Thursday, 31 May 2012

Neil Gaiman's Advice for Young Artists

For those of you just beginning your journey down the Way of the Showman the share immensity of becoming an artist can sometimes feel paralyzingly difficult. The following talk, although delivered to graduates of 2012 class of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia delivered by Neil Gaiman might just be the words you need to hear.

Below follows a short, point form distillation of his ideas. The list was compiled by Open Culture.
  1. Embrace the fact that you’re young. Accept that you don’t know what you’re doing. And don’t listen to anyone who says there are rules and limits.
  2. If you know your calling, go there. Stay on track. Keep moving towards it, even if the process takes time and requires sacrifice.
  3. Learn to accept failure. Know that things will go wrong. Then, when things go right, you’ll probably feel like a fraud. It’s normal.
  4. Make mistakes, glorious and fantastic ones. It means that you’re out there doing and trying things.
  5. When life gets hard, as it inevitably will, make good art. Just make good art.
  6. Make your own art, meaning the art that reflects your individuality and personal vision.
  7. Now a practical tip. You get freelance work if your work is good, if you’re easy to get along with, and if you’re on deadline. Actually you don’t need all three. Just two.
  8. Enjoy the ride, don’t fret the whole way. Stephen King gave that piece of advice to Neil years ago.
  9. Be wise and accomplish things in your career. If you have problems getting started, pretend you’re someone who is wise, who can get things done. It will help you along.
  10. Leave the world more interesting than it was before.
His main point is not to worry about what others think, just make Good Art.
"Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong — and in life, and in love, and in business, and in friendship, and in health, and in all the other ways in which life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid, or evil, or it’s all been done before? Make good art. "
(Quote from Brain Pickings.)

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Neil Gaiman on Feedback

{un-numbered Lesson from the Way of the Showman}

The following quote about how to interpret the feedback people give on your work has given me a whole new way of interpreting what people say about my work. To improve our writing, performing and creating we must seek advice from others, but getting others input on our work can sometimes be confusing since if you ask five people you will get five different opinions on what isn't working and what to do to fix it. Here is what Neil Gaiman has to say about it, hope it Illuminates you.

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
This advice came from the list below. 

1. Write.
2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
7. Laugh at your own jokes.
8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

(From Open Culture)

Monday, 28 May 2012

George Carl

When a certain kind of person sees my tennis racket act they immediately think of George Carl. The hysterical little man with the sticky fingers which got more laughs than any from his persistent struggles with his microphone and stand. Here he is.
pic - Ramirez Family Workshop
George Carl (7 May 1916 – 1 January 2000) was a "vaudevillian" style comic & clown. Carl was born in Ohio, and started his comedy career traveling with a variety of circuses during his teenage years. In time, Carl would become internationally famous as a clown and visual comedian.

There is very little info about the life and times of this great clown available online. If anyone knows of any I would be very interested in hearing about it. I know he was the resident clown at the Crazy Horse Paris for several years, but don't know when... That said, I am proud to have performed at Crazy Horse too, following in the footsteps of such luminaries as George Carl, Finn Jon, and Otto Wesley.

Buy this poster here...
George Carl made his film debut in Funny Bones. He was 79 when the movie was made in 1995. The film is absolutely tremendous and a must see for any Illuminated Showman or circus enthusiast.
In it George plays a version of his silent stage character which only speaks once and when it does it is beautiful.

"Our suffering is special.                  

The pain we feel is

worse than anyone else.
But the sunrise we see is

more beautiful than anyone else.                 

The Parkers the moon.                   

There's one side forever dark.

Invisible. As it should be.                  

But remember, the dark moon

draws the tides also.                  

Our time has come."                  

"That's the most wonderful thing

You've said in years."       

"That's the only thing I said in years."
Full transcript of the movie here.
George Carl in the middle.

Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.
Mark Twain

Here is a beautiful high energy, tight version of the act from the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson

"George Carl around the mid-1950's acting up in the yard with his wife and brother. Somewhere in Ohio."

