When 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.
The 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 Puppet 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.
Next 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.
After 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.
This 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.
Of 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.
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:
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
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.
Last year I was a lot more active about presenting things to think about that were wonderful items for Halloween. This year I have been lax. But not to long ago I did find myself in a “Spirit” store and they had on display a great many animated items. Far more than I have seen in previous years which made me wonder if this year was just a boom in animated decorations or if I had been missing them all these years.
Regardless there were some pretty amazing ones, but this one is my favorite. Given how much I love the old fashion fortune telling machines this is based on, there really was no contest.
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 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.
The 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.
After 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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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?
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.
One of the most important features of any carnival in my opinion is that of the fortune teller.
And the fortune telling machine is one of those carnival curiosities that stand out for me. I remember going to carnivals, arcades, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and Disneyland, finding a fortune telling machine and plunking the requisite quarters in order to reveal my future. And sometimes the future of whatever girlfriend I happened to have with me while I was there.
What can I say, the idea of knowing we’d be together forever is appealing, even if we only dated for a few months at a time.
Of course my favorite room in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland is the fortune tellers room with the crystal ball and the witches head inside calling out to the spirits to reveal themselves and reveal the future. Well, okay, my second favorite room; my first being the dining hall with all the dancing ghosts because that is a large recreation of a fantastic historical illusion.
Nevertheless, the fortune teller is an important figure in a carnival and there is absolutely no way I’m going to neglect having one in mine. Of course I’ll have to bypass my beloved Madam Fortuna and Zoltar machines in favor of the gypsy fortune teller we all know and love.
Or do I?
I suppose I might be able to justify the creation (eventually) of a automata fortune teller, but it seems that a bit of schooling has come my way in the form of a new blog post from my apprentice about the history and origin of the name of “fortune teller.”
So, dear reader, I direct you to her comments and considerations of the name “fortune teller” as she asks the question “What’s in a name?”