Archives For work

The King’s Taxes part 1

Kerry Kelly —  February 4, 2015 — 3 Comments

So you want to be an artist at the renaissance festival?

What a great way to express your inner soul! Freedom to draw, to sculpt, to perform and let out that hidden child! And to get paid for it! You pour your heart and soul into your creations. And the people flock to see you perform, or to buy your art … waiting to see you, standing there.

And, at the end of the year, there stands one more person … the tax man.

Tax

 

Wait! What? You thought you would be ‘an outlaw’, that you could live ‘outside the system’.

Well, in a sense, yes. Our life as artists and performers do give us a wonderful, free lifestyle. But if you are in this for a living – and especially for profit – taxes are a part of it.

Paying taxes is a part of any small business, and that’s really all we are – small businesses. Small Business is defined by the Small Business Administration (and the IRS) as being a business with less than 500 full time employees. I think most of us fall under that.

For some of us, taxes are easy. For others, it’s an impossible labyrinth to navigate. Working in “the other world”, we file our 1040EZ, 1040A or 1040, and sometimes take a few familiar deductions or credits – education, home mortgage, child care or unreimbursed business expenses. But as a small business, there are more forms and more paperwork than that.

There are few of us who would file as anything more than ‘sole proprietor’. Sole proprietor can be an individual or a married couple, same as on your standard 1040; you can choose to designate one person as the primary business owner or you can mark ‘jointly owned’. You can form a partnership (for those committed but unmarried partners not in a personal relationship) or S-Corporation, if either of those structures best suit your needs. Partnerships and S-Corporations do not pay taxes themselves, but they are what you call ‘pass-through’ entities, and the partners will pay taxes on the profits. But partnership and S-Corporations filings are for another article, as they are more complex in paperwork.

In a ruling in late August in 2013, the Department of Treasury and the IRS will recognize same-sex marriages for those filing MFJ and MFS (married filing jointly and married filing separately) status on your federal return. You must be legally married in a state that recognizes such marriages, but you don’t have to be living in or filing from a state that recognizes same sex marriages. However, the ruling does not apply to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions or similar formal relationships recognized under state law.

Tax

Sole Proprietors – we small artistes and thespians – will file a Schedule C along with our 1040. Known by tax nerds as “Business Profit or Loss”.   There isn’t a lot to it. It’s all of 2 pages long, unless you have depreciation. But don’t panic! Learning the tax end of making a living at renaissance faires and outdoor festivals only takes up a little of your time, but it is a very important part of your time.

As a small business, you have to remember to put aside some of that very, very hard earned money to pay your federal taxes. Remember that, back in the old world job, they withheld that very, very hard-earned money with each paycheck. Not so now, young entrepreneur, you have to do it yourself. You also have to set aside the monies yourself to pay for your SE tax – nerdy for Self Employment tax.

Holy Mother of Unicorns! SE tax? What the heck is that? “I thought I left the other world to get away from the system!” Explained simply, your SE tax is your Social Security replacement. It goes towards your retirement. No, we WON’T get into any type of debate or discussion about whether or not Social Security will be there for you when you’re ready. This is not part of the scope of my expertise.

But filing as a self employed person has its perks. You can get away with deducting a lot of your funny clothing. Costumes are a required part of what we do for our job and therefore are legitimate business deductions, and many of our costumes cost a lot. And I’ve noticed a lot of us wear our costumes out in the real world. Keep in mind that in order to deduct ‘business clothing’ that it must be substantially for business use and cannot be clothing that you wear in normal life activities such as going shopping, or out to dinner with friends, or to a wedding. I know, I know, some of us will do that anyway. And you can still write off a lot of your funny clothes.

 

Learning to file your own quarterly taxes – both state and federal – is just another part of being a successful small business. I enjoyed Ronn Bauman’s article “So you want to work at at Renaissance Festival?”, and his discussion on the different levels of participation. Being a self employed artist or performer brings a myriad of new jobs into your life. Bookkeeping is one of them.

Receipt bundles for tax accountant small business owner

And taxes aren’t just for the full time renaissance artist or performer. Do you work a regular 9 to 5 in the city and you just come out and work weekends for your artist friend?

