Category Archives: Show

Putting It Out There

It’s been a long while since I’ve written anything here.

I’ve been busy. Real busy. Like crazy busy.

If all goes according to plan I will be relaunching my magic business in the next few months. That’s a lot of planning.

“But Santiago,” you say. “You’ve never stopped doing magic, right?”

Well…..

Yeah, kind of.

Almost all of my performing opportunities have come about because of my participation in the SCA. I’ve built up things like my Carnival and continued the work of the Golden Stag Players. I’ve used those opportunities to expand my magic and they have been good.

But I want more.

For one thing, it’s not the kind of opportunity it takes to make money. I don’t charge for my performances in the SCA. No reason to. No reason why I would expect anyone to pay me in that context. Just isn’t the right way for me to do things.

The past couple of years I have been going back and forth to Las Vegas to Jeff McBride’s Magic and Mystery School, taking classes and building skills. I’ve taken the opportunity to perform at The Las Vegas Wonderground. I’ve also made a connection with a local performing artist, a wonderful singer and musician named Glenda Benevides, and we’ve started to work out opportunities to perform together. In fact I was able to debut my Straight Jacket Escape at one of her events.

And perhaps even more influential I have been binge listening to a number of really great podcasts including story telling casts and interview shows. They have given me great ideas and great tips for getting my business going again. Maybe even, with enough work, back to the level of being possible to support myself full time. That’s the dream.

But it has to start somewhere. So there has been a lot of planning, a lot of scheming, a lot of study and research.

So, as they say, if you put something out in to the real world, if you go public with it, then you give it legs, you make it real.

So, time to go public with it.

By the end of this year I intend to have my magic business up and running again. I don’t anticipate it being my full time business, but I do anticipate making it in to something that will provide a nice supplementary income.

In a couple of weeks I’m going out to Vegas again and when I come back I hope to have in hand a real foundation for a whole new version of me as an entertainer. After that I plan to tackle getting a serious long term situation going by trying to score an actual restaurant gig. More about that as my plans firm up. I also expect to launch a whole new website with this new version of me.

So, lots of things. Lots of planning. Not as much writing as I was up to.

I appreciate your patience. I appreciate the support I’ve received. I promise I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks!

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.

Not Necessarily a Plethora of Options

timthumbFor the most part there just isn’t a lot of magic on television. I mean magic shows, magicians. It is, of course, something of a niche market and really a specialty item. As it should be.

But that does mean that when magic shows do come on television then magicians like me flock to them desperate to be entertained. We hunger for the opportunity to see something new and different, to see something that might challenge us or inspire us to engage.

Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that there are two new shows on television for magicians to enjoy. The bad news is that you’re only going to enjoy one of them.

Well, that’s what I think anyway. And if you are anything like me, you want the bad news first so you can get it out of the way.

So, The CW is airing a show called Masters of Illusion. What a disappointment. In truth I only heard about this show at all because one of my mentors (Jeff McBride) will be appearing on it, so he announced it on his Facebook feed. I have watched four episodes so far and I have yet to see an episode where he appears but I am dreading it. Not because Jeff will be bad, far from it. In point of fact my feeling is that many of the magicians appearing on this show are probably quite brilliant.

The problem is the editing. It’s terrible.

Allow me to explain. Magic as an art requires at least a small amount of time for every magician to establish themselves and their character on stage. This can be done relatively quickly or it can take a bit longer, especially if you have information you want the audience to know before you start performing the effect. We need that time to establish the storyline and to create the right mood to build the effect.

Some years ago for about five years running at Thanksgiving a magic show aired called Worlds Greatest Magic (which was, by the way, the first time I ever saw Jeff McBride perform). This show would feature about 8 magicians and would take an hour to run. There would be a host and even some magic taught to the viewing audience. But because the format was as long as it was all of the magicians were given a decent slice of time to not only establish themselves and their act, but to be properly introduced and lauded for their accomplishments (winner of this award or that award, voted best magician by this group, etc, etc, etc), so that the audience could truly appreciate who these performers were and what they had accomplished in order to be considered among the “Worlds Greatest”.

