Archives for posts with tag: performing

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!

 

Image

This weekend we did one of our favorite local festivals. It is close to home, it features us, it is sponsored by and highlights the University of Massachusetts Renaissance Center.  It’s an annual tradition that we attend the sword symposium the last week of April and perform at the May festival the week after. The first in business casual and the second in costume. It is a in a gorgeous location with a backdrop of the Berkshire mountains and since we like everyone at the center very much, it’s a fun time.

Normally I would do a single-subject blog but circumstance has pointed out to me that I have to address some immediate items that came up this weekend.

First, someone referenced in past blogs came up and commented
“I’ve been reading your blog and would like to submit some corrections”
“You read the blog! Is it about my typos? (note my priority)
“No I would like to reference the sentence that  my humor is an acquired taste.” He then pointed to a known passer-by
“X” Is my sense of humor an acquired taste?”
As if on sitcom cue
“No, you have no sense of humor.”
Ba-Dum Ching!
And I have to address that he does, indeed, appreciate that historical fights must be modified for stage and that he has never  fist-shaken in absentia, at my statements in the blog.  The shout-outs are appreciated. And that I clearly have been having some conversations only in my mind. 😉

I am well and truly grateful to have invested in a fine tent-it was made for Gulf Coast winds and had a workout on a hillside this weekend. In fact it did its job so well that the visitors came and joined us inside the tent and it seemed to survive intact. Just as I will write about how much I love hobbits, accept that I will do this about the tent as well. But I am not the only one who loves this tent, it was specifically requested at the faire in the same sentence as the troupe. So there you go.

I took quite a few pictures at this event and so, was walking in and out of the crowd. We received a lot of compliments, the event broke past attendance records despite the iffy weather and the organizers made it a point to personally thank us. But some people have to pee in the Cheerios and  some folks in costume from another fest decided to comment regarding our group. I’m not a big Disney fan but here’s a piece of wisdom for ya:

Image

Others from the same fest were lovely and we enjoyed talking swords with you. I’m not saying you aren’t entitled to your opinions but as my cousin the cop says, when you’re wearing it, you are representing the uniform.

And I guess I want to finish with this-if you go to a small faire and had a really great time-write to the organizers and sponsors and tell them as much. If you hate writing, then tell them in person. I appreciated the feedback on my blog and the audience was invigorating with their enthusiasm, despite sideways rain on occasion.  Wonderful little fest and a terrific place for Renaissance enthusiasts.

Our Sneak Peek gallery on Facebook is up here:
https://www.facebook.com/phoenixswords/media_set?set=a.10202092668744712.1073741837.1427259029&type=3

 

 

 

 

Image

We are fortunate that we (troupe)  live in a very art-enriched environment with a society that cultivates an air of indifference. (New England, specifically Massachusetts and Connecticut) Most people who live in this area generally don’t need to cruise the internet for strange events on Public Transport or are put out by someone in costume. Because we live near Lexington and Concord, Salem and other historic sites, no one even blinks at a redcoat stepping out of a minivan. We are saturated with renaissance faires and LARPS, and waving mascots. Even Wally, the Green Monster is a fairly common character around Boston.

But sometimes, you don’t live in that area and trying to convey the coolness that is the festival. Even I, the owner of one of the most glacial stares in a tri-state area, have come across some bizarre perceptions of what it is I do with swords and fire.

First, what you do is cool; never doubt that for a moment. You saw that brass ring, you grabbed it and did booty dance of delight, go on with your bad self. There are people even within the ecosystem of faires who will try to denigrate what you do. If you love it, then love it and don’t apologize for it, someone else is watching you right now and is probably thinking “I wish I was that self-confident.” And even if people think you are the biggest fool on the planet , if it makes you happy and doesn’t cause harm to yourself or others (that part is important) then you are already happier than most of the US population.

You will encounter well-meaning resistance from unexpected places and support from strange places as well. When I first started this I had “helpful” people suggest that I really wasn’t very good or that I was trying to recapture my youth or that I was ‘just too old’ for that sort of thing.  This advice needs to be examined under a bright light.  I suggest some verbal self-defense and often I would ask questions like
“How does me dressing in a silly costume threaten these person/persons?” “Why is it making them so angry?” Or “Why am I engaged in an argument over how I spend my weekends?”

And often the answer to that question does not sit with you but with the person who is arguing with you. To be fair, if someone is asking “How do you plan to care for yourself/pay bills/feed children?” Those are valid points that should be put on the table. But if the answer is “that’s stupid!” “Or “It just is!” then perhaps it is up to you to dig deeper and find the base reason for the hostility. I won my Mother over by bringing her on a long-distance job and she finally had a chance to see what it was I did in person.  She didn’t come to any other shows but after that she understood a bit better why I spent less time with her and why it was important not only for me, but for the people who worked for us. Sometimes it is just that simple-that you have begun a journey and haven’t taken the ones who love you along.  To be balanced, sometimes they aren’t meant to come with you, but it really is important to invite them and share.

“It costs too much money!
I have an easy set of answers for this. I always hum the Bobby Brown song “My Prerogative” and to sum up, “I made this money, you didn’t.”   And even though being part of a faire can be expensive, it is less expensive than out-of-wedlock children, a drug habit, gambling or a boat and generally when presented with these comparisons, MOST people will back down.

