Category Archives: Event

Why are you in my camp? – An SCA Rant

campWhen I first joined the SCA nearly 30 years ago one of the first things I was taught is that someones camp is their home and that you don’t just walk in to their camp uninvited any more than you would walk in to their mundane home without knocking at the door and being acknowledged.

Although it hasn’t been reported in a number of years, there have been incidents of people’s camps being stolen from; as in money being taken from inside peoples personal tents. And I happen to know of one recent incident where a person was caught just before entering a persons RV when no one was present.

So there are reasons to be concerned over being aware of who is in your space.

But this problem is more basic than that. For the past three years I have paid particular attention to this issue and I have been more than a little dismayed to realize that there hasn’t been a single camping event that I have been set up at in that time when my camp hasn’t been tromped through by people with no clue whatsoever that they are invading someones space.

And I am not just talking about children running around playing, although that certainly happens. I’m more than willing to give the benefit of a doubt to children who are just being children. We don’t like it when they are running through, but usually a simple request is enough to move them to some place acceptable for their activities.

But I have had adults leave their children in my camp. Children who weren’t even playing with any of the children who are a part of my camp! They just leave their children because they seem to think I’m willing to be a babysitter. Sorry, but West Kingdom Youth Activities rules apply in my camp; if there isn’t an adult who belongs to that child right there then that child doesn’t get to be there.

Oh, and while I am diverging slightly about children, if you are unkind or intolerant to the children who are a part of my household then you will be summarily dismissed from my camp. I don’t care if you are kid friendly or not. Those kids are a part of my family and they have more right to be there then you do. If you disrespect them then you are disrespecting me.

No, I am talking about adults, people who have been in the SCA for years, people who have rank and title and Peerage, who just walk in without so much as a “by your leave” or come tromping through the backfield, LITERALLY TRIPPING OVER CRISSCROSSED ROPES and seem to have no clue that they are walking in to a space that is clearly not meant to be accessible!

Over the past three years I have made a particular effort to make my camp layouts in a manner that should clearly indicate to anyone paying attention where the space is private and where it is public. It doesn’t seem to make a difference.

Now I get that sometimes the issue is “well my friend is there and I need to talk to them” but let me address that. My friends in my camp are my household. There can be a few additional people who come in as “friends of friends” and that’s fine. Members of My Household (and you aren’t members of My Household unless I have told you so) can basically say to anyone they deem appropriate “yes, come in.”

But they can only say that when they are asked in the first place!!!

Just because you recognize someone in my camp doesn’t mean you can automatically walk in. It’s still a courtesy to ask permission to enter if it is anyone’s camp other than your own. It can be the camp of my very best friend and I am still going to ask to enter first or at least stand at the door and wait to be acknowledged.  (No, I’m not a Vampire, but now that I’m thinking about it, Vampire rules regarding thresholds do seem to apply.  *smile*)

Far to frequently over the past three years I have found myself literally surrounded by people who I DON’T KNOW because a friend of a friend of a friend (ad nauseum) just decided they could walk in because they recognized someone. I have had people argue with me about getting out of MY chair when I come back to MY camp. I have had people helping themselves to my households food and water WITHOUT asking. I have had so many people I didn’t know in my camp that I FELT UNWELCOME IN MY OWN HOME!!!!

I also get that when you are camping on the list field that you have a certain obligation to be at least somewhat open to people because the days get hot and people need a bit of shade from time to time.  And I am perfectly fine with that.  I am happy to offer shade and water to someone as they are passing by and in need of stopping for a bit to gather themselves.  But when there are so many people who just help themselves that my own household doesn’t have room to be in their own house then there is a problem. Yes, I ask people to move on. I get treated like the bad guy for it. I have been asked to move away from a private conversation between strangers in my house because they thought I didn’t belong there. You can imagine how well that went over.

And I am greatly in awe and appreciation for places like The Public House that go out of their way to be space and shade for anyone and everyone who need it. Thank you doesn’t even begin to cover it.  The constant traffic and the need to bring so much infrastructure to be able to set up such a space is enormous.  Being able to manage it with good grace and humor is something that is well beyond my personal resources.

Now there are still people who remember these kinds of courtesies. I have had a few instances over the past three years when people have asked if they could come in or if they could pass through on their way to where they are trying to get to. When that happens I am very willing to let them in or let them pass. This is totally acceptable. But these people are more and more the exception and not the rule.

And I know that I am not the only person who appreciates this courtesy. This past weekend I found myself walking in a direction that put me on a path through a camp and so I asked if it was okay to pass and was not only given permission but thanked for my courtesy. There are people who do remember this courtesy in our organization.

“Oh but the SCA is just one big happy family!” No, not really. Sure, most of the people I know are cool people and I don’t mind having them around. I like visiting with them. But there are people who, even if they are my “SCA family” are still a part of the family I would rather not interact with. We all have the Aunt Ruth and Uncle Bob we’d really rather not invite to the family reunion. The SCA has its share and nothing makes me more unhappy than finding myself suddenly forced to extend the hospitality of my home to someone who I would rather not be there for any number of reasons.

So this is my request: ask. Just ask. Take a moment to stand at the threshold and ask “may I come in?” Doesn’t matter if your best friend in the world is sitting there, you’ll know it’s not their camp so ask someone whose camp it is if you can enter. If you are in someone else’s camp and someone asks you if they can enter don’t assume you have the right to say yes. Direct the request to someone whose camp it is. All we really want to know is that the people who are there are there for a reason and to be able to acknowledge them.

And this is my request: pay attention. If you have even the slightest doubt then go around instead of through. If you are tripping over ropes to get where you are going that should be a clear indication that where you are going isn’t a path. Even if you see other people using it! Why would you make the same mistake others are obviously making?

And finally this is my request: just remember that people’s camps are their homes. Yeah, we’re all great friends at a great big party but that doesn’t give you license to trample over everything and wreck the place. We’re supposed to be more courteous than that.

Thus ends the rant.

Another Carnival Done!

carnival_AnS_2015This past weekend at Kingdom A&S we ran the Carnival of The Phoenix again.

This time we played the day a little differently.  The last time all we did was shows through out the day, basically every hour on the hour.  This time, because it was A&S, we reserved the morning for classes and the afternoon for games and entertainment.  My apprentice Ghislaine taught two classes, I taught one.  I believe she will be posting about her classes relatively soon on her blog; Prognosticating Cow.  Be sure to wander over there and check it out.  She taught on the history of Necromancy and on the psychology of Divination presentations.  Both classes were very interesting.

I taught my Theatrical Skills for Bards class again, but this time I had probably the best turn out I have ever had with that class.  The students were very responsive and I know that at least a couple of them really saw something valuable in what I taught when they showed up for the show later on in the day.  More about that later.

After the classes and through the middle of the afternoon we had our Carnival games out, as well as all the juggling gear.  Several people came by to play and learn to juggle so we did that for about two hours.  Again, a great deal of fun was had.

A slight digression though; it looks like I need to put out the same kind of general rule/announcement about the Carnival just like Page School.  Kids are certainly welcome, but there needs to be a certain amount of parental involvement as well.  The Carnival isn’t supposed to be a baby-sitting service.  A few of the kids had their parents there for a bit but there were far more children then there were adults to watch them and we got close to having the game broken a time or two because the kids weren’t being properly managed.  So I’ll need to do something about that.

