Archives For Performers

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!

 

 

Our friend Julia has done it again. This is his second parody video, utilizing the many skills of the Scarborough Faire Rennie community.

Julian! We want to see more of these! How can we help?

Let us know what songs you think deserve his Renaissance Rework Magic in the comments.

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.

So you want to work at the Renaissance Festival?

 

This column is the finale of a two part series on the wonderful world of Renaissance Festival Employment. The first installment described the stalwart staff of the CraftsFoodservice, and Gaming divisions. Today we take on the Prima Donnas; The Entertainers.

 Tortugas Angelic

Are you a show-off? Do you like playing dress-up? Are you funny (or do you just think you’re funny)?  Do you wish to set yourself up for epic rejection for rewards as meager as applause? Can you REALLY not find something better to do with seven to forty weekends of your year? If you have answered “Yes” to these questions, you just might want to consider a “career” as a Renaissance Festival Entertainer! I understand your shame and your pain. I too have stood-up in the meetings and declared, “I am Scaramouche, and I’m an entertainer”. It truly is an addiction.

 

There are also many parallels between the entertainment and non-entertainment world… Just like in my last column your first question needs to be “What are my strengths? What can I do? What will I do and where do I draw the line?”  My last column described the divisions in the merchant’s and crafter’s world. There are also many subdivisions in the entertainer’s realm. What is completely different however is that you don’t need clean underwear! It’s true! I’m not wearing any now for example.

 

But I digress.

 

Local Performing Cast

The base of the entertainment pyramid is the local Street Performing Cast. These are the villagers: beggars, nobles, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers that bring the “shire” or “hamlet” to life.  You’ll get all sorts of people falling into this category. Some folks do it as an acting exercise; some do it as an excuse to party in the summer. Some folk’s motivation is to dress up in their finest, heavy velvet and be a part of the king’s entourage. Other folks do it because they love the fair and will do anything to be a part of it. The pay is often non-existent. My first gig as a street performer was for the princely sum of six free tickets to share with my friends.

Like any good addiction, often the first time is free my friend.  Usually it is the least demanding of all the entertainment jobs; though you may get scheduled to perform at a specific sector of the “village” at certain times and some faires even require their street performers to take a shift as ticket takers at the front gate. Largely you are free to roam and free to entertain patrons when and where you please. It is your job to make a spectacle of yourself!

 

§  Upsides: Often a low responsibility position. Scheduling can be flexible. It can be fun, easy, and a good introduction to the entertainer’s life. With the entertainment director’s guidance and approval you can create your own wacky/original/wild character.  Be creative, and shoot for the stars.

§  Downsides: The pay is often a pittance or a token. There are prominent characters at major faires who after decades are paid barely more than will cover their gasoline expenses travelling to the show and lunches. For the most part you cannot “busk” – which is to say “ask for or receive tips”. You’ll most likely pay for your own costuming, which for nobility can be prohibitively expensive. During the hottest part of the year you will loathe that self-same costume.

§  How to get hired: Call the office of your local festival and ask when the auditions for street characters take place. Usually they will have an audition formula; I suspect it will be to describe your character – while in character – and to explain and show how you will interact with patrons and other street performers. You need to think about the needs of the village and the ambiance the Festival is trying to create. You may have a cool sword and swanky leather armor, but the Festival probably doesn’t need a 17th level half-elf fighter-thief. They may ask you to improvisation around a set situation. It couldn’t hurt to be ready for a dramatic or comedic reading. AVOID MONTY PYTHON BITS

Most Festivals will have an apprentice program where they will teach you the basics of improvisation, costuming and dialects. Some will even conduct a six week, on site, live-in workshop (I’m looking at you Sterling!). Mostly they want you to show-up, be reliable and be enthusiastic.  Finally, never forget that it is a job; a job where you may get to do lots of drinking and sleeping around – but that should be after hours and out of sight of the patrons.

