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Fighting the Hoards

Ronn Bauman —  November 17, 2015 — 3 Comments

One of the many hats I wear is as the author of a funny, yet relevant – and hopefully wise – ADVICE COLUMN. One of the questions that a DARLING READER sent to me in the early years of the column is one in which my answer should prove germane to the people who read Festival Prose. Rhonni’s been asking me for years to jot down some thoughts on simplifying and streamlining your lifestyle. Here’s what I’ve come up with for you all today.

You, Comic Hack, lead a nomadic existence. It cannot always have been thus. I am “settled”, as it were. I have lived in the same home for a large segment of my life. In gaining these roots, there is, of course, a certain comfort. Along with that comfort comes the accumulation of possessions. Given we live in a world where much of our society is consumers and much of the product sold is consumable, it seems this should not present a problem. However, the consumption comes with the expense of expanding waistlines and bulging walls, bank accounts drained and satisfaction NOT guaranteed. How do I reconcile the NEED to cling to things with the knowledge that this is not a healthy practice? I have come to the definite conclusion that my fight against being buried by clutter is a losing battle. In fact, most days I just close my eyes and leave my house and pretend it’s not happening. How do you manage to LIVE with only what you can carry? How does one LEARN to “just say no” to things that speak to their heart? And HOW?HOW?HOW? Do I find the strength to part with the things that are so special to me but injure me by their sheer volume?

Can you impart some practical tips and wisdom from your migratory existence that can set me free (or better arm me for battle?) Your faithful reader, A Stuff Saver with a Gypsy Soul

 

Wait, I think I see your problem right there...

 

Now this, THIS is a question I am uniquely qualified by training, experience and inclination to answer. Let me start by clarifying, I have ALWAYS lived a nomadic lifestyle. It was always thus and I could not be happier.  By the time I was 18 I’d attended fifteen different schools. This does not imply that I hadn’t accumulated a lot of Stuff – or not to put too fine a point on it – Junk. It just means that my piles of stuff were spread out over a more vast distance until I learned a better way. I am just lucky enough to have learned how to divest myself, to de-clutter and simplify.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Labyrinth and not just because of the majestic wonder of Mr. Tom Cruise’s thighs, the delicious decadence of Tim Curry as Darkness or the slightly pervy attraction to the too young Mia Sara.

 

Gotcha ! Wrong Movie buddy!

 

Wait – That’s the movie Legend. Labyrinth had the too young Jennifer Connelly, dark-and-twisted Muppets and David Bowie with is tight pants and ball manipulation (giggity!). In this beautiful, lyrical film one of the hazards depicted in the titular labyrinth, one of the most compelling and unsettling scenes, involved a monstrous hag covered with accumulated stuff who tries to distract our young heroine by plying her and piling her high with her own possessions. The Junk Lady – for so she is unimaginatively named – is one of many junk people who occupy an area of the Labyrinth known as The Junk Fields – or so this entry in the Labyrinth Wiki tells us. She briefly tempts Sarah (Connelly) away from her quest by getting her to hold, treasure and accumulate her possessions. Wow.

This is the perfect metaphor for your situation. Don’t fall for the Junk Lady’s tricks!

3. Whattya mean JUNK

 

I want you right now to take a step back, breathe and remember you’re not a victim here so stop trying to use that as an excuse for not doing the work. This is a society of consumers sure; but it is also the society of the Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo; if you cannot see how abhorrent those knuckleheads are and cannot choose not to emulate them – your problems are far more deep-rooted than I will be able to address. Not to wax all Buddhist-sounding but you are so much more than just the accumulation of thingsYou are not your objects and they have no more sway over you than you allow them to. You are not powerless.

I understand the sway of the safe, the pull of comfort, and of the gravity of the familiar. One of the Newtonian laws – number one on the pop charts – dictates that a body at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an external source! (emphasis mine). You can certainly choose to stay as you have always been or you can choose to exercise an act of will. Again, you are not your stuff and you are not powerless.

You are MIGHTY!

 

Let me tell you how I finally reached enlightenment in this realm. When I first went on the road I lived in a school bus – I kind of thought you were required to do so to be a Renaissance Festival performer. Because I had such a surplus of space the bus that was originally equipped to transport 66 passengers carted around an embarrassment of Junk instead.  Funny, I was going to put a quote from George Carlin right here about “Stuff” versus “Shit” but I think I’m going to avoid any quotes this month out of sheer perversity; but I digress.

My bits aren't good enough for you (question mark) Fuck You

As the years went by I streamlined my life. I also moved into progressively smaller and smaller accommodations until eventually, everything I needed or wanted in this nomadic life fit tidily into the back of a capper-covered pick-up truck bed. But rather than discard all of my old possessions; some of them dating back to when I’d been married and in the Navy, I had them squirreled-away at various weird locations all over the country. I had stuff in my ex-wife’s attic and stuff in two different storage units thousands of miles apart. I had stuff in my business partner’s garage and stuff at my mom’s house. All of this was in addition to the STUFF I travelled with year after year.

