebook 🙂
https://www.facebook.com/massrenaissancecenter/