But the games went over well.  It is time to build one or two more though I think.  I’d like to have a few more.

That afternoon, after the games were done we were graced by an opportunity to host a toast to one of our friends, Maestra Vittoria, who has recently finished a long journey in academia and emerged with her doctorate; a great achievement.  I’ve been friends with her for a number of years now and I have had the pleasure of watching her on her journey every now and again.  She is an amazing person and I am very happy for her.

From there we went almost immediately in to our evening show.

carnival_choir_AnS_2015We started with The West Kingdom Choir.  They performed approximately 20 minutes of material and it was really wonderful.  We had a nice shady spot under the trees and the sun was setting so we had the makings of one of those magical SCA moments we so often look forward to.  The Choir was in fine voice and everyone really enjoyed their performance.

From there a few of the cast from the last Golden Stag Players show performed a scene from “12th Night” which we performed at this past 12th Night.  The jail scene which is one of the most iconic Shakespeare scenes and was very well performed.  Although I must admit that I missed an opportunity when I introduced them.  I should have said “Cope” like we usually do but I was distracted thinking about how to introduce the next performance and about my performance following that.

And then Maestra Vittoria performed her translation of a 16th Century Italian story about Narcissus.  It was a piece we’ve seen before but it was fabulous.  She had been working on it and this performance was amazingly funny.  It is a great humorous piece and it was wonderful to have it given that it’s hard to say we’ll have another performance from her again.  Now that she has finished her schooling she is on the job hunt and it seems likely that it will take her away from us.  I wish her well of course, but I and the Carnival will miss her.

Finally I got to do my show.

The Carnival provides me with the kind of “stage” that I truly appreciate.  A medium sized group, close enough to appreciate the slight of hand when I perform it, but just separated enough that I can have the formal stage I have grown up with all my life.

I performed three story pieces, the first a bare handed production of a rainbow ribbon, the second a new piece where I link three borrowed finger rings from the audience, and the final piece a routine written around a bottle that was a gift to the Caliph from Sinbad the Sailor.  The first and the third are pieces I have had at my command for some time but the second piece was a new and this was it’s first outing.

I was truly amazed at the power of the piece actually.  It is a recreation of a routine done by a professional that I have a great deal of respect for but done with my own words and presentation.  His performance of it stuck with me but his words and rhythm would never have worked for me.  My recreation focused on the idea of the universal nature of music and its ability to create harmony in anyone.  The story was a strong one and it clearly moved my audience.  I was very happy.

But what was perhaps the best part of my day, as much as I amazed my audience, was the fact that after the show I was approached by two of my students (at different times) from my “bardic skills” class, both of whom said that having seen my performance it crystallized their understanding of the material I taught earlier and they were looking forward to putting my lessons in to action in their own performances.

That is success.

So A&S was a lot of fun, the Carnival was a success, the classes were a success, and for about three days after I was totally exhausted.  But I’m back on my game now and very happy for it.

Hypnotic Wizardry

This weekend I was in Vegas at a seminar on “Hypnotic Wizardry.” So, what is that? Well it was all about learning the art of Stage Hypnosis and using principles of hypnosis in performance magic.

Sounds cool doesn’t it? Well, it’s even cooler than you might think.

But let me start at the beginning –

I’ve been doing magic for “a while now”. But when I first got started I was practicing in isolation. There were no other magicians in my area and there really wasn’t an I.B.M. (International Brotherhood of Magicians) club or an S.A.M. (Society of American Magicians) club in my immediate area. The closest magic shop was about an hour a way, which is admittedly not that far but far enough to make just hanging out there not really an option.

I was learning everything from books and training videos. Early on I discovered the works of Michael Ammar who is one of the most respected teachers in the field of magic. I went to a few of his seminars and learned a lot of great stuff. Stuff that is still in my repitoire today.

There are magic conventions, just like there are conventions for damn near everything else. None of them particularly interested me. I went to one or two and all you get is a couple hundred guys (and about half a dozen women sadly – a different topic entirely) all trying to outdo each other with the latest card sleight. No thanks.

Then I saw Jeff McBride on TV. Worlds Greatest Magic. And he was doing some really amazing stuff. About half of it was card work, but it was the kind of thing that I found interesting enough that I wanted to know more. I was finding myself as a magician and Jeff was doing magic I wanted to do. (This is, of course, on top of long standing admiration for David Copperfield who I had been watching since I was a kid.)

Doing my research I discovered that Jeff ran “The Mystery School.” And what I read about that was amazing! But controversial! How? Well, here was an annual gathering that was limited in size, focused not on the latest and greatest card trick but instead on theater, storytelling, character building, and a healthy dose of mysticism.

Yup, Jeff and his crew were trying to put magic back in to magic. At least that was what everyone on the outside was thinking. Ads and reviews talked about Mystery School as being an “experiential retreat” and that there would be drumming, and dancing, and fire circles……

Sound familiar? Sound like something someone like me would be fascinated by? Damn skippy!

Mystery School ran for ten years. I got to go to the ninth and tenth years. And while I could go on and on and on about how amazing it was for me, no matter how many words I used you wouldn’t entirely be able to get it. And that is on purpose. That’s what “experiential retreats” are about.

But I will say this, and my wife can confirm it. I came back a changed man.

I know how overly dramatic that sounds but truthfully I mean it. I had transformative experiences going to Mystery School. Profound shifts in the way I saw my art and how much impact it could and would have not just on my art but on my life.

This first one I went to was held in San Diego. I was there for a week. I took the train home. When I got off the train my wife said she didn’t need to see me through the crowd because I was hovering over the top of it.

Since then I have spent years learning more and more from Jeff and from Eugene Burger, the Dean of Mystery School. Their words, their works, their advice, has informed so much of what I do that other magicians who know them can see their finger prints on my work.

Since then I have returned to transformed versions of Mystery School whenever I can. And every time I return I am welcomed with open arms like I’m coming home.

Which is a long introduction to how I got here, but now there is another introduction to come. You see, like anyone my life has multiple paths in it. My journey, like yours, is made up of many components. One of those components is a long standing interest in hypnosis and hypnotherapy.

When I was younger, I loved the show M*A*S*H. Still do and now that Netflix has it I have been happily devouring it. My favorite reoccurring secondary character was Dr. Sydney Freedman. His calm, left of center approach to the insanity around him always appealed to me. Then there was an episode where it was necessary for him to put a young soldier (weren’t they all young?) in to a trance and recreate a battlefield scenario for him in order to get him to break his amnesia and begin to heal.

That scene taught me a lot about acting (I learned how to make myself cry on stage whenever I needed to from watching that scene) but it also sparked a deep interest in hypnosis. I began devouring material on the subject and even learned enough to start doing simple hypnosis with my friends. I took psychology classes. I wanted to learn it all.

Over the years I have returned to that interest many times. If I hadn’t gone in to a career in the software industry it’s very likely I would have become a hypnotherapist. Even now I have not discarded that idea and have researched courses on the subject to become a certified hypnotherapist.

Enter Richard Nongard, the guest speaker at the seminar I just came from.

Richard is a magician. But he is also a stage hypnotist and he is also a fully certified hypnotherapist. And, in fact, he is so good at what he does in this realm that other professionals come to him when they need advice.