Yes, you are supposed to report that cash he/she pays you. Oh, they gave you a $300 leather vest in exchange for your pass and time worked? According to IRS Publication 17, you’re supposed to report the fair market value of that as income too (and the value of the pass).   But as long as your 1040 is in good shape otherwise, I wouldn’t stay awake nights worrying if the IRS is going to bust down your doors to audit you if you don’t mention it. If you worked a couple of festivals for different booths, but you still have your 9-5 in the city, whether or not you get a 1099-MISC from your artist friends in January, you will have to file a Schedule C with your 1040 and pay SE tax on that income unless the total of that income for the entire year is less than $400. And you will do the same if you are a full time working rennie, one who isn’t a booth owner or performer, but you just travel around working for those who do own booths. Because you are in business for yourself; you just sell your labor instead of stuff.

Now bears the big question. Do you HAVE to pay the King’s Tax? Well, it is the law of the land. It’s your own personal moral issue if you want to roll the dice that way. But there are a few thoughts that might help you out.

The IRS does not require you to file a tax return if you do not owe any tax, and with personal deductions and exemptions, there is a minimum amount you need to make before you will owe any tax. Bear in mind, however, that while you may not owe any federal tax, you may likely owe SE tax. However, it is highly recommended that you DO file a tax return if you are owed any refund or are eligible for one of several refundable credits. After all, it’s your money. You do want it back, don’t you? And if you are just starting out a new business, the IRS doesn’t care if you don’t show a profit for the first few years. Generally you need to show a profit within 5 years, preferably 3. But be careful about red flags – things that make the IRS notice you. Don’t tell the IRS that you haven’t make a dime of profit for the last 10 years or they might ask you “What are you living on?” And if you tell them you are living off of your boyfriend, don’t tell them that your boyfriend hasn’t filed a tax return in 15 years (that really happened).

 

Taxes are seldom difficult. They just take time, just as your marketing does. There are sometimes issues that are confusing to the right brainers of the world. But learning your way around tax talk will take a couple of tries and there are plenty of reliable resources – from professional tax preparers to the www.irs.gov website – out there to consult for the legal and safe answers. In future articles I will address more specific subjects such as depreciation and sales of business assets, and pretty soon you’ll be as comfortable with those terms as you are swinging fire poi at a Funky Formal.

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!

Everywhere I’ve gone this month, the conversation seems to be about the intersection of Entertainment and Commerce in the Festival or Theme Park world.

Permanent parks and themed environments are not entry-level venues, whether speaking of crafts, services, or food & beverage sales. Too often participants leap into an investment in a park or festival with no thought to Proof of Concept. Vendors enter the themed milieu without an appreciation for the experience that the customer is seeking by attending such a venue.

Buy-in can mean so many things … in permanent parks it can refer to the cost involved in procuring a building from which to vend. However there is also the cultural buy-in that includes the joy of wearing a costume and interacting with festival attendees in a way that enhances the escape they purchased upon entry of the park’s front gate.

To quote Ben Franklin: “Diligence is the mother of good luck” 

It is wise to work for a while in any industry before deciding one is ready to own a business there. The restaurant business is a glaringly obvious example of how wrong people can be about their own understanding of a business model when they decide to launch their dream restaurants with no prior foodservice experience. In the festival business, the mistake manifests more often with unproven crafts concepts. Lack of sales is most often blamed on a Vendor Coordinator’s influence on booth placement, or a PR team “not bringing in the right people”. The truth is often that the craft hasn’t sold remarkably in ANY venue, but due diligence was never exercised before building a business around it.

If you’ve spent years in any industry, you’ll have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Themed events are such a blend of entertainment and commerce; they can be a difficult place to attempt a trial run of a product. However, if that item itself is a mixture of these elements … if there is an experience connected to the purchase … then that product has a better chance of working in that realm. But for goodness sake, take the time to make at least a rudimentary business plan.

No Evil

Proof of Concept can be worked out in real-time, inside an event. But the money invested has a higher level of risk. Also, bigger parks sometimes require proof that you’ve spent serious time researching your project. Fifteen years ago, an application to the Texas Renaissance Festival was not a form one filled out. It was a multi-page presentation, which included all of the following points:

 Legend:

Mission:

Creed:

Motto:

Theme:

 Demeanor:

 Costumes:

 Strategies:

 Heraldic Symbol:

 Income Projections:

 Festival Compensation:

 Expense Budget:

 3yr Expansion Plan:

 Details and dimensions of workspace:

 How did we get here? (Business/Personal Biography)

 Breakdown and description of items for sale:

 

In Eleanor Whitney’s book GROW, How to take your D.I.Y. project and passion to the next level & quit your job! She coaches a similar set of questions. (She has other great advice as well.)

