I have recently had the opportunity to start up “Bardic Workshops” within my local Barony. Mostly the idea is just to get the bards in the area together to create a sort of support group for writing, performing, creating, and developing our skills all the way around.
One of the things that I have a real desire to focus on is the idea of “attention.” Of course for me this means things like ‘managing attention’ or ‘misdirection’ because as a magician it is very important to me to be able to do that. Otherwise I’m not as entertaining as I should be.
But the concept of attention is one that is valuable to every kind of performer. If we can’t keep the audience on us than we just aren’t doing what we should be doing. The job of Bard (in this Kingdom it’s generally Bard of The West, Bard of The Mists, Bard of Cynagua and then a number of more local bardic positions depending on where you are) is to entertain.
We have a number of challenges when it comes to that however. Often we have a crowded feast hall to compete with, even when it’s an official presentation. Around a bardic circle we have tons of things to deal with that can get in the way of any particular performance ranging from environment to talking to outside noises.
I’m not going to elaborate on those challenges and what to do about them in this post (I do that in my paper on Theatrical Skills for Bards), but I am going to suggest one thing –
Watch this video (it’s interesting in and of itself), and all though it is mostly geared towards what magicians might do, it’s the final question asked that I think is most important.
So, as a bard, as an entertainer of any kind, what’s your answer to his question?
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.
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:
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:
- First off, the actual people at Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History are pretty cool.
- 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.
- Go to the Museum.
- 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.
- 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.
At GWW I taught my class on Theatrical Sklls for Bards.
One of the things we talked about is “stage fright” and how to deal with it. I offered up an exercise on how to deal with it, but this video is a great introduction to understanding what it actually is. I think I’ll be modifying my notes a bit to refer to this understanding so that in the future I can offer up some additional help on how to deal with it.