The purchase of a new travel-trailer caused me to take a long, hard (giggity) look at the madness and finally stop my hoarding ways.  I gathered –up all of my possessions from their many disparate locations and went through them all piece-by-piece. I sold many of my “treasured” items- my books were the hardest to part with – and I even made a little money in the process. I threw away nearly a dumpster’s worth of crap, and packed away into the new trailer only that bare-minimum of things I needed or wanted to truck around with me from state-to-state. After the preceding few years, I understood how few and simple my needs really were, even being a bit of a clothes horse like I am. Discarding and divesting myself of this accumulated trash was one of the single most freeing moments in my entire life. I condensed and discarded until eventually all that required storing – stuff too esoteric to cart about but that I was too attached to and couldn’t throw away – finally filled one small steamer trunk. This was a life-changing moment and I hope my example helps motivate you.

You could fit a body in one of these, or so I've heard.

You might find some inspiration and some tips in the rules I live by now. Since I move my entire household about seven or eight times a year, I reexamine what I need and what I possess each time. Maybe a simpler twice-a-year reassessment would suffice for you? I go through my clothes, my toys and even my housewares and if I haven’t used them in a year, and cannot foresee using them in the next six months I sell them, discard them  or leave them in a secure location for when I return the following year. We used to pack up and transport a gas-fired grill from state to state, now I just buy one and leave it for when I return to each location. I think we own five. Digital media is your friend. I don’t buy paper books anymore. I keep a very tiny percentage that have sentimental or fiscal value and the rest I get on Kindle. When I do read a paper book, as soon as I finish it – even if I plan to read it again someday, I give it as a gift to someone who will appreciate it. There are exceptions: I’m not giving up My Adam Ant Biography for example. All of my CDs are in my computer and my iPod. I’ll be moving my MASSIVE – over seven hundred disc – movie collection to a series of hard drives at some point in the future because this kind of simplifying is not an ACT it is an ongoing process.

Give this a shot – simplify your life starting this weekend but start the preparations today. Begin with “Spring Cleaning” right now.  Even though it’s autumn.  Pull out all the crap from your attic, your bookshelves and your basement and have a garage sale Saturday morning. Reassess all that you’ve walled yourself up with and  sell, trash or give away all of the things that are weighing down your life like an anchor. Look at it this way: if you give it an honest effort and find that you’re not happier without all the physical, and metaphorical clutter then you can always experience the hollow joy of shopping therapy as you acquire more “Stuff”.

Once you start stripping down and simplifying your life it becomes easier and easier to continue but you have to be just as cognizant of stuff creeping back in as you were aware of getting rid of it in the first place. You can implement “One in, Two out” and “Maximum number” rules where for example every time you purchase one pair of shoes you must discard two that you no longer wear. For the second rule you can set a number that you’re not allowed to exceed on certain possessions. Who needs more than fifteen t-shirts anyway? Don’t become a collector, and don’t attach too much of your sense of self to your stuff; the joy brought by possessions is a fleeting one. In my family we’re gift givers, but we tend to put the emphasis more on experiences than on things.  Except guns, I still have a bit of an arsenal. Ya know, for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Boyscouts have nothing on me

 

Finally realize that in some rare cases there is an actual disorder that compels you to acquire beyond what is reasonable. In most cases it “only” takes an act of will no-less strong than the one that makes you go to the gym each day to choose to take the steps to de-clutter your life. But sometimes you’ll need to seek professional help. If you think you’re one of these cases – do so. In even the most extreme cases, if you want to change you can. It does not have to be a losing battle. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with keeping and valuing some prized possessions any more than there is any wrong in eating a cupcake from time-to-time. But when you cause yourself harm, when you hoard to the point of shame or embarrassment it’s the same horrors as eating an entire box of donuts over the garbage can while crying. Choose better for yourself; get help if you need it. You are not powerless and you are not your stuff.

Let me just eat enough to get diabetes!

 

 

You need to know about Fresh Rag

Rhonni —  August 14, 2014 — 1 Comment

I’ve promised to share the tools and tidbits of a successful life at festivals. Al Craig has had some great advice for crafters when at festivals, but we haven’t delivered a lot of info for Makers that applies outside our world.
My own art form is management (although I admit to being better-than-passable at building design). But I wanted to let you Crafter/Maker/Vendor-type folks know about a website and podcast that delivers business information for folks in the business of creating. Dave Conrey’s Fresh Rag site has a variety of gifts. The podcasts alone are full of great, practical information for people selling their work anywhere, and I’m currently awaiting delivery of his book Selling Art Online.