Innovative shows are going to ask you to continue thinking about your business or businesses within their venue(s). Some recent homework I’ve completed would include reports on ongoing research in my field, and a two page paper on our company philosophy on Food and Entertainment.

As someone who is often asked for business consultations within the festival industry, I have to say that I think many missteps would be avoided if this type of esoteric questioning became more common in the festival world.

Just as writing an interesting application helps you land good summer employees, engaging in the right types of internal questions can save us from grief when we try to sell either an unproven product, or sell it in an unproven venue.

 

Those of you already in the industry, what are some of the questions you wished you had asked before starting your business? What questions do you think should be asked of show applicants? Let us know … we’re looking forward to the conversation.

If you have a lot to say on the matter … you might consider being a Guest Blogger with us.

In a clearly defined business category, it is easy to watch your competitors and see which of their ideas work, and which fail. You can watch the most successful team, and mimic their attempts within your own budgets of time and money. However, those of us that straddle more than one category have to keep our attention on multiple category leaders. We succeed by marrying diverse elements in order to create a unique category. We can look to the leaders in each of those categories to appropriate tools or processes that we have seen as successful.

 

Discussing proven strategies, and brainstorming new ones.

We see this mimicry a lot in the festival industry. Because geography keeps many festivals from ever competing for an audience, tips are regularly shared amongst management.  This is not a suggestion that there is not still competition. Shows compete for vendors, performers, and ranking on a wide list of criteria. Every show has its priority as to which criteria are most important.

In my favorite model of festival management, within the offices the separate divisions of management are allowed to work as if their department is the most important. This creates a space of good-natured competition that raises the show in each of the different criteria. Respect is key. In no way can anyone think that they must denigrate another category in order to shine. (Unhealthy competition like that is a team-building issue, left for another post.)

So Vendor Coordinators watch to see any innovations made by individuals who have that title at other shows. PR Managers follow all the other shows’ media … watching for an element that will work well with their audience.

 

But what is the situation when you are the category leader … even in multiple criteria?

Just like a vendor can straddle categories and innovate a new category, entire shows have to look to other industries to create innovation. Innovation always happens at the edges of a proven method. Staying at the top of the category takes a lot more work than mimicking ideas that have worked for others.

 

Scene:
End of season at the largest Renaissance Festival in the US … 20 of us are in a room, going over the past year’s successes and failures. We represent a variety of vendors and management, but we are in agreement that we are tasked with keeping this show on the cutting edge of the industry. When the meeting breaks, we stand around rattling off to each other the list of events we will be attending for research purposes. No one lists a Renaissance Festival. Some of us vend at other festivals, and are trusted to bring back any ideas that work.

The list we share and the events we invite each other to reads like an ADHD travel wish list: New Media Expo, Interactive Week of South by Southwest, The National Restaurant Association ShowThe Fancy Food Show, Walt Disney World, Burning Man, Schlitterbahn, and Bonnaroo. Personally I’m watching how the BBC is using an app to keep fans of the woefully short-seasoned show Sherlock engaged with the characters between seasons. This has some specific parallels to our marketing situations.

Of course all of this is in addition to the research we all do to stay at the top of our own smaller games (read: individual businesses or jobs), which we are playing on the giant gameboard that is the festival as a whole.

 

Where do you look for business inspiration? If you are a category creator, what are the categories that you combined in order to create it? Does clarifying those categories help you see a new place to look for ideas? Let us know in the comments, we want to hear from you.

Editor’s note: This is the first installment in Al’s series that uses metrics to determine the financial relationship between vendors and festivals.Following articles will end up with internal links here (Part 2). It’s high-season in the outdoor festival business, but we’ll get them to you eventually.

I love to play poker.  When I was a kid, we would play for matchsticks. After the game was over, we would put our matchsticks back in the box, go outside, and play something else.  In poker for matchsticks there was no winner or loser, nothing ventured, and nothing gained.  We played for the fun of it, and a good time was had by all.

photo by Ibrahim Sariahmetoglu

In High School, and then College, we played for cash.  Usually nickel, dime, quarter games with a three raise limit.  It doesn’t seem like much, but after five or six hours and twice as many beers, you could win or lose a months’ rent.  Suddenly the good time was no longer guaranteed.  It was great when you could go home with 20 pounds of quarters in your pockets, but not so much when your solvency had dissolved in a brew of bad luck, bad beer, and bad play.  Poker had become what poker is…..a gamble.