 

Professional Touring Street Performers

There are a few, select folks who actually make a living as a Street Performer. You might be the actor they bring in to play the King from year-to-year.  You may be the green-skinned fantasy character with a knack for potty humor that is somehow still child-appropriate. You might be a charismatic and quirky member of royalty with a wonderful shtick. You might be a fairy. You might be a specific fairy. You might be a gorgeous, frightening, glitter-ific fairy with over 350,000 Facebook friends and more power and influence than I will ever have.

 

Stupid fairy.

 

It is a rare person who can put the pieces together to create a persona that is appealing enough to Festival Owners that they feel they cannot be replaced by a cheaper-to-hire local. If you choose this path you’ll need to either be an outstanding actor or actress (for the role of the King or Queen for example) or create a uniqueinterestingclever character that “Wows” the management. I strongly suggest you plan out – in writing – a lot of ways for this character to interact with the patrons as part of your creation process. Not only because patron interactions is what the Management is paying you for; but also so that you can – if it is in your contract – turn these interactions into a shill for tips. Often, even highly popular characters are barely paid a living wage by Festival management and they have to find an engaging way to convince the patrons to part with their dough.

 

§  Upsides: You have the utmost creativity, freedom and earning potential – it is limited only by the strictures of Festival management and what the audience will bear – at least as a street character. Because you are unique (Street Character) and/or fill such a vital role (Royalty) yet are still paid so little; you can have quite a lot of job security. You choose which of the hundreds of Festivals to audition for and which contracts to sign. You also choose how hard and how much you work.

§  Downsides: your daily base pay is most often laughable. If you are royalty you cannot busk, but the Festival management will often take this into consideration and provide housing and other perks; especially if you are wise enough to make sure it is in your contract. Since you’ve read this article there isn’t any excuse for it not to be. The paid, touring, acting roles are scarce and fiercely contested for. The clever street characters with earning potential: Twig the fairyChristophe or Shamus the insultors, various Trolls, music boxes, still mimes et al are pretty-much covered.

§  How to get hired: I suggest again, auditioning at your local festival. It’s a lot easier to experiment with and create a money-making, crowd pleasing character while still having the safety-net of a job, a roof over your head and glorious, glorious indoor plumbing. Build a reputation at your “home show”. Hone your shtick. Garner a following and when you feel the moment is right, take that character on-the-road. Get your local festival’s Entertainment director and management to endorse and recommend you to other festivals (ask nicely). Record videos and have tons of photos taken. Include all of this and the aforementioned recommendations into an audition package and send it off to the entertainment department at the other festivals you want to work. Network. National touring acts have a lot of influence. If a Twig or Doug (Miguel of Don Juan and Miguel fame) asks a Festival to look at your audition – that pulls a lot of weight. Be persistent and be flexible on your monetary demands until you prove yourself. Be able-and-willing to live in a tent and eat a lot of ramen noodles just like in college. But also like college; if you live cheaply, apply yourself and don’t get too distracted by drinking and being a floozy – you can have a pretty nice life down the road.

 

Musicians

When I compiled this column originally, I almost forgot musicians. I must confess that I don’t possess that much information or experience about this type of entertainment. I will tell you that a lot of musicians view their daily rate as more of an honorarium than an actual paycheck. The real money is made in tips and CD sales. Sometimes musicians are treated like red-headed stepchildren. Sometimes they’re treated like mere background or ambiance. Sometimes, rarely, musicians are even treated with respect. I’ve noticed an interesting and “period” instrument: Harp, Hammered Dulcimer or Harpsichord for example, will open more doors than a guitar. Your marketability is definitely dependent upon your skill, charisma and flexibility. You create your own stages and opportunities. I have a friend, a successful harpist who will even play past closing cannon and outside the front gates to make those last minute sales. There are those who mock her shark-like tenacity, not this writer – I applaud her drive.