 

The photo of Dave I snagged from Facebook.

The photo of Dave I snagged from Facebook.

Here is a sample of his writing, and I promise you that anyone trying to make a living selling stuff they create will find a lot of value in his podcasts.

Let us know if you have any helpful resources for folks in this wacky industry we all call home. Podcasts? Blogs? Books? Share in the comments!

Tim’s Festival Hiring Credo

Rhonni —  July 19, 2014 — 8 Comments

The following post is the work of my friends Tim Rosa and Donna D’Ignazio, both long time working participants of the Renaissance Festival industry. We were discussing tips and tricks to hiring good help at festivals, and they shared with me their favorite hiring tool. I’ve included their Preamble … which kind of makes this a preamble to a preamble, but they don’t have an author box for the bottom of this post. I felt I needed to explain it a bit.

Enjoy …

 

Tim’s Preamble

The following credo was written by (us) on a long trip from one show to another. Donna and I have been doing fairs, conventions, and Festivals for many years and these are some of the things we have learned.

We have each new prospective employee read it aloud.

If they don’t understand it, we can’t use them.

If they argue a point, we won’t use them.

We feel that this is a clear and concise set of guidelines to a fun job … but fun isn’t always easy!

Once read, we have them sign the document so that there are no misunderstandings, and no disappointments on either end.

To us these seem rudimentary.

We expect it from others and others should be able to expect it from us.

 

Disclaimer: These are the beliefs of Tim Rosa and Donna D’Ignazio. They are not necessarily those of Fellowship Foundry, Renaissance Pewter, or their affiliates.

 

Fellowship Foundry
Rules of Acquisition

1)  Pretend to be cheerful until you believe it yourself.

2)  Each and every patron deserves the VERY best that each of us can do for them. Smile and say hello to EVERYONE.

3)  SELL THINGS!

a)  Believe in the product.

b)  Take ownership of the product.

c)   Take ownership of the booth.

d)  Never ONCE think you are in charge.

4)  The four basic types of customers:

a)  The small talk
These are the people who you talk to about the weather, are they enjoying themselves, that’s a beautiful baby, etc.

b)  Those you absolutely leave alone
Let them come to you. (Don’t even try to make eye contact).

c)   The hard sell
You know what they want more than they do. Hand it to them or put it around their neck and ask ‘cash or charge?’

d)  The ones you f*ck with
These are the people who are intelligent, fun and funny and have probably been drinking. They will be insulted if you talk down to them. The trick to this is being aware. Be aware of the patron and your surroundings.   ALWAYS!

 

Cursorily, study each patron. Look at their clothes, observe their behavior, their demeanor, but mostly, look at their eyes.
Decide which of the four types best fits them.
This is not an exact science.
The point of this is to make the patron feel comfortable and therefore willing and glad to make a purchase.

Which category?

Which category?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5)  Fun   —  If the patron is having fun they don’t even realize they are shopping.

6)  Appropriate Costuming

a)  Women – May be risqué, but must be tasteful.

b)  Men – Shirts must be worn. No cross-dressing.

c)   Everyone – Hats, garlands, some form of headgear is mandatory.

d)  Must adhere to all faire costume rules.

7)  Work ethic
From the start of your work day until the end of your work day, you represent yourself, your co-workers, the booth and the faire. Your actions reflect upon all of these! Conduct yourself appropriately!
If you are camping on site, these rules apply ALWAYS!

8)  Expectations
You are not expected to be an expert at this from the start. You will have many opportunities to learn and grow. Please do not be discouraged. When you succeed, we all succeed. Many of these skills come from experience and you can learn from others’ mistakes and/or triumphs. Again, be aware. Have fun and help others to have fun.

9)  Co-existence
There will be NO conflicts on the floor! PERIOD! Not between patrons, spouses, boy/girl friends, co-workers, and especially bosses!
If you have a difference of opinion, take it out back.

10)      Push ‘em down and take their lunch money!!!!!!!

Your work day starts at:_________________________________

Your work day ends at:__________________________________

Your pay rate is:____________________________________________

Your employment starts:__________________________________

And ends:_______________________________________

Student Days:___________________________________

 

Breaks will be given every day during slow periods. You are responsible for your pass. Replacement passes are $100. There may be bonuses paid on performance and attitude.

 

 

Name_____________________________________

 

Address__________________________________

____________________________________________

____________________________________________

 

Phone____________________________________

 

Social Security #__________________________

 

 

I, __________________________________, have read and understand these terms and expectations, and will, to the best of my ability, perform these and greater things.

