Archives for posts with tag: performers

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”

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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.

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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.

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This past Sunday I was chatting with other troupe members and one reminded me that he had been with the troupe for ten years and my jaw dropped. Soon after I asked, “So does that mean we should have a “survivors award” for anyone over five years? “  I can’t speak to what keeps people doing this year after year, I can only share what it is that keeps me coming back.

First, I’m half owner of the business  and my partner and I joke that sometimes it’s like a game of chicken as to who will give it up first. Or that we are victims of the Sunk Cost Fallacy but the truth of it is that we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t enjoy it. Fortunately for us, and the troupe we have interlocking personalities  that allow us to be pretty successful at getting and keeping things going-and that we are gifted with members who genuinely care that it gets done and looks good.

Show up!. Although winter isn’t my favorite, I slog in and do my bit. I have three goals at practice 1) move 2) plan 3) improve. That’s it and none of that happens if I don’t show up. In fact, I have found when I take time off, I feel off, it  shows up in my physical and mental abilities. I recently took a Sunday off and my glutes noticeably hurt from sitting too long. So even on non-practice Sundays, I will find errands to get me up and going. (To be clear, you should be active at more than practice and if you aren’t, no one wants to hear the whining)

The little details-I desperately need to update the website, check the expiration on our med kit items and make sure costuming is repaired, unstained and replaced. Some of these tasks are clearly sexier than others.  I like to do this with others because then it becomes more fun, less dull and we can make ibuprofen jokes (If you work at faires, you make these as well.)  My “treat” for doing this  a new costume piece or something for…the tent.  Slowly but surely we have been getting accessories for the troupe. After our last tent was unceremoniously smashed against the side of a building by a Gulf Coast wind I finally bit the bullet and paid for a fairly historical tent.  And some nice chairs, and we added a side panel, and are costing out a recycled rug and…well it is only limited by our imagination, our budget and the size of our traveling vehicle.

As Gloria Gaynor famously sang “I love the nightlife, I love to boogie” but I would paraphrase to say I like the stage. I can eat up compliments as well as the next guy.  I must prefer kudos for my work than for my costume or ability to take fruit to the head (long story) And you do have to be prepared to take some damage  and time o do what we do in order to receive the applause.

Each fire act takes a year to come to the stage, each performance fight a minimum of six weeks (that’s after it is created) and the historical stuff often longer. Once had a subcontractor (sort of) come by and ask if we ever did anything new in our shows. And after several troupe members had duct-taped my cranium in place so my head didn’t explode, I calmly explained that we *always* add something new, every single performance. It can be as simple as tweaked lines or substituting a crab puppet for a dagger (true story, even we don’t know about if beforehand sometimes) It can be premiering a weapons form that no one else in North America is doing because we took the time to pay for a translation and then interpret. It can be a new kids act that can only be seen at one show once a year. We definitely have a niche and change up within that format-but we DO change it up and not just for the audience’s benefit.

Longevity lives in the heart. If anyone came up to me and showed me that they do what we do, better and with more gusto, with a brief  consult with my partner we would gladly turn over the reins  and just be troupe members (it’s even in our rules)  But our members have freely admitted that it is a long, tough job to be the boss and it’s more fun to show up, do the job and then slip away back to home.

I can’t say what your motivator is; my partner says it is to be a “nostalgia generator” (I’ll make him do a guest post on that)  another says it is the sense of purpose while enjoying the faire. Another that it is all about the little kids and getting to say those things you’d normally be fired for uttering. Whatever it is, it’s that little fire inside and if you can keep that stoked long-term, you might get to be an old hand at it.

 

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Today we’re going to discuss dilettantes,  I do my best not to point fingers because I am as guilty as the next person. I attended school for art and no, I am currently not being paid to do art. I did a stint for two years as a freelancer and then said “You know, I need health insurance and a roof over my head.” And so I have moved from a participant to a supporter and admirer. This is true of many things in my life. I can’t give you a hard line of what separates the professional from the dedicated enthusiast because that line is as wide and muddy as the Amazon. But even a river that size has sides,  and if you are standing on the bank, you’ve made a choice. To be extra clear, don’t claim to be a thing if you are not.