 

§  Upsides: You get to create and share your art with a generally appreciative crowd. There’s money to be had and friends to be made – and sometimes vice versa! You’ll get to jam with amazing musicians and be part of a strong and supportive community. You can also line-up lucrative gigs off-site; weddings for example. You can (and should) play wherever you find an available space and can generate an attentive audience.

§  Downsides: You’ll struggle to make a living until you produce your first cd and that can be rather costly. You’ll find that you need to release a new cd each year to maintain your sales levels. Sometimes you’ll be treated like Muzak. ™; in that people will talk during your sets and ignore the magic you are rending from wood and metal – rewarding you only with their indifference. Maintaining and transporting instruments can be a pain. Most importantly you have to learn to play with skill and talent. There are some fantastic musicians out here on circuit. If you aren’t up-to-snuff, you’ll end up embarrassing yourself.

§  How to get hired: First, learn to play! The old joke goes “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice”. You might want to follow the same basic path as I described for the Street Character: Local festival audition leading to a few years of local (and safe) gigs. Produce a cd and some decent photos. Network and then submit to other fairs. If you have a cd already (that’s theme appropriate of course – you might not want to submit your death-metal electric guitar solo as an audition piece) you might even be able to skip a few steps in this process.

 

Headline Stage Acts

Finally we arrive at the “Rockstars” of the Renaissance Festivals, the nationally touring stage acts. It is true that all of the Headline Stage Acts are prima donnas. We are all, without exception, a bunch of whiny little girls. Actually that may be an unfair characterization; little girls are usually heartier and less in need of coddling then all of us are. We are given the best arrangements in the campground. We have the shortest and easiest work day. Though some Artisans and Crafters, (and all of the Festival Producers and Owners) make more than us; we are amongst the highest paid participants at the Faire. We break rules and break hearts. The jouster may get more groupies, but they wear sweaty armor, ride stinky horses and get hit in the head a lot.  It is totally unfair that we get treated as well as we do.

 

All of this is true.

 

But it is also true that we fought, and clawed and worked our way to this position. Nobody gave us this cushy job; we had to earn it.  For every “Ded Bob” or “Washing Well Wenches” on circuit there are scores of jugglers, rope walkers, and magicians that have faded from memory. For every “Puke & Snot” or “Tortuga Twins” there are countless “Ficklebiches” or “Pigeon Vision Brothers” that you’ve never heard of.  It’s a dog-eat-dog world… and there is always another dog growling and barking after your bone.

 

You could try to follow MY exact career path. I don’t recommend it but here it is:

§  Attended my home festival for years getting to know the right people.

§  I auditioned for the street performer cast while I was still in the U. S. Navy.

§  My final tour on the submarine I taught myself to juggle

§  Got myself declared crazy, and discharged from the Navy so I could “Run away and join the circus

§  Auditioned with five minutes of material at my home fair that was good enough to secure a real stage slot

§  Wrote a juggling show, took it on the road

§  Worked for tips only in Colorado on-my-way to my first paid away gig at the Bristol Renaissance Festival.

§  At Bristol I was paid for an eight week engagement what a normal act would get for a weekend. I worked in the lane, under a rope walker’s rope.

§  Eventually I hi-jacked another up-and-coming troupe. Melding our powers we created the show we are today.

§  We worked very hard in the winter to support our summer touring habit.

§  24 years later we’re a pretty big fish in this tiny pond.

 

Again, my first “paid” gig was as a street character – essentially unpaid village scenery; but it lead me to the realization that people wanted to watch me – even if I was doing nothing. So I learned to work with that and actually do something. The whole job is harder than it looks and better than you might guess. Occasionally people will complain about how spoiled we Stage Performers are, and I remind them that they can audition too just like we did. Do me a favor though; Don’t. I don’t want or need the competition. It is a tough grueling demanding job with too many rewards to list. Some of us, Me for example, don’t do it because we can. We do it because we MUST.