Signed_________________________________________

 

Date______________________________________

 

 

 

 

(Rhonni again here) Do you have favorite tools for getting the right employees for your team? Let us know about your favorites!

Ok, let’s see, …..where were we? ….poker…matchsticks…20 pounds of quarters….profit/patron, cost/patron and patron/vendor ratios…big pies…..and little pieces. Remember? If not, you can refresh your memory by reading ‘playing by the numbers, part 1’

It’s a funny thing about numbers. When you ask someone the time of day, a baseball score, or the age of their children, the answers are straight forward….no qualifiers, no agenda, and no spin. “Two forty five”, Eight to Five, Cubs”, and “Little Jimmy is seven”. However, ask the same person “How much money did you make this week?” and a new dynamic kicks in and your question will be answered with a shocked look, another question “What?” or a declarative statement “That’s none of your @$##$ business!” My own answer to this question has always been “Not enough”, but I digress….

photo by AoLun1680 on Flickr

People and business concerns are guarded with their numbers not because of the numbers themselves. There are two basic reasons that we guard our actual numbers. The first is fear. If we are ‘successful’ we don’t want others to know of the level of our success for fear of inducing competition. If our day or year has been less than stellar we don’t want others to know for fear of being judged as incompetent or ‘unsuccessful’.
The second reason is…..it’s none of your @$##$ business! And yet, in all my years as an entertainer, craftsperson, and crafts coordinator, I have participated in the daily dance of trying to find out how others were doing numerically as they tried to find out the same from me.

Because we are all aware of the sanctity of our numbers we couch our inquiries into others’ numbers in non-specifics. Instead of “how much did you make?” we ask “How was your day?” The answers (both gotten and given) can range from “Grim” to “Great!” but usually are given in relative terms as well “Half of what we did yesterday” or “Not as well as we should have for the number of people”. Which is fine because, truth be known, it isn’t the actual number that is important, it is the relationship of that number to past numbers.

Was today up or down relative to last week? Was this year up or down from last year? Without these numbers I couldn’t effectively do my job as a crafts coordinator. How can a festival know how many potters is too many potters? You can’t ask the potters. As far as they’re concerned there are already too many potters unless, of course, they are the only potter, in which case the festival has the perfect number of potters.

Without these relative numbers, I, as a craftsperson, would have nothing outside of my own previous numbers by which to judge my current performance. Do I need to change my display? Develop a new product line? Change my prices? Have they juried in too many shops in my medium? It’s all guess work without having an idea if my fiscal variance is at odds with what others at the show are experiencing. Therefore on any given day you will hear amongst crafters, entertainers and management the veiled repartee of fiscal exploration “How was your day?” in an attempt to figure out if their own day was on track.

The fact that no numbers are discussed is, in most cases fine. It really isn’t any of my business how many turkey legs a festival sells. If they are kind enough to give me a relational statement great, if not no harm done, because, again, it’s none of my @#$# business. This holds true with all of the numbers a festival has save one….the actual gate count.

It is my business to know the accurate gate count of a festival if I’m going to invest in a booth on their grounds. It is also my business as a vendor of crafts or food to know how many people came through the gate on any given day, week, or year. A vendor cannot run their business efficiently without actual gate numbers. The more accurate the numbers supplied, the better they can carry on business, the more successful they will be, and the more they will invest in their booth and their business at that festival.

The need for past gate counts is especially true for food vendors and live flower businesses, who deal in perishable products. With past gate counts, a weather forecast, and current gate counts for preceding weeks, it becomes easier to place your order for the upcoming weekend, with less of a chance for having to throw part of your profits in the garbage on Sunday night. Imagine, if you are a potter, that at the end of the weekend you had to throw away all the pots that you didn’t sell……welcome to the world of food.

However, even though a craftsperson doesn’t have to throw away product, without an idea of the gate, there is no reference point to determine how well they are doing with price points, display, and the overall demand curve for their product, nor the necessary data for an accurate supply curve for that festival. In addition, not only do vendors pay a fee (or in some cases several fees) to be at a show, but they also invest a large chunk of their capital in the show once they’ve decided to do it. To ask a vendor to do this without supplying them with data that would improve their business (and therefore increase their investment) is contrary not only to their best interest, but also to the festivals best interest.

So, assuming that festivals want the best for their vendors so they will further invest and expand, how can you as a current vendor or potential investor get these numbers? The first step would be to ask them. But be forewarned that there is a good chance that they won’t give them to you, or, worse, will give you the attendance numbers. “But why would they do that? And what’s the difference between the gate and the attendance?” That will have to wait until next time, even though that’s what I said last time.

Let me know, via a comment below, your thoughts or own experiences with gathering or sharing your numbers…..or anything else that might generate more comments! (Yes….I’m fishing for more comments.)