Most of the professionals I know have endured some serious hardships to be where they are. And since we’ve been around over a decade, we’ve seen plenty of folks swimming beside us who have come past us, given us a ‘high-five’ and then gone to the bank and pulled themselves up. We’ve firmly settled on a rock somewhere near dead center and one of these passing performers kindly referred to us as “dedicated part-time professionals.” So from our mossy, wet stone, I share these observations.

Investment in tools and equipment
Whenever I start something I often invoke my inner miser-I will save up and buy the best I can of “one thing” First this was a pair of boots, then a costume. This making sure that I have spent so much that NOT using it makes me feel hideously guilty and I have to justify the cost. This isn’t the method for everyone. With our group you are welcome to use loaner swords and costumes for about a year, then, the other members will start giving dirty looks because by that time, you should have your own sword and unique costuming. I’m told this is a generous amount of time. Other groups do it differently-they own your equipment but if you don’t produce, no equipment for you and OUT! But frankly, if you claim to be a juggler, pirate, lion tamer, what have you and haven’t bought a single item to support this claim-no one will believe that you have commitment.

Patience
Recently a western martial arts group posted a cartoon that made me chuckle. It showed someone watching a film, taking one class in martial arts, being disappointed and going back to playing video games.  As I commented on the thread, we see this pretty often.  This last weekend we did a workshop using dowels and at the end we let the participants handle the weapons and one commented “This is heavy!” (It was a rapier, if you were curious) We are about incremental changes over time-and that is why we will take anyone with the heart to try-some of our best people come from humble beginnings. A friend with Das Geld Fähnlein  and I have a similar attitude about members which we call the “pasta theory.”  The idea is to toss them in hot water, then throw them at something and see if they stick (thus, ready for consumption/finished)  Our requirement is six weeks of practice for one show a year. If you can’t make that level of commitment, I can’t be bothered to learn your surname.

Focus and Goals
Focus can a be a problem with performers. My partner laughs every time when I react to people with a bad attention span. Studies have proven that people cannot multitask  and so we work to make practice a place where we can self and group evaluate, where the only point is to learn/improve skills and think about what the future holds. We ask our members every year what they want to be able to do next year. Some people treat our segments and plays like merit badges-collect and move on to the next one. Sadly, it doesn’t work this way.  If someone doesn’t have a  basic understanding of why cuts or phrases are done a certain way, it’s like trying to eat a sandwich without any bread-messy and it looks unappetizing. We also do our best to discourage drama, because when someone wastes time at practice –they aren’t just wasting their time, they are wasting EVERYONE’S time.  It’s small ship, we all need to row together and know where we are going.

Routine
This is so important-as a friend says “The first part is showing up.” No one is 100% every day but even the days when it is a lower percentage, it can be a learning opportunity.  I still go to practice when I’m under the weather (but not contagious)  because sometimes there are questions, or just moving slowly still is moving. Everything adds to our routine-stairs rather than elevator, water rather than soda, slow movements through sword strikes and being in the head space that the next moments in time are focused on learning, listening, observing and doing.  Every small step gets ups closer to the end goal.

Practice
I’ve written a whole post on this so if you want to know my feelings on the subject just click on the link. Summary: Important.

And you will encounter people who think they can do what you do (A cracked podcast about this phenomena) But don’t be discouraged, you know that in a week, a year, two years, you’ll be better and better and they won’t be there at all.

