Category Archives: Show

Thoughts on shows. Things that went good, bad and ugly.

Whats done is done…

So I usually try to do an end of season wrap up. This year I kept putting it off until I almost forgot about it. Thankfully somebody just posted on Facebook about the number of pages that don’t get updated very often and that reminded me that this post was over due.

Many thanks are due to the Kansas City Renaissance Festival cast and staff, without your dedication to the festival I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. I also want to thank the many people that stuck around after the show to say how much they enjoyed it.

The short of it is that this was my best year ever (so far).  The weather was some of the best I can remember, in my 25 years out at KCRF, for the whole seven weeks. But because Labor day was farther into September than it had been in a decade many people thought our last weekend was Columbus Day Weekend when in fact the seventh weekend was the following weekend. This also had the effect of making the last few mornings really cold…Brrrrrr!!!

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Overall, the show itself didn’t change much. I ended up dropping one effect in order to shorten the show so we could do more shows in a day. Then I had two other effects I had been working on over the summer that got switched in and out over the weeks. Both were well received so I may make a permanent change to the show for next year. The biggest improvement to the show happened second weekend and took me (with Steve’s input) two more weeks to get to point where it was consistent. We made one small change to the straitjacket (Thanks Tom Burgoon!) that made a few people squirm and many people gasp or groan in sympathy. If you saw the show you know what it was, if not you’ll need to come see it next year.

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There’s a saying in the entertainment world that you shouldn’t outrun your audience; meaning that you should reflect their energy level in your show. This year it was sometimes hard to figure out where the energy level was. Because of this applause was sporadic and inconsistent. For example a show would start great and then all of a sudden it was if somebody was applying the brakes, or  even worse the energy level would fluctuate starting good then sputtering and then gaining again before falling again. I know it wasn’t just me, I heard the same thing from many entertainers at this years festival.

As is typical in the winter off season I’m getting ready to start planning next years show. I already have one effect I’m really looking forward to practicing and perfecting for next year. Something I hope will really wow the audience.

 

That’s all I’ve got for now. Again, thanks to all those people that decided to sit through a show and even bigger thanks for all of you that put a little something in my hat at the end.

Season wrap up

The season has come and gone. I have to say it was some of the best weather I can remember for the entire run (except for the final day). As always there were things I learned and things I forgot, but at the end of it all, I think it worked out pretty good. Steve is a true pro when it comes to entertaining and I came up with some good/new lines for some of his best routines. On the other hand, he came up with good line for me and I couldn’t figure out how to work it in to the routine so I’ll continue to work on that in the off season. There were a few personal revelations and I hope to make some significant changes to my show next year so it’s even more entertaining and fun, both from my point of view and also from the audience’s. I was able to take some video of two shows on the final Sunday so I hope to have that edited and posted in the next week or so.

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One of many audiences at the Wizard’s Tower

Of course this year wouldn’t be complete without thanking a few people that helped me get to this point:

My wife: Thanks for supporting my dream. Thank you for being my guiding light. Thanks for allowing me to play with toys all year long.

Rod Sipe: Wow! I still remember the first time you snuck into the back of my nonexistent audience to watch my little show and then stuck around to give me a little advice. You must have seen something in me that I didn’t know was there, because your friendship and mentoring over the years has been invaluable. And then, working with you for eight years was an all encompassing course in “How to Entertain”.

Maestro: Thanks for taking a chance on me and allowing me the opportunity to show how much I’d grown as an entertainer in the last few years.

And of course I thank YOU.  Thanks for sitting and watching the show and then dropping a little something in the hat at the end; I really appreciate it.

My wife suggested I need to come up with an end of season ritual. I guess that’s another thing I’ll need to think on for next year.

Catching up

I just realized I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks so I’m going to attempt to make up for that right now.

Going back to second weekend, I’ll say there wasn’t a huge dip in attendance like there has been in the past. This may be due to the fact that it wasn’t unbearably hot. Other than that, I don’t really have any stand out moments to share.

Third weekend was a tough one for me. Audiences were for the most part unresponsive and quiet. There were some good shows, but most just felt like I was performing behind a pane of glass. I couldn’t get a connection or a reaction to what are typically strong spots in the show and that really made me question why I was doing what I do.

