Category Archives: Magic

Magic in general.

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 That said, 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.

Don’t dream it’s over…

It’s been about a week since the Kansas City Renaissance Festival finished up it’s 2013 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”.

Links to the dragons are below…

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.

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.

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.

Weekend Number Two – KCRF

Typical of KCRF’s second weekend is the numbers slump, and no place was that more evident than at the Wizards Tower this weekend. Temperatures both days were at or near 100 degrees and people were not always willing to sit in the heat to watch a show. When I was able to get a small group to sit down I could typically start the show small and build the audience as the show progressed, but by about two pm each day the number of patrons had dwindled to the point of being imaginary. Steve and I ended up spending much of the afternoon doing tag team magic close-up in the seating which seemed to go over well for those that were there.

Sunday was no better, the first two audiences were so small I didn’t even pass the hat. However that did not stop several people from tipping me anyway. 🙂 I also had an older man ask if I was willing to travel to do a show this winter in Nebraska at his Scottish Rite Temple. Of course I told him I was open to it and he asked a price. I should have told him to contact me after the run but I gave him a price anyway and he didn’t seem too shocked, so I guess I’ll see what develops from that. My third show got an unusual boost from one member of the Rouges of Kansas City who decided he was  going to give me an audience one way or another. So I stood patiently as he shouted and drew the people in sometimes simply telling them to “get over here and sit down!” Former cop don’t take no sh*t! LOL.

This show featured a change in the straitjacket routine (courtesy of Steve Payton) that went over much better than expected. We also discussed a solution to the lack of microphone during the jacket escape and now have a fix I need to manufacture this week. Also discussed was another routine I’m working on and have been practicing for several weeks. It’s not ready for “prime time” but I did get the opportunity today to test it on a few willing audience members and after seeing it Steve offered a couple of ideas that may help it be more effective for me.

One of the more humorous things that happened this weekend was the sudden sound of Dr. Dumpé coming from our sound system. It seems I can leave his show but his voice will be with me always. Must be the psychic bond…

Thoughts on the weekend.

Now that I’m outside the rush of an opening weekend, I want to put down a few thoughts that I can revisit later. This may ramble on but here goes:

Rod called me Friday and said he needed some help at the faire site. Little did I know I was in for a surprise. Ron Taylor aka Capt. Goldtooth had been asked by Rod this spring to make a banner for me. I found out about it on my trip to the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival and had assumed that I would get it on Saturday morning before the morning meeting. I had no clue what the banner would look like or say, but let me tell you, it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.  Ron had incorporated lots of ideas from Rod using things we’d come up with during our shows together. They (with the help of my lovely sneaky wife) had also come up with a new stage name for my show. I am now Marvelous Matt! “Part time Hair Model / Stunt Double for Fabio and Kid Rock…” Really you have to see the banner to believe the amount of work that went into it. I am truly blessed with some of the best friends one could ask for.

The new banner!!

Concerning Steve, he is as laid back as I am. He’s offering advice on things he notices during my shows, and I’ve incorporated a few of them. He’s trying to be helpful with out sounding pushy, and because he’s been performing a lot longer than I have I value his input. He is the veteran on the Wizards Tower and his advice has been very helpful. He wants to make sure things are “fair” meaning swapping who goes first each day so that both of us are doing well as far as tips go. He says they have figured out over the years that traffic up there tends to come in waves and it wouldn’t be fair if someone got all the good traffic all the time. I’m fine with it, I’m the new guy.

Saturday morning when I arrived in the rain I discovered that one of the lag bolts that holds up the shade had pulled loose from the tower structure. It looked like the wood had simply rotted and the weight of the rain pulled it out. Since Steve wasn’t there yet I went and asked my mentor and friend Rod if he could give me a hand getting it fixed. By the time I walked back up to the tower Steve had arrived and I showed him what had happened and told him Rod was on his way up. He drilled a new pilot hole and we replaced the bolt, got the turnbuckle reattached and it was good the rest of the weekend. With no rain forecast for the week I’m hoping it will last the remainder of the run. I’m already calculating a permanent fix in an overly engineered way using u-bolts and plates to spread the strain over a larger area.

It’s nice having enough show material that I can swap in and out at will to find what works in this venue. Monday morning (Labor Day) I had a particularly rough show, with a screaming baby, and another grown-up woman in the front row that wouldn’t shut up. In talking to Steve about it afterwards, I came to the realization that even though I never wanted to do kids shows, that’s what a good portion of my show had developed into. This week I’m going to see If I can put together a few things aimed a bit higher on the age range and work them into the show next week. I’ve got the material, I’ve just become complacent in where I’m at and this weekend showed me I can do better.

Because there are only two of us on this stage I miss talking with someone between shows. When I worked with Rod we would talk between shows about everything, the show, our wives, the magic club, etc. Now? Not so much. Steve and I talk while we’re setting up between shows, but it’s not the same. I guess, I don’t feel like I’m getting to decompress between shows. There isn’t the same camaraderie like I was used to. I’m not saying that it won’t develop over the next several weeks but right now I feel a little alone.

On the upside Monday afternoon as we were packing up Steve told me he feels such a sense of relief that I am on the tower with him. He was worried that we’d butt heads or I’d be completely out of touch about performing. He also indirectly paid me a compliment to a friend of his that went something along the lines of, “If I say something needs to be done, Matt does it before I can get to it. I’m not used to that.” It’s what I did for Rod, set-up tear down, whatever needed done I did, and it become habit.

Overall, I’m optimistic that the tower will be good to me and I’ll be good for the tower. With three days down and thirteen more to go with at least five shows a day, I’m sure to find my groove sooner rather than later.

It’s a show

Well into day two now and things are going well. Not as hot as yesterday but audiences are still a little thin. I’m really enjoying being back on stage at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival. Things are gelling well and Steve has been very helpful in figuring things out. Because of the “continuous magic” tradition at the tower we don’t really have any sort of schedule other than trading places every 40 minutes or so.

Last time I was doing my solo show at KCRF, was ten years ago and at a very small stage in what was more or less a dead end. Tips weren’t very good back then and the lack of traffic made it even worse but I had to start somewhere.

Several performers that have mentored me over the years asked how my hat (tips) had been yesterday and compared to the pittance I made all those years ago, the Wizards Tower is awesome. Audiences are very receptive to what I am doing and I can’t wait until the audiences get large enough to be self sustaining.