Won’t lie, the rather self-deluded dabblers make me upset when they feel the need to share opinions with me. Even professionals will do this but you need to file these things away in your own time and importance. I like to use them as spikes in my ascent to being better and better. I remember one individual saying to me “well if (member of defunct well-known comedy sword duo) was here and saw you do that, she’d ream you a new one.” To which I replied
“I guess we can all be happy she’s not, then.”
And that pretty much sums up my feelings on the subject

Right now it’s the dead of Winter in New England and unlike other groups around the country, we can’t nip over to the park to practice or take open spaces for granted. What we work on in the winter is writing new fights for the spring and since we have finite work space this can be both a challenge and a boon.

ImageThis photo is an over-exaggerated spin from this winter’s practice. A good example of you may think you look cool but sometimes it’s just silly

Writing fights for most stage productions (according to one of our sword teachers) is a linear affair. The audience is generally on one side and the rest of the cast has to be out of the way of the action.  For film, the action is generally with several cameras and is bits built up into an action-packed fight.  For us, we build our fights to be 360 degrees because often our choreography takes place in a field or on a joust run.  The problem with writing fights is that everyone thinks they can write them-and they can, it’s a question of how it looks, moves and performs and how good it is in the end analysis.

So what do you really need if you want to be consistent and of a quality to perform it? (This is not a how-to so much as an overview)

We start with a common lexicon or terms and basic maneuvers. If you have ever seen a cut chart for sword manuals the positions on the body look similar to the positions of a clock. The people who are “dancing” together need to understand where the swords and bodies are going and that everyone is on the same team. At this point we have not even picked up weapons or wasters, we use a series of exercises taught to us by Tony Wolf, which he freely admits he cribbed from dancers. The first set of movements are two people, with a body chart of rights, lefts,  and they stand together palms just not touching. Initially we start with a clear aggressor and defender and they move around the room, always in complimentary position. This is harder than it sounds, it results in stomped toes, unbalanced falls and backing into objects.  This exercise  saves us a lot of explanation because when we say “be aware” it often goes in one ear and out the other.

We have basic drills, done solo, which teach targeting, review basic defense and attacks and build arm strength and stress balance.  I use the sparest form of this when I teach “sword lessons” to small children in under ten minutes. (Let me be clear, these are not long-term students, these are 5.00 sword lessons so small children can hold a metal sword)  I can teach a basic “fight” to your average  seven year-old pretty quickly. It is an extended version of this we use as our “primer” fight for troupe members. It is a series of drills strung together to make a fight.  And once the member has the basics of this memorized they are welcome to write their first fight.

Maybe it’s my Irish heritage but I believe three is the magical number for writing fights- two people to do a walk-through and another to document. (When reviewing historical manuals this trinity is ideal with a good physical practitioner, a scholar and a smart-ass with drive.  But that is a another blog entry) When we write fights the person documenting has to take into account, point-of view (We use the aggressor) the fighting style, the movement, the motivation and above all, safety.  Everyone has a tool of choice for this-Valkyrie swears by pen and paper, I use paper transcribed onto notepad, word and one of my teachers uses excel, and digitally recording.  You just need a medium that can be shared, tweaked and documented.  I can’t stress enough that a good fight does not rely on props or hidden items-this has a tendency to go wrong at the worst times. (Murphy’s Law is a troupe member everywhere)   having my own issues occur in performance, the troupe makes fun of me for going through worst-case scenarios but they laugh less when they have alternates in place.  I will use a specific example-one fight between a small and large group member involved leaping onto someone and drawing a boot dagger.  At my insistence, I asked that there be an alternative if that went wrong.  And it did (boot dagger made its own leap)and the player mimicked strangling her partner with hair extensions. The audience never knew the difference but we had a good laugh over it.

The other reason drills never go away: Yes, it happens, people blank during fights.  We have some keywords that indicate “Oh hey, brainfart!” and the fighters go through a quick set of drills until they are both  back on the same page.