Next time—How to guesstimate what the actual gate count is so you can find the patron/vendor ratio….

really…no kidding…

I meant to do it this time, but it was too wordy.…

This week we just cannot seem to talk about anything other than This Post over at The Year of Living Fabulously …

How to Talk to Artists at Art Festivals- The Do’s and Don’ts (Warning: You’ve probably been guilty of at least one of the don’ts…)

Those who commented there are obviously a blend of pros and customers, which means that the comment reading is almost as good as the post itself … which is epic.

Enjoy!

The Velvet Cage

John Davis —  June 27, 2013 — 2 Comments

Editor’s note: This week we have a post by our friend John Davis. He’s one of many friends who have utilized their festival experience to build other exciting careers. His motivational speeches are highly sought after in the corporate world, and we are very happy to have him as part of the Festival Prose team.

Often times in life we find ourselves wanting more. Recently I was talking to several festival friends about where they are in their lives and each one, while considered quite successful in their industry, was in the place of wanting more. Every so often we each take stock of where we are in life and dream of where we would like to be. Many times we find ourselves getting by, but not really living.

 

Cages come in all sizes and shapes.

Performers at Renaissance festivals often fall into this trap. They want more. Often that “more” involves financial security, health care, and a home to live in. The main problems arise when they trap themselves in what I call “The Velvet Cage.” If someone finds a place to make a living they can fall into the trap of fear. They become very comfortable in the fact that they can make money performing at the festivals and put themselves in the mindset of “this is what I do.” “Velvet cage” is not meant to be a remark about Renaissance Festival costuming, but more a comment on comfort and perceived luxury within the confines of a small space. These performers become very confident and/or comfortable in this situation but still feel trapped. It’s the risk of failing that keeps them trapped in their velvet cage.

 

I know man who became very successful performer. Over the years, his show was highly sought after by many festivals and he was able to create a product line that sold very well. The problem was he hated the show. He was a very talented Shakespearean actor who loved acting, but the show he created was living his life instead of he living it. When a bird is not allowed to fly, their wings become weak. The only way for the wings to become strong again is to fly. This performer needs to open the door and jump.

 

A dear friend is a very talented artist. Her work consistently takes my breath away. She should be famous and well known, but has fallen into trap of her own velvet cage. Several of her friends have been pushing her to open her door and jump, but her door has been locked. The lock that holds velvet cages closed is our own self-doubt. Self-doubt is just fear, and fear is a choice. To choose a new path is to release an old one. When you know a path we feel very comfortable there. When you step out on a new path, you have to learn the wildlife that lives there to safely make it to your desired end goal. This artist has stepped to the door and is unlocking it now. She will fly to greater heights after she jumps.

 

In my life I have always felt compelled to help people. It has been my driving force. My show became very popular and we used the show to do a lot of good for a lot of people with our charity and USO work. I wanted more. I wanted to share with people how to reach their goals and coach them through that process and I wanted financial security, healthcare, and a nice home while I did it. My “velvet cage” was my show and Renaissance festivals. It wasn’t until I was willing to open my own door and jump that I saw real change begin to happen.

 

I now travel all over the world showing people how to set and reach their potential. I feel fulfilled every time I step off the stage after delivering another keynote. I keep in flight towards my goals, my wings getting ever stronger. I know I will reach my destination. When I do, I will open the door of that cage and jump towards another. Life is motion and new experiences. Trapping yourself in a cage will slowly sap your strength and lead to a comfortably unhappy life. Open that door and JUMP!!

Worth a Thousand Words

Rhonni —  May 30, 2013 — 6 Comments

We had some difficulty finding imagery that would communicate the unique mix of festival and business that is the purpose and personality of this site. Just as the experts in the field found no sites asking for articles on their expertise, there were no stock images available that blended the world of performers, vendors, travel, and business.

So we called our friends at Brent Walker Creative, and connected them with our very talented friends from Circus Stella for the first round of images:

The bid.

You’ve seen some of these, we use them as newsletter headers, and on our Facebook page. What you don’t know is that even though they were truly juggling office items, it was next to impossible to find a photo where the tape dispenser and stapler did not look as though they’d been Photoshopped into the image.

 

Many of the static trapeze images had the same problem. I think the incongruity of the combinations (which was absolutely our intention), was part of the problem when trying to choose which images looked the most real.

 

This week we’ve scheduled another shoot. Planned shots include contract negotiations inside a brass and bronze sculpture studio, sales space design inside a shop, while holding blueprints, and a business meeting while standing in/on a mud pit stage. We still haven’t managed the business desk inside a vintage carnival tent, but we’ll try to photograph one inside a craft shop tomorrow.

 

Just yesterday we attempted to show work and travel combined like this:

Blueprints, calculator, reports, maps, and desks built out of luggage.