The editors at The CW seem to think that they can take the same basic show and cram it into half an hour. No lessons, almost nothing in the way of introductions, no chances at all for the magicians to establish themselves or their acts on stage. Every aspect of the show is rushed and as a result nothing is particularly entertaining.

It’s clear that these are some talented magicians for the most part (okay, yes, a couple are really surprisingly bad from my personal perspective). And I’m sure that given a more reasonable amount of time they could, in fact, be vastly more interesting than The CW seems to be willing to allow them and that is a real shame.

Magic as an art form, as an entertainment can be one of the most satisfying not just for the performers but for an audience that really is drowning in the vast mediocrity of television options. Little would have to change right now for the show to be improved ten fold. Make the show an hour long and give those same magicians a nicer slice of time and they will do the rest. Guaranteed. The CW would have a winner on its hands.

But I did say there was good news too, didn’t I? Well there is and it comes in the form of yet another Penn & Teller show called Wizard Wars.

Competition shows have become a pretty solid mainstay of television fair right now, and SyFy has come up with a number of them over the years that have been just eccentric enough to win them some solid ratings. Well, SyFy has taken a chance on magicians this time with Penn & Teller at the helm.

Wizard Wars is a competition show where two teams of magicians come in, are handed a stack of random everyday objects and told “Go make a magic act using all this junk.” Then the teams come back, compete against each other for an audience and a panel of judges consisting of Penn & Teller and two other judges. The winning team moves on to the next round where they will compete against two of the four “Wizards” to create yet another original piece of magic with a whole new pile of random objects.

If the competitors win they get $10,000.

All of this takes place in a nice comfortable hour long block were we get to see each of the four “Wizards” do a little something, we get to learn about the competitors and what they do, we get to see four full acts from start to finish, and we get to learn a little something from Penn & Teller as well.

There has only been one episode of Wizard Wars to date and already I am totally blown away. And I think that the magic I’ve seen in Wizard Wars is significantly better than what I’ve seen on four episodes of Masters of Illusion.

Okay, so I don’t have a lot of options to watch magic on television, and I’ll keep watching Masters of Illusion because I’m fairly certain that The CW knows that my lack of choice guarantees them at least some audience share. But Wizard Wars wins this war in my opinion hands down.

BONUS: Penn & Teller ran a show over in the UK for the past couple of years called Penn & Teller: Fool Us which was another competition type show. Performers came on, did their acts and if they were good enough to fool Penn & Teller, then they got to come to Vegas to open for Penn & Teller in their theatre.

All those episodes are now airing here in the US. Yes, I watched several of them on YouTube, but they are here now on broadcast television, so one more option for my magic viewing pleasure!

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

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 Biggest Hurdle

Here, I thought I would be a lot more productive in writing these posts now that I knew I had buy-in for my whole Carnival project.  Instead I’ve been reluctant to write because I wasn’t sure what I had to say.

Today brings good news though.  I have held all along that various kinds of acts need to have a certain kind of balance to them.  And that balance is generally things arranged in odd numbers.

For example any magic act I do will always have an odd number of routines in it.  3, 5, 7, 9.  This is because it allows for a kind of collection of ‘beginning, middle, and end.’  Even numbers don’t divide an act structure right.

For the Carnival I have wanted to make absolutely certain that I had at least three acts to present.  And getting the buy-in for that has kept me on pins and needles for a while.  Today we now have confirmed three acts for Kingdom A&S!

Whew.

Now begins the process of building and rehearsing those acts along with the wonderful other things we will be doing.  Carnival games that need to be built.  “Stage” dressing and lighting that we need to work on.  Things of that nature.  Every time I turn around I find layers of structure that need to be thought about and addressed.

That’s okay though.  I think that is really a big part of the overall fun.

