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.

 

The State of the Show

I know I haven’t updated since last fall. You’d think I would have noticed, but alas I did not. I’m hoping your Fall and Winter have been good to you and that Spring brings you new growth and prosperity.

I’ve had a fairly mundane several months, except for a tropical vacation in February, and I am really looking forward to the upcoming months as my show schedule fills up.

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It appears I’ll be traveling again to the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival for a few weekends in May and then in June I will be returning to Great Bend for their June Jaunt celebrations.

I’ve been working a a few new items that I hope to try out at both events so that they are ready for the Kansas City Renaissance Festival in the Fall. Fingers crossed that it all works out for the best.

playing cards

 

 

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.

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!