Richard offers courses to become a fully certified hypnotherapist. I’ve looked at taking those course for a number of years and believe me, the moment I can put sufficient funds together to be able to afford it, I will be doing precisely that.

Richard, as a magician, was a student of Eugene Burger. He was also a student of Jeff McBride.

See how the circles close in?

I began with Richards work, in the same way that I began with Jeff’s. Books, video training, and learning everything I could. And my skill set with hypnotism has increased from that. But now we’re here.

Jeff likes to keep in touch with his students past and present. He uses Facebook to check in on them. He pops up on occasion liking things or making a quick comment just to let you know he’s there and he cares about what’s going on in your life.

A few months ago he posted something on his own page that I commented on, and I guess that the comment was insightful enough that he decided to reach out to me. In that conversation he invited me to come out, made it possible for me to do so and with the help of my friends and family I returned to Mystery School, this time to learn not just from Jeff, but from Richard, a skill set which has always been of deep interest to me.

So, that’s my introduction to this weekend. Yeah, kind of wordy, but necessary for you to understand the depth of what I got here.

As it turns out I had remarkably little trouble flying out and back. Usually flying is not the best situation for me, but short flights (only about an hour) are easier and I was able to manage.

I got out, got to my hotel, settled in and then waited in anticipation of the first evenings festivities. Just a meet and greet, but when it comes to Mystery School there is never anything ordinary about what we do. I met the other students (there were nine of us), and we were treated to a show. Jeff has part of his house set up as a theater space.

And let me just say right now that the range of people who come to Mystery School is pretty incredible. One of the students who was there was a competitor on Wizard Wars and this week will be filming for another Penn & Teller related even which I won’t say more about other than – COOL!!!!

The show consisted of some great magic from Jeff and a few visitors and a couple of the students. Some wonderful stuff really. Including a version of an David Copperfield effect I first saw several decades ago that is still one of the strongest effects in my memory, and this version was even better.

From there we simply enjoyed the evening and prepared ourselves for what was to come.

The next morning was registration, setting expectations, learning some magic and then learning the foundation principles of hypnosis. We got some great revelations.

Here is where things start to pay off for me. While I had learned so much about hypnosis already, I was now in a position where I could review that knowledge in a larger context and get a much better understanding of how all those pieces actually fit together and how to use them more effectively. I was given the tools I needed to actually bring my skills together, and I was given additional skills that let me start doing things I didn’t think I was ever going to learn.

Chief among those skills – the speed induction.

You’ve seen it. When the hypnotist walks up to somebody, snaps their fingers, says “sleep”, and the person just falls over in to a trance. Yeah. I can do that now.

Well, I can do it the way it’s actually done as opposed to the misunderstood “Hollywood Stereotype” way everyone thinks it is.

It’s the skill set that let me, that first day, put Jeff under hypnosis in less than fifteen seconds. Twice. In a crowded, noisy room.

How cool is this? It is deeply cool. You see so much of what I had read before on the topic was just unclear enough that the couple of times I managed it I was still uncertain of everything that went in to the process. Now I know. (Insert evil laugh here.)

The rest of the weekend involved learning more of the tools of the trade of Stage Hypnosis. It involved learning new magic that works on the same themes and can use some of the same principles. It involved building a deeper understanding of how minds work and how to work with people.

We also heard some “war stories.” Oh wow.

So a stage hypnosis show is all about “the things you get people to do that they wouldn’t normally do.” At least that is the basic understanding most people have. The classic “cluck like a chicken” comment pretty much sums that up.

But to give you a more precise idea, stage hypnosis is about creating hypnotic phenomena. What are hypnotic phenomena? Well that can be all kinds of things. Creating dreams, removing and blocking pain, time distortion, forgetting things, and catalepsy just to name a few.

So, what kinds of “war stories” do hypnotists have? Wow.

Let’s start, just at random with catalepsy. Here is how you can tell the difference between a stage hypnotist with insurance and one without insurance. The one without will do full body catalepsy in their show.

Turns out insurance companies that handle entertainers don’t like you to do things that might get people hurt. The typical full body catalepsy demonstration usually involves turning some small light bodied person into a board, setting them suspended between two boards and then sitting on them like a bench. Or some variation thereof.

Well, hypnosis can produce that full body catalepsy and a nice healthy strong body can become stiff enough to support a fair amount of weight. But what do you suppose happens when the person that gets hypnotized has a bad back? No way for the hypnotist to know that in advance.

Enough bad shit has happened that insurance companies call out “FULL BODY CATALEPSY” specifically as a reason they will not insure you or pay out a claim.

Let’s try something else.

Picture if you will, a row of people sitting on stage in a deep trance. In the center is a big biker dude. Sitting next to him is a tiny ninety-eight pound girl. While in a trance they have been told that when they wake up they will smell that most terrible smell they have ever smelled. It will be horrible. They will not get sick on stage, but it will be awful.

The hypnotist turns around, faces the audience, snaps his fingers and from behind him he hears a voice shout “OH MY GOD YOU STINK!” followed by the unmistakable sound of someone being punched in the face.

Yup.

Turns out the little girl jumped out of her chair, turned and punched the biker in the face and broke his nose.

And he had his nose broken so many times in the past that all he did was reach up, snap his nose back in to place and kept on going like nothing had happened.

Or here’s a good one.

First you have to understand something about hypnosis. You’re never really completely asleep. You aren’t sleeping at all really. You are just in a state of trance. There are only two things that can happen as a result of this. Either –

1 – You wake up.

2 – You fall completely asleep like normal and you wake up later.

That’s it.

However, because people who come to see these shows often don’t understand this (did you before I said it? You may have but that’s because I have a generally smarter readership.), they have been known to pretend to stay hypnotized looking for their opportunity to either get more attention for themselves or to even maybe sue somebody, probably the hypnotist.

One such case involved a teenager who ended up suing on the grounds that while being left in a hypnotic state from which he allegedly could not awaken he was also left open to being possessed by demons.

The insurance company settled that one.

One last “war story” that was shared with us.

The hypnotist who we went to see Saturday evening put on a hell of a show. And one of the things he advertises as part of the show is that every single show is recorded and if you want a DVD of the show (for instance because you were on stage) than you can buy one within minutes after the show is done. He has a full DVD burner set up where here is cranking out several disks in just a few minutes.

He keeps a disk of every show for himself. Now, a lot of performers record their performances for a variety of reasons. Archival, self examination to help improve the show. Things like that.

He keeps it because he has been accused of doing things that he has later needed video evidence of in order to prove his innocence.

As a stage performer I am aware of, and have had to deal with hecklers and other problematic audience members or volunteers.

Imagine being approached by an angry husband who is accusing you of being rude, nasty, and even potentially abusive to his wife.

“My wife says you called her names and threw her off your stage.”

“Well, sir, I did throw her off stage, and here is why.” Cue video footage of drunk off her ass wife making herself a total nuisance, disrupting the show, being politely asked to restrain herself, refusing to cooperate, calling the hypnotist nasty names, repeatedly being asked politely to restrain herself, getting physically violent with the hypnotist and being forcefully removed from the show.

Now imagine embarrassed husband shaking his head, apologizing to the hypnotist and leaving.

Yeah.

Other things we learned?