So, for the moment at least, here is what The Carnival of The Phoenix will be opening with:

  • Song and Storytelling from the lovely Vittoria
  • An original Puppet Show from the lovely Yukiko and company
  • A Magic Show by the not as lovely yours truly

In addition we’ll be following with an open Bardic Circle, some carnival games and a fortune teller.  I believe we are also looking to have “stick horse” races earlier in the day and a parade to lead people to the show in the evening.

Every level of this is a challenge as we build from the ground up.  What surprises me though, as I look back, is that I started this idea back in about September/October of 2011!  I know I’d played with it a time or two prior to that, but that was about when I went fully into ‘production’ of this idea, talking to people and seeing if I could get their support.

Approximately seventeen months to date.

I’m stunned.

But, as always, Onward!

ps  I have an obvious interest in images of The Phoenix.  The above image is from a tattoo design website.  Click on the image to go check out their other stuff.  Its pretty cool!

The Performing Introvert

Comments about introverts and being an introvert in what seems to largely be an extroverted world come around every now and again.  They ring true for me because, despite how things might otherwise appear, I actually am very much an introvert.

As it turns out there are actually genuine physiological differences between the brains of introverts and the brains of extroverts.  These differences are basically which parts of the brain are activated more during different activities.  The studies show that for introverts the areas of the brain which become more active during testing are areas which involve memory, problem solving and planning while the brains of extroverts that become more active tend towards the areas involved in interpretation of sensory data.

The difference is that given the opportunity to sit and think, the introvert focuses inward and the extrovert focuses outward.  This may seem obvious but I share this up front to show that it isn’t just a personality thing like most people believe but is a genuine physical phenomenon.

What is also interesting to note is that according to a variety of studies as much as 75% of the population consists of extroverted individuals while the rest are introverts.

I tell you these things up front because I want to establish two basic things:

  • Introversion is not a personality disorder or other psychological issue.  It is a normal result of simple physiological differences in the brain
  • Introverts are a smaller part of the population than extroverts

So keep those things in mind as I wander off into the actual point of this article; being a performing introvert.

What is a performing introvert?  Simply put it’s someone who is both an introvert and engages in some activity that puts them “on stage” in front of crowds in order to entertain them.

This might seem like some kind of contradiction.  After all aren’t the people who are “on stage” used to being in front of people?  Don’t they crave the attention?  Isn’t being an extrovert what makes them so good at entertaining?

Those things might be true, but they are definitely not the only answer.

Giving a speech in front of large crowds of people is actually a greater fear than death to most Americans so one can argue that being used to being on stage is not as common as we might expect.  Sure there are lots of ways to train like Toastmasters or other speech training programs but statistically speaking at least one would think that even extroverts, who outnumber introverts by as much as 3 to 1, aren’t exactly craving that stage time in front of large crowds.

And introverts do crave attention as much as extroverts do.  After all, we’re all human and we like to interact with each other.  The difference is that introverts crave a different kind of interaction.  This is the whole “life of the party” concept.  Extroverts are often tagged as the “life of the party,” often justifiably so.  Introverts, not so much.  Introverts are usually the ones who, if they are at the party at all, are sitting in a corner having a quiet and pleasant conversation with one or two other people only.

Finally while being an extrovert might help create a level of energy for an entertainer, I don’t think it’s necessarily what makes them good at entertaining.  One can simply do a quick Google search for famous introverts and find lists of some extremely talented performers both live and TV/Film stars.  If being extroverted were a requirement we wouldn’t have those performances.

So what makes an introvert decide that being an entertainer is a good idea?  What makes them think that being in front of crowds of people is what they want to do?  What are the problems an introvert has to face and overcome?

Well, I can only speak to my own experiences and observations, so I will.  Perhaps you will find this helpful if you too are an introvert with a desire to entertain.

