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Brent Allan
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I have been recently reading the thread regarding "Tricks at Medieval Markets" with much interest. So, I thought I would look into taking advantage of the collective wisdom of this group.

First, a little about me-
I have been performing as a part-time pro for 15 years. I have done all types, from close-up (restaurants) to illusions to mentalism. I have also attended the local Ren Faire (Bristol in Wisconsin) for longer than that. So I am very familiar with magic, Ren Faires, as well as disected some of the more successful Ren Faire acts I have seen.

Now for the point of this posting- I just received my first Ren Faire gig. I will be performing this summer at the Bristol faire. I have my act, and have done normal festivals before (typical Summer festivals.) Obviously, the staff of the faire will be helping me adapt my act to be more authentic, act as a director, etc. However, seeing as you guys seem to have so much experience in this area, my request is simply this: Please share with me any nuggets of wisdom that you feel will help me expand to this new venue.

Keep in mind, I am a good performer with a good show. I am not a newbie that needs his hand held. But I understand that every new venue poses its own challenges and rewards. So please share.

Thanx in advance.
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MagiUlysses
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Greetings and Salutations,

Performing at Bristol, eh? I'm extremely jealous (as I would love to perform there), and disappointed (I usually make it up there every year for the past five, anyway) as a trip to Bristol is not in the cards this year so I'll miss your act.

Get a hold of Bill Palmer, he's literally written the book on performing magic at renfests, and his notes have a great bill in lemon routine and a chop cup routine, if those are up your alley.

While me experience is limited at best compared to some of the posters here, much traditional street/busker wisdom will apply to your act. Are you a lane act and wandering about the faire, or do you have a stage and set schedule? Pack light and get the best footware you can possibly afford if you're going to be wandering all day (Your feet will thank you, trust me!). If you're on a stage the footware advise still applies and watch your times! As a performer who had to follow performers who went over their allotted times, I can tell you that nothing will yank the chains of your fellow performers faster than not getting off the stage when you're supposed to.

Do some digging around here. There have been a number of threads on the subject, and the above-mentioned Bill Palmer, Payne, Harry Murphy, and others can and do speak from years and years of renfest experience.

God's Speed and Fare Thee Well,

Joe in KC

"Live a great adventure, make magic happen, have an interesting life!"
Allan Given
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Congratulations on getting Bristol! I will definitely come up and check out your show this season!

Allan
Kondini
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Not having performed at a US Fair, the only advice I can pass on would be to perform as a street type act, plenty of specky use,rappor with the crowd as a whole,plenty of volume.
Having seen quite a few US Ren acts I think that Johnny Fox has the perfect mix and his is great as a street act as well.
Brent Allan
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Joe,

Thanx for the advice. I will be doing both types of performing (wandering and stage). From working other non-renaissance festivals, I am well acquainted with the need to dress comfortably, as well as being flexible as far as the scheduling.

I have read Bill Palmer's posts on this forum, so I was hoping he would chime in and respond to this thread, His notes sound like I could benefit from them, so maybe he will give me more info about them.

I have read Gazzo's "Art of Krowd Keeping" which is a very basic intro to street performing, so I am not going into this blind.

lOOKING FORWARD TO OTHERS WHO HAVE NUGGETS OF WISDOM TO SHARE.
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Bill Palmer
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Brent:

I am a nightcrawler, so I didn't have a chance to see your post until now.

I am sure Kondini means well with his post, but he doesn't understand that the performer does not get to say when and where he will perform at American Renaissance Festivals. The management decides this. It's far more restrictive than most people imagine. Most Faires give the false impresson of totally impromptu performance. OTOH, he may have been referring to the content of Jonny's act.

Jonny Fox does have one of the best combinations in his act. With the excetpion of one piece, he could do his whole act either as a path show or a stage show. BTW, he was the only magician to make an elephant vanish at a renaissance festival. I was onstage when he did it. It ruined the Globe theatre at the Texas Renaissance Festival, but it was a very clever illusion.

Much of what Gazzo has to offer in his "Art of Krowd Keeping" makes sense at Ren Faires, but there are factors at Ren Faires that do not exist in normal street work.

PM me for info about the notes.
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

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BerkleyJL
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Brent,

Congrats on getting the fair! Now I know I have to get up there so Jason & I can see your act.
I need a stage name.

Joe Berkley
Kondini
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Thanks Bill, you are right my comments come from working UK Fairs only. It seems that over here flexability is the norm giving the performer latitude seems to get more from the performer.
In recent years the more abstract the performance the more popular the performer,,,I don`t go along with this myself but to keep working requires us to give the booker what they "Think" they want.

Also to save on costing an act would do three set spots a day either on their own stage unit or a supplied central stage,,,then between shows do mix and mingle interspersed with up to three processions around the ground,,you have to give your pound of flesh.

It seems in the US that the whole thing is presented in a more regimental way.
I agree that the Art of Krowd Keeping has many of the tags required for Fair work.
Bill Palmer
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Yes, that's true about our faires. In fact, when I was ED at TRF, I learned exactly how to take a crowd from the opening gate and move it around the various parts of the fairegrounds by "pulsing" the entertainment. You learn what acts to place at various locations at different times of the day, so you can start making the patrons march out the front gate at the right time.