Hmm, how about, shake the hand of every person you bring up on stage. Why? Because if you do that you can take a moment to pull their arm slightly and twist their wrist up and look for cutting or needle marks. Yup.

How about, don’t bring up the painfully thin looking woman on stage. Why? You can tell the difference between thin and painfully thin, and the painfully thin ones are potentially anorexic which means they might trigger for a variety of reason, none of which you have any real control over but if they do on your stage then you know you’re going to have to, at the very least, defend that in court.

Don’t bring up the 350 lbs guy who broke a sweat standing up. Why? Because he’s going to pick a moment during your show to have a heart attack. And once again, at the very least, you’re going to have to defend that in court.

Now, lest you think that these things are a common occurrence allow me to reassure you. These are rare. These are “war stories.” Every performer has them. The point is that I got to hear them and I got to learn from them and I got to learn what to do about them. That’s what “war stories” are good for.

But the good stuff…. oh wow, the good stuff.

Here’s the thing. A hypnosis show is about the good stuff. It’s about helping a bunch of people on stage have the best damn time of their lives. How? Because what hypnosis does is it allows you to come out of your shell. It brings out the silly side.

Examples from the show we saw.

Two of the students from the class were on stage. They were on either side immediately around the big black dude sitting in the center named Chad. He was the anchor. Everyone, when they fell in to a trance leaned to the center because Chad could support them all, and he was awesome.

Remember that “everything smelling bad” from earlier? Know what happens when you tell everyone that the smell they are about to smell is the best smell they have ever smelled and that smell is coming from the person sitting next to you?

Everyone sniffs each other. Picture two small guys sniffing Chad in the center of the stage. Are you laughing? You should be. It was hilarious! And the next day at school, one of them walked in and said in a nice loud voice “that dude smelled really good last night.”

And Cynthia. Oh Cynthia.

Cynthia was a short, somewhat overweight, mid-40s lady. And she’s got some moves. How do I know? Because she got up and danced like Britney Spears. And she loved it. Not just because she was told that she loved it, but because after she had been brought out of hypnosis at the end of the show the entire audience cheered her on for how cool she was.

And Brenda? Well, Brenda wasn’t on stage. She was sitting in the audience. Who is she? She’s Chad’s girlfriend. They were in Vegas for their two year anniversary. I don’t know a lot, but I know this – for the rest of the weekend, any time Brenda (and only Brenda) said the word “purple” Chad was compelled to give her a big kiss.

Was he really “compelled”? Well, you can’t make someone do something they wouldn’t really do anyway. But with hypnosis you can trigger them to do things they want to do without reservation that’s for sure, and from what the audience saw, Chad must be a pretty damn good kisser.

In the end every single one of those people on stage had a fabulous time. And in the end they were all given a great experience that they will always remember (because they were told to remember everything they did, and I’m sure there were some DVD sales at the end there as well), and they were left with post hypnotic suggestions that gave them energy and well being and joy.

Now, who wouldn’t want to be able to do things like that?

I certainly do. And now, thanks to my trip to Vegas, the generosity of my magic mentors and friends, all my friends and family here, I have a new skill set. And a new energy and drive to entertain and help people with what I’ve learned.

Would you like to experience hypnotism?

Then listen to my voice as I count back from –

–three–

–two–

–one–

Sleep.

The Phoenix Calmly Nesting In Ashes – West Kingdom Towne Faire

 

phoenix_014When I first thought of the idea of trying to create a kind of SCA Carnival, it was intended to be a show place for the entertainers who normally don’t get a chance to perform at events because what they do doesn’t necessarily fit around the classic ‘bardic circle’. That space is perfect for singers, musicians, poets and storytellers. I can compete there as a magician from time to time, but it isn’t exactly the right venue for me. (I talk about managing venues in the SCA in my article “Theatrical Skills for the SCA Bard.”)

So, to a certain extant, the creation of The Carnival of The Phoenix has been a selfish act, giving myself the venue I most want for my magic. But I am unbelievably fortunate to have friends who benefit from the same kind of venue, and this past weekend at the first ever West Kingdom Towne Faire I had the perfect opportunity to bring out The Carnival not just for myself but for those entertainer friends of mine. The end result was pretty fabulous.

Friday saw me on site first thing, even before the event coordinators. Considering how very loaded down my vehicle was I left early in order to give myself enough time to drive safely to the site. I was only early by an hour or so and that gave me time to sit and relax and enjoy the calm before the storm. I already knew roughly where I was going to be as a map had been made early on. The Carnival was given a rather premier space over all, being set at the end of one of the long crossroads, and actually mostly in a nice shady spot. We had the road noise to deal with, but all things considered we were actually pretty brilliantly set and if this event is done again I would most happily use that same space. It was ideal for us.

Saturday morning we set up our carnival games and my apprentice took her place for part of the scheduled time as the fortune teller. She had her own booth as well, just across the road from the Carnival so she spent most of her time there.

IMG_0462The games we set out were built by my friend Rory Jamesson and I. Though to give credit where credit is due, Rory did the bulk of the work including the research on the games and how they were to be played. The first was in essence a table top version of bowling called Skittles. The second was a table top version of shuffle board called Shove Groat.

The Shove Groat tables were set up so more players could be playing simultaneously, but I think that the Skittles table was a bit more popular. Both were being played more or less continuously and both were equally accessible to both adults and children, both as far as the rules were concerned and just the physical nature of the games.

We left the games running all morning and about half way through the lunch break. But it was definitely time to break them down so that we could set up the first of our actual acts.

Yukiko and her “Noh Hands PuIMG_0477ppet Theater” were reprising their puppet play “The Krakken Bell Brothers.” The first time we got the Carnival up and running it was a bit difficult as we were facing some extreme weather challenges, in this case extremely high temperatures. In fact most of the acts I had lined up had vanished on us and the only ones that made it through were the puppet play, my magic show, and my apprentice reading fortunes during a bard circle afterward.

We did have a bit of a weather challenge this time, but in this case it was wind threatening to blow down the puppet stage. Some quick thinking on my part and we had ropes and stakes set to hold everything in place. It worked extremely well and the puppet show went on.

It was quite the success. I didn’t take an actual head count (I wish I had thought to), but from what I can recall I would say that there were probably 15 to 20 people watching the show, kids and adults, and everyone clearly enjoyed it. And this was what I considered to be the first real hurdle – one of our “shows” and how much audience we could draw. Given the overall size of the event and the number of things we had to compete with I considered this to be an extreme success.

IMG_0484Next we had Inara The Minstrel who hosted songs and stories out of The Carnival. Although a stage space had been set up we decided for the comfort of the audience to bring them in to the sunshade and arranged them around so that they could all see and hear Inara just fine. Inara put on a heck of a show. Solo performers have their own special challenges. Inara rose to those challenges and definitely exceeded them. People got to hear songs they hadn’t heard before and I am sure I will remember and tell the story of “The Debate in Sign Language” because it was hysterical.

Again, it was definitely a success with another rough audience count of 15 to 20. By this point I felt that if we got the same kinds of counts for the rest of the shows on the schedule then we would be doing extremely well.

IMG_0511After that we we graced by the lovely Vittoria who regaled us with an adapted story from a historical source, because she is so good that way, called “The Ambling Nymph.” The story is adapted from Isabella Andreini’s 1588 comedy, La Mirtilla, and it was about a lovely wood nymph who finds a pool of water to take a bath in but upon seeing the audience thinks better of it. Seeing her own reflection becomes enamored and things get even funnier from there.