I was drawn to the stage very early on.  I mean very early.  Like Kindergarten early.  The first production I can remember doing was all the kids in class acting out a story from a story book and I played the villain (a very cartoonish Dick Dastardly type villain).  That might not seem like much until you get the full context which is that the project was supposed to be all the kids switching out roles every so often so everyone got to play on stage.  Except me.  The teacher liked what I was doing so much that I played the villain through the entire thing.

Now sure, kids are more outgoing and less likely to be embarrassed when what they are doing is pure play, but this stuck with me, obviously, and it has always been the earliest foundation of what I consider my performance trajectory.

Ever since then I was constantly in “school plays” and then moved to community theater and eventually into being a founding member of an acting troupe that has lasted for 21 years so far as of this writing.  Somewhere in there I also became a magician.  And not only that I became a professional one, making my living as a magician for four years.

So how does introverted me do all that?  Because it’s fun.  Not for the limelight, which is nice, but because I have a talent and I like to practice it.  I like creating.  I like the art.  Not just the magic but the acting as well.  I think about my characters.  I think about my delivery.  I think about what the audience sees and expects and I think about how to manipulate them to give them an even bigger surprise.

Everyone who knows me knows I’m a magician.  If they don’t know beforehand they will find out soon enough.  But I don’t crave doing card tricks for people.  My interactions are always first and foremost about creating an artistic or emotional moment for them.  And I am always more satisfied by the close up magic I do than the stage magic I do because it creates those connections to other people that introverts like me seem to crave.

This makes sense.  As an introvert my “quiet conversation in one corner of the room with a couple of friends at the party” very likely might include some interesting bit of magic or psychological trickery.  The entertainment of it, the connection that I make with people when I do that feeds that introvert connection.  It makes me interact with, and hopefully be more interesting to, the people at the party and thus makes me liked and validated, something we all want.

While I have done larger shows I have long come to understand that my best large audience size is about 20 people.  I can still manage a group that size and provide the connection to them that I want to provide.  I can still make significant enough connections with this size group of people that it is worth it to me to extend that amount of “energy.”

One of the ideas that is often presented as a difference between introverts and extroverts is where they get their “energy” from.  Now before you go off wandering into “new age woo-woo land” let me just say that all I mean by “energy” in this context is the level of connection and excitement one normally experiences when interacting with other people in a positive fashion.

The general thinking is that extroverts get their energy from interacting with groups of other people while introverts get their energy from quiet solitude.  As a result extroverts spend time with other people and introverts spend time alone both for the sake of “recharging their batteries.”

This too makes sense in light of what I mentioned at the beginning of this article with regards to the physiological differences between the two.  If extroverts brains are wired up to enjoy spending time processing external stimuli then spending time with others provides that stimuli.  If introverts brains are wired up to enjoy spending time processing internal information then seeking out quiet time to do that provides them that opportunity.

How does that play out for the introverted performer?

In my case at least it seems that the time I spend being quiet is also massively creative time.  I get to process all kinds of information that I have gathered and figure out what it means.  I get to decide how I might use that information and the conclusions that I come to in order to create better performances.  This quiet creative time is where new routines are born, where new magic is created, where new stories are dreamed up.  And I know this time well as the kind of time I want after I have had the time I need to just sit and process.  My desires for this quiet creative time are always as the last part of a cycle which starts with simply sitting, relaxing and just processing all that I have recently encountered.

In the heat of the moment I am “on stage.”  I know that I have a specific performing persona and a script that I am following (yes, magicians follow scripts, not just actors).  I am putting my energy into that and I can absolutely tell you that if the moment presents itself I will be right there ready to take advantage of a good improvisational opportunity.  I feel energized when I have a good audience.  I feel drained when I don’t.

Through that performance I will be gathering tons of information.  But when the performance is over, when I get out and back home I can sit and be quiet.  I can process all that I got from the audience and I can recharge my batteries from all that I am inspired by.  That’s the energy that I, as an introvert, need.  That is what fuels the quiet creative time that follows the quiet relaxation time.

