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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.

Another Carnival Done!

carnival_AnS_2015This past weekend at Kingdom A&S we ran the Carnival of The Phoenix again.

This time we played the day a little differently.  The last time all we did was shows through out the day, basically every hour on the hour.  This time, because it was A&S, we reserved the morning for classes and the afternoon for games and entertainment.  My apprentice Ghislaine taught two classes, I taught one.  I believe she will be posting about her classes relatively soon on her blog; Prognosticating Cow.  Be sure to wander over there and check it out.  She taught on the history of Necromancy and on the psychology of Divination presentations.  Both classes were very interesting.

I taught my Theatrical Skills for Bards class again, but this time I had probably the best turn out I have ever had with that class.  The students were very responsive and I know that at least a couple of them really saw something valuable in what I taught when they showed up for the show later on in the day.  More about that later.

After the classes and through the middle of the afternoon we had our Carnival games out, as well as all the juggling gear.  Several people came by to play and learn to juggle so we did that for about two hours.  Again, a great deal of fun was had.

A slight digression though; it looks like I need to put out the same kind of general rule/announcement about the Carnival just like Page School.  Kids are certainly welcome, but there needs to be a certain amount of parental involvement as well.  The Carnival isn’t supposed to be a baby-sitting service.  A few of the kids had their parents there for a bit but there were far more children then there were adults to watch them and we got close to having the game broken a time or two because the kids weren’t being properly managed.  So I’ll need to do something about that.

But the games went over well.  It is time to build one or two more though I think.  I’d like to have a few more.

That afternoon, after the games were done we were graced by an opportunity to host a toast to one of our friends, Maestra Vittoria, who has recently finished a long journey in academia and emerged with her doctorate; a great achievement.  I’ve been friends with her for a number of years now and I have had the pleasure of watching her on her journey every now and again.  She is an amazing person and I am very happy for her.

From there we went almost immediately in to our evening show.

carnival_choir_AnS_2015We started with The West Kingdom Choir.  They performed approximately 20 minutes of material and it was really wonderful.  We had a nice shady spot under the trees and the sun was setting so we had the makings of one of those magical SCA moments we so often look forward to.  The Choir was in fine voice and everyone really enjoyed their performance.

From there a few of the cast from the last Golden Stag Players show performed a scene from “12th Night” which we performed at this past 12th Night.  The jail scene which is one of the most iconic Shakespeare scenes and was very well performed.  Although I must admit that I missed an opportunity when I introduced them.  I should have said “Cope” like we usually do but I was distracted thinking about how to introduce the next performance and about my performance following that.

And then Maestra Vittoria performed her translation of a 16th Century Italian story about Narcissus.  It was a piece we’ve seen before but it was fabulous.  She had been working on it and this performance was amazingly funny.  It is a great humorous piece and it was wonderful to have it given that it’s hard to say we’ll have another performance from her again.  Now that she has finished her schooling she is on the job hunt and it seems likely that it will take her away from us.  I wish her well of course, but I and the Carnival will miss her.

Finally I got to do my show.

The Carnival provides me with the kind of “stage” that I truly appreciate.  A medium sized group, close enough to appreciate the slight of hand when I perform it, but just separated enough that I can have the formal stage I have grown up with all my life.

I performed three story pieces, the first a bare handed production of a rainbow ribbon, the second a new piece where I link three borrowed finger rings from the audience, and the final piece a routine written around a bottle that was a gift to the Caliph from Sinbad the Sailor.  The first and the third are pieces I have had at my command for some time but the second piece was a new and this was it’s first outing.

I was truly amazed at the power of the piece actually.  It is a recreation of a routine done by a professional that I have a great deal of respect for but done with my own words and presentation.  His performance of it stuck with me but his words and rhythm would never have worked for me.  My recreation focused on the idea of the universal nature of music and its ability to create harmony in anyone.  The story was a strong one and it clearly moved my audience.  I was very happy.

But what was perhaps the best part of my day, as much as I amazed my audience, was the fact that after the show I was approached by two of my students (at different times) from my “bardic skills” class, both of whom said that having seen my performance it crystallized their understanding of the material I taught earlier and they were looking forward to putting my lessons in to action in their own performances.

That is success.

So A&S was a lot of fun, the Carnival was a success, the classes were a success, and for about three days after I was totally exhausted.  But I’m back on my game now and very happy for it.

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 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

Risa’s Stars Were Not Aligned

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.

And astrology.

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:

FUCKING BITCH!!!!

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:

  1. First off, the actual people at Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History are pretty cool.
  2. 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.
  3. Go to the Museum.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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.

Theatrical skills for the SCA Bard.

A few months back I taught a class called “Theatrical Skills for SCA Bards”.  The point of the class was to pass on some skills and ideas garnered from my years of stage work that I think might be useful to the SCA Bard in the Bardic Circle context.  It took me a while but I finally managed to put it up.

So here it is, Theatrical Skills for Bards.  My take on stage skills that could be extremely useful for the SCA Bard around the Bardic Circle.

 

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