 

§  Upsides: It is amongst the best paid jobs on the Festival circuit, but if you’re doing it for the money alone you are doomed to fail. In extremely rare cases it can lead to Broadway, Hollywood and beyond… Penn & Teller, The Flying Karamazovs, and Harry Dean Anderson are great examples of famous performers who got their start amongst the wooden stages and hay bale seats. You can get almost as much adoration and adulation as your obviously frail little ego needs. Almost.

§  Downsides: It is fiercely competitive. It is hard work. There is no one responsible for your success or failure but you. If you don’t write, perform and promote yourself extremely well, you will starve, and I’m not even being metaphorical. Until you build a name and a following you will have to scrap and scrabble for every quarter. You’ll be called a beggar. No matter how big and successful you become your mother will always counsel that you should get a “real job”.

§  How to get hired: You’ll follow essentially the same process I have outlined for the other professional entertainers, but much more brutally. Stage times (and even slots in the lanes) are limited and a major act can be a significant percentage of an event’s budget. Most of the jobs are controlled by a small cadre of people, and if you get a bad reputation, or even if they just dislike you or your show – your life can become very difficult. A great name, or a great audition package (or both) is of paramount importance. Finally you have to do the research, make the calls and cut the deals. Done right – it is totally worth it.

 

“Always leave them wanting more” – It’s not only the description of my romantic encounters

 

Let me in closing leave you with two invaluable bits of advice that every performer needs to know – and that I wish someone had told me when I started:

 

First: whatever style of performer you are, whatever your niche, stage or venue is; create your own material. Don’t take short cuts. Don’t use Monty Python bits (I say again). Don’t use lines because “everyone uses them” especially don’t steal from another act you admire. Doubly –especially don’t steal from mine. We litigate with glee and vigor!

 

Secondly: be nice to everyone. Try your best to be humble, and appreciative of your vast good fortune to be where you are. We Tortugas are much nicer now than we used to be – but we are still sometimes paying for our hubris when we were youngsters. You never know when the guy you are unnecessarily rude to now, will be your boss in a few years. The joke goes: “Be nice; the toes you step on – on your way up may belong to the folks whose asses you have to kiss on the way down”. Be gracious, because you can afford to. That’s probably good advice for everyone.

 

That wraps up my column. Again I look forward to your comments below.

Renaissance Faires differ from other festivals and events in that they promise to transport visitors to a completely different time and place. That’s a mighty big promise. And every participant—volunteer or paid, mead wench or jouster, carpenter or manager, ticket seller or royal piper—is responsible for helping to keep it.

Yet one group in particular, for good or ill, sets the tone for the Faire day: the Street Characters.

I’ve worked the streets (Mom would be so proud…) for 22 years, teaching Improv and directing Street Teams for more than half of them. Most of us rarely swing swords, eat fire or inspire cheers of “God Save the Queen!” Instead, we warm up the Front Gate. We hawk shows. We cheer jousters. We make people laugh. Our Monarch may be our Faire’s face, but we street characters are often the Faire’s voice, hands and feet, creating thousands of unique brand impressions every Faire day. We are ambassadors of joy, conduits of information, makers of memories and pointers to the privies.

And for the most part, we make it all up as we go along. As Street Characters, we work without scripts. So how do we prepare a character that delivers the most possible value to our company and colleagues?

In my experience, we do it best when we focus on one golden rule: Engage the greatest possible number of guests at all times.

That sounds easy, but it requires a lot of preparation and some very specific choices:

BE REAL.
In general, Ren Faire characters are most entertaining when they build from a real, specific place. A village needs a doctor, a Mayor, a blacksmith, a pie-maker, a bootlegger, a beggar, and so on. Picking a real profession for your character enables the audience to understand your character more quickly, which, in turn, allows you to be funnier, faster. And that allows you to engage more audience members. There shouldn’t be a learning curve in a hit-and-run bit. Once you’ve decided what you want to be (Roofer, Puritan, Laundress, Purveyor of Recreational Companionship, etc.), you’ll find it’s easier to focus on why your character is unforgettably compelling. If your faire includes Faeries and you’re invited to play one, the same advice applies: Play as real a Faerie as you can, with specific characteristics, motivations and objectives. (Even Shakespeare’s fairies all had specific jobs.)