 

But we all know that it can easily look a lot more like this:

Closing one show, driving to open another.

What images can you imagine that communicate the weird world of business inside outdoor festivals? How many of us make our vehicle selections based upon how many Rubbermaid tubs fit in cargo, and how well tent poles can strap to the roof? Let us know your ideas for future photo shoots in the comment section.

Profitability Through Play

Al Craig —  April 18, 2013 — 5 Comments

 

The cast of Rawhide.

The other night I was channel surfing and paused briefly on ‘Rawhide’, an old black & white weekly western series.  Wishbone was servin’ up the grub.  Rowdy, Scarlet, Mister Favor, the whole gang was sitting around the campfire, eating beans off of metal plates and soaking up the sunset.  I was there with them, out on the ol’ lone prairie enjoying the various shades of gray of the setting sun when I saw a boom mike hanging over Mister Favor’s head.

   Gone was the sunset, gone were the drovers eating their beans, gone was the story line—all I could see was that boom mike.  It didn’t fit; it stuck out like sneakers on Shakespeare.  It was such a small thing, but it had a such a huge effect—it turned Rowdy Yates into Clint Eastwood, Gil Favor into Eric Flemming, and the ol’ lone prairie into a back lot at CBS…it destroyed the illusion, and instantly brought me back from the wide open spaces to the closed confines of my living room.

 For those of you who are new to the business, a themed festival is theater.   It is not a theater in the traditional sense, but it is a theater, just the same.  It is a 3-D, or ‘Interactive Theater’.  In traditional theater the audience sits in a fixed position passively observing the action which also occurs in a fixed position (The stage or screen).  The two are separated by what is known as “the fourth wall” an invisible, mutually agreed upon plane that will not be penetrated by either side.

  Early experimental theater groups tried removing the fourth wall by having actors enter from the audience, or by delivering lines from the audience, who still sat in a fixed position and passively observed. 

Interactive theater, which is at the cutting edge of experimental theater, invites the audience onto the stage, invites them to participate, and entices them to play like children; to touch, talk, move and explore the stage with their own creativity and rediscover the child within themselves. Think of your own childhood.  If you ever had tea time with teddy bears, or made the winning basket for the NBA championship in your own back yard, you were involved in creative play. 

 If you’ve ever seen a patron with a beer in one hand, a turkey leg in the other, wearing cowboy boots, blue jeans, a  Blake Shelton T- shirt, and a just purchased Jester’s hat hollering “HUZZAH!” instead of “HOT DAMN!” then, you have seen the effects of playfulness as well.  At a themed festival the entire site is the stage, and all of those who work within its boundaries are the cast.

 

 “Yeah, Yeah, so what does this have to do with me?, I’m trying to make a living here”  OK, fair enough question….I’ll answer it with another question—If you give a child $10 and turn him loose in a toy store for the day, how much money will he return with?  How about $20?  How about $50 or $100?  A child will always return with empty pockets—and so will an adult if they are wholly involved in creative play.  The economic restraints and controls that we as adults place upon ourselves lose much of their strength when we are focused upon play.  If you are not familiar with this concept, I would be happy to explain it over a few hands of poker at a casino of your choosing.

 Now, back to the back lot at CBS…. as bad as that boom mike was, imagine instead that the drovers are sitting around the campfire, watching the sunset over the herd, eating beans with white plastic sporks off of Styrofoam plates, and drinking out of paper cups that say  “Pepsi”.

 When a Patron stands in front of a Renaissance Booth, manned by a person in costume in their minds they are looking at the stage.  If you have styro cups and plates, if you are eating with a spork, you have destroyed the illusion that you and every other business owner has spent thousands of dollars to create and the public has paid the price of an admission to experience. If the person in costume is eating out of a Styrofoam container it has the same effect as putting truck tires on Charlton Heston’s chariot in the big race scene in ‘Ben-Hur’.  “Yeah, sure Al, but why, after spending all that money, why would they put truck tires on a chariot?”

My point exactly….

 Maintaining the illusion is vital.  Not only is it the ‘Prime Directive”, if you will, of theater, It is also the essential ingredient that nurtures the necessary trust needed for adults to allow themselves to enter into creative play. And the mindset of creative play, as we earlier observed, makes a person more than willing to spend money they wouldn’t normally be more than willing to spend in pursuit of the pleasure of playful creation…..

  The illusion is not created for the cast; it is created for the audience.  It is also created, in part, by the audience through their ability to skillfully suspend their disbelief.

 Suspension of disbelief (another arcane theatrical term) occurs when one lays aside their analytical mind so they might be entertained.  For example, if I was watching Rawhide, and did not suspend my disbelief my internal dialogue would sound something like this “Everything is black white and gray, grass is green in the real world, I see the fire, but I don’t smell the smoke, how can it be dark already, it was noon five minutes ago, where is that music coming from, is there an orchestra in the chuck wagon?” etc. 