Not being much of a gambler, I sought to improve my odds and remove as much of the ‘gamble’ as I could.  Or, to put it another way, to treat it like a business. Or, to put it yet another way, to understand and then manage the risk of playing poker to improve my profit.  Big surprise…..it all came down to numbers.

I’m assuming for the sake of this article that you are no longer playing for matchsticks.  You know the numbers that one must know to exist and survive as a private business in the 21st century.  You know the numbers of operating your business.  The numbers that I will offer are those relating to the environment in which you do your business, i.e. the relationship between your business and the festival itself.  These numbers are a key metric for you as a craftsperson in determining the return from festivals that you are considering, or in which you are already invested. They also are essential to a festival should it be concerned or curious about the health of the internal economy that it has created.

There are 3 ratios that serve as the main indicators of the potential economic success or failure of a single business and, if left unattended over time, of the entire internal craft economy. These are the cost/patron ratio, the profit/patron ratio, and the patron/vendor ratio.  

For the purpose of this article, I will address the patron/vendor ratio.  It is the leading indicator on which all others are dependent.  It is the numeric expression of the two primary concerns that you, as a craftsperson should have about a show that is asking for your investment.  

The first number, the number of patrons, is an indication of how successful the festival is in bringing money through the gates.  The second number, the number of crafts people who have been juried into the show, is an indicator of the festivals level of understanding or concern for the financial health and wellbeing of those who have invested in their show.  In short, the patron/vendor ratio simply put is; “How big a pie did they bake, and how many pieces did they cut it into.”  To determine the patron/vendor ratio you simply divide the number of patrons by the number of vendors.

A festival is obviously going to be concerned with the size of the pie.  It is the metric which, from their point of view, is the primary gauge of their success.  It is from this number that all others judged.  It is only natural, therefore, that they assume that the same would hold true for the individual businesses inside the gates.  “If we’re doing well, then the vendors also must be doing well.”  This is true only if the festival has either frozen the number of vendors or juried in a smaller percentage of new vendors than the percentage increase of the gate.

 For a vendor at a show it’s not so much the size of the pie as it is the size of the piece.  A show that has 200,000 patrons coming through the gate sounds like a great place to build a booth, right?   It would be a great show to invest in if there were only 100 vendors.  It would be if there were 150 vendors.  It would be ok even if there were 200 vendors…..but that would be the cut-off point for me.

  Over the thirty-some years of observing festivals and businesses I’ve come to a rule of thumb which has held true over the years.  A patron/vendor ratio of 1,000 patrons per vendor for an eight weekend Renaissance festival, or 125 patrons per vendor per day is the minimum amount to justify doing a show with the expectations of an acceptable return on investment.  When the ratio falls below this, money becomes tighter for each business and they have a tendency to start trying to extract what they need for the return on their investment in a more aggressive manner.  They also have a tendency to increase the size and display of lower dollar, bread and butter items in an effort to insure that they can meet the payroll and cover the booth fee.  

This is not a healthy financial environment for you nor is it healthy for the festival.  The patrons will start to withdraw, they will walk down the middle of the lane to avoid the shops.  Some shops, in turn, hire lane hawkers.  Soon there is nowhere for a patron to feel safe from the continuous pressure of being sold something. The experience is akin to paying twenty bucks to spend a day hearing life insurance salesmen and telemarketers trying to sell you their product.

If you are a vendor and you find that, at certain shows, you are having to compete harder for fewer returns, check the patron/vendor ratio.

 If you work at a festival and can’t understand why the lack of investment in booths and landscaping, why the lack of concern from the crafts community for the patron experience, check your patron/vendor ratio. 

If you are a patron and you find at the end of the day, on the way home in the car, or through conversations with friends,  the feeling that you’ve invested your weekend and your money in an experience that was tainted by aggressive sales techniques and low quality crafted products, check the patron/vendor ratio.

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

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!!

Summer Job Lady

Rhonni —  May 23, 2013 — 6 Comments

This post originally appeared on my personal blog, but just this week I was having a conversation with a Crafter about hiring good help, and the choice to become a mentor. Many many people have their first job experience at an outdoor festival or theme park. It is something we need to remember as the people doing the hiring.

