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!

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.