We had 6 main stages and two minor stages, plus two dozen "path locations" and four small music stages distributed around the grounds. There was also a jousting arena/race track.

If we didn't have some way of coordinating everything, it would be absolutely impossible to make anything happen at all!
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
Payne
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The biggest mistake I see the novice Ren Faire performer make is by trying to do too much at the same time.
The language barrier is the biggest.
I've seen a few magicians who were quite elegant and eloquent become ham-handed jabberers as they try to translate their day-to-day patter into fair-speak extemporaneously.
Script script script and then set it to memory. Don't try to improvise in Elizabethan until you get a good feel for it.
Practice in your costume. Most period attire is devoid of pockets so all those tricks that require one will have to be reworked. If you can wear your outfit around for a few days to get the feel of it. After all these are not costumes but your clothes. You should look and feel as natural in them as you do in a T-Shirt and Jeans.
Get yourself a good gibeciere. I prefer a ring style side purse to the full front apron but either is a must as this is pretty much going to be the only pocket you'll have. Once you get used to it you'll find it hard to perform without one.
Select effects that play big can be done under adverse situations such as wind and bad angles and require no setup time. Everything I perform in my set can almost be done surrounded, doesn't require a side table and comes out of my basket set up and ready to perform. I can set up my show and break it down in less than a minute.
I hope these few suggestions helps you put a successful ren faire act together.
"America's Foremost Satirical Magician" -- Jeff McBride.
Bill Palmer
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Those are all very good suggestions. You can tell who has actually "done it" and who hasn't.

I used one ring style purse for a while, then went to two of them. Later, I got the setup I know use, which is a two bag arrangement with removable flaps. This keeps the kiddies out of the pouches when you are walking around.

Magical Mystical Michael had more pouches on his belt than anyone I ever saw. But his arrangement worked for him.

And by all means, practice in your costume. And don't skimp on quality, either. Everything from your shoes to your hat should be high quality. It took me a long time to find the shoes I wanted. When I would walk out on stage, people would say, "Look at those shoes! How cool!"
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
bropaul
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I worked the Bristol Faire in 1991. It was a hot faire and the air doesn't move too much there. I was just in from working the California Faires and I had to tone it down a bit for the families. But once I found the pace of the festival it was great.

I'm guessing that you will be doing stage sets that last 30 minutes. Remember you have to hawk your show and pass the hat in that 30 minutes. Set your show for 16 to 18 minutes. Then you will have time to get people in the theater and get that hat passed in time without running over on the next act. (Which is a big No-No).

Since my routines are set to run 6 to 8 minutes, I have time for 3 tricks. A good opener and a heart felt hat pass and I'm on my way.

So don't over pack. If you are doing street, then do a short show. 10 to 15 minutes is max. People are standing and moving fast. I do an opener my cups and then a rope routine with a ring on rope to finish off. Kind of a weird combo, but it works for me on the streets of a Renaissance Festival.

In any case I've been doing these for 20 years or so and I think the key is to set the show and pack light. Congratulations and I wish you good luck and continued success.
Bro. Paul West

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Doc Dixon
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Brent,

Re: the "language barrier" of renfests. Here's a technique that makes this much easier. At first, don't focus on accent. Focus on phrasing and vocabulary. Much easier to achieve illusion of authenticity that way.

Second, remember that only a small percentage of most festival audiences will be sensitive to "historical considerations." The vast majority are families just out for a good time. Please them and you have 99% of your work done for you. (Saying this, I don't think any ren act should include a ton of anachronisms.) Re: that, make sure your act can appeal to a wide age demographic -- the 5 year old kid and his father with 5 beers in him.

And it can't be stated enough: GET COMFORTABLE REN SHOES. You're not going to be able to wear normal street shoes in this venue and you'll be on your feet for most of the day, so take the initial hit and spend some bucks on decent "ren shoes."

Another tip: end your show on time. Even a minute over -- if habitual -- is TOTALLY unacceptable. There is no easier way to make the other acts dislike you than going over time. I once worked with an act like this. His lack of professionalism drove me nuts (that and his act was mediocre on his best day). Long story short -- he's no longer at that festival.

Go over time one day -- the acts on your stage can't stand you. Go over time 2 days -- the other acts at the festival can't stand you. Go over 3 days -- the ED can't stand you. I know this is an obvious point, but it bares stating that punctuality is EXTRA important in this venue. It's just the right thing to do.

Another important tip: Learn how to hawk. Hawking is a "job skill" that sets this venue apart from most. How to learn? Watch those that do it well and study the "why" of it. Obviously, don't take their lines, but try to get the psychology of what draws a crowd at this venue. It's not something that I can explain in print, but you'll know it when you see it.

There's really no better way to learn than to watch the best acts and analyze, just like the hawking. I was fortunate enough to work with one of the best my first year in the renfest market. Made all the difference.

Hope my 2 cents help.

Good luck at Bristol.

DD
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Bill Palmer
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Doc is absolutely right about time. When I set out the acts for TRF, I had everything timed so that each act pushed the crowd along the site. Disney does the same thing. It's very subtle. Most people don't know it is happening.