It was wonderfully entertaining and Vittoria, dressed as a wood nymph was charming and funny, especially with that blond wig on. Normally she has auburn hair and the wig totally changed everything. Some people actually didn’t recognize her at first because of it. She too had a good sized audience who were vastly entertained by her antics.

IMG_0524This brought us up to the next act which was The Golden Stag Players (GSP)doing their encore performance of “The Lunatic Lovers”, which is the Commedia dell’Arte show we did at 12th Night. The past few weeks we had a couple of pick up rehearsals and put a lot of energy into figuring out how to deal with being an an outdoor venue. It has been over 20 years since the GSP has performed outside.

I have to say that this worried me a great deal. Not that I didn’t think the actors could handle it. The brilliance of improve is that you can adapt to virtually anything. But at this point in the day the wind was kicking up and the curtains were proving to be useless. Also, the audience was going to be sitting in the sun and the show is long enough that I was a bit worried about that.

People adapt though. Many had brought parasols and hats. Many sat in the large communal pavilion that was right across the road from us on the opposite side as the Diviner. And all together I believe that the play had as many as 30 to 50 people watching, a tremendous audience given the conditions. Admittedly our 12th Night shows are much larger, but for an outside venue this was amazing!

At this point we took about two hours to have a bit of a potluck with any of the entertainers who wanted to be with us. It was not as well organized as I wanted it to be but that is entirely on me. It’s one of the planning things that simply fell through the cracks on my end of the world. I’ll cut myself some slack though given how much of this whole thing was riding on my shoulders to begin with. Everyone played their parts well, but if I had asked for a bit more help I’m sure things could have gone better. Control freak on my part.

IMG_0597Of course the real issue for me was that after the dinner break was my magic show and despite every effort on my part to plan, prepare and rehearse, I never got the opportunity to. So I still only had the roughest idea of what I was going to actually do. I knew where I was starting, I knew where I was ending and I knew on piece I was going to do in the middle. Everything else was improvised based on what I had with me in my bag of tricks.

Still I managed to put on a good 20 to 30 minute show (didn’t time myself) and everyone loved it, especially the fire eating end which happened just as things were starting to get dark. And I too had a good sized audience including The Queen!

Once that was done it was time for the open bardic circle. It proved to be a bit smallish but truthfully I liked that. And although Inara had not initially planned on staying so late (she had many things to do), she did end up staying and managing the circle and we made “sh’moes” (yes, I know they are s’mores, but we make them with fancy chocolate and sometimes even home made marsh mellows, so we give them a different name).

The next day was a slow break down. Usually the people who camp with me stick around to help break things down but due to some serious medical concerns they ended up leaving early (as far as I know all is well at this time), so it was just myself for the first part of the morning and then my apprentice helping towards the end. So it went slower than usual, but considering how tired and sore I was from the previous day, slow was just fine.

So I believe that this time around The Carnival was a complete success. It came together almost exactly as I had envisioned it. There were some hiccups along the way but anyone who has ever been in the theater can tell you that no show is perfect. This was, as I told everyone who would listen, my circus and my monkeys. They all made me proud.

But it’s time for this Phoenix to rest among it’s ashes, having burned with the brightest fires of creativity and theatricality.

The Carnival of The Phoenix will rise again but only time can tell us when.

The Carnival of The Phoenix Rises Again – West Kingdom Towne Faire

This weekend, at a brand new SCA Event called The West Kingdom Towne Faire we will have the opportunity to once again present The Carnival of The Phoenix!

And oh, what an event it is going to be. The whole thing is going to be unlike other SCA events. I expect it to be a very different challenge to run than any event has been done before. Rather than have an event centered around the activities of fighting, it is going to be centered around, well pretty much everything else.

Arts, crafts, entertainment, games, food and really all the other wonderful things that we do as an organization which don’t normally get the spot light.

As to The Carnival itself, well we have a very full schedule.

First we’ll be setting up the morning with games and our Diviner. Rory and I built a game table called Skittles (consider it a table top version of bowling), and we built a pair of two player game tables for a game called “Shove Groat” which is basically a table top version of shuffle board. Well, I say that Rory and I built them, but truthfully he put far more work into them than I did. He’s the skilled wood worker and he has done a fabulous job.

My apprentice is, of course, the Diviner. She will be spending the morning at the Carnival proper, but she also has her own booth nearby where you will be able to go and get your fortune told and even a proper medieval horoscope drawn!

Then, after the lunch break we will have a puppet show called “The Krakken Bell Brothers”! This is the puppet show we had when the Carnival last appeared. It is the fable of two Scandinavian brothers and the dreaded monster of the sea, the Krakken, that shaped their fates! It is fabulous!

Following that the lovely and talented Inara The Minstrel will be playing songs, telling stories and doing a bit of bellydancing for your entertainment! Inara really is a wonderfully talented variety entertainer and brings an amazing energy to her shows.

Another lovely and talented storyteller, Vittoria, (yes, I am a very fortune man with so many lovely ladies sharing their skills with the Carnival!) will then be presenting a tale called “The Ambling Nymph”, a comic sketch about the (mis)adventures of a strong-minded wood nymph. Adapted from Isabella Andreini’s 1588 comedy, La Mirtilla.

Did you miss The Golden Stag Players at 12th Night doing their Commedia dell’Arte performance of “The Lunatic Lovers”? Did you want to see it again? Well here is your chance! The Golden Stag Players are the Premier Acting Troupe of The West Kingdom. For more than 20 years now The Golden Stag Players have been providing entertainment at 12th Night, but now you can see them in a totally new setting which has brought out a whole new level of comedy and hijinks the likes of which you have not seen before! Now with 10% more jokes and 5% more laughs! Okay, just kidding about that part, (really it’s a lot more than that!) but trust me when I say you’ll love this show!

After the dinner break Master Magician Juan Santiago (HEY! That’s Me!) will be presenting a display of the Prestidigitory Arts to amaze and astound you. Years of study in both the medieval and modern arts of the magician have helped Santiago create a performance that has helped him achieve both his Laurel in the SCA and his membership to the prestigious Magic Castle in Hollywood and to The Inner Circle of Bizarre Magicians.

Finally, join us around the fire for an open Bardic Circle where all of you will have the opportunity to share your talents and your joy of performing!

It promises to be an amazing day and I look forward to seeing you!

For more information about the event please visit:

http://www.westkingdomfaire.org/

Our schedule for The Carnival of The Phoenix is:

  • 9:00AM – 12:00PM  – Carnival Games
  • 9:00AM – 11:00AM  – Madam Ghislaine, Diviner
  • 1:00PM – Puppet Show – The Kraken Bell Brothers
  • 2:00PM – Inara The Minstrel, Songs, Stories and Bellydancing!
  • 3:00PM – Vittoria’s Story TimeStory Time: “The Ambling Nymph”
  • 4:00PM – Golden Stag Players: “The Lunatic Lovers”
  • 8:00PM – The Magic of Juan Santiago
  • 9:00PM – Bardic Circle & Fortune Telling

A Shield of White

IMG_0136This past weekend was the SCA event Whiteshield. It is the first big tourney of the year and has a long tradition as one of the most fun tourneys of the year. It is often considered a predictor of victory in March Crown which usually happens a weekend or two later.