I have considered frequently what seems to be the inherent contradiction that when I finish a good show I feel hugely energized and the fact that as an introvert my first craving when I feel worn out is to seek silence and solitude.  But it’s not really that surprising in retrospect since that huge charge is really coming from a job well done.  Much like exercise a show well done is very revitalizing.  The adrenaline does work its way through the system and a vigorous performance can definitely be like a vigorous workout.

This bodily energy is not the same thing as the mental energy I crave as an introvert.  In that case the bodily energy carries me on further through the rest of whatever I have to deal with such as striking a set or packing up my magic props (a task only I will do).  Even at this point I am still expending mental energy maintaining a persona or at the very least keeping myself engaged with my audience.  This means I’m still draining my reserves.

It occurs to me too that there is a very definite expenditure of energy leading up to the show.  I have long had a reputation for being somewhat disagreeable when I am backstage waiting for the show to begin.  When I am back stage I am often very withdrawn and very quiet.  I am nervous and generally rather flushed with adrenalin.  I can be snappy.  I try very hard not to inflict that on my fellow performers but it can still be difficult to be around.  Remember that fear of public speaking I mentioned earlier?  Yeah, this is it.

Some really do have very good coping mechanisms for this.  Others, such as myself, do not.  What I do know is that the moment I am on stage all of that nervous energy turns into performance energy.  As soon as I hit the stage it’s on.   The performance itself becomes the catalyst for the nervous energy of being in front of people and turns it from a chore to a challenge.

I have noticed however a certain lethargy I must overcome as well lately.  I commented about this in my article about “flight time,” that I haven’t gotten enough of it lately and that I need more.  One of the things I have come to realize is that being an introvert does become one more hurdle I need to overcome.  It is far too easy to blow off performance opportunities simply because I’m not feeling up to it.

Is that really lethargy or is that reticence because I’m feeling my introverted nature a bit too much?  Is it because I haven’t had enough time to myself to either recharge my introvert batteries or am I really just under the weather?  These are questions that I seriously need to find the answer to, but my gut tells me that my introvert nature is a bigger part of the problem than I might have originally realized.

After all, the thing that introverts don’t want to do is expend energy on something which is not worthwhile or worth their time.  That certainly includes unappreciative audiences.  We don’t come with vast renewable energy reserves and it’s really pretty hard to sneak off in the middle of a party or a performance to sit quietly for a few hours to recharge.  We’ve got to be ready when the time comes and that means planning ahead and knowing the situation we are headed into.

One could easily mistake this for fear of the performance, or fear of the audience, but looking at this from the current perspective it seems like those are just ways of saying “fear of running out of energy.”

I will not suggest that extroverts are capable of an unlimited amount of energy simply because as long as there are people around they can recharge all they want.  Sounds rather vampiric in nature actually.  Rather I will suggest that given the fact that there are other people around and they can renew from these people they are less likely to be concerned about failing in the first place.  Their natural tendency to laugh and joke makes them capable of easily picking up and moving on if something didn’t work in the midst of their performance.

But as an introvert I know that when something doesn’t work right I am personally horrified by that and I have trouble recovering.  And the presence of others isn’t what I need at that point.  What I need is time to analyze why this thing failed.

There it is again; outward focus and inward focus.

Now that’s a lot to take in but I really am leading up to something and here it is –

The natural advantages of being an introvert may make them extremely good entertainers.

This is, at best, a premise only.  But one that I base on my own experiences as well as my observations about a long list of highly skilled and talented introverted entertainers.

What is that list of “advantages?”  Well, it is subject open to argument but there is a book entitled “The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World” and in this book a list of the top ten “advantages” enjoyed by introverts is presented.

10) Work Well With Others, Especially In One-to-One Relationships
9) Maintain Long-Term Friendships
8) Flexible
7) Independent
6) Strong Ability To Concentrate
5) Self-Reflective
4) Responsible
3) Creative, Out-of-the-Box thinking
2) Analytical Skills That Integrate Complexity
1) Studious and Smart

I’m not going to run down this whole list, but it does provide some interesting food for thought.  I will target some specific characteristics this book is attaching to introverts.

