Monthly Archives: August 2012

My Tragic Mental Scarring Over Knife Throwing Acts

When I was a kid around the first or second grade I remember there being a kind of “talent show” being done one day at school.  The only thing I remember from the whole show was the knife throwing act.

I still clearly remember sitting in a darkened school room and they were playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” (I didn’t know it was called that at the time).  I remember seeing the spotlight fly around and around, trying to keep up with the music.  I remember the target being a big flat piece of wood painted yellow with a solid black outline of a woman on it that the “victim” would stand in, much like the body at a crime scene. I remember the solid “THUMP”, “THUMP”, “THUMP” sound as the principal of the school threw knives at one of the teachers, handles of blades sticking out of the solid wooden target. And of course, kids being the little animals that they are, I can also remember how we all cheered at the idea that one of the teachers might get it.

Come to think of it I can also remember that the teacher in question wasn’t as hot as the woman in the picture here too, but I suppose I digress.

In any case we were to be disappointed.  No one was going to end up with a knife sticking out of them in a horrific screaming scene that would mentally scar a hundred 8 year olds for life.  Do I sound disappointed?

I suppose in a sense I am but only because that is the nature of the act.  The risk that someone might get hurt is critical to the whole thing. Otherwise it is little more than a game of darts.

But there is one other thing I remember all to well. One thing that led to my being disappointed in the act far sooner than every other kid in that room.

It was a scam.

You see there was a reason why that target backdrop was painted in such a garishly bright yellow.  There was a reason why the hyper music was being used and the spotlight flew around so fast trying to keep up with the music.

It was because they were doing their best to make sure that we couldn’t see the telltale holes in the target.  The holes that let the person hiding behind the targer to shove through the prop blade handles timed to suddenly appear as the principal, that lying jerk, appeared to throw each knife.  Prop blade handles, I was later to discover, were made out of tongue depressors.

Yup. They lied.  They cheated us out of the danger.  Can you believe it?  Not wanting to psychologically scar all those kids or run the risk of something not working right in a crowded room like a knife bounching off the target backdrop and landing in one of the kids sitting six inches from the teachers feet.

It’s criminal I tell you.

Still, it had an impact on me and years later I would try my hand at knife throwing in my backyard.  I would also give up after a while because I wouldn’t get the hang of it within the first ten throws and wouldn’t ever think to do something smart like read a book or ask someone how to do it.

But this past weekend at Purgatorio I had a chance to try again and to recieve some instruction in the process.  Tried a few throws.  Got one to stick.  Got some clues on how to figure out how to do it.  Got some direction.

In other words I got another interest.

Can’t imagine I’m going to be throwing knifes around scantily clad females any time soon but it seems like a nice long term goal.

You know, another way to spend time with scantily clad females.

Knife Throwing – Wikipedia

A step closer to my telescope tripod.

Well, 7 cents later I got the nut I needed to be able to turn the strike plate on my new tripod into something I can use.  By using a leather sling system I will be able to put my telescope on the tripod but be able to keep it safe.  So far I’ve gotten this far, but since I don’t have buckles at the moment I could only do this much.   So I’ll stop by the leather store in the next day or so and pick up a couple of buckles and finish this up.

From that point on I’ll actually be able to mount my telescope on my new tripod.  The nice thing is that with this design I should be able to actually use the same sling on a more authentic tripod once I have it worked out.

Looking forward to finishing this in the next day or so as the moon is getting full again and we should have a really nice view of it from my deck.

Enter the lair of Madam Fortuna and see your future!

One of the most important features of any carnival in my opinion is that of the fortune teller.

And the fortune telling machine is one of those carnival curiosities that stand out for me.  I remember going to carnivals, arcades, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and Disneyland, finding a fortune telling machine and plunking the requisite quarters in order to reveal my future.  And sometimes the future of whatever girlfriend I happened to have with me while I was there.

What can I say, the idea of knowing we’d be together forever is appealing, even if we only dated for a few months at a time.

Of course my favorite room in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland is the fortune tellers room with the crystal ball and the witches head inside calling out to the spirits to reveal themselves and reveal the future.  Well, okay, my second favorite room; my first being the dining hall with all the dancing ghosts because that is a large recreation of a fantastic historical illusion.

Nevertheless, the fortune teller is an important figure in a carnival and there is absolutely no way I’m going to neglect having one in mine.  Of course I’ll have to bypass my beloved Madam Fortuna and Zoltar machines in favor of the gypsy fortune teller we all know and love.

Or do I?

I suppose I might be able to justify the creation (eventually) of a automata fortune teller, but it seems that a bit of schooling has come my way in the form of a new blog post from my apprentice about the history and origin of the name of  “fortune teller.”