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Then last weekend (fourth weekend) was a turn around weekend for me, or at least that’s the way it seems. Saturday was odd, It was almost oppressively humid, the skies were overcast most of the day, and there was the chance of rain forecast for most of the day that never materialized. I had a few good shows, and the crowds thinned out early because of the predicted rain which left us doing some smaller shows late in the day. Sunday really was a beautiful day, cool and dry and people really seemed to be looking for a good time. The only downside I had was that I should have hung the straitjacket to dry overnight because it absorbed so much moisture the day previous. Ah, live and learn.

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My biggest accomplishment from the day was my last show. The mic pack had died during Steve’s show and there weren’t very many people wandering around so I didn’t bother putting it on. I did a trick I call a Perception Test for a group of high school guys from Manhattan. For those that don’t know an audience member is brought on stage and a trick is done for them, but every body in the audience can see how it’s done. It went over pretty well and a few more people had sat down. I run through a few more small effects and more people sit down. By now the gypsy drum show thing has started down the hill and I’m fighting to be heard over them (a daily annoyance), but more people keep joining my audience so I keep going. I’m doing my effects randomly and not in the order I’d normally do them. I finish up what I decide will be my final effect and look up to see standing room only. Even with the loud drums people have made the choice to stay and see what I’d do next. So I decide to finish the show with the jacket. OMG! I had the perfect volunteer, she laughed and the audience was responsive. The lady I asked to be the timekeeper had a squeeky laugh and I got her to going so hard I thought she was going to hyperventilate. Plus every time she laughed the audience laughed so It wasn’t a distraction at all. I finally got her calmed down enough to do her part and I did the escape.

That last show I didn’t use the mic and considering I was talking over the drums for a good portion of it, the audience seemed more attentive than those shows where I’m using the mic. I know it certainly helps when the crowds are huge or for drawing an audience,  but I’m not convinced I need it when the audience is small. And I’m not convinced I could do six shows a day without a mic without destroying my voice.

2014 Weekend One – in review

Wow! That’s a good descriptor for what I’m feeling. In the 24 years I’ve been doing the Kansas City Renaissance Festival the opening weekend is always a mixed bag. It was hot and humid Saturday and Sunday, and then Labor Day Monday was cooler but still just as humid. Saturday audiences arrived early and left early too which meant we at the Wizards Tower had no one to entertain by mid afternoon. Sunday wasn’t much better, although it felt like the crowds stuck around a bit longer, but once again 3:30-4:00 o’clock and we were facing a no mans land again. Monday was more of the same. It had rained overnight so it’s possible that people thought that the grounds would be soggy and gross, but it tends to drain pretty fast and in the few trips I made down the hill there were only a few places that could be considered muddy.
The crowds that did make it out each day were there to have fun and there was much laughter at the Wizards Tower each day, but I could feel the energy ebbing as each hour passed and by the end of each day it got more and more difficult to bring much more than a smile to many in our audiences.
Monday afternoon it became difficult to draw the people in so I ended up doing several things I don’t normally do in my show. I got a little goofy at one point. Probably because I was so exhausted from the heat and the long weekend, but at one point I looked up and I had a full audience so I moved into my regular show. I ended up cutting a couple of things because I felt like I was running long but nobody but me noticed. I also came up with a new line for Steve that he’d never heard before that he started using in his next show.

Unrelated to the shows, I picked up a special order from Native Earth that I ordered in Colorado when I was there a couple of months ago. They are even better looking than i had pictured in my head (green and purple with some white, red and teal thrown in for good measure). I’ll post pics when I get home later. I’ve needed better footwear for faires for several years now and my wife talked me into making the order, and I’m glad now I did.

The final, final wrap post

I did the Phantoms Feast – Circus of Darkness at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival. For those that don’t know it’s a Halloween style show with lots of blood and some scary things. Typically it runs two or three weekends after the end of the Renaissance Festival depending on when Halloween falls. It’s a 90 minute dinner show held in the feast hall and usually sells out every performance, seating somewhere between 105-120 people.

I hadn’t intended to do it when the entertainment director was looking for acts back in September, but my former partner, Dr. Dumpé, thought it would be something we could do together and so I agreed. Less than a week later Dr. Dumpé had to drop out because of another conflicting event that was already booked. The entertainment director sent me a frantic email asking if I was still available. I talked to him the following weekend and he explained that I would just need to do my act and I could be done for the evening. It didn’t sound too bad so I agreed.

Two rehearsals and four shows total, not a huge drain on my time and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might have been. Now that I think about it, I don’t think they ever did get my name right in the show. Lots of Magnificent’s and Stupendous’s, but I think only once did the name come out right, Marvelous Matt! Overall, I had fun, even the one night where it got near freezing. You see I don’t wear shoes, I was doing my whole act barefoot since I was walking on broken glass. Trying to remember lines and asides while you are in front of an audience is nerve wracking. But knowing that if you take your time and don’t mumble through it, the audience will eat it up. And they did. Of the four shows I think there may have been one where the audience started getting out of hand yelling at the stage. That was the one time I got to use any of my anti-heckling lines all season, and it felt good to be that prepared.

The best thing about the experience is, it took me out of my comfort zone ever so slightly. I now have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t as a solo act when it comes to some of the sideshow stunts I’ve done, especially the glass. I heard many good things about the show, and my act, from management and I even got several compliments from the entertainment director on the final night, which I unfortunately missed hearing because I had a second event to go to.

Would I do it again? I don’t know. Even with the minimal time commitment it was more than I had intended to do after Faire was over. It wasn’t terrible and I did have fun, and I got to meet some nice people outside of the characters created for the Renaissance Festival. Yeah, I still don’t know…

Bonus: I got to keep my Circus of Darkness “poster”. It’s actually printed on vinyl banner material and looks pretty cool. I designed the central image and the office added the Circus of Darkness header and footer, I’ll try to add a pic later on.

 

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Circus of Darkness

BOO!

I was asked to do the Phantom’s Feast out at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival grounds this year. The theme is a take on an evil circus. Not much in the way of rehearsals and this past weekend was the first two of four performances. During the show I’m walking on a bed of broken glass and, of course, the straitjacket. Before this show I hadn’t done the glass in over a year so I didn’t have a script in my head. After the Wednesday rehearsal the director asked me if I could make the glass more ominous and to not change anything with the jacket. (Can you tell which one I perfected in over 85 performances this season?) So all day Thursday I’m working the routine in my head, trying to remember lines and the little things that make it more than a stunt. Thursday’s rehearsal went much better since I had managed to cobble together bits and pieces of the routine from my memory.

Friday ended up being the coldest day of the fall season so far. It was also the first public show for Circus of Darkness. It was not a full house but it was close. I happen to be the first “act” in the show and just before showtime I checked the temperature…36 degrees. I do my whole act barefoot since I walk on the glass then do the jacket. I saw many familiar faces audience and I kind of regret that I die and am unable to ask them what they thought of the show.  I am not required to stick around after my act, well, because I’m dead. I was so glad to get home and warm up after that night.

Saturday was much warmer at showtime (59 degrees), and this show was a full house. I attempted something new in getting my volunteer, and everybody seemed to really enjoy what I was doing. Much laughter and gasping, and an occasional heckler but nothing I couldn’t handle. Big gasps when death reached out it’s cold hand and I collapsed.

I talked to a few of the waitstaff before I left and they said everybody seemed to really be focused on what I was doing, and one waitress said she was asked to move out of the way by a patron, for the first time she could remember, so that they could see what I was doing. I felt real good hearing that.

Of course, since I was dead I went home.

Don’t dream it’s over…

It’s been about a week since the Kansas City Renaissance Festival finished up it’s season. The last weekend had beautiful weather and according to what I got from the office, record crowds through the gate.

My seven weekends at the Wizards Tower went by too fast. I’ve had several people say that I’ve matured as a performer. My show has passed through the fire and has become better for it. It’s more polished and I think a little more entertaining than it started out. There are elements that have been added, some that have been dropped, but many that just needed a little extra performance time to become gems.

Going back and reading some earlier posts, I was focused on the fear of standing alone on stage. Would the audience accept me? Would they like what I do? Would I be good enough? The answer to all, I’ve found, is yes. It seemed all I really needed was to get out there and be myself. I wasn’t smug, or condescending, I was just me; although I will admit I put on a pretty confident face when I need to.