"Uncle George (George Carl) back in the 60's practicing in our front yard in Mineral Ridge, Ohio. In this video he demonstrates his innate acrobatic abilities." (Both these gorgeous super 8 films have been put up on youtube by wilberwisom.)

From about nine minuets thirty, George comes back and does an encore. A clown on a tightrope... Also he does more of his silly walking both in the beginning and the end.

This is a rare glimpse of Goerge and others (Francis Brunn,Natahlie Enterline,George Carl,Rudy Coby,Michael Moschen,Karen Carmichael) in a home movie / road movie / behind the scenes look at a show which toured Germany in 1992.  (youtube channel of mikechirrick)
George appears at about 2.20.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

The Oldest Trick in the Book

A few weeks ago we used a picture of some 4000 year old engravings from an Egyptian tomb in a post. Then we focused on the jugglers. This time we take a look at the magicians, if that is what they are.
"The cemetery — called Beni Hasan (also Bani Hasan, or Beni-Hassan) — contains 150 tombs, and the image of the jugglers is found in what is known as the 15th tomb. The tomb dates back to around 4,000 years ago, between 1994 and 1781 B.C.  
 The markings seems to depict the first ever visual representation of Showmen. Last time the picture showed jugglers, but on the same wall there are also two figures that could be seen as magicians doing one of the, literally, the oldest trick in the book, in this case a wall.
Even if we disregard the interpretation of the hieroglyphs as magicians the cups and balls still remains the earliest trick depicted. In a 15th century painting by Hieronymus Bosch we see the trick portrayed so there is no doubt of what's going on.

The Conjuror - circa 1474

In the following clip the brilliant magical duo of Penn and Teller pays homage to the archeological depictions and a trick with a very rich history, with characteristically irreverent and clever versions of the routine.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Dario Fo - The Birth of the Jongleur

Dario Fo.
A jongleur was an itinerant medieval entertainer proficient in juggling, acrobatics, music, and recitation so in other words a Showman.
In 1997 Dario Fo was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his book Mistero Buffo, Comic Mysteries. But it wasn't just a book, it was ancient stories Fo had collected and rewritten into one-person plays. In his performances he acted out all the roles in the tradition of a medieval jongleur who presents the underdog's disrespect for authority. The Nobel Prize press release describe their reason as giving him the award for "emulating the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden."

"He if anyone merits the epithet of jester in the true meaning of that word. With a blend of laughter and gravity he opens our eyes to abuses and injustices in society and also the wider historical perspective in which they can be placed. Fo is an extremely serious satirist with a multifaceted oeuvre. His independence and clear-sightedness have led him to take great risks, whose consequences he has been made to feel while at the same time experiencing enormous response from widely differing quarters."
Mixing the sacred and the burlesque, the episodes subvert accepted wisdom and challenge entrenched authority. Among the play’s twelve episodes the a key text is the Birth of a Jongeleur, an excerpt of this play on the Nobel's Committee's website. Her is the story in full, prefaced by some words about the text by Dario Fo himself.

Fresco from 1100 showing a
Jongleur in the role of drunkard.
"What does this piece relate? We see a jongleur, explaining how, before he became a jongleur, he was a peasant, and that it was Christ who changed him into a jongleur. How did it happen that Christ gave him this new profession? It was because he used to own land, but a landowner tried to take the land away from him. I say no more, because there's not really much that I can add. The piece speaks for itself. Don't worry if at first you don't understand some of what I say. The sense, the gestures and sounds inolved will help you. By my gestures and by the sounds of the piece, you will easily grasp the meaning of this."
The following piece is based on a comic mystery first written down in the thirteenth century.

(Translated by Ed Emery in 1983.)

Kind people, gather round and listen. The jongleur is here! I am the jongleur. I leap and pirouette, and make you laugh. I make fun of those in power, and I show you how puffed up and conceited are the big-shots who go around making wars in which we are the ones who get slaughtered. I reveal them forwhat they are. I pull out the plug, and... pssss... they deflate. Gather round, for now is the time and place that I begin to clown and teach you. I tumble, I sing and I joke! Look how my tongue whirls, almost like a knife. Remember that. But I have not always been... Well, I would like to tell you how it was that I came to be.

