Archives for posts with tag: be responsible


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.

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:

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:
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!



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.)

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

safety Stop! In the name of love safety!

Every time I get a chance I say big “Thank You” s to the folks who support a fire show.   Spotters are the people at fire performances  who handle putting stuff out and keeping people safe. They have many duties and it’s a tough job.

One group once told me that having spotters obvious to an audience was a sign of unprofessionalism and I felt compelled to disagree.  It’s is absolutely dangerous and if I’m on fire, the closer my personal putter-outer is, the happier I am. Here’s an example of how it can go wrong-when the host of a kid’s program sets himself ablaze.

In the photo above is there a spotter in the pic for a Phoenix Swords show?  Yes, and we can all live with it.

For the first few years of the troupe, I was one of the primary spotters. Mistakes are part of the territory but prime spotters will be good risk-assessment people. I’d rather be doing a ‘derp’ moment for accidentally grabbing a hot prop with fingerless gloves than ever put a performer at risk. (Not a mistake I made twice) Here are some things spotters need to know.

Communicate ALWAYS.   One of the items we can whip up on the back of a napkin if need be is everyone’s job on the stage. We have a stage chart that is standard  for EVERY JOB with places for the primary safety person, performers waiting to go on, fuel and how to move onstage.  On the show-by show chart we break jobs down by person, tool, who is fueling, who is a spotter and who is in charge of music (excel spreadsheets are great for this) Before we go on, everyone knows what is what and we ask and we do dry runs. We even have a default spot for live musicians when we get them-out of the way!  We have protocols for “you’re on fire stop spinning!” and a number of other emergencies but sometimes people panic and we have protocols in place for that as well. Fire has particular issues that swords never do, not the least of which is night blindness and being physically unable to hear anything over roaring flames. It’s important to drill, drill, drill.

Be ready to take a faceful and stand your ground-don’t take it personally. I’ve had to fight with fire performers and  although they are ultimately responsible for their own safety in performance, I will do my bulldog impression if it means a safer show, regardless of how cool something might be alight. I’ve had performers bark at me because their favorite torch wasn’t in place when it was in their right hand. I’ve had people snap at me when I moved a hot tool so it didn’t start the grass on fire and I’ve gone to the mat about certain fuels.  I’m not here to be a servant, I’m here to be a safety and if you want to be a pain about it-that’s your prerogative.  I’ll be a pain in the ass right back, everyone’s security is riding on it.

You can’t be all things. My job is to support performers. Sometimes that’s hug performers, feed performers, wet down performers, massage performers, get their favorite tools and be a sounding board. But sometimes I get busy and my priority list may not be your priority list.  I have a particular stare I’ve been known to give when someone complains about the fuel I’ve purchased on short notice  or that their favorite fuel-dispensing  method has been changed. I try my best to wear a lot of hats in a short time if we have a small number of performers. And this gets a little more crazy if I have to go on stage as well (see excel spreadsheet where I’ve written your name!)  and I’m fueling my own tools.   Admittedly, we spoil some of our performers, but they give good show and that’s what we are here to do. But still not your mommy. Whine too much-be the subject of some good-natured ribbing from your fellows.


I include this photo just because it is one of my favorites of three excellent human beings who should avert their eyes about the next paragraph.

Fire breathers are a special case.   Fire breathers are often the center of attention in a room, it’s their personalities-they take fuel and light it on fire while blowing it out of a face hole. That they are willing to do that tells you about them in a nutshell.  Their levels of personal safety and that of others are in different galaxies and they are the ones I butt heads with most often.  When we do fire shows and do fire-breathing-each breather gets a personal, specially trained  safety plus anyone else who is free. We don’t combine fire-breathing with any other moving activity (note we’ve been known to have stationary fire carefully arrayed around them for a big finale) And I actually have  a special “fire-breather kit” that I put together for shows because they often arrive, ready to do their thing, without equipment or fuel. They say it’s because they know I’ll have it,  but there have been times I’ve had to do some last-minute improvisation because I hadn’t expected them to do the trick. Do I want to try it myself someday? I do.  I practice aspiration and expelling but just can’t take that last step! But if you are asking which of the fire performers I am giving the special eye? It’s these guys in the picture above..


Another example of “spot the spotter” blocking wind so a performer may fire-eat in high winds.

Least glamorous job ever but one of the most important.  Some folks might argue that one has to be a good fire performer to be a good spotter. I disagree. They have to aware of how fire works,  good safety and prompt responses. If anything, I’ve found that performers are a little more tolerant of risky behaviors and less focused. It’s a question of interest and thought process. A performer is watching the act, a spotter is watching bodies and fire. Good spotters understand night blindness,  how to spot restive audience members and are not interested in making nice.  I’ve rebuked spotters for being too full of themselves during a show, they are not the feature. But they are the ones who will carefully walk behind a performer who has left wisps of grass burning, putting it out without drawing attention to themselves.   Or reach around a joking performer and put out a clothing patch. And they do it for no glory, no tips and little recognition except for grateful performers. When you clap, be sure to think of them 🙂


One of the first experiences I had at a faire nearly put me off them completely. But I’m a born mistake maker-you know the person who has to do it twice to make sure of it. And in many cases that has saved me from making a hasty decision I may have regretted. Last entry I talked about non-renfaire entertainments with a “medieval” flavor. They are varied and wide just as being in a renaissance faire can be a buffet of what we take in for ourselves. So it really torques me when people explain how it is that I am expected to enjoy and or participate in a renaissance faire. It really goes right up my proverbial…nose.

Going as a patron-anything goes because one PAID  TO BE THERE.

When you are part of the ambiance,  having fun is not the number one priority-it can be a high one but you are paid to do a job (even if it is comp tickets) So I have been thinking about the experiences that I  personally enjoy.

I am a strange person who enjoys the setup as much as the show-fortunately we have others like that as well. Our group basically travels like a field trip-they get dressed, pack a lunch and expect a tour guide with written directions. If that’s what you want, that’s what you get- it leaves more head space for a performance, but I can’t go on comfortably without lists, discussion and touching everything.

Doing a good job-when we engage and it goes well that really warms me up inside. It means weeks and years of hard work have dragged our sorry butts here and we have earned a laurel crown that we get to wear until the next show. And it’s an accomplishment, it looks easy to be an entertainer but especially here in the Northeast, there is a certain cynical element that one needs to cannon-blast through to reach the audience.  We have to tone some things down when we travel to other parts of the country (that’s another blog entry) but when you have built a show brick by brick and it stands, there is nothing like it.

Being in the moment.  It’s funny to see how different this is for each different performer. For me it’s getting on-site and sitting down after setting up the tent, the moment before I have to start practicing our first bit for the day. It is especially satisfying if I get to sit in my own chair, but barring that, sometimes it’s just sitting on the grass or a cloak and taking in everything around me. And then it is listening to how a sword sounds or getting a sense of the performance space.  A habit I have is “walking the plot” or getting a sense of how big the stage is, how weapons fall in a disarm, where there may be holes in the ground or red ants, or a loose rope stanchion. Knowing it helps work in or with it. The performance itself passes in a blur so I rely on cameras, friends or other performers to tell me how it went. I don’t have a lot of mental capacity onstage and so it’s my game face and the task at hand. And being in the space is part of the greater faire as well. My eyesight isn’t the best at distance and I can’t wear contacts  so I rely on some of these same things to procure water, find a bathroom or just chat with visitors to the faire. I have what we jokingly call “retail face”  because no matter where I go, people expect me to know where items live, the location of first aid and the bathrooms.

There is the bonding element that is important. My devoted percentage to this seems to be smaller than that of most people. I’m fairly binary-can I get through this with you or not?  Sometimes the answer is “just through the performance.”  This is something of a lifesaver because I don’t generally need the approval, desire to be liked or friendship of another performer, this allows me to work with the ‘tough cases.’   Often we’ll have that “bee in a bonnet” at a job and it’s my duty to close my fist around it and take the sting for the team. My partner does this as well, we tag-team often. When it’s positive I really enjoy it. I may not need it to be as salacious, raucous or epic as everyone else, but I still enjoy it. And I like hearing how it went from my fellow performers-the retelling is part of the experience as well.