“Strong Ability to Concentrate” seems like something a working entertainer would want.  Certainly the level of concentration I expend when performing magic or juggling is high and the ability to stay focused is extremely valuable.

“Self-Reflective” might not make sense at first until you tie it to the idea of both self critique and taking the criticism of others such as your directors, stage managers, and yes, critics.  A performer who doesn’t pay attention to these things is going to put themselves into a dead end with their creativity and their presentations.

Can we just say that “responsible” and “professionalism” simply go hand in hand and leave it there?  Good.

“Creative, Out-of-the-Box thinking” is probably a total no-brainer here.  After all, we’re talking about entertainers.  Being creative, being able to create something new and original is exactly what we are expected to do.  But if being an introvert makes you more likely to be able to do these things than certainly it is an advantage.

“Analytical Skills That Integrate Complexity” is also something which seems a no-brainer to me as it goes hand in hand with the whole “creative” thing.  Introverts take it all in.  We look at everything around us and we catalog and categorize it within our minds.  We take notes.  We make observations and we are, if I may be so bold to speak for my people at this point, obsessive about the things that interest us.  We want, we need, to know everything we can about them.  Because once we do all of those things churn around in our skulls and when we have that time to sit and be quiet and let our creativity flow all of it comes in to play.

I’m sure I could make arguments for everything that is on this proposed list of introvert advantages but I trust that by now I have made my point.  Despite what might seem the obvious conclusions, introverts can and do make fabulous entertainers.  We come top full with a tool kit of skills that are inherently a part of our very nature.

Do we have it all over the extroverts?  No clue.  I’m not one so I can’t judge from the inside.

But I would like to hear from you.  I would like to know what you think, especially if like me, you consider yourself to be an introvert performer.  Leave your comments below.

Carnival Project & Flight Time

fireeatingI know I haven’t talked much about my SCA Carnival project lately.  Simply put this is because I have not done much with it over the past couple of months.  When we get to the end of the year all of our SCA thoughts turn towards 12th Night which tends to be all consuming.  I have other 12th Night specific plans and projects that I must engage in.

That being said, 12th Night makes for a good milestone marker as well.  Once it’s over I will have much greater bandwidth to focus on the things I want to focus on such as the Carnival project.  So for the past couple of months I’ve been saying “when 12th Night is done the next thing I’ll focus on is……”  A common refrain for many of us.

This, of course, coincides with “New Year’s Resolution” time, but I am generally not happy about making resolutions.  Mainly because they are notorious for being broken.  Usually they are things like “exercise more”,  “eat better”, “lose weight” and other self-improvement projects.  So when they get broken we end up feeling worse about ourselves and thus the cycle repeats.

No thanks.

Interestingly enough though, I am finding myself very willing and even eager to “set goals” for the coming year, such as getting my Carnival project off the ground.  I have a clear deadline set, and a plan of attack, and other people who are willing to be involved so by implication people who are counting on me.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it’s going to take for me to do the variety of things I want to do, that I am setting as goals, for the coming year.

This brings me to the concept of “flight time.”

A while back I wrote about the book I’ve been marking up and it is from there that I am taking my current concept of “flight time” though in truth I have known about it a great deal longer than that.  Simply put “flight time” is all about getting experience doing the thing you want to do.

There are many articles and studies which have been done focusing on the idea that in order to “master” any particular skill you need about 10,000 hours of actually doing it.  One excellent introduction article can be found here:  Gaining Mastery – The Three Vital Steps of The Apprenticeship Phase.  There simply is no substitute for flat out experience no matter how much you practice, train or rehearse.

Any performer will tell you that there is no amount of practice or rehearsal you can go through that will fully prepare you for actually performing.  You can hit a point where you are as ready as you will ever be, but crossing the threshold between rehearsal and performance still means stepping into the unknown.