What you do has no value-this one slays me every time. Because it points out how little the person making the accusation has NO IDEA who I am as a person. I do give away my money, often and with no need for recompense. I give away my time for love and art and the paycheck (sadly) is necessary to command respect. What we do is a theater centuries old and is in most cultures in one way or another. It is insulting, short-sighted and frankly, base that someone needs to justify art in any form. You don’t have to like it, but it should engender respect to create something to share with others.

Sometimes you just aren’t going to get through, that obstacle is not one that you made but one that exists in someone else’s mind. Our friend JT who runs his own theater company once told me (after I’d been *extremely* upset at some personal attacks)
Dogs bark, the caravan moves on.”
There is so much comfort in this for me since I have left a lot of dust and barking behind in my time performing. When I run out of ideas and places to go, then it will be time to pack it up.

Everyone I have encountered who has done performance for a long period of time has a tremendous peace within themselves about their identity and self-worth. I’m not saying we all agree or get along but we don’t generally feel the need to justify ourselves to one another.

To sum up

  • Stay positive, if it makes you happy and doesn’t impact the health and welfare of people who rely upon you, it’s all good.
  • Be willing to share what you do in a personal way. Not everyone wants to go to the prom but it’s still nice to be asked.
  • Art does not need to be justified or universally loved. We may not be painting the Sistine Chapel but we are still creating something, and that in itself is important.
  • Sometimes you just have to move on and not engage. “You are not the Jackass Whisperer” has become one of my favorite new mantas.

For me, I still have doubts and bad days, that’s normal. But some friends came up to me after I gave a performance at our own Anniversary party.
“Watching you do all that, you just get healthier, younger and happier.” I smiled and thanked them because that was a statement, unsolicited, from someone’s heart, and it meant a lot to me. If that is what performing at faires does for people, then we should all drink deeply and well.

Image

The word “investment” has four separate definitions in Mirriam-Webster. In other locations it is listed under cultural, financial and sociological categories, This is in keeping with what performing is for most individuals-it would be nice to compartmentalize how to approach it, but it is nigh-impossible. No one I have ever met felt that becoming a renaissance faire performer was without cost and often acknowledge that if many knew the end result, would leap in so gleefully, feet first. Not that there is another way, mind you.

For stage there are unions and legal standards. Not so for many faires-they are impromptu affairs that are often made by committee. I was a person who fell into the “Let’s do a show!” trap and try not to let the performers who work with me fall into that too deeply. Here are some thoughts for long-term performers to ask themselves.

How much of my time? The answer is quite a bit. No act forms fully realized from inside someone’s head and it will not only need to be swaddled, nurtured and practiced-but subject to critique by friends, peers and complete strangers. You’ll notice that a lot of acts have small, friendly venues where they try out new material. Like the Emperor’s New Clothes or The Evil Overlord checklist #12, there is nothing like a sharp-eyed kid to shred your wonderful idea and force a complete rework. That’s right, I used the word WORK. And just like your day job it will need to be supported by reliable transportation, time planning, physical and mental labor. I have been unpleasantly surprised at the number of people who want to join our troupe without considering this. We never throw someone onstage with no time invested in training. The amount of time invested will impact success. But time invested with no feedback, or review is wasted time. So if you think you’re going onstage impromptu, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

Effort. I was once given a truism that allowed me to survive some terrible jobs. “You are paid for your time, not for your soul.” Sadly this doesn’t apply to performance. Your employer is, in fact, paying you to pour out your soul onstage-and you’d better do a good job of it. This means the training mentioned, it means lugging your tools, food, first aid, possibly shelter and costuming. It’s easy to do a good show in the sunshine, fresh in the spring to a willing audience. It is far harder to do that show in the rain, cold, overheated, with cranky patrons and less-than-optimal factors. Whether you are in a warm, shaded glade or sweating buckets on a soccer field or asphalt-it has to be the same quality. Like the one-armed bandit, some days you will get the jackpot, some days it’s just repetitive motion and you come away poorer for the experience. The trick is to  go out and do it again as though every day was a winner-and incrementally, you are a winner but that’s a pay-off you may not see for months or years. I like to quote Joe DiMaggio
There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time, I owe him my best.
(Source: The Sporting News April 4, 1951)

Friends and community, as with any toes into new waters, you may encounter minnows, you may encounter piranhas. Some folks in the community would like to take far too much advantage of newcomers in return for very little. But some peers in the community are  great and deserve kudos for all they bring to shows and the environment. But if one sees the same faces again and again and will lend a helping hand, this has proved to be one of our favorite “investments” in what we do. Within Phoenix Swords we have especially close bonds because these are the people we rely upon to be our spotters, partners and to use dangerous objects with implicit trust. And we pay back too, with tent help, moving and any heads-up about site changes.

Last but certainly not least-money.  All sorts of groups-reenactors, LARPers, community theater, social clubs-all of these and more are suffering as the economy is suffering. As of 2008 quite a few events simply stopped happening. Because we have been through this sort of crunch before, we have spare costumes, weapons and will cut costs internally in other ways.  Performers even with the backing of a group have to have money for gas, cleaning, food, repair and re-supply. It’s not impossible to do this on a limited budget but there does have to be a budget, even if just volunteering.

In summary, there are costs to being a performer, not all which are apparent at the outset but need to be taken into consideration.  This the title “Investment” hopefully with has served as a way to jump-start thinking about the tangential parts of having fun on stage.