This was the first time I have ever entered a “heavy” tourney. As Baron of Darkwood for several years I had the privilege of overseeing this event. I made a promise to the populace of Darkwood that I would take to the heavy field. I didn’t manage to do so while I was Baron but I did finally manage it one year later.

It was an amazing experience and I was very proud to achieve this goal.

Unfortunately, like many bright points in my life, there is often a darker side and so I want to touch on this a bit to set the record straight on a couple of points.

As my friends know I have been a Rapier fighter for many years. I have been a Cut & Thrust fighter for a few years less than I have been Rapier fighter.

I consider Rapier and Cut & Thrust to be just at legitimate as Heavy fighting. Yes, it is true that Heavy fighting is considered “the norm” and that if you want to be sovereign then you must fight Heavy. But this does not mean that it is inherently better to my way of thinking. In much the same way that I don’t consider Aikido to be any better than Karate, or Judo to be superior to Jujitsu. Each has it’s strengths. Each has it’s weaknesses. And every single one of them offer an opportunity to learn something new and different.

But in our Kingdom there are still people who seem to feel a need to denigrate fighters who are not Heavy fighters. People who, rather than giving something a try, would rather just look down their noses or make comments dressed up with a smile that are still insulting in nature. I have no use for people who are so willing to limit their views.

Of course there is nothing wrong with “specializing” or “mastering” what they wish to master. I am all for that as well. But if you trap yourself in to the idea that your way, your martial art, is the one true way then I feel sorry for you. And when you tell me that you don’t want to “derail”, “pollute”, or “dilute” your training by picking up something different from what you are doing, well, believe me it’s not hard to tell the difference between a legitimate reason and an excuse to hold on to your prejudice.

This past weekend I achieved something that really only a handful of people in our organization have done – become “authorized” in all three of the combat forms available to us. I know a few others have done this as well but there just aren’t that many of us. I would love to see more.

Not only that but this past weekend I was able to fight all three forms on the same field on the same day. It was exciting. It was challenging. It was a lot of fun. I wish there could have been more people doing it.

For the record, even though I have now authorized as a Heavy fighter I have no intention of giving up fighting Rapier. I love fighting Rapier, and I am encouraged by the fact that more Rapier fighters are taking up Cut & Thrust as well. I am also encouraged that I’m starting to see more Heavy fighters go through the process to pick up Rapier on their way to Cut & Thrust.

I had a blast fighting Heavy. I intend to do a lot more. But if you are one of the people who thinks that I’m going to give up the rest because I’ve now crossed over to the supposedly more acceptable “one true way” then you are going to be disappointed.

From what I have seen so far Cross Trained fighters have more respect and understanding for everyone in the fighting community no matter what weapon they hold in their hands. I would like to see an attitude that we are all just “fighters” and the distinction of “Heavy”, “Rapier”, and “Cut & Thrust” are only used to determine the gear you need instead of stratifying the community at large.

I’m sure that’s a long way off but I can dream can’t I?

Risa’s Stars Were Not Aligned

As promised, I am writing a post explaining the insanity I faced at my recent gig at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

Let me say up front that the gig was actually really good. I enjoyed myself for everything else that happened. I made a bit of a reconnection with the local magic club and the people at the museum were friendly and easy to work with. Everyone I dealt with, audience, other entertainers, other exhibitors and the staff were fabulous.

But the people of Risa’s Stars were most definitely not. I should explain.

So the event was a members night for the museum where they decided that the theme would be ‘magic.’ This theme was being fairly broadly interpreted. They had myself as a strolling magician, they had the local club doing ‘stage time’, they had people doing bubble stuff, playing Magic The Gathering, showing films of magicians, people making magic wands, people teaching how to “cast spells” (yes, supposedly ‘real’ spells), displaying ‘the magic of physics’, talks about the magic of the universe and astronomy.

And astrology.

Okay, it is no surprise that I have little use for astrology and people ‘casting real spells.’ Yeah. Right.

But I will say right here and now that I didn’t go looking for trouble, I didn’t go looking for these people, I didn’t intend to interact with any of them. Not because of my disagreements with what they do but simply because I was there to do what I do, entertain people. I was in full on professional mode.

Here is the way this comes together. I was brought on early. I went to the museum about a month and half before the gig to talk with the events coordinator and to check out the area. This was a totally volunteer gig, I wasn’t going to get paid. That was fine. Doing free gigs every now and again is a good thing, and considering it was for the museum I felt pretty good about it.

If you haven’t been to this particular museum it’s pretty nice. It is three levels and at the very top there is an open air sculpture garden which I thought would be a really good place to entertain. At the bottom level was a stage area, on the middle level landing the local club magicians were set up and I was set to wander about and entertain any place I wanted.

The event was to run from five o’clock to eight o’clock. But, because we were all unpaid volunteers we were told that we could come whenever we wanted and leave whenever we wanted.

I showed up at five o’clock. I changed into my costume very quickly and got out among the already over full site. They had anticipated three hundred. Apparently they had about seven hundred.

I made a point of checking in with the event coordinator first thing and then proceeded to wander about. I found the local club group and made contact. I performed for a couple of kids and then I found myself at the top of the museum.

When I wandered out on to the open air sculpture garden I was impressed. Someone had decorated with strings of lights and put up a popup tent that had been decorated to be a kind of ‘meditation’ space. All around the space they had set up astrological signs – ie sheets of paper with a sign and the appropriate date range for the modern signs. They also had chalked up the pavement with a ‘meditation path’ and drawn a simply horoscope circle.

In other words nothing that particularly marked this as an exhibit instead of the outside space it was intended to be save the actual popup. No one was walking around the space explaining anything or offering up any interaction with the guests in order to make it clear there was anything there except stuff to look at, and mostly pretty boring stuff at that.

When I walked out the door and into the space I was actually very warmly greeted by the woman I presumed to be “Risa” of Risa’s Stars. After the fact, mind you. At the time she didn’t introduce herself or her exhibit. I’ve made the guess about her identity based on information gathered after the fact. In any case all she did was compliment me my costume and point out that I would go well with the tent they had set up, including pointing out the camel they had set up.

I thanked her for the compliment and then moved away rather quickly because there was another woman standing there with a burning smudge stick and it was rather noxious to me.

I walked over to the tent that had a small bench in front of it. I sat down, pulled out my bubble stuff and started entertaining the kids who had been running around and screaming like kids are want to do. When I pull the bubble stuff out they immediately gather and they generally settle down. The adults walked up behind and were smiling and enjoying what I was doing.

But after a few minutes the lady with the smudge stick walked over and asked me to stop because what I was doing was blocking the path. Which was true. The kids were sitting on the chalk path that had been drawn on the ground. So I wrapped up and cleared the path. Makes perfect sense.

So I got up, walked around a little bit and noticed three women sitting on a bench. Still doing what I was brought on to do I approached them and asked if they wanted to see a little magic. They said yes and I began performing one of my favorite card tricks.

When I was finished the woman I have tentatively identified as “Risa” of Risa’s Stars came over and proceeded to chastise me. She literally got in my face and began talking to me like I was a child. She was extremely rude. She tried to tell me I had no right to be there. She told me that I was being rude. She yelled at me that no one told her that I was going to be doing what I was doing.

