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.