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How To Crush An Artist

Art is hard. All of it.

It takes years of dedication and passion. It takes countless hours of practice, wasted materials, and occasionally some true heartache.

But all of it is worth it for the joy it can create. Real art generates an emotional reaction, and when you are striving in your art to create that you might very well be at your most intense, your most enthusiastic, but also your most vulnerable.

One of the measures of art is often set as the artist being so accomplished that they make the difficult look effortless. But the effort is there. It stretches backwards in time through all those countless hours of practice. It’s in every penny saved and scraped and carefully spent to acquire just the right tool, just the right resource, just the right material.

However, no matter what you do, there is still in some means by which the audience for that art can discern the incredible level of work and dedication it took to produce it.

No so with magic. With magic the goal of practice is not to display the skill, but to hide it. To make it invisible to detection, because in that invisibility the art comes out.

Imagine dedicating your life to an art whose very nature is that it can not be shared with it’s audience. Imagine the years of practice and developing skills one must go through in order to present mystery in a manner so apparently effortless that it defies detection.

Then, because what you are doing is still nothing without the theatrical experience that surrounds it, you take all of that skill and you hide it inside a whole other craft that you have spent as much time developing. You can show your theatrical skills, but your magical ones, the ones you are most in love with, most passionate about, must remain hidden from the intended audience.

Most of the time magicians revel in their secrecy. But on occasion the desire to show just how clever, or how complex some particular technique is can be hugely tempting and as a result hugely frustrating. The desire to revel in a particularly well developed routine might make a magician proud enough to want to crow about it.

And that is the moment. The moment when we are at our most vulnerable.

Because all it takes is one off hand comment, one joke at the expense of our art, to turn exhilaration in to frustration. This is true for every art. No matter how unintentionally hurtful the comment or joke might have been meant, if the artist is unready for such a thing then they are going to be hurt. They were putting the full expression of their joy out into the world and what they got back was mockery.

Most other artists are able to point back to everything they’ve done and express their feelings by saying “Wait! Look at everything it took for me to do this!” Magicians are not afforded that response. Not to the public at large. If we say “this is what it took to make this happen” they are giving away the very tools and secrets of their art. They are destroying it in the process of trying to protect it and their fragile artistic wonder.

This is how artists are crushed; having people they respect and admire treat their art in an offhand manner. This is what makes dancers less likely to take that next step. This is what makes a painter look with sadness at their brushes. One more rejection letter makes an author question their words, but an unkind comment from a friend might make them never write another word again.

And for a magician, being relegated to nothing more than mere ‘tricks’ and being worth hardly any world beyond ‘kids birthday parties’ despite years of effort makes them not want to put on the show at all.

There is a difference between being critical and being disdainful. A good critic, a truly rare creature indeed, will provide useful feedback that an artist can take and use to further develop their skills and craft. But a wise ass, a jerk thinking they are funny with some supposedly funny comment, is not showing anything but disdain.

Sometimes it’s the mentality of the heckler. Being unable to stand the fact that they aren’t getting attention, or feeling inferior they need to some how tear down the source of of their own discomfort.

Sometimes it’s pure thoughtlessness. The path that stems from “familiarity” breeding contempt. Instead of evaluating the moment for what it really is the thoughtless “friend” goes for what they think is a funny joke never realizing that the moment they have intruded on is just not the right time for humor.

Regardless of the motivations, it’s nothing but painful for any artist no matter the art in question.

This is why artists seek out the inner circle; friends, family, loved ones, who will be honest, who will be critical, but who will also be supportive and who do understand what you’ve done to get to where you are in your skills.

For most magicians there are magic clubs. For me personally these clubs are useless. Not because there aren’t talented people in them. But rather because in all the years that I went to any of them I found that they weren’t interested in what I was interested in, often not even being able to understand what I was trying to get from them or share with them.

But this is why I love going to the magic school I go to in Vegas. There everyone comes in understanding what they are there for, why they need each other, and most importantly how to be creative, supportive, and critical without being the idiot who crushes another artist.

And so dear reader, there is your lesson. If you want to crush an artist all you need to do is be disdainful of their art. Because nothing crushes an artist faster than showing that what they’ve devoted their passion to is utterly unimportant to you, the audience they want to give some measure of joy to.

But then, why would you want to crush the people who make your world more beautiful, more wonderful, and more magical?  We live in a world where we crave art, but far to frequently we crush the artist right in front of us.

No wonder the world steadily becomes more and more sterile.

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Hypnotic Wizardry

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

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

But let me start at the beginning –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See how the circles close in?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chief among those skills – the speed induction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s try something else.

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

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

Yup.

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

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

Or here’s a good one.

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

1 – You wake up.

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

That’s it.

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

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

The insurance company settled that one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah.

Other things we learned?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples from the show we saw.

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

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

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

And Cynthia. Oh Cynthia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you like to experience hypnotism?

Then listen to my voice as I count back from –

–three–

–two–

–one–

Sleep.

Going to Vegas!

In a few days I will be heading out to Vegas to take a seminar on magic and stage hypnotism/NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming)!  I am really looking forward to this.

The magic portion of things will be handled by my favorite magic teacher and mentor, Jeff McBride.  I’ve been studying Jeff’s work for years and I’ve learned so much.  It’s been several years since I’ve seen him and his lovely wife Abbey, so I am truly looking forward just to getting out and renewing our friendship.  As an alum of Mystery School it’s a bit like a home coming for me.