She also tried to tell me that this was not a personal attack. Yeah, right. Someone gets in your face and tells you that you have no right to be doing what you were actually ‘hired’ to do? Someone who, by the way, has trapped one of the guests (the other two managed to get out) and forced them to sit through this childish tirade instead of trying to be professional and having a calm discussion about the situation.

Her biggest complaint? Apparently what I was doing was taking away from what they were doing. Which, as near as I can tell, was sitting on their asses and doing nothing because, as I mentioned before, no one was actually interacting with the guests who were there. No one was being told what their supposed ‘exhibit’ was even about.

At one point during her incoherent rant she tried to get a rise out of me by accusing me of ‘smirking’ at her while she was yelling at me. What I was doing was controlling myself and keeping my calm and professionalism in place. Many of the things this idiot complained about were so irrationally sad I could have easily taken her apart without even trying.

At another point she asked me “you understand what I’m telling you?” I responded, literally, with the phrase “I see what you are saying” and she actually yelled back at me “NO, DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM TELLING YOU?”

Now, here is the beauty part of the fact that since this is my blog and I can therefore say pretty much anything I want on it. What I responded to her with was “yes, I understand.” What I wanted to say was:

FUCKING BITCH!!!!

I was literally stunned with how incredibly childish, rude and utterly irresponsible this woman was. I was straining to keep my professionalism as much as possible, speaking softly, maintaining my composure and trying to figure out how to get the poor guest who was still trapped there out of the middle of this.

But “Risa” at this point tried to threaten me by saying she was going to go talk to the event coordinator, a threat she attempted a couple of times prior in her rant. I simply responded with “yes, lets go talk to her” and Risa then left.

At this point I turned to the poor woman who had been trapped through this whole thing and apologized profusely to her. She was amazingly gracious, complimented me on my handling or “Risa” and on my skill as a magician. I thanked her and then headed off to find the rest of the magicians who needed to be warned that if they were going to do any strolling as well that they should stay away from the “astrologers exhibit.”

By that point I turned around and the lovely woman who was the event coordinator was standing there and apologizing for the rudeness of “Risa’s Stars.” She told me that this group was a last minute addition to the event and that they had been problematic from the word go.

I told the event coordinator that I was fine, that I wasn’t worried about the whole thing and that I was sorry she had to deal with the whole thing. I stayed away for the rest of the event and had a really great time.

All that being said, let me just say the following things:

  1. First off, the actual people at Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History are pretty cool.
  2. From where I stand astrology is a joke, a bag of pseudoscience that can easily be debunked and has been time and time again. If you want to talk to me about this position I am open to debate.
  3. Go to the Museum.
  4. Risa’s Stars isn’t worth dealing with even if you are someone who thinks there is value in astrology. Any group of people who would act so irresponsibly in a public venue should not be trusted.
  5. Go to the Museum.

In all my years of performing I have dealt with a wide variety of people. I’ve been heckled. I’ve had contract problems. I’ve dealt with unappreciative audiences. I’ve dealt with drunk audiences. I’ve competed against bands. I’ve dealt with bad promoters. I’ve dealt with a lot of crazy crap.

I’ve never dealt with anything as bad as “Risa” of Risa’s Stars.

Phoenix Born in Fires of A&S

phoenix_014

Murphy and I have never gotten along all that well.  I have learned over the years that if I plan something the way most people do then it will likely fail.  But if I plan with enough contingencies and backup plans in place then I can usually get something close to what I wanted.

Murphy hit hard this time.  Two people completely out.  A third suffering from the severe and completely unexpected heatwave.  A backup person also falling out from the heat.  It was, indeed, enough to make me seriously consider dropping the whole thing.

But…..

But the show must go on.

And it did.  Several adjustments, stepped up efforts from those who remained, an audience that was eager to be entertained and a rally from one of my heatwave sufferers and we had a Carnival.

IMG_0098The puppet show went first, an adjustment to the flow of things based on the fact that we rescheduled for a cooler part of the day and took into account that one of the puppeteers was young enough to be needing to go to bed at a reasonable hour.  It was amazingly good.  The puppet theater itself was beautiful.  The puppets were amazingly well designed and the story was fun and funny.  Our young puppeteer stole the show in my opinion.

Then I went on.  I stretched my act a bit to add more overall time in order to make up for the lost act.  This was not a problem in the least.

I admit, I was pretty nervous.  I didn’t need to be.  I got on stage and hit it from the word go.

I started with a different piece than I usually do, a poetic routine where I produce a rainbow streamer at the end, but I decided to go with it because it helped me reestablish a control over the ‘theater’ and put everyone back into the proper head space after the brief transition from one act to the next.  I followed up with a couple of my standards and ended with my two ring Linking Rings routine and the Siberian Chain Escape.

Between the two acts we managed to fill about half an hour which is what I would have expected anyway.  With three acts we would have been somewhere in the thirty to forty minute range.

IMG_0143After the acts were done my apprentice set up as the fortune teller and remained busy and running for the next couple of hours.  Clearly we’ll need more than one fortune teller for the future.   She did a fabulous job as I knew she would.  This is her thing of course so she gave it her all and truly amazed many people.

We also set up the fire pit, despite the heat, so that people could make s’mores which was part of what we had intended.

All in all it was an amazingly good showing despite the best efforts of Murphy.  At first I was extremely put out, but in hindsight I have to say that realizing that we successfully overcame such difficulties and still put on a show to be proud of is deeply satisfying.

IMG_0148

There will be more to come.  After the show was over I was asked by two different people to come and perform at their events.  I’m looking at a third date besides those and we know we’re going to be a part of the Market Faire event being done next year.

The Phoenix was born in a fiery hot Kingdom A&S.  The future will bring even more fun with it!

The Impending Rise of The Phoenix

phoenix_014Yes, yes, I know.  I haven’t posted in a while.  Again.

I have been busy.  I just got back from a weekend in Caid.  Every weekend has been booked up with one thing or another for a long time and I’ve been pushing towards the final goal of getting the Carnival up and running.

This is it.  It’s time.  This coming weekend is Kingdom A&S and we’ll be putting on the first show.  Gods what a lot of work this has been.

As with anything the grand and glorious plans one has up front have to be altered along the way to accommodate what we can do.  People are all volunteering their time and their efforts.  You have to be grateful for that.

So for this first outing I was hoping to have a new sunshade.  That didn’t happen.  I had started putting together a Kickstarter Campaign but after being distracted by something else when I came back to it I realized I wouldn’t get it done and back before the deadline of when I’d need to order the new sunshade and have it in hand for the event.

Nevertheless there will be a new sunshade eventually.  Just not for this event.

I was also hoping to have a couple of carnival games ready to go for the first outing but that didn’t happen either.  This to is okay, I was trying to schedule time with my game builder to help and I just never got organized enough to do it.

I’m a pretty busy guy and didn’t have as much bandwidth and just plain old steam to add the extra time into my schedule.  Work had been a particular problematic blocker, so that pretty well took the wind out of my sails.

But we will have some great stuff!  Absolutely.

We’ll have three acts (The Dancing Bear cancelled), a bardic circle and a fortune teller.