But this is where the lessons are.  Live audiences will throw things at you (sometimes literally) that you will not really be prepared for.  If you are as rehearsed as you can be, if you are as comfortable as you can be with your material then you will be in a position where you will at least have the tools you need to try and handle what the audience has created for you in terms of a new situation.

This is “flight time.”  Performances.  Time in front of an audience doing the things you need to do in order to build your repertoire, build you confidence and build your skills.

Confidence building is the biggest part.  Getting in front of people so that you get comfortable with who you are on stage and who they are as your audience.  This is the part that scares everyone and it’s the make or break part of being an entertainer.  Far more fail than succeed because of this step.

I’ve done some flight time.  I’ve got a life time of stage experience and I did get to the point of doing magic as a profession for several years.  But without sitting down and doing the calculations I can still say that it’s extremely likely I haven’t achieved the 10,000 hour boundary line.  Even having been called a “pro” by my mentors I think I don’t have that “magical” amount of flight time.

So this year I’m going to seek it out when and where I can.  I need to get that going so that when the time comes for the Carnival project to really get off the ground I will be better prepared.  I will begin by entertaining at 12th Night this year.  And after that just look for that black leather bag hanging at my side.  If all goes according to plan this will be my “Commando Act” (the magic I am prepared to entertain with anywhere anytime) and I will be pushing myself to log the “flight time” I need.

Bleeding Edge Entertainment

Like most of the rest of the world I have seen “The Hobbit.”  Like a good portion of them I made the call to see it in 3D with the High Frame Rate (HFR).  Unlike a portion of the world I decided to use the restroom before the movie started and to not indulge in the 55 gallon drum of soda thus allowing me to sit through the entire movie.

In retrospect I may have wanted that bathroom break just get away from the visual bludgeoning I received.

I’m not going to get into a review of the movie itself.  This has been done to death everywhere else and I don’t know that I could really add anything to it.  I will say this much; I literally grew up with this story from kindergarten on.  Story time in school was this book and as a class we made a huge wall sized panorama of the whole book where I made The Arkenstone.  So I have a connection.  The movie is not the book.  I may not decide how I feel about that until all three movies(!) have been released.

In any case it’s not the plot I wish to talk about but the technology of 3D and HFR.

First, 3D technology.  We’ve been dealing with a variety of movie attempts at 3D for a lot longer than people might think.  The earliest attempts at 3D cinema were done in the 1890’s.  The first film viewed by a paying audience was “The Power of Love” released in 1922 and it used the basic “Red/Green” viewing technology most of us are familiar with.

From there the leaps in technology have been pretty minor in the grand scheme of the audience viewing experience.  The technology behind the scenes was mostly on process and creating projection systems that could handle the changes in process.  The main problems that had to be dealt with were largely caused by the need for dual projectors, dual projectionists and the complications of keeping the two films running in sync with one another.

It wasn’t until the 1960’s that someone figured out a variety of ways to put the images on to a single film strip alternating frames and the use of special projectors and lenses to allow them to be seen.  Still, these came with their own problems mainly in how bright the images were or the sightlines in the theater being to narrow to get any proper 3D effect.

In 1970 we got Stereovision and thanks to the Porn industry a 3D flick called “The Stewardesses” where the frames were on a single strip but squeezed in side by side.  Soft and Hard core porn led the way for 3D for several years.

In the early 80’s we got more attempts at 3D with the sci-fi films such as “Spacehunter: Adventures in The Forbidden Zone”, “Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn” and “Treasure of the Four Crowns.”  None of which could compete with the traditional 2D format of our beloved “Star Wars” and so 3D fell to the wayside again.

But IMAX came along in the mid-80’s and IMAX 3D started giving us a lot of documentary films at first followed by a whole slew of entertainment releases.

And now we find ourselves here in an age where 3D films seem to be making a real go of it with vastly superior technology.

And now we’re talking about High Frame Rate.  There is not nearly as much information on this technology because other than using HFR cameras to get super slow motion images the tech doesn’t seem to have been used for very much as far as entertainment is concerned.

