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“What did you say?” – A Quick Dip Into Carny Lingo

One of the things I love about carny culture is the language. There are terms that are used “backstage” by carnies which are colorful and amusing. As you might imagine it’s not exactly easy to ferret them out, though thanks to the internet they are surfacing more and more.

I happened to listen to a podcast yesterday from a show called Conjurors, Carnies and Collectors which featured one of my magic mentors, Jeff McBride, and discovered something I didn’t know; he’s an ex-carny. He worked two seasons of a carnival as a “concessionaire” taking money from the “marks” playing various “Flat Store” games. And he had quite the “ballyhoo.”

Okay, yeah, so I’m playing with words I know, but you can probably figure most of them out. The only ones you might not be completely clear on are:

  • Flat Store – Games you really can’t win.
  • Ballyhoo – the carny fast talk, usually associated with the pitch given in front of any particular show. In the case of a game designed to tell you what you need to know but generally so fast you miss it anyway. And, of course, how the “concessionaire” manages to effectively change the rules of the game on you as you are playing so that you’ll pay more to keep going.

Oh, and by the way, that guy out front isn’t a “barker.” “Barker” is a term used by “rubes.” He’s a “talker.” The “talker” gives the “ballyhoo” when he’s doing an “outside opening.” When he’s inside the tent narrating the show he’s the “lecturer.”

Cool huh?

But the term I’m caught up with at the moment is “Gadget Show” or “Mechanical Show.”

Turns out that a somewhat infrequent attraction to some traveling carnivals was this “gadget show” which featured mechanical devices on display such as tiny villages, where the figures and structures operated and moved. This falls nicely in line with my interest in the various Ancient Inventions that I started looking at a while ago.

One of the people interested in helping with my Carnival Project suggested a display of a reproduction perpetual motion machine from our SCA period (one he can make work *nudge* *nudge* *wink* *wink*) and I would like to try and create one or two of the devices described by Hero of Alexander.

Is there a reference for such a “Gadget Show” to go along with the sort of carnival/festival entity in our SCA period? This I do not know yet. It’s hard enough to find a good list of all the things one might find at a carnval/festival in the first place. But given the interest in automata and such that I can find, I suspect that it’s not outside the realm of possibility at least.

So there you have it. A little stroll through the land of Carny Lingo and I end up with more inspiration for a sideshow.

So many toys. So little time.

Now that’s a Hobby Horse!

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

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

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

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

But for sheer coolness factor I found this:

Now that’s a Hobby Horse!

Carnival Automata/Puppetry courtesy of Disney

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty darn cool, right?

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

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

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

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

Automata – Wooden Cups and Balls Magician

Two posts in one day?  What’s the world coming too?

Well, who knows, maybe it will be even more then two posts, but I just ran across this and I had to share.

Automata were very famous for a good long time.  One of the most famous being “The Chess Playing Turk”, a mechanical man that played championship level chess and supposedly even played and beat Napoleon.  Very cool stuff.

There have been a number of people who have engaged in recreating various kinds of automata.  I don’t have the skill to myself at this point though maybe I could add that to my ever growing list of cool and bizarre things I’d like to do.

In any case, this video is of an automata performing The Cups and Balls.  It’s really cool and I just had to share it out there.

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