I will be performing a small magic show.  There will be a story performed by one of our wonderful storytellers and there will be a puppet show.  Of course some fun is being had with the program.

Santiago would like you to know that all the magic you are about to see has been achieved using camera tricks and video effects.  What you are seeing live is nothing like what you see on the screen.  He has achieved this by years of study into the history of magic and then he messed with it because really, who was going to stop him?

Yes, magic of this type is historical.  Yes, Santiago achieved his Laurel for the study and practice of this type of magic.  Yes, Santiago has real powers too, he just doesn’t like to use them.

You’ll have to come to the show to get the rest.

So here we are.  The first performance of The Carnival of The Phoenix.  Not a bad little showing for our first time out.
Afterwards, we’ll debrief, discuss what worked, what didn’t and decide where to go next.  I’m considering the idea of offering up a performance of some kind for The Baroness’ Masked Ball in November.

Onward, ever onward.

The Ethics of Party Fortune Telling

In a few days my apprentice and I will be entertaining for a large corporate holiday party and we both decided to write about it, each from our own perspectives.  (You can read her thoughts here.)  We will be there to tell fortunes using various methods such as Tarot cards and Palm Reading.   This kind of entertainment option at large parties is remarkably well received.  In fact I can tell you with all assurance that whenever I have done any sort of entertainment event if the package I provide includes fortune telling it is always a hit.

Now this may seem a bit odd coming from me.  People who know me know that I do not believe in the supernatural in the least.  In fact I actively debunk such things when given the opportunity.  In this day of fake psychics (a term which is entirely redundant), talking to the dead, every television channel offering up every variation they can come up with on ‘ghost hunter’ shows and all manner of homeopathy/alternative medicine bullshit it is all I can do to keep up with the relevant information.

Given all of that why would I be willing to provide such a service?

I could argue that I’m just giving the customer what they want.  In the end I have bills to pay and if they are going to give me good money to listen to me hold forth on their prospects for the future why shouldn’t I collect?  My wife has often joked that “there are stupid people and we need their money.”  We have often joked that given all that I do know how to do as a magician it would take very little effort on my part to start a cult.

The truth is I have come to a compromise in providing this service and it is based entirely in the ethical stance I have chosen to take with regards to the differences between my client’s potential beliefs and my own.

You see there is an argument in the magic community about certain types of entertainment.  Magicians who use their ‘power for evil’ such as fake psychics (there’s that term again) are universally shunned.  Magicians who use their ‘powers for good’ are seen as entertainers.  I offer up for your consideration Uri Geller and Derren Brown.  Uri has long claimed he has real powers.  Derren admits up front that he has none yet gives performances that far outstrip anything Uri has ever provided.  Browse YouTube for examples of both.

This upcoming event is a perfect example of how I have found it possible to do these things in a manner that I find ethical and still respectful of any of the possible believes of my clients.  Allow me to set the scene for you.  I will be sitting at a table off to one side.  Able to view and participate in the party but slightly secluded so as to avoid to many casual observers at any given time.  I will be dressed very nicely and slightly mysteriously.  Which is to say that I will wear small but subtle accessories with my outfit which will suggest a ‘magical’ nature to my character.  Given that the party is to have a “Mardi Gras” feel to it this is entirely appropriate.

A single individual will approach my table, sit down and ask to have their fortune told.  I will immediately swing into action, asking questions and gathering information on them by their answers and by their appearance (even in costume many things are revealed if you know what you are looking for) and I will proceed to give them a reading most probably with Tarot Cards.

At the end of this reading I will ask more questions usually if they understood everything I have told them.  They may ask for clarification, they may not.  This is okay.
Inevitably there will be one question or statement that will come up.  Someone will ask me if really believe this stuff, or they will comment that I have a “gift.”  Something along the lines of questioning or verifying my belief in the supernatural will come up in these conversations.  In fact the more convincing my act is the more likely I will generate this question, if not right away, certainly be the end of the night as my reputation spreads among the crowd.

I will have earned this question.  After all I came to their party for the express purpose of reading their future.   By my appearance I will have put myself into the character of someone who is ‘in touch’ with other realms of reality, the psychic realm, ghosts or spirits perhaps.  I have presented them with a plausible if not completely convincing reading of their future.   I will definitely have earned this question.

And here is where the schism in the magic community presents itself.  Do I tell them that I do indeed have a gift?  Do I tell them that I receive messages from my spirit guide, a faery named Sand, or perhaps my guardian angel.

Or do I tell them it’s all a trick?  I have no special powers, I have simply been manipulating them and the cards to my own ends.  Do I shatter the character I have created for them and their enjoyment?

Sadly there are plenty of magicians and charlatans who would opt for the former.  They would justify themselves with the idea that either they will get more gigs out of the reputation they have built among a bunch of credulous individuals or perhaps they will simply assume they’ll never see any of these people again so why not tell them such a story?

But I am there for their entertainment.  I’m there to do a job and the job is to provide them something they will enjoy.  If I just say “nope, it’s all a trick” then I’m doing more harm than good.  I am at the very least humiliating them by pointing out how easily they have been fooled in a situation where they have put their trust in me and at the very worst I have challenged and mocked their beliefs in something beyond themselves.

And while I might like to challenge their notions of the supernatural this is not the place to do it.  Professionalism alone dictates that.

So, how do I do it?  How do I walk this line between what they may believe, what I believe, respecting the contract and my professionalism?

Theater.

In the end this is a show.  I am a character.  I am portraying someone with a mysterious gift.  But when the time comes the actor must be revealed.  And there has to be answer to the question.

“That was amazing!  You must have a gift!”

“I do, but probably not the one you’re thinking of.  It’s not so much a gift as it is a skill, one everyone can learn.  You can learn it too.  It’s not hard to learn but it takes patience to practice because it’s all about asking the right questions and really listening to the answers.  And in the end, it’s all about telling the best story possible.  I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it.”

So this is my ethical answer.  To tell them the truth.  Because right there is the secret to every type of fortune telling or psychic speaking to the dead you have ever seen.

It’s all about the questions you ask and really listening to the answers you get.  Sales people know this.  They call it Active Listening.  Psychotherapists know this as Active Listening too.  Magicians call it Cold Reading.  It’s all in the questions we ask.

Will they believe me?  Will they accept my answer?  That depends on the person really.  I’ve given this answer, or some variation of it, every time I’ve been asked.  Outside of any performance context I have made my position very clear and inside of the performance context I have stuck to my position but softened my words for the sake of the atmosphere and the event.

Yes, there are times when people refuse to believe me.  I have been told that people understand if I want to keep the truth about my gift to myself.  There is a person in the building where I work who is still absolutely convinced that I have psychic powers after I read her fortune five years ago and explained how I did it.

After a certain point what more can I do?  Even when I have argued the improbability of various supernatural things with believers in a basic debunking discussion I have always encountered those who simply refuse to give up what they believe in despite the evidence provided to them.  This is always going to be the case.  I can’t worry about the people who refuse to believe my explanation for how I do what I do inside the context of a show.  They have made the choice they have made.

I expect that this gig will be fun.  As I mentioned at the beginning this is both myself and my apprentice who are going.  She is far more versed in a wider variety of divination methods than I am.  She has written her own article about preparing for this particular event.  It is a very interesting to read.  Please check it out.

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