Many experienced performers around the country pull off excellent “fantasy” street characters, from gargoyles to fairies to “professional hypochondriacs.” But no one learns to juggle by throwing chainsaws in the air. Beginning performers should get the basics of character improv down first. Create the funniest, most engaging piemaker in the Shire. THEN try your hand as a stand-up alchemist.

PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS.
If you juggle, find a reason why your character would juggle. Perhaps you’re playing a blacksmith: juggle horseshoes. If you have a huge laugh, laugh a lot. Pantomime. Spout spontaneous limericks. Yodel. If you do it, and people find it entertaining, create a reason for your character to do it and practice until you’re amazing at it. Suddenly you’re not the village shepherdess. You’re the Yodeling Sheep Wrangler. How cool is that?

MAKE POSITIVE CHOICES.
In everything. Starting with the patrons. One of the first phrases I introduce in workshops is “Honored Guests.” Whether a patron has paid for a ticket or cashed in a coupon, slaved for hours making her own chainmail or slapped on a skort and a pair of Crocs, we, as occupants of our Shire, greet them as Honored Guests. Honoring the guests doesn’t mean fawning over them. It simply means obeying campground rules: leave them feeling better about themselves after they met you than they did before they met you. So once you’ve made contact with the patron, feel free to accuse them of being cold-blooded killers from the Russian Steppes sent by Ivan the Terrible to assassinate the Queen. Just make it fun for them.

And make positive choices for your character. The audience wants to see what you WILL do, not what you WON’T do. “I WILL write a limerick about your relationship with a goat.” “I WILL recruit all of your children to be pirates and save YOU thousands of pounds in higher education costs.” If your character is, for instance, a dairymaid, be the best damned dairymaid in England! Do yourself a favor and avoid playing her as lactose intolerant. Also avoid seasick sailors, teatotalling bartenders, sinful puritans and so on. All of these choices can work, but you’ll risk running out of steam playing the same “I’m this, but that!” paradox for nine hours a day.

KEEP IT SIMPLE.
The audience wants to know, quickly, what you do and why it should be entertaining to them. Facing a busy day of mead drinking, wench ogling and joust cheering, they really don’t have time to digest the undercurrents of familial angst that drive your character’s motivation. They want to pose for your next masterpiece, help you find your leprous bodyparts and learn how effective groveling will improve their love lives.

The most engaging characters keep their backstory to a minimum. Leave the subtext to the Court scenes; Street Characters should be 99% text.

STRETCH YOURSELF.
Remember that, regardless what you’re being paid, you’re a professional. People have paid money to see you do what you do.

Many Ren Faire street performers have gone on to do extraordinary work in film, TV and the stage, domestically and internationally. And some have become legends on the Ren Faire Circuit. They didn’t do it by ripping off YouTube memes or Saturday Night Live bits. They did it by challenging themselves to be as creative and engaging as possible. They wrote their own material, tested it, refined it and forced themselves to get better and better every day.

One of the great benefits of performing at a Ren Faire is the opportunity to test new material on a live audience for up to 10 hours a day. Stand-up comics would kill for that opportunity. If something generates the reaction you want (laughter, surprise, terror…) keep it. If it doesn’t, try something else on the person fifteen feet away. Stay positive. Stay bold. And listen to your audience—they’ll let you know if you’re getting it right.

AUDIENCE FIRST, ALWAYS.
When given a chance to talk to another character or to engage an audience member, always engage the audience first. They’re here to interact; otherwise they’d be at the movies. And any Faire gets a lot more entertainment bang from its acting budget (!) when we “recruit” audiences into the entertainment. Personally, I’d rather see one street beggar teaching five guests how to grovel than five street performers clumping up to do… well, just about anything. A happy, engaged audience is an audience less likely to balk at prices or queues. And more likely to come back and bring friends.