Going back to those really old cameras and projectors there was no particular standard for film frame rates due to the simple fact that those items were hand cranked.  The frame rates didn’t standardize until the invention of Sound Sync technology and the creation of the first “talkies”.  In 1927 the first feature length “talkie” was the film “The Jazz Singer.”

So it was sound that drove the visual frame rate standard which became 24 frames per second.  That means when you look at that strip of film each and every one of those little pictures is racing by and you see 24 of them in one second to create the illusion of movement.

Which brings me to “The Hobbit.”

Peter Jackson decided that he wanted to do this movie at 48 frames per second, the first feature film to do so.  I’m sure you understand fully what that means now.

The first thing that I have to say is that in talking with various people who have seen the movie they have all come down hard on opposite ends of the spectrum with very little in the way of middle ground.  They either really love the 3D HFR or they really don’t.

The positives are the sense of realism and the very deep rich colors.  The experience is very immersive.

The negatives are the overwhelming nature of some shots as they go by so fast that the vividness of the images become too intense or even painful.  Certainly my wife and my apprentice both complained of being overwhelmed at times even to the point of headaches and a bit of dizziness.

If I am to be honest I’d have to say that there were a couple of times, especially during battle scenes, where the action became so overwhelming that I couldn’t follow what was going on or keep up with it.

But that got me to thinking; is it the technology or the direction itself?  Certainly there have been other films in standard 2D formats where things became so crowded and “action packed” on the screen that it became difficult if not impossible to follow everything taking place.  Can I really lay blame for that on 3D HFR?

The intent of Peter Jackson and the other directors that will follow him (James Cameron plans to use 3D HFR technology for his “Avatar” sequels) is to create a rich world that invites you in and gives you a powerful experience.  They wish to “push the envelope” with “new and exciting” technology to make your movie experience “one of a kind.”

Suddenly it was those buzz words and phrases that pushed my buttons and got me to thinking.  Isn’t that what story tellers do?  Isn’t that what our imagination is for?

Really, as fantastically exciting and even beautiful these worlds are, do they compare to what was in your imagination when you were a kid?  I grew up with “The Hobbit.”  After it was read to me as a tiny kid I read it again and again for myself over the years.  Eventually I saw the animated Rankin and Bass production.  I even played the children’s album story of “The Hobbit” over and over again wearing out groves in it.

But it was the book, and my imagination that filled me with what hobbits and elves and dwarves and dragons looked like.  It was my imagination that took me thru the horrors of Murkwood Forrest and to look upon the face of Gollum.

It was good solid storytelling.  J.R.R. Tolkien told a magnificent story.  Certainly I know there are those who don’t like his writing style, but that isn’t the point so much as it’s about story telling.  Pick your own favorite author whose work has been made into a movie.  Is the movie ever as grand as what your imagination created from the story that took you too far away places?

I would argue not.

So is 3D HFR just a waste of time?  No, I don’t think so.

But neither do I think it is the answer.  Right now Peter Jackson and his ilk are playing with it.  They are seeing what they can do with it.  And as visually spectacular as “The Hobbit” is ultimately going to be, I will be willing to bet that it’s going to be the original story teller, the director who uses the technology with restraint and artfulness who will ultimately produce the greater product.  If the visual bludgeoning I received watching “The Hobbit” is any indication at all Peter Jackson isn’t the artful director I am looking for with regards to this new technology.

Yes, I completely enjoyed the first installment of “The Hobbit” and if truth be told I fully expect that I will see the remaining two installments in 3D HFR as well.  I’m a complete-ist like that.  That’s how I started my “unexpected journey”, that is how I will finish it.  Peter Jackson is to be commended for the job done thus far.

In my perfect world someone is going to come along and they are going to give me a 3D HFR movie with an original story, talented actors and an artful use of the beauty that can be created by drawing me in to a space that seems to surround me.  I look forward to that cinema experience.

%d bloggers like this: