Category Archives: General

Things not related to performance or magic. Maybe thoughts on a topic of the day.

The Forgotten Post

I had originally started a post back at the beginning of November, but then forgot I left it in draft mode. I have now deleted that original post and am back to update, but first a recap.

Last season at KCRF was an odd one. My feeling is that several things contributed to this “oddness”. First off the weather was very atypical for this time of year. It wasn’t overly hot in the beginning and it never got cold or even cool near the end. If I remember correctly the final weekend temps were in the mid 80’s which is very unusual for an October day in Kansas City. The other factor may have been that many people had a feeling of uncertainty about the upcoming election in November. Usually people come out to the festival to escape their problems for a time, but this year it seemed people were having a harder time leaving those problems outside the faire.

On a more upward note, negotiations are progressing and it looks like I will be adding three events to my schedule this year. One I did about a decade ago and is now under new management, the other two are new events to me. I’m very excited to be able to bring my show to these new audiences. I’ve grown as a performer over the last several years and this will be an opportunity to see how far I’ve come.

I should probably end there for now. Once I have everything finalized with the new events this year I’ll update with dates and locations so that you know where you can find me on the road.

 

 

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.

Bangers and mash

Sometimes people ask, “What do you do to get ready for KC Renfest?” This year it was construction.

The hut on the current Wizards Tower was built 20+ years ago, has had very little maintenance, and was literally ready to fall in on us.

  

The dip is highlighted by sunlight.
It’s probably hard to see in these pictures but there was a huge dip in the roof.

It turns out that there was almost no support structure left beneath the shingles. The plywood decking was rotted and infested with termites. The joists, where they still held together, were soft and spongy.



Those pictures are looking down into the hut from the staircase that runs up the tower. Not much left is there? And most of it just fell in after removing the industrial plastic sheeting that was afixed inside.

 

Plastic sheeting is hanging on the right.
Once we got the rest of the roofing off we started rebuilding. I wish I had got pictures of the nearly finished roof but at the end of the day I was so tired and sore I forgot. Maybe I’ll go out today so you can see where we’re at.

EDIT: Here are pictures from this morning showing our progress.

 New joists are in and new decking is up. I can now stand on the roof without fear of falling through to my death.

Yes I’m actually standing on the roof.
Later this week we’ll go back out and do the felt and shingles.

 

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.

T- 6 days and counting

I always want to post something witty or sincere but I tend  to ramble when I’m trying to unload my mind. Next weekend begins my second season as a solo performer at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival. This does not come without challenges, but not the kind actually related to performing. Without being too passive-aggressive, lets just say that the coworker at my regular place of employment is not happy that he is working the next seven Saturdays. We typically rotate the Saturday shift because it’s a half day and not typically busy at all.  I mentioned the Renfest a couple of weeks ago and apparently he just isn’t too keen on paying attention to what I say. It’s not like I haven’t been working the festival for the past 24 years or anything. I will admit that the timing of family vacations and stuff didn’t allow me to work the full seven weekends before the festival like I usually do, but that hasn’t been a problem in the past. If this was a one time issue it probably wouldn’t bother me as much as it does, but this is just the latest in a string of incidents where he has literally thrown temper tantrums because I’ve asked for time off. Time off I rightfully have coming to me.  Whatever. I have a few prospects for replacement employment that I’m hoping will come to fruition in the next several weeks. Here’s to changes afoot.

On a different note, Media Party was last weekend. I again performed for a small group that had strayed up the hill from the larger gathering, and they seemed to enjoy what I had to offer. I haven’t really changed much for my show this year, except I now have a few smaller effects to draw people in before moving to the larger effects, and I have a few smaller close-up type things for when the crowds dwindle at the end of the day and we’re working in the audience.

I noticed a large wasp presence on our stage so we’ll need to get that taken care of Saturday morning as well as rearranging the benches so we have a center aisle and relocate a bunch to where they are supposed to be.

Just putting this out there: What one effect or illusion would you like to see at the Renaissance festival?

Where to go?

I went south to visit the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival held at the Castle of Muskogee this past weekend. Although I was not performing at this show it is one that I would like to get into eventually.  Many of the people I talk to say it is a refreshing change to have an owner that actually takes part in his festival; one that is wiling to make changes and improvements midweek if it means a better patron experience.

I will be returning to Oklahoma in two weeks, over the Memorial Day weekend, hopefully with a few illusions to perform in the streets of Castleton. 

The other show I’d like to get into is St. Louis which runs mid-May to early June (four weekends total). It’s been many years since I made the trip to St Louis (probably around 2000 or 2001) and I understand they have been experiencing some growing pains lately. It was also recently announced that the same company that manages the Kansas City Renaissance Festival will be doing the same for St Louis. This is good news for me because it means I can use KCRF to audition for StLRF.

The problem is that these shows overlap, OKRF runs all weekends of May and StLRF runs four weekends starting mid May. Can’t do them both at the same time, so which one would I rather do?

Decisions, decisions…

Mentors

I’ve been meaning to do this since the middle of October, and then I got involved with the Phantoms Feast thing, Halloween, life… But I’d like to take some time to talk about my mentors; those people that have helped me along the way to be the performer I am today. I’m sure I should have more than the few listed, but these are the first that come to mind.

I’ve mentioned working at the Wizards Tower with Steve, and I supposed Steve would be the latest in a short list of performers that have in some way influenced me and my act. As I’ve mentioned before, going into this past season at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival I hadn’t performed in front of any sizable audiences and it showed. It wasn’t for lack of trying.  I just hadn’t performed around other performers or people that understand magic and comedy,  and because of that I hadn’t had any real constructive feedback about my act for years. Being on The Tower allowed another performer that I respect to give me that feedback I so desperately needed. Steve was always generous with a line or an idea I could incorporate to improve my show.

For example, he gave me pointers on a new effect that I was working on early in the season; I had the basic idea but not the subtleties that come with doing magic for 30+ years.  I ended up not adding it to the act full time, but it ended up being great for those times when I needed something a little different in the show.

For me, personally, this was a year of growth, and Steve helped me when he saw I was struggling.  Those that saw the show at the beginning of the season, and then again at the end of the season have said that the show got better.

Call me when you’ve done a thousand shows…

Rod Sipe AKA Dr. Dumpe was another person that took me under his wing. My first year doing my own show at the Renfest back in 1999, he would come up to watch my show and give me some pointers. I was the young kid and he was the seasoned vet, so of course I listened. I’d seen the size if his audiences and that’s what I wanted, BIG audiences.

My next two years at the festival were the same, and then the following year my show was not renewed because of budget cuts. I still went out to the festival, I just didn’t have anything to do.

The following year Rod approached me about doing the suspended straitjacket escape that his son used to do. My job offstage was to do the grunt work (i.e. be a roadie) and I had no problem doing that, I was going to learn from the master.

Where else can you get paid to practice?

That’s the way it was, I did the heavy lifting and Rod survived to perform another day.  If you ask him today, he’ll tell you I saved his life. Between shows he would analyze the show we just got done doing and make changes in what I should be doing while on stage, and then we’d talk. He’d tell stories about places he’d been, people he’d met, crazy antics he’d got up to growing up, etc. And that’s the way it was day after day, I’d keep my head down and eyes open and just absorb everything. 

After doing the jacket for three years we moved to a less strenuous stunt with the broken glass. This was something I’d never seen done before and most of it was made up on the fly. Now, after hundreds of performances it’s become a showpiece; something to make the audience gasp and squirm. 

Anybody can buy a magic trick and call themselves a magician, it takes a performer to entertain!

Before that I have to go back to high school for another mentor, although at the time it didn’t feel that way. I worked at Worlds of Fun in the late 80’s for a guy that ran the Fool the Guesser game. I don’t even remember his name now. This was before WOF bought him out and started staffing it themselves. I learned a little about how to grab peoples attention and keep the crowd entertained for a few minutes while I made my guess. For two summers I guessed ages, weights, and birthday months.  Looking back now it’s more nostalgia than anything else, but man those were some good times. 

Hurry Hurry Hurry! Who’s gonna be next to try and fool the guesser!

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.