So, dear reader, I direct you to her comments and considerations of the name “fortune teller” as she asks the question “What’s in a name?”

Carnival Games and Prizes

Continuing ever onward with regards to the creation of my carnival I have now moved on to thinking about the kinds of games we might be able to offer. Of course this starts, as always, with research into the kinds of games that might have been played at a medieval carnival/festival and that brings one, inevitably, to Bruegel.

His paintings “Children’s Games” and “The Fight Between Carnival and Lent” provide a wide variety of opportunities.


But what are the qualities of Carnival Games that need to be particularly paid attention to and exploited for our SCA context? I came up with the following list:

  • Easily Understood
  • Quickly Played
  • Deceptively Challenging
  • High Replay Interest
  • Requires Mimimal to Moderate Setup
  • Easily Constructed
  • Easily Transported

I’d ideally like to have a large variety of games that can be rotated in and out at any given event. Perhaps bring three for any particular carnival night but by rotation we can keep people interested and returning over multiple events. It would also allow for the opportunity to discover which games are more interesting and workable.

Of course with a large number of games we could even, at some point set the whole carnival to be nothing but games at some events eventually. This could be a lot of fun and it keeps the ever changing nature of the carnival as a feature of this project.

There is however one particular quality of carnival games I have not touched on as yet — prizes.

After all, that is a part of the context of such games when you visit a carnival. You generally don’t play a ring toss just to play it. You play it to win a stuffed animal or some other prize. I’m really not interested in trying to provide a large quantity of stuffed animals, especially with the kids who are already a part of our camp group who would likely want to adopt them all!

But I wonder what might make good prizes and therefore create the kind of temptation/challenge that a carnival game truly represents. And of course, in the interest of full disclosure it should be noted that I do have a great deal of information already in my possession on how to rig a wide variety of carnival and sideshow games. I’ve loved Carny Culture since I was a kid so this should come as no particular shock to anyone.

What may be a shock is that I will not *actually* rig any of my games. Maybe. Probably.

But it does seem to me that there needs to be something to bring in the marks, er, customers. And that’s going to be interesting.

So, dear reader, what interests you?  What kinds of carnival games would draw you in?  And no need to worry about their historical accuracy.  Just tell me what you liked playing at the carnival or amusement park.

What kinds of prizes would you like to see?  What would tempt you to step right up and win a prize?

And, as usual, some useful starting links:

The Houdini problem

Harry Houdini is an interesting character in magic history. Of course even if you don’t know anything about magic you know the name Houdini and whether you like him or hate him (my apprentice is definitely not a fan) you have to give him credit for one thing at least: Public Relations.

There is no doubt about it, he knew how to advertise himself. So much so that even now, 86 years after his death everyone knows who he is and that he was “the greatest escape artist” of all time.

A lot of magicians strive to be the one most closely associated with some particular thing in magic; the performer whose act absolutely epitomizes some specific skills or presentation. And when it comes to escapes Houdini is “the man.” He’s the one everyone else who does escapes is compared to or measured against.

“He’s a modern day Houdini.” Yeah, yeah.

Here’s my Houdini problem.

I’m trying to do research into escapology prior to Houdini. Ideally I’d like to see what I can find out about escapology in medieval history. I’m sure there is some there, but the research is thin on the ground so far. Looking up any combination of “history”, “escapes”, “Magic” or “Entertainment” (and variations on those words) results in tons of links that start with Houdini and proceed from there as if no one ever thought of tieing someone up prior to that. (You people with your Inquisition Fetishes not withstanding…. *GRIN*)

So that’s my problem. How do I tease out the historical evidence prior to Houdini? This is going to take some work I’m sure. The right combination of search terms until I can find some decent clues to follow and then likely off to the library for me.

But until now I liked Houdini. Now, I’m starting to have some problems with him.

Here are a couple things I’ve found that are at least interesting if not that helpful:

Now that’s a Hobby Horse!

So, today’s wanderings are on the topic of puppetry. I’ve some experience but not a lot. Others I want involved in the Carnival are interested in puppetry and I do have one person currently involved who is most definitely a puppeteer.

I’ve got some basic links on Hobby Horses and Puppest here, but I felt a bit of additional wandering might prove useful. And of course it did. Starting with a couple of videos on Basic Puppeteering from none other then the Jim Henson Workshop. While these are targeted at modern puppetry I think there is still some genuine value to them based on what I’d like to see happen in the Carnival.

But, of course I couldn’t leave well enough alone and I was put in mind of a wonderful “puppet/magic act” by David Williamson and Rocky Raccoon!

And of course from the historical perspective we want to look at the basic “Punch & Judy” show.  Slightly out of the historical era we’re interested in, but has it’s roots in Commedia so definitely a good thing for us over all.

But for sheer coolness factor I found this:

Now that’s a Hobby Horse!

Some new kinds of juggling

Okay, so this stuff is probably not all that new, just new to me.  But it’s really interesting.  I’m particularly fond of the first one on this list.  “Staff” juggling looks very cool and the music choice is one of my favorites from The Piano Guys anyway.  Enjoy!

Read the rest of this entry

Carnival Programs

“Programs! Get your programs! You can’t tell the players without a program!”


Like anything else creative, ideas and research seem to come in bursts. After the trip to Disneyland and the examination of various automata, I have been digging around for more information. And of course, because of the flamingo hobby horse (which seems to be the correct technical term for this kind of “body puppet”) I’ve been seeing what I can find out about that.

And because of that I’ve also been adding some more information sources to the collection for puppets, juggling and fire eating. Yay! New pages. (When the heck am I going to get time to digest all of this data? No clue! *smile*)

But one thing that just went sailing through my head, and perhaps warrants some consideration is the creation of programs for these carnival shows.

With our acting troup, The Golden Stag Players, we always create a program. This is pretty understandable given that is common practice in a theatrical setting. You really do, to a certain extent, need a program to determine the actors, the characters and even sometimes their relation to one another.

But when I go to a Cirque du Soleil show there are programs but they make a very distinct effort to not identify the individual performers as their philosophy is to present themselves as a troupe first and foremost. A philosophy I appreciate for a lot of reasons and is most definitely appropriate in their case.

Now I am not in anyway saying we are even remotely Cirque-like, but we aren’t doing a standard theatrical creation here either.

It seems to me that there are a couple of considerations:

  • As this is an SCA targeted entertainment it’s unlikely that anyone is really an ‘unknown’ with regards to this group.
  • Introducing individual acts via a “ring master” (for lack of a better term at the moment) would address identity anyway.
  • The feeling I’d like to generate is more troupe first than individual first.

Then, because of the run of digging up resources I’ve done today one thing suddenly jumped to my mind; documentation.

Yes first and foremost this is about creating an entertainment space and entertainment forms that can be enjoyed as “family friendly”. But we are in the SCA, we are trying to do things in a historical fashion and as such being able to provide not just the entertainment but the education is something worth considering.

So, prospective performers, prospective audience, what do you think? Should we provide a program? Should we be concerned with documentation as a part of a program or maybe a webspace that is referenced in the program so we can put that documentation out there? Is this kind of information of interest or is it just a distraction?

Thoughts? Comments? Small rocks?

Carnival Automata/Puppetry courtesy of Disney

So, I’ve returned from my Disneyland vacation and definitely had a good time.  (The trip up and the trip back were terrible but the time there was excellent.  The price we pay I guess.)

And while I was there I did sort of joke about the idea of being there for research into automata.  Well, it really does work as research.  Honestly what better place can you go to see the best automata (or animatronics if you will be happier with that term) then Disney, and rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure or even (save us all) Small World?

When you are looking at these rides with different eyes and looking for different details you see just how amazing some of this stuff really is.  When you think of it in light of things like The Chess Playing Turk, and recognize that we’ve been fascinated by animated machines for so long Disney rides take on a whole new dimension.

But I think our biggest score (along this line of study anyway) was actually a puppet rather than an automata.

While visiting The Mad T Party we ran into a — well, hmmm, — it’s kind of, nooo — how about I just give you a video and you can decide from there?

This is on my wife’s Facebook, so hopefully the link will work.

Pretty darn cool, right?

Doing a standard “puppet” of this would be cool in and of itself.  Doing it on stilts makes it that much cooler and gives me an excuse to break out the stilts again.  (Not that I needed an excuse so much as just time.)

You can see fairly obviously that the head and neck of the puppet are under control of the “rider” which is cool, but what may not be obvious is the wings of the puppet.  They are also well articulated and the “rider” has the ability to spread and flex the wings with a couple of levers on the harness in front of him.  This added a really neat extra level of animation to the puppet.

I would have loved to have gotten up close with this puppet but not unsurprisingly the actor/puppeteer was very active and kept moving and animating the puppet.  He was certainly in no position to have a meaningful conversation about the puppet we was working with.

So, as you can see, I did do research at Disney.  Really.  *smile*

Do you believe me?

I’m going to Disneyland tomorrow so I can study modern automata.  You believe me, right? 🙂

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