Those are my six tips for creating a Renaissance Faire improv street character. Those of you who have spent some time around improv actors might ask, “What about Yes, and…?” When I teach improv for street characters, the first workshop always focuses on Yes, and… which means, basically, accept the reality presented and add to it. Yes, and… is the first and last commandment of improv. It’s the core competency of improv performers. And dozens of books have already been written on it. I suggest you read them all!

 

Hi there

I’m Ronn Bauman. For the past 24 years I’ve been the louder, longer-haired, more sexually ambiguous third of the original Tortuga Twins comedy trio. I know that’s a bit confusing but when I tell you that there’s actually SIX Tortuga Twins now – all sensibility just flutters out the window. Our hostess, the talented and decorative Rhonni – acting in the role as editor and curator of this site – has invited me to step in as a guest author from time to time to share my rather unique perspective and dreadful writing style.  Besides being a member of arguably one of the most successful Renaissance Festival Acts, I’m also a businessman. I own a series of booths and attractions at faires throughout the country. But enough about me – Today, on a very special episode of Blossom I will discuss the Ten Most Common (and ridiculous) questions asked of Renaissance Festival Entertainers.

You’re kidding! … Right?!?                        (ps … this is not a photo of Ronn, you can see him in the Author Bio Box below)

Q: Is this your real job?

A: Regrettably, yes. Gloriously yes and hell yes! Though there are the occasional, part time stage performers –  I was originally going to write “Odd” but we’re all odd if we’re doing this – in most instances if you’re commanding a major stage at one of the big festivals across the country you are a full time professional. This is not only the way we stage performers support ourselves and in many instances our families it is also something we created, we honed, we fought for and promoted. It is a lot harder and a lot more rewarding than you’d ever guess. This is our real job and we LOVE it.

Q: Would like me to take you to our house for a home-cooked meal?

A: You know it’s never a good idea to generalize, so of course I’m going to. There are more-or-less two classes of Festival  Stage Performer– the newer kids are mostly in it for chasing tail and drinking heavily; they’ll be too busy partying to take you up on your kind invitation. Then there are the older and more established acts like my troupe. I go home every night to a comfortable abode and lovely meal prepared by my very-own wife in my very-own home.  Both groups of performers appreciate your offer and realize that we look like homeless waifs; we’re not. Let us all just say “Thanks, we got this”.

Q: What do you do the rest of the week?

A: You know those two groups of entertainers I talked about? Our off-time recreation agenda often breaks down along those same class lines. When we were young, dumb, and full of … youth, we thought our work week was only two days a week and we spent our copious off- times reading, sullying the reputation of young locals, drinking, dancing and watching a LOT of movies. As we matured – or as some would have you believe – slowed down; we started to treat this as more of a career and less of a party. Once you reach that level  you’ll find that you spend a lot of time in writing new material, promoting the act – especially in the age of social media, developing and marketing merchandise and, less frequently drinking, dancing, and sullying the reputation of more mature locals. I am also the owner and manager of several successful renaissance festival businesses on the side – so another portion of my “off-time” is taken up bookkeeping, doing inventory, filing taxes and generally keeping the retail sales and amusements machine running smoothly. Regrettably, with all of this going on many of us we have less time to watch movies or read than we used to.

Q: We hear there’s a really wild after-party. Where is it? Can we come?

A: Oh there are parties. Yes there are. I always like to describe the Funky Formal -thrown annually at each festival – as a cross between a Prom, and the sort of party your parents were always terrified that you’d attend. On any given night – but especially on Fridays and Saturdays – there will be wild things going on in the tents and dark places throughout the festival site. But most of these Caligulan (I just created that adjective!) Bacchanals are put on by the local, amateur performers and not the professional, touring entertainers. Many of us have families and homes and we realize that the key to a successful show is NOT to be drinking till dawn. But Yes, it does happen and No, you probably aren’t invited.