 We are all adept at suspending our disbelief.  We can turn it off at the first sign of a commercial, make a sandwich, go to the bathroom, be back in the lazy-boy and turn it back on before the last commercial ends. To you, the flush toilets and Faire food containers are an anachronism; to the patron it’s a trip to the bathroom and kitchen during a commercial.

 Let’s assume for a second that it’s OK to eat out of Styrofoam, it’s such a small thing, it really shouldn’t make that much difference (except to those craftspeople who sell eating & drinking utensils).  How about jewelry, that’s small stuff, why not let everybody start wearing Wal-mart jewelry? That’s no big deal (except to those people who sell jewelry).  And what about costumes, you can find stuff in stores that could pass for costumes.  Same with foot wear, not a big deal (except to costumers and cobblers).

  Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that all the craftspeople and all the entertainers are outfitted with items that cannot be purchased at the show.   Will sales go up or down?  Will a patron purchase a velvet period hat if the participants are wearing baseball hats? Will a patron buy a pair of hand-crafted footwear if the participants are wearing tennis shoes? 

 When a patron feels safe enough to play, they will first try to look the part. By in large, they pattern themselves after the participants…it’s the only reference point they have.  Even though it might be quick, clean, and easy to eat out of Styrofoam, every time you do so you are inadvertently telling patrons that it’s OK to do so and still be part of ‘the act’.    Is it any wonder that a potter can’t sell a dinner set when his friends around him are eating out of air-injected petro-chemical bowls and shoveling food into their mouths with a schizophrenic utensil made from the rotting flesh of dinosaurs?!?  

 You want sales to go up?  Maintain the illusion.  Put your product on as many participants and in as many shops as you possibly can.  Trade, discount, or  barter. 

 Every participant that has your product is a walking advertisement to every paying playing patron that doesn’t and, if they see it on another playful soul, they will seek you out and, with a smile on their face, give you their money so that they might play….and you might prosper.

 

 So…..is it worth the time, effort, and expense to outfit yourself with appropriate utensils and costumes.  Is it worth the extra washing of dishes and transferring of food from styro/cardboard containers?  How about discounts to participants to get your item out there?  Does any of this make sense??  If so, great!  Feel free to share a story in the comments.  If not, even better!!  Let me know in a comment below what a lackey of the Corporate Overlords needs to hear to make your life simpler.  

 

We very much intend to stay as jargon-free as possible on this site. If you’ve back-linked to this page, it means we couldn’t avoid the use of a word that has come to have a particular meaning in our industry. We fully expect this page to evolve. Hopefully it will never be very long.

 

360s Shops that are not in a booth line. They are visible to the audience from all sides, and consequently do not have a “backstage”
Backstage  Any space where park or festival guests are not allowed. Simply getting out of the line of view of guests does not count. All character actors must remain in character, unless backstage.
Boondocking A Recreational Vehicle or RV term for camping somewhere without utilities, also known as “Primitive Camping”
Busking Performing for voluntary donations, usually in the street.
Garb  Specific to the Renaissance Festival industry, work clothes, considered costume to festival guests, but required of all workers within sight of faire patrons. Rules about costume help shape the guest’s experience of another time.
Grab shack  A food shop or restaurant with no public seating, a snack bar; applies to most if not all food at festivals.
Hat pass A time during or after a performance when gratuities are collected by the performer (or a designee)
Hawker A person who vocally advertises performances, goods, or services to be seen or purchased. May or may not handle money.
On the Road  Refers to living and working a series of shows or festivals. The term is used throughout the outdoor festival industry. (see On-Circuit)
On-circuit  Refers to living and working a series of shows or festivals. The term is used throughout the outdoor festival industry. (see On the Road)
Primitive Camping Camping somewhere without utilities, sometimes referred to as “Boondocking”
School Night Any evening before a day when the event will be open.
Stick Joint  a tent with poles used as a shop. The term comes from circuses and carnivals, but is used to discern between trailers and tents in the food vendor realm of all festivals, and is sometimes used to refer to folks that haven’t made an investment, yet vend in permanent parks.  (See Temporaries)
Temps or Temporaries In a permanent venue, these terms refer to shops that can be carried away by their owners at the end of the event.
Week-work Used primarily at events that are open on weekends only, this refers to the jobs that happen in-between weekends. Kitchen prep, art production, and construction are 3 good examples.

 

 

 

One of the first “Industry Truths” I was taught about Renaissance Festivals was this:

There are 3 types of people who travel and work Renaissance Festivals.