I’ve been the “Summer Job Lady” for 23 summers now. Before we had our own businesses there, I managed all of the personnel and payroll for the man that owned 75% of the food program at the New York Renaissance Faire. With an attrition rate of 10%, and 85 positions to fill, some summers I’d hire 135 kids during the 8 week run of the festival.
These days, for our own operation, we need about 25 people. We have a more generous pay scale, and the fact that The Hubby and I work in the kitchens with our employees, rather than just counting the money in an office combine to give us a lower rate of attrition. We now hire the younger siblings and even the children of some of my former summer hires. We have a solid and reliable crew in New York, and I’m looking forward to establishing the same type of team in the shows where I have less tenure.

My Summer Job Application

Still, I’ve learned a few things over the years about summer jobs.
1. 8 weeks is a “lot” of someone’s summer to give up. I talk about it being 17 days when asking them for a commitment. We’re open on weekends only, for high-volume sales. There is no room for extra bodies, and consequently no real way to hire extra people … (except …)
2. There are people that simply cannot give up all of these weekends. I take their info, and enlist them as backup. If they are former employees who cannot make the full commitment, I go ahead and hire them for the busiest weekend, or a holiday weekend … “someone” is going to flake, and you’ll still be ready for your biggest day, as well as maintaining a relationship with that employee as she’s moving off to college or whatever.
3. This is often someone’s FIRST JOB. Any incorrect assumptions they make are the manager’s fault for improper training. For example: We are now hiring a generation of people who have never been away from their cell phones. Getting peeved when you find the 16 year old texting between customers is absurd. It’s the management’s fault for not explaining that there is no phone use while on the clock. Reprogramming a young person to ignore a ring or buzz of his phone is harder than you might think. Instead, provide a secure lock-up near the time clock. Let employees know they can check their phones for messages when off the clock; otherwise the number of bathroom breaks required appears to be related to their text and voicemail frequency.
4. When hiring people under 16 (Yes, it’s legal for some positions.), It’s their parents that have to acknowledge the commitment to punctuality and attendance required of the job. I *have* made arrangements with parents of school-age kids that if the student’s grades dropped, he or she would lose their permission to work. I’ve always been fine with this, and it allows me to establish a partnership with the parent that has always worked in my favor over consecutive summers.
5. This is simply a personal theory, but I have hired in Texas, Colorado, New York, Maryland, and Georgia. In my opinion, the likelihood of an employee being a no-call, no-show is directly related to the rate of unemployment in their parent’s experience. Areas that have known double-digit unemployment any time in the last 30 years seem to instill in the younger generation an awareness that jobs require a level of responsibility that at least requires a well-crafted excuse and a phone call. This level of consideration is not as common in states where the unemployment rate stayed low.
6. Ask questions that will help you decipher a personality and match a potential employee with the proper manager. On my application, I ask the following:
a) What was the last book you read?
This one often tells me more about the local school’s curriculum than it does the interviewee, but often we have these books in common, and it eases some of the tension of what might be his or her first job interview.
b) What is your MySpace or FaceBook URL?
I probably don’t need to explain why this is of value. You can really learn a lot about someone with this information.
c) What was the last music you bought for yourself?
In a time when file-swapping is the norm, knowing what music she assigns value, tells me a great deal, and again, gives me a conversation point in the interview process.
d) What Team Sports / Athletics experience do you have?
This is key. You see, The Hubby communicates like a basketball coach … mid-mistake corrections, short sentences, an expectation of follow-through on whatever “play” he’s just called for. It can be disastrous for me to place someone with no team sports experience in his shop, especially if they have any self-confidence issues, because they have no point of reference for his management style and tend to go directly to “He doesn’t like me.”.
e) What Music or Theatre experience do you have?
We’re vending in an entertainment venue. If I’m staffing for a Front-of-House position, I’m asking them to wear silly clothes and fake an accent. Theatre geeks live for this … it makes job placement very easy.
f) Do you believe that life is a set of circumstances one makes the best of, or that life is a result of choices one has made? (Please circle your selection.)
a) Circumstances b) Choices

This is my favorite question. I have had several applicants draw in an option c) “Combination of Both”. They gets props for creativity with that one. While I would officially say that there is not a right or wrong answer to this question, we all know that’s not entirely true. Answers to this question have never kept me from hiring a person, and folks 17 and under will have a tendency towards selection ‘A’ because their parents are making the choices. I’ve watched with interest as people’s answers change over several years of summer returns. However, as a manager I need to know that it’s risky to place a selection ‘A’ person in a position with a high level of responsibility. This is  the person who could have a flat tire on the way to work, and not recognize that his choice of buying cigarettes instead of new tires affected his day, and then his lack of a job. If I’ve invested a lot of training in a choice ‘A’ person, I may just have to do it all over again with another hire before the summer season is over. However, if he truly makes the best of his circumstance, he still comes up with a ride to work … hence my not holding to a right or wrong answer for that question.