Will I be back? You bet I will. At least I hope I will be back. According to the area manger my numbers were pretty good and they weren’t getting any complaints, so that works in my favor. Steve told me as far as he’s concerned it’s gonna be the Steve and Matt on the Wizard’s Tower next year.

Weekends Five and Six

It was pointed out to me that I hadn’t posted in over two weeks so here it is, somewhat overdue.

It was almost two weeks ago so lets see what I can remember about the  fifth weekend. Saturday morning was wet and stayed cool but not uncomfortable once the rain moved out. Unfortunately because of the light rain that lasted well into lunch, crowds for the rest of the day were quite a bit smaller than what I had hoped for. This gave Steve an opportunity to play around with something he’s been working on, a vortex cannon. He shot cups off of kids heads all day which was pretty cool until he filled it with smoke from a smoke bomb. Then it was awesome! Watching smoke-rings go out fifteen to twenty feet from the stage and knock a cup off of a persons head was very impressive and everybody that saw it thought it was pretty neat too.

I also unveiled a new dragon at the Wizards Tower. Steve has one he’s been using for years but it’s been rained on, it’s faded, and the head droops, so I made a new one. It looks kind of like the one below, except mine is green and I changed it to say “Estevon”.

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Even printing it on poster board, the one drawback is that with all the moisture in the air his head got a little heavy so it ended up drooping by the end of the day. I fixed it the following week so now his head stays upright all the time.

Sunday’s weather was perfect and the day started quick and ended big. Steve and I alternate shows all day and we ended up doing seven shows each that day. I can’t say there were any major problems or issues that came up on Sunday. I will say that the next morning I felt like I’d been run over by a truck.

The sixth weekend also started with a little rain in the early morning hours. Forecasters had predicted lots of wind and rain but the storms in the area didn’t develop much of either. Saturday started cool and stayed that way all day. At one point before my first show I caught myself shivering, so I wrapped up in my jacket until I felt better.  I had several good shows and I was getting huge audiences for the jacket escape although that wasn’t translating to an increased hat. I’m not saying that the hat wasn’t good, but watching people just walk off as I begin my hat pitch really sucks. I’m sure  it’s something that every entertainer has to deal with at some point, I’ve just got to learn to not let it bother me. Of course if it didn’t bother me I wouldn’t have written about it here so I’m not doing so well in the not letting it bother me department. Ha Ha. Other than those minor things the day and the whole weekend went really well. Steve did tell me this weekend that I don’t know how good I really am and that doing these kinds of shows have chewed up some of the best magicians in the city. Adding that very few have what it takes to make it in the faire environment and I should be be proud I haven’t collapsed yet.

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I have another post on mentors and what they’ve meant to me in the works, not sure if it will get done before the weekend but I hope to have it up soon.

Here are links to download your own dragon: in RED, BLUE, or GREEN. 

Weekend Four – Growth

If last weekend was about change this one was about growth. Beautiful weather both days and the ever increasing crowds made both days go by fast. Growth as a magician and entertainer can take make many forms, from improving routines to learning to deal with the inevitable conflicts that arise.

With some input from Steve the jacket escape has become more of a finale as opposed to just being a stunt. I’ve added lines and a few strategic pauses, even adding a timekeeper to add to the tension. It’s working out pretty good even when things go wrong.

Another thing is that I’m learning how to deal with is unruly volunteers and becoming better able to spot those people ready to “play along.” Up until this year some of my biggest audiences have been relatively small, typically 30-50 people or less. Under those conditions I’ve had to work with what I was given, but now that I’m in front of 100 or more, I have greater latitude with who I chose as a volunteer. It’s not as easy as it looks, and the right volunteer can convey the impact of the effect to the rest of the audience. Get the wrong volunteer and the audience can begin to feel uncomfortable and that’s the last thing I want them to feel.