  1. People who have a business that works at Renaissance Festivals. (This includes artists who lean toward costume elements, or pewter figurines, or astrolabes; and service providers who have created a business that works within the theme, as well as Entertainers.)
  2. People who live here for the traveling lifestyle, but could work elsewhere if they wanted. They land side-jobs or “week-work” whenever possible. (This includes good managers, henna artists, Renaissance carpenters, facepainters … many of these people are building their own businesses “on the side”, or are apprenticing to a craft or crafts business. Some entertainers are in this group.)
  3. People who can’t keep it together to work more than 2 days per week.

These different groups are all engaged in completely different competitions. Many think they are trying to “level up”. Whether or not they are actually working toward that is debatable. Each track is different. Each competition has different requirements, different goals, and different rewards.

Rotterdam Marathon, photo by Qsimple

I’m a person of the first sort at this point in my career … we own several businesses at multiple permanent Renaissance Festivals. The race I am running is a start-up race. I need to be the next person with a new idea or a new product, and present it to Festival Management in hopes that they agree upon my gamble, and let me in to their event. If they already have saturation in a particular segment of their market, and I really want to do their show, I need to come up with a new product line, or develop a new service that works in their venue. I only have competitors if I am copying ideas. My race is to find and present something the Management hasn’t seen yet, in a way that fits it into their theme. An example would be a pedi-cab business. Thematically it is a challenge, but human-powered rickshaws work, or I could import bamboo bicycles.  I have to come across to Management as a professional, with the funding to back my idea and do a top-notch job. When Henna body art first started trending, I called a festival where I had an existing business; to ask if they had already contracted with someone for the service. I was told that I was the third person that week to call on the subject, but that they were very much looking forward to my presentation. I’m pretty sure I landed that concession simply by being the most professional person who applied.

Training for this race includes attending trade shows and art festivals whenever possible. Food items are quite regional, but some ideas travel well. I also attend business events, and take classes whenever I can. You never know where the next great idea might come from. (I take photos of menus almost everywhere I go.)

I started out in the industry as a person of the second sort, and I’ve always surrounded myself with people of the first and second categories on this list. Truthfully, I just work so many hours during the few calendar months of my work season … I don’t have time to see anyone who isn’t coming to work. If I’ve got time to hang-out, I’m more likely to field a brainstorming session amongst my peers. Many of us only cross schedules for 2 months of the year. This means clever co-conspirators can flesh-out ideas, with the easy non-compete agreement that they will apply to separate shows. Sometimes regions of the country are fleshed out early in a discussion if the idea seems hot enough.

But the race that people in the second category run *does* have competitors. Because these people are paying their bills (and possibly working to build their own businesses) with the funds from an on-circuit employer, they are pitching their skill-set and their reputation against folks who want that same good job.  Their employer has chosen which shows to invest in, so they don’t have complete control of their own yearly schedule, although truly, some don’t care as long as they get to travel. Some folks mix up who they work for at different times of year, in order to choose their schedule themselves.

The smartest people in this race are in school. They are either apprenticing to a craft, or learning the finer points of a business while managing it for someone else and getting paid. It’s how I learned the most important elements of festival food management (and my deep abiding love of MS Excel). I’m currently honing my inventory manager to be able to buy me out in 15 years or so since I don’t have any heirs. I know some artists in the same situation. They have built successful businesses and it’s a shame to close them just because they’ve aged-out of the ability to do the work, so they’ve taken on paid sales help who are also apprentices.

Training for this race involves fine-tuning your skill-set to make yourself too appealing to pass up. The folks I think of first are my head baker (who is amazingly talented), and my friend Heather who has a retail design and management background. She is always employed, while also launching her own multiple businesses.  When The Husband and I were still building shops for the majority of our income, I learned 4 different building codes, and became proficient (enough) with a CAD program to draw for permits in the several different states where we built. There is plenty of work for people who want to work.

Which brings us to the third group of people … I don’t really know very much about this group. I like my work too much to be avoiding it.

The race in which the third group of people are involved (discounting the real possibility of mental illness), is a race against complacence and a victim mentality. Their strongest competitors are themselves and the other crabs in the bucket. We all like to surround ourselves with people who think like we do. It is human nature. But sitting around, talking about why the world doesn’t work for you only brings into being a world that doesn’t work for you.  “There’s no week-work available” is an irresponsible person’s translation for “I lost my chance at week-work to a more reliable worker.” It is relatively inexpensive to live “on circuit”, depending on your comfort level. Consequently, folks who can only keep it together to work a couple of days a week can be “on circuit”. Unfortunately for some, this gives them more time to represent the industry to the local townspeople. This can be embarrassing at best, and detrimental to the festival’s reputation at worst.

The fact that there are professional business people working at Renaissance Festivals appears to be a well-kept secret.