If you run over time, say, five minutes, then the next act has to either start late and end early or he runs over. If everyone runs over, then by the time the last act starts, you are almost an hour out of sync.

I used to go out to Scarborough Faire the week before the show started, so I could get my illusions out into the storage room. I would check the signboards to see if there were any new acts on my stages. Invariably, the conversation would go like this:

Are you the "Fooles of Insanity?"

"Yes."

"I'm Merlin. I'll be sharing the stage with you. By the way, how long is your act?"

"Oh, about 30 minutes."

"Let me ask you this one more time. How long is your act?"

"About 30 minutes."

"In other words, you don't really know how long your act is, do you? Have you ever done one of these shows before?"

"Well, Uh, no, uh, we haven't."

"Okay, here's the situation. You have a 30 minute time slot. MarcoM is on right before you. He will be off at 25 minutes after his starting time, so you have 5 minutes to set up, and then you can start. You need to be completely through in 25 minutes. That means, your act, your hat pass, everything, so I can set up. In their great wisdom, the management here has decreed that there will be continuous entertainment on these stages, and they don't give us time to turn the crowd or anything. If you run over, you will throw the whole schedule off."

"Oh. We will time our act, then."

45 minutes pass.

"We timed our act. It is exactly 30 minutes long."

"Well, you need to get rid of at least 5 minutes."

"Why?"

"Because I'm the last person that you want to run over on. Trust me."

"What should we do?"

"Dick Zimmerman used to say, to have a good 25 minute show, take a mediocre 30 minute show and throw out the weakest 5 minutes."

About 30 minutes of discussion followed among the group. Then they rehearsed. By the time I had finished unloading and setting up the illusions, they had gotten rid of the extra 5 minutes.

"Well, we have gotten it down to 25 minutes."

"Great!!! Oh, by the way, you did allow for audience response, didn't you? You know, laughter, applause, etc. You are expecting these things, aren't you?"

"Oh."

"Throw out three more minutes."

So the big day comes. The "Fooles of Insanity" run over 5 minutes. When they come offstage, I say, "Okay. This is a warning. Don't run over on me again or you will really regret it."

"What are you going to do if we do?"

"You don't want to know."

So Sunday, they ran over again. My show was at 11:00. At exactly 11:00, I started bringing my props on stage, while they were juggling, and began to hawk my show while they were passing their hats. They got zip. But they never ran over on me again.

It may sound unprofessional. It isn't. It's one of the most important lessons they can have. And if it doesn't hit them in the pocketbook, they won't remember it.

Unprofessional would have been to walk out and punch them in the snoot.

If you run over in Vegas, they dock your pay. Someone has to pay the tech crew and the musicians for the extra hour or portion thereof that they are entitled to.
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
bropaul
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Good job Doc and Bill... As I said above and it has always worked for me if you have a half hour slot you need a 16 minute magic show. Interestingly, when I have 45 minute slots, I only add 10 minutes to the show I'm doing. So I block out a 25 minute show for a 45 minute slot. It seems that when I have a 45 the pace of the show is a bit slower so I have to add less "stuff" to the show.

Also listen to Doc about shoes. I worked these shows for over 14 years before I sprung for the 3 button boots that are made for your feet. It was the best thing that I ever did. I never knew the difference, but once I spent the 400.00 US, my feet, hips and back all got better and better. Do it right away.

Have a great time in Bristol. May hearts be light and hats be heavy...
Bro. Paul West

www.BrotherPaulMagic.com
ed rhodes
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Absolutly great post, Bill. I don't know if I'll ever do a Ren Faire. But if I do, the first thing I'm doing is searching through this board for your name and printing out and trying to memorize everything you've said!

I also like the bit someone posted about scripting your show! Very few people can improvise, much less do it in faux Elizabethian.


Where would you get a costume?

Me again. Actually, Google searches are very usefull although most of the companies seem to cater to women's Ren Faire costumes.

Also http://www.renfaire.com seems to abound in information from costumes to accents!
"There's no time to lose," I heard her say.
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Bill Palmer
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When I first started doing RenFaires, there were few costumes or patterns available. We generally improvised. I wore some plain square-toed boots, which seemed apropos, a purple robe, with a gray over robe and a pointy hat. Two years later, the fellow who owned the festival decided to make me the ED, and he had a professional costumer design a robe for me. It was very expensive, but as a bonus, George (the owner) gave it to me as a gift. Since then, my wife has dissected the original costume and made several clones of it for replacements.

With all of the insterest in Renfaires, though, there are more sources for appropriate dress. First you need to find a really good book on historical costume. Check with James Townsend & Co. for some really good men's trousers and shirts.

Highland kilts are not period at all, but "great kilts" are. Usually a "great kilt" looks rather unkempt. This is why I would often approach a would-be Scot with, "Laddie -- that's a great kilt, but no a good kilt!"

One hint. Although some of the SCA members will jump on me for saying this, avoid SCA-sponsored sites. They tend to be "gentry-heavy." There were far more peasants and far fewer gentry during that time period.
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
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