The most important thing I’ve learned in the 20 years of being the Summer Job Lady is that hiring kids for their first jobs is an honor. We have the opportunity to be mentors and a role models for an upcoming generation. Recognizing this privilege and living up to its responsibilities help create the future we are all hoping to see.

What are some of your experiences in hiring or in being hired at events? What do you think could have been done better? Please let us know 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.

For my second outing as guest writer for the amazing Rhonni D’s blog, I thought I’d answer yet another question that I hear frequently in my life as a touring Renaissance Festival professional

 People often ask me how they should go about “running away and joining the circus” that is the Renaissance Festival. I am often asked for guidance, advice and tips on how to become a part of this wacky world. Today’s column is part one of a two-part series where I tell you how to find, secure and advance in employment in this unique working and living environment.  Full disclosure: A longer, naughtier version of this article first appeared in my advice column on Facebook and will feature prominently in my upcoming book.  

 

So you want to work at the Renaissance Festival?

 First you need to ask yourself: Why? Why would you WANT to do this? Are you mad at your parents? Are you punishing yourself? Perhaps you should lie down and wait for this funny feeling to pass?

Did that crazy desire go away? No?

 

Okay next you’ll have to ask yourself “What do I want to do?” “What skills and talents do I have?” What do I want out of this adventure: Money, fun, fulfillment or just puppies?” Ask yourself “What are my priorities?”  And most importantly “Are my underwear clean?”

This week I will cover employment in the many positions outside the entertainment field – covering the range from the Artisan to the cooks. In the next column I’ll bare all of the secrets of working in spotlight; so-to-speak.

 

What are my options for working at the Renaissance Festival, other than as an entertainer?

 

Kitchen Employees

Perhaps the easiest field to get into would be one of the hundreds of kitchen positions. And by “kitchen position” I mean – “employment in the food service program” – not that naughty thing you caught your parents doing while you were supposed to be away on vacation that one time. These workers are the backbone of the faire. Renaissance Festivals are like an army- they run on their stomachs, (and loins!). When I submitted this article my editor asked me to point out that there are often two divisions in the food services program: The Festival-owned food concerns – which are often equivalent to a fast-food chain in their hiring, staffing and food preparation practices AND the smaller, independent kitchens which are usually run much more like a conventional restaurant.

 

§  Upsides: This field isn’t overwhelmingly tough to get hired in. There can be – especially in the independent kitchens loads of hourly-wage week work. These jobs can make the difference – especially for someone new to the circuit – between eating nothing but ramen and peanut butter & jelly while sitting in your tent all week and eating pizza, hot dogs and SpaghettiOs warmed over an honest-to-goodness camp stove – while sitting in your tent all week. But seriously folks, Most of the independents kitchens have to make their food products fresh all week to sell on the weekend and there are decent jobs for reliable, hard-working, go-getters.

§  Downsides: It is hot, dirty, and often underpaid. You’ll find that you spend most of the festival day working, but you’ll still get to party at night.

§  How to get hired: Contact the festival office before the faire opens and ask to be referred to the food service program. They often even do Job Fairs!

 

Rides and Games

You can also go the route of “Gamer” or self-styled “Push monkey”. These are the folks that push the man-powered rides, take your money at the dart games, and teach your children how to shoot a bow-and-arrow. It is a much more social, and fun engagement than some of the others jobs at the faire. The atmosphere and working conditions can be a blast.

 

§  Upsides:  Gamers tend to be young, pretty and looking for a good time. (I’ll bet you can guess why I noticed that.) The job tends to pay better than food service and apparently if you push a heavy ride long enough you become a massive Cimmerian warrior (I saw it in a movie once).

§  Downsides: It can be hot sweaty and thankless and it is definitely WORK. Most of the entry level positions pay like entry level positions

§  How to get hired: Believe it or not; the rides and games often advertise in the classified sections of local newspapers. Or you can call the festival office and ask for the contact information for whoever manages this employment opportunity.

 

Booth Managers and Employees

If you’re looking for something with more commitment, and more earning potential you might want to get hired as booth help or booth management. These are often (but not exclusively) long term jobs fulfilled by people who tour with the festival from show to show. Your pay can range from a simple, flat day rate – scandalously low in some cases – to extremely lucrative commissioned management gigs. The booth owners who will hire you tend to look for people who are motivated, professional, and ambitious – as graded on the bell curve of Renaissance Festivals that is. Like all of the jobs I have written about so far, it is in fact a JOB! I was so startled the first time I worked (rather than played) at a Renaissance Festival how much it really differed from the play/party/drink/sleep around – philosophy I had as a patron. For those who work the faires; Saturday and Sunday is when you make your dough, Monday through Friday is when you play around. Week work also can figure rather significantly in this class of employment. The booth owners may (and should) pay you for set up, stock making, taking inventory and other weekday tasks necessary to running a business.

 

§  Upsides: Potential for semi-steady employment and greater earnings. Sometimes even your housing and travel expenses can be covered by your employer.

§  Downsides: Employers are looking for a higher standard in grooming, sobriety, people skills and reliability. Also, your parents may never understand or approve of your career choice.

§  How to get hired: It is often a question of “who you know”.  You can sometimes find notices on the festival message boards and the like, but often booth owners will also want references – and who can blame them? Make friends with crafters you frequent and ask them to refer you.

 

Crafters and Artisans

Finally, do you have skill, a hobby or craft that you can produce items worthy of selling with? Are you an excellent seamstress, leather worker or clothing designer? Can you create stained glass or beautiful jewelry? Then you might want to explore the difficult and rewarding world of being an Artisan or Crafter. Just like during Historical Renaissance times the merchant class is the driving engine behind the Renaissance Festival’s economy.  You’ll have to first get your items approved in the often-convoluted jury process. Then either make (or pay to have made) all the stock. You’ll buy, rent or build a booth, pay employees, pay taxes, pay booth fees, pay insurance and pay and pay and pay. For this you’ll get the privilege of selling your wares, sometimes to people who adore your work, sometimes to people who think they can get better Chinese imports from their local “Wally-world”. And sometimes you don’t sell. Not at all. There are people who have made, and continue to make MILLIONS selling their products or art at festivals around the country. There are also folks who have failed spectacularly.

 

§  Upsides: You are the boss (except for the Festival management of course). You reap the rewards (after taking all the risks) if you don’t go broke you might do very, very well. It’s so much better than a nine-to-five; unless you are trapped in your studio or workshop for even longer hours making stock.

§  Downsides: The jury process is just the first in a long line of approvals you must have to turn your vision, talent, or craft into cold, hard cash. Your expenses will be many. Your concerns will be legion. If you fail there’s no safety net. If the festival experiences rain on 14 of its 18 days – which happened not-so-many-years-ago in Phoenix, of all places – you can get very hungry and very in debt.

§  How to get hired: You’ll have to contact your desired festival and look for the vendor’s application and jurying process. You will often have more luck at the smaller, less established faires as they are ‘hungrier” for merchants. You might also consider apprenticing with an artisan and learning the trade just like in the “good-ol’-days”.

 

 

Again my slave-driving editor has asked that I once again stress the availability and value in securing week work. Even if your chosen employment realm doesn’t provide an hourly wage and Monday-through-Friday employment there is often work for the industrious. You can secure piece work or hourly jobs with many of the crafters on site – though you’ll have more luck at Spring and Summer shows when they are stocking for the year. If you have saleable skills or office training you might find work in payroll management, bookkeeping or general office work. Some driven workers find a gig in the festival office, working for security, or even find a temp job in town. Just like in the real world – often, how well off you are is a factor of how ambitious you are. There are even folks who make the majority of their pay during the week utilizing their skills or services in support of the traveling community.  Can you teach dance to youngsters? Do you have skills as a hairstylist? Do you love to babysit or are you a massage therapist? You can have a quite successful business in service-related fields or as a teacher or coach.

 

In part two of this article I will cover the process for getting a gig as a Renaissance Festival Entertainer. I will also once again try to talk you out of it; not only because it can be a brutal soul-crushing experience trying to succeed, but also because if you do – you just may become my competition!  I look forward to your creative constructive or critical comments below. I’ll see ya next time!

 

 

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.