My best show so far was also my shortest show. Sunday, Steve had just finished and I had about 20-25 minutes before the parade was due to come through. I knew if I couldn’t get through the show before the parade passed I might as well kiss the hat goodbye. So what did I do? I started the show quick, eliminating my first two effects. I got through the next two effects with no problem, and I started my jacket routine. At this point I’m only hoping I can get out and do my pitch before the parade comes by. I picked my volunteer, went through an edited version of the explanation for the jacket, got strapped in and I started to hear drums and trumpets in the distance. I cut more lines, got everyone clapping, and began my struggle. I’m was out in under a minute. I looked toward the front gate and I saw the parade through the trees moving my direction. I did my hat pitch and started collecting, reminding everybody to stick around for the parade that would be passing right behind them. I was still collecting as the parade passed by us. Whew! That show got laughs in the right places, reactions in the right places, and the audience stayed engaged. I would love to have those same reactions every show, just not the rush that forced it.

Later that same afternoon was also the day a little old lady in biker leathers almost derailed my show. The one thing I learned from this show was, if a woman is a little too eager to help with the jacket, RUN! Lets just say she was a little too “hands on” with the jacket. I tried to keep things moving, but I almost had to get nasty to get her to focus on getting me in the jacket. And her husband sitting in the audience wasn’t any help either, at least not to me. He kept encouraging her bad behavior. I joked, I quipped, I skipped, I prayed that I could get through the end of the show. OMG, it went waaaay longer than it should have. Thank goodness I was able to escape quickly, because I’m not sure the audience was going to hang on any longer.

Overall I’m pleased with the way things are progressing. Hopefully If you’ve seen the show the first couple of weekends, you can come back and experience the changes.

3rd Weekend Update

This was a weekend of extremes. Saturday overall was good with lots of patrons turning out for the cooler weather. Most of the shows went well and we tried out a new arrangement for my mic so that I can be heard during the straitjacket escape. It didn’t work as well as we had hoped so I made some changes overnight and brought it in the next day and it was much better.

I said most of the shows went well, that doesn’t mean they all did. The second show of the day was a major blow to my confidence. Repeatedly I tried to engage the audience and got no reaction. At several points in the show where I typically get some sort of reaction I got nothing. I tried talking to one particular older  lady and she tells me she’s just there to watch the kids. That’s three strikes, I was out of there! I ended the show short and told them to come back later if they wanted to see more. No pitch, I just walk off the stage. Done, Finished, Kaput! Steve asked me about it and I tell him flat out the show went south, I was done.

We talked later and he said I did the right thing, but it sure shook me for a while. I mean really shook me. I have never felt that kind of helplessness on stage, ever. I didn’t know what to do so I did the only thing I could think of, and I thanked them for being there (even if I didn’t mean it) and  walked off. How can I, as a performer, expend energy for an audience that doesn’t react, at all. Short answer, I can’t. Live performance is a sort of dance, a give and take of energy and excitement. If only one half is expending all the energy, eventually they are going to be left with nothing. And that’s exactly where I ended up during that show and I got the hell out of Dodge.

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Mentally sending an image to a spectator

Once I had some time to go over what had happened, the rest of the day went much smoother. Shows went well, and the audiences responded at the hat.  Late in the day, I think it was between 5:30 and 6, we had a small group of college kids sit down and since Steve had just finished I went out and talked to them for a bit. I did a few small things, eventually bringing one of the girls on stage for my version of paper balls over the head (something I don’t normally do in a show, but something that I had been practicing. ) Her friends are laughing and she has no idea where the balls are going. After the third ball I look up and notice that several more people have joined in the audience. I do one more with a super large ball, I thank her for coming up and send her back to her seat. She looks back and sees the balls on the ground, she rolls her eyes and her friends get another good laugh. At this point I’ve got maybe 20-30 people sitting so I go ahead into some of my regular routines, finishing with the jacket. I love it when things just fall into place. Normally at that time I would have been done, but because of the way things worked out I had one of the best shows of the day.

Sunday, crowds were a little lighter. Steve had two aborted shows first thing because of rain, but after the rain it never really picked up like it had on Saturday. We figured it was because of the morning rain and also the Chiefs home opener against the Cowboys. Regardless the shows went well and the new mic arrangement for the jacket worked out well. I had some really good volunteers for the jacket and some new lines that got some good laughs. The patrons really cleared out late in the afternoon, so by 3:30 we were back to doing small magic in the benches for a few people. I managed to draw in enough people my last two shows that it was worthwhile but the audiences were still small.

Next weekend is obviously the fourth weekend, the midway point at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival. I know the crowds are only going to get bigger and  I’ll continue to get busier. I only hope I am up for the challenge.