Some general things that can go wrong that practice can smooth over

  • Weapons fumbles
  • Drastically changed performance space
  • People moving things they are not supposed to touch
  • Being thrown into a situation with other bodies unexpectedly (Oh we are part of a large-scale melee, huh, good to know…)
  • Sprains and accidents
  • Slippery ground

To me, a good fight needs about six to eight hours of development to be decent. I am not talking about six hours run together. We scale it as two weeks of development (more if you want) but four to six  weeks of doing it by memory with 360 critiques at 1-2 hour increments.

We joke that “first performance fights” are the fights most folks never forget, it’s their baby and it is also the one they have the most brain space available. They work it to death and it shows.  Years later we all look back and wince a bit but it has a certain integrity to it.  And no fight is so perfect it can’t be critiqued. And I’ve included a sample of a “first fight”  at the bottom.

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I won’t lie, it’s fun to do but if you are part of a working group-you need to change it up and occasionally try letting someone write fights FOR you. It will be illuminating on all sides.

 

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I wrote a blog about how performers view patrons and I feel I have to follow up with a “How we sometimes view other performers.” Often, we don’t because we are out  busting a hump to make our own performance happen. If you make the “notice” list I’m talking about here, well, it was nice seeing ya!

I am going to use a real-life example because they illustrated this so perfectly. One year at a small but lucrative faire, there was a group that came in for low-to-nothing cost. We had been doing the faire for about two years at that point when a group I will simply call “the Prima Donnas” or PD for short (Pain in the Derrieres, if you prefer) did something like we do but not really-it was noisy and involved physical skill. The first way they caught our attention was to complain about stage placement. You see this was a large field and we were given one of the long ends as our site. We’d set up the tent, made up a ring and posted a blackboard with our stage times. The other large groups would work out from the OTHER end. This group had arrived late to the fest and so, a lot of ground had been claimed. But we understood and said we’d be happy to share our ring when the time came. But you see they did not communicate within their own group so the following happened: confusion on where they were performing, when (which led to some indignity when they tried to use our stage on our scheduled times) and how much space their show took up. Still, we are easy-going, figured out a solution and moved on.

Following up,  they decided to have a public confrontation with one of our subcontractors about the manner in which he attracted crowd as his loud method was “too similar to our show.” Okay then. If our noise-maker is competing with your show, we are delighted to stop. I personally felt it said more about the quality of their show than we should know but, there you are. And this was topped off with that most heinous of sins…trying to steal our crowd during a show.

Folks, if you ever want to make the hate list of another act, you should either distract an audience during someone’s show or interrupt the acts’ tip time. That act may well do something dire to you while all the other performers cheer and offer suggestions. Bring the marshmallows, Martha, because there will be a bonfire.

So PD had not endeared themselves to us or to any of the other performers. And just when I thought they could not add another tickbox to Things You Don’t Do…

Another bit of background about this faire site, it was functionally a cul-de-sac. After our first year of being trapped for an hour in the parking area, we had learned to park outside the site in another lot and just hand-carry what we needed overland and get out of there. Other acts, staff, etc. found themselves trapped by one vehicle packing up and the attempts to leave could take hours. Had we really been charitable we could have warned them (they had light equipment) but after spending the day with them, we figured it wasn’t worth taking up any more of their precious time and air. So as we passed them, carrying our bags and satchels of swords and tent bits they whined about walking to their vehicle and complained about how their nice faire garb had become all muddy. Huh, mud at a faire ground, who would have thought it?

And we overheard one of them ask his companion why we weren’t helping and his friend told him that [equipment] wasn’t that heavy and maybe they’d asked enough already. One of my troupe-mates leaned over to me, under the bag on his shoulder and observed
“Don’t think we’ll be seeing them next year.”
And he was right, we never saw that group anywhere, ever again.

Be reassured folks, that we have seen *members of that group* involved in other events, so no, they were not lost and never seen again. Or had anything dire done to them.