Faire hangover-I think this a different experience for everyone. My “day job” is at a conservative workplace with high politeness standards and indoor voices. I enjoy it very much. But when the time comes for doing performance I have to turn up the decibels,  be more outgoing and put on my arse-kicking boots. (I fact have to do this at practice every weekend so *shrug*) But without the filters, profanity limiters and hijinks ensuing, it can be hard to squeeze that genie back into the box. Fortunately for me, one of the bigger shows falls at a time where I have some transition. When I don’t have that, I’ve seen the reaction by my other set of employees and it’s like getting a face full of megaphone. But the two worlds are very different experiences and sometimes it’s hard not to laugh when placed back-to-back to one another.  I feel blessed to have both available.

If you asked many other performers it’s another set of the quiet and loud moments in different amounts, like a recipe or a sound check-tweaked to your personal needs and outputs. It’s not one thing to all people. So while I tell faire participants to get their friends involved, I do so with this caution-let their experience be their own and compliment yours, not clone it.

I was using my highest level of profanity (appropriate on Mother’s Day since it involved the word “Mother” and how one becomes a mother) trying to get some HTML code to work on the revamped website. My partner came over to see if he had to heave chocolate or liquor my way and I asked
“Doesn’t anybody realize how much work is behind the scenes in making things happen!??”
he smiled and answered,
“No and we can take some pride in that.”

This subject is especially close to my heart as a number of friends are dealing with venues, performer issues, financial issues and health/family issues. One doesn’t have to be financially solvent and totally stable to do the business of renaissance faires but boy, it sure does help.

I have a whole post due to be written about organizing faires (and why I try not to do it any more) but there are extra burrs and cockles with some Dante mixed in for good measure. Some friends are currently dealing with wrestling that faire beast right now. (I have no idea how they manage it) But I’m writing this as a plea to performers and volunteers to be nice to the folks who do the dirty work so you can get on stage.

From the performer perspective, you generally start as a volunteer and you are given your marching orders. If your faire overlords are kind you will have things like breaks, water and food.

One of the most potent weapons I have seen organizers, leaders and fraternities use is the psychology of exclusivity-that is, because you are slaving away for a certain institution, you have earned the right to be there and it automatically makes you better than everyone else who does the same thing somewhere else.  I have looked in awe at how effectively some faires  and groups(and nonprofits) have applied this method. I’m not saying hard work doesn’t elevate you-it absolutely improves your skillset, makes you part of a team and generally moves mountains. But this application does not work equally to all things and we have seen the dark side of this as well.

Convince someone that they are better than their fellow human beings and  gets something like the Stanford Prison experiment. Even in our own group we experienced something like it when we decided to be more  hands-off as leaders.  That played out poorly. So now we have a benevolent dictatorship run as a meritocracy.

But we DO have to be in your business when it effects the whole organization and the people in it.  We get a double dose of work –not only should we be able to pinch-hit for the other performers, but  we had to start weeks and years before with making a name, advertising, hustling gigs and working out contracts.  Our current group is pretty responsible (and thank you so much for that) but in the past we’ve had to do phone check-ins, wake-up calls,personalized checklists,  to-the-minute schedules and coffee runs (which makes the water and tea drinker owners frown a bit) We make sure everyone knows locations, directions, meeting times, weather reports-and has the needed props and equipment. In some cases we had to provide-last-minute transportation!


One formerly typical incident, that to this day causes me to make a face like the one above, was when we had to roust a member, harass them into getting dressed, still late and when emerging blamed another troupe member because they (not the blamed one) had forgotten a certain costume accessory.(?!)  Later, on the departure of this member (and so many like them) we all stood in front of the vehicles, fully dressed and ready to go, did a head count and all realized that it was only us grownups and we were ready to go. I think some of us did a little dance before loading in and leaving. (I’m never going back to the dark times!)

If someone runs a faire, well this gets exponentially bigger and more complicated. This is why most organizers have a merchant AND a performer coordinator so the cat-herding is divided.

We fully realize by being “in charge” in means you have the most unforgiving boss ever-who follows you into the bathroom with questions and whispers in your ear just before you sleep. And that you VOLUNTARILY signed up for the madness.

What I’m really trying to say is that if you are a performer or participant in faires, that when you come into a situation, please come prepared as best you can.  Or as a former troupe member so eloquently put it (phrase here not for kids)  The folks who make the magic happen are juggling a lot of balls, so please leave your chaos at home and don’t make it part of the show!