Q: What are you on?

A: Even some of the biggest partiers I know – I’m looking at YOU Ded Bob – know that you cannot pull-off a professional and worthwhile performance while you’re messed up. Or at least – you won’t be able to for long. Some acts – I’m looking at YOU Barely Balanced – might actually DIE if they tried to do their show without being 100% focused mentally and physically. Some acts – I’m looking at you,  comic hack  writing this column – have found that you can get away with, or even build a career around being drunk onstage… but even that is not always what it seems. So short answer here: We’re high on life… and sometimes vodka.

Q: Did you go to school for this?

A: Most folks don’t know that there is an academy in South Dakota where all stage performers study to learn their amazing skills and develop their rapier wit. This secret facility, hidden beneath Roosevelt’s head on Mount Rushmore… No? Not buying it? Some stage performers have had a smattering of matriculation to develop their skills, some are born into and raised to do it, but the majority is self-taught nerds who developed these skills to meet hot people to date… Ironically, this never works.

Q: What do your parents think of your job performing on stage?

A: I’d rather not speak for all entertainers on this one. My mother is proud of me but still, deep down in her heart-of-hearts wants me to cut my hair, go back to my (former) real job in the U.S. Navy, and stop all of this whacky traveling tomfoolery. I suspect most entertainers receive a spectrum from deep pride to deeper shame from their parents.

Q: Is that Fire Real?

A: This is a question often asked of the jugglers and fire eaters who use fire in their performances. No, really. I like to lump these jaw-dropping, amazingly uniformed (or thoughtless) questions into a category I like to call the “Are you F-ing kidding me” file. They happen often and are flabbergasting. One of my personal favorites is being asked by a patron at a faire with huge, stucco-and-timber buildings “Do you guys tear all of this down and rebuild it every year?” *sigh*

Q: Do you all travel together?

A: This question though remarkably common, doesn’t annoy me like some of the others do. My response usually goes like this: “We’re not a circus. We don’t pack up and travel on a big train from town-to-town. We’re independent contractors hired by the festivals we wish to work at. There are folks who we will see at more than one festival, and there are others we will only see once a year. We all tend to have a specific circuit that we repeat each year and we all look forward to our return but I’ll be driving a huge Ford pickup, not riding the rails when I come back”.

And finally

Q: Where is the… ?

A: I get it, we’re approachable. That’s part of the job description. I also get that we’re “wearing the suit”. Why wouldn’t you ask your general information questions of us? It’s like the many times I have asked strangers at Best Buy where the widescreen TVs or the printer ink was – just because they happened to be wearing a blue shirt. But whether it’s: “Where’s the Beer?” Or “Where’s the Joust?”, “Where’s the Bathroom?” or even “Where’s the front gate” The answer is usually clearly marked, pretty obvious, and if not immediately apparent – it can be easily determined by even the most cursory examination of the PROGRAM and MAP we forced into your oblivious fist when you first walked through our gates.  I freely admit that this is (mostly) my hang up… but I’m not going to apologize for pointing to the map or the program and telling you condescendingly “Literacy is hard!”

 

I’d like to include one final stunner that I have never personally been asked but I’ve known several female performers who have had to riposte this brain-numbingly sexist stunner.

Q: What does your husband do so that he can support you playing like this?

A: Oh Dear GOD. I know that this event is supposed to be a reenactment of the Sixteenth Century but please; spare me your medieval thinking.  This chauvinist expectation – voiced as often by women as men – has made it even harder for female performers to earn their way as professional entertainers.  Each and every hard-working female entertainer I have ever met does this for a living just as the boys do. To assume otherwise is degrading. Please stop; you’re embarrassing yourself and us.

That should hold you all off until next time. If you see me in the streets of your local Renaissance Festival please, feel free to stop me, say hello, and even ask me any question you wish – though I’m telling you: if it’s one of the eleven above you do run the slightest risk of me actually snapping and inflicting a modicum of bodily harm. Best of luck!