But let’s summarize:

  • Don’t assume  you are the only act at a faire (or at least don’t act like it)
  • Don’t be a jerk to your fellow acts, we are in this together so try to swallow your bile and wear a smile, at least for a few hours.
  • Do be sure to know where YOU need to be and what YOU are doing because other than the organizer or performer representative, you’re asking too much of anyone else. 
  • Never, ever compete with someone’s act and audience at their stage. There is a Leprechaun in FL who has a bounty on his head, (only kind of kidding.)
  • Do be prepared and informed, or at least appear to be. Ask questions if you don’t know.

And finally, it’s an outdoor event. If you are not prepared to deal with the elements, you’re in the wrong business.

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I am always surprised  when visitors to a faire say to me
“You must think I’m the biggest idiot!”
And I reassure them it is not true and not even close. I worked overnights at a convenience store near colleges  for two years, that’s a high bar I ask that most human beings not strive to beat. But it does make me wonder what they see from outside of the  fisheye lens of a faire participant so let’s share today.

To begin; I am super happy you have come today-no audience, no faire, no faire, no paycheck, no one to clap and give positive feedback, pluses all the way around. Do I care what you are wearing?-Generally I don’t and in fact if you came with a costume or a pouch or something else of interest, it gives me an excuse to talk to you and we can have fun chatting and playing. If I seem busy, please do catch my attention and we’ll work from there. If I seem to rush off, it’s not you, you may have caught me on my way to a stage and it’s not that I’m brushing you off but that it’s that time.

You think my swords are cool? Excellent! Tell me why and let’s talk about it. And this is how I have heard some cool stories of my own. It’s how we met the head of a Pensacola dojo who came direct from Japan, it’s how a lot of veterans tell us what they know, and it is how we get to hear some great things about families, ideas, techniques and the people who do them. Heck, sometimes it devolves to geekery about amine or World of Warcraft or Hobbits.

ImageSeriously,  I freaking love hobbits

You want to tell me about yourself- cool but please don’t monopolize me, because I have troupe members who need answers about upcoming shows, a tent issue, missing object or some ephemera with my name on it. And if I have my mouth open over a sandwich, yeah, I’ll probably have someone else answer your question.

A positive example of making an impact on us is that we see one another year after year and have a relationship and become friends, or even just buddies who see one another once a year. I love this and it makes faires special for the performers as well. And please never take it personally if we don’t recognize you right away. Just jog our memory and that will be enough.

And if you are a tiny person, and we see you grow up, that is special.

Not so special ways to get on the radar. Stalking, Heckling, Poaching.

I’m going to throw a couple of extra cautionary bits out there in the hopes that some folks will recognize their friends or perhaps *ahem* some personal behaviors.

We are here to entertain you and we don’t even mind a little familiarity, but we are not your trained pet. I will do some tricks by request but almost never by demand and evoking some small child in your triangulation scheme. just makes me dislike you more and I will find a way for it to reflect badly on YOU. And sadly for many, we don’t take tips for anything but our fire show so threatening or promising tips (see #3) simply doesn’t move us.

Violating clear physical, social and personal boundaries is another way to make yourself memorable. If we have a fight ring up with people using swords inside, it’s a terrible idea to bring a baby carriage through. If we are in in tights, you can ASK about the codpiece but (and I think this can be applied to a number of body parts) grasping and making honking sounds, not really funny. And personal-if you have to move aside a tent flap, step over a sleeping person and ask a question of someone with a face full of onion-sauteed sausage, you may well have violated a boundary and may not help yourself to what is in the cooler. (Without permission) Starting a philosophical discussion in front of the port-o-pottie is a bad idea for EVERYONE. These are all true and actual examples.

So in a nutshell: you come to the fest to have fun-we are there to make sure you have fun. We don’t judge you, after all we are here in outfits saying things that would be firing offenses elsewhere. We want to enjoy the ride along with you and your fun means quite a bit to us. But if you act in a way that is socially unacceptable outside of the faire, don’t bring it in with you. Please be one of our happy stories not “Oh no, it’s THAT guy, again.”