The big portion of things for me is the hypnosis/NLP part.  I’ve been interested in the topic since I was in High School.  I actually have done it off and on for a number of years, but only self taught.  The person who is teaching this material is actually a former student of Jeff’s, a gentleman named Richard Nongard.  At this point Richard is actually so accomplished that he runs his own school(s) and provides certifications for professional hypnosis all the way up to clinical hypnotherapy.

I have spent the past couple of years trying to figure out when I could assemble the funds needed to take the full certification.  It’s broken in to parts and I’ve looked at acquiring them in stages, but given that it’s an actual license I’d be pursuing it is a bit more expensive than I’ve been able to put together.  (I’ve considered a ‘gofundme’ type request in the past.)

Regardless, being able to finally meet and learn from him will be an excellent experience.

I’ve seen a few stage hypnosis acts and I’m very interested in building one myself.  It’s more or less the ultimate “packs small/plays big” show since I don’t have to pack anything at all and all the props are people!  Life size!

Over the years I have seen a few such shows and I like them.  I also like the idea of being able to use those kinds of skills to help people.  Hence my interest in the whole certification program.  I have seen many people benefit from such work, and even with my limited skills I’ve helped a few myself with simple things.  If a good opportunity presents itself for me to gain more experience and get closer to pursuing such a certification I will definitely leap on it.

And when I get back, if you happen to look across the field at an SCA event and you see the entire Laurel or Pelican council suddenly slump in their chairs and then get up and start clucking like chickens you’ll know I learned some really great stuff!

Attention

 

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?

 

The Phoenix Calmly Nesting In Ashes – West Kingdom Towne Faire

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about the event please visit:

http://www.westkingdomfaire.org/

Our schedule for The Carnival of The Phoenix is:

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

Stage Fright

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.

Effortless vs. Invisible

magic handsIn continuing to think about the idea of mastery of ones skills, getting flight time and otherwise general improvement of my own talents I am once again comparing the problems of magicians versus other performers.

When we see someone engage in some skill, not just rehearsing or practicing it but actually engaging in it, we almost always can tell just how good they are by how easy they make it look.  While this measure is certainly applicable to non-artistic or non-performance skill sets, it is the performance skill sets I am going to focus on and you can extrapolate from there.

Someone who is a dancer for example when dancing something particularly sophisticated is engaging all their skills.  We, as spectators can watch them and see the effort.  But when we see little or no effort and yet see the dance being executed flawlessly we immediately say “they make that look so effortless.”

Cirque de’Soliel is one of my all-time favorite examples of this.  Absolutely no one can deny that the things that they do in Cirque require vast amounts of training, practice, strength, grace, skill and all around awesomeness.  But just to make you that much more jealous they also make it look absolutely effortless.  Clearly the mark of mastery.

Let us not make the mistake, however, that any of this is effortless at all.  Quite the contrary.  The lion’s share of the effort is actually in the training and the rehearsal, in the countless hours of practice.  Most definitely there is effort in the performance because all performances require effort and concentration.

Mastery does not and cannot mean that the performance is ‘effortless.’  Otherwise we wouldn’t need the ‘flight time’ I wrote of before.  I could get everything I needed out of practice and rehearsal without subjecting myself to the stress of performance until I was so good that there would be no stress of performance.  Such a state of affairs simply doesn’t exist, though I do think that many so called performers who never really perform have precisely that thought in mind.

And to be fair it is an easy trap to fall in to which I think I’m really trying to pull myself out of these days.  Even after realizing this it’s still not easy to push oneself out of the trap.

Which brings me to the idea of “effortless vs invisible.”

For magicians we have a special limitation on our skills.  Not only do we have to be good enough at what we do that we can execute those skills effortlessly, but we must also be so good at those skills that we can execute them invisibly as well.  Certainly it is true that other artists and performers should be doing what they do that aspects of their art are also invisible in nature, but for the magician the whole of our art is in the invisible.

Imagine then the time and effort spent on mastering a skill only to have to then conceal that skill in order to use it effectively.  There are things, techniques, effects, tools and all manner of execution steps that magicians use which, if they fail to make them invisible, will spoil the art they are creating.  And at least from an entertainment and artistic perspective there is almost nothing more disappointing than an amazingly cool magic effect being ruined because you can see “the man behind the curtain” as it were.

Now, before this starts to sound like either a whine that my art is hard or a brag that my art is hard, let me just point out that this extra level of training and practice is literally built into every step of the training and practice process.  I learn the skills of invisibility as an integrated part of whatever it is I am working on.  It does make things a level more difficult at times, but it’s part and parcel of the whole process too, so it comes with the territory and isn’t nearly so horrible a task as you might think.

The interesting thing is that there are all of these ‘moves’ and ‘techniques’ that I would love to show someone because they are cool and subtle and awesome in their own way but I just can’t.  Occasionally magicians have caught themselves revealing those things in the midst of a performance to those who are sharp eyed enough to see it!  The payoff though, is that if I keep those things invisible they allow me to do even more amazingly cool things.

So, in the end, invisible it must be.  No matter how cool a “Double Axle Lubin Gearing Pass” might actually be.

Oh, and by the way, last 12th Night I did manage to get a decent amount of ‘flight time’ in with my magic.  I performed for random people through the day as well as performing for a groups while the Golden Stag Players were setting up the show they were doing.  It felt good to be getting the time in but I noticed how rusty I really am.

I still made it look effortless and kept it invisible!

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