I was not born a jongleur; I didn't suddenly turn up as I am now, with a sudden gust from the skies and, hopla, there I was: 'Good day... Hello'. No! I am the result of a miracle! A miracle which was carried out on me. Do you believe me? This is how it came about! I was born a peasant. A peasant? Yes, a real countryman. I was happy, I was sad, I had no land. No! I worked as all of us work in these valleys, wherever I could. And one day I came by a mountain, a mountain all of rock. It was nobody's. I found that out. I asked people. 'No! Nobody wants this mountain!'
Well, I went up to its peak, and I scratched with my nails, and I saw that there was a little bit of earth there, and I saw that there was a little trickle of water coming down. So I began to scratch further. I went down to the riverbank, and I wore my fingers to the bone bringing earth up onto this mountain. And my children and my wife were there. My wife is sweet, sweet and fair, with two round breasts, and a gentle way of walking that reminds you of a heifer as she moves. Oh, she is beautiful! I love her, and it gives me pleasure to speak of her.
Anyway, I carried earth up in my own hands, and the grass grew so fast! Pfff... ! It grew of its own accord. You've no idea how beautiful it was! It was like gold dust! I would stick in my hoe, and pfff... a tree sprang forth. That earth was a miracle! A marvel! There were poplars, oaks and other trees everywhere. I sowed them when the moon was right; I knew what had to be done, and there, sweet, fine, handsome crops grew. There was chicory, thistles, beans, turnips, there was everything. For me, for us!
Oh, how happy I was! We used to dance, and then it would rain for days on end, and then the sun would blaze, and I would come, and go, and the moons were always right, and there was never too much wind, or too much mist. It was beautiful, beautiful! It was our land. This set of terrace was really beautiful. Every day I built another one. It was like the tower of Babel, beautiful, with all these terraces. It was paradise, paradise on earth! I swear it. And all the peasants used to pass by, saying:
'That's amazing, look what you've managed to bring forth out of this pile of rocks! How stupid that I never thought of that!'

And they were envious. One day, the lord of the whole valley passed by. He took a look and said:
'Where did this tower spring up from? Whose is this land?'
'It's mine,' I said. 'I made it myself, with these hands. It was nobody's.'
'Nobody's? That 'Nobody's' is a word that doesn't exist. It's mine!'
'No! It's not yours! I've even been to the lawyer, and he told me it was nobody's. I asked the priest, and he said it was nobody's. And I built it up, piece by piece.'
'It's mine, and you have to give it to me.'
'I cannot give it to you, sir. I cannot go and work for others.'
'I'll pay you for it;I'll give you money. Tell me how much you want.'
'No! No, I don't want money, because if you give me money, then I'll not be able to buy other land with the money that you give me, and I'll have to go an work for others again. No, I don't want to. I won't.'
'Give it to me.'
Then he laughed, and went away. The next day the priest came, and he told me:
'The land belongs to he Lord of the Valley. Be sensible, give it up. Don't play the fool. Beware, because he is a powerful, evil lord. Give up this land. In the name of God, be sensible!'
'No!' I told him. 'I won't.'
And I made a rude gesture at im with my hand. Then the lawyer arrived too. He was sweating, by heaven, when he came up the mountain to find me.
'Be sensible. There are laws... and you should know that you can't... that, for you...'
'No! No!'
And I made a rude gesture at him too, and he went away, swearing.
But the lord didn't give up. No! He began by coming on hunting expeditions, and he sent all the hares chasing over my land. With his horses and his friends, he galloped to and fro across my land, breaking down my hedges. Then one day, he set fire to all my land. It was summer; a drought. He set fire to the whole of my mountain, and burned everything, even my animals and my house. But I wouldn't leave! I waited, and that night it began to rain. After the rain, I began to clear up, and put the fence posts back in position, and replace stones, and bring up fresh earth, and water everything. I was determined, by heaven, that I wouldn't move from there! And I did not move!
But one day he arrived, along with all his soldiers, and he was laughing. We were in the fields, my children, my wife and I. We were working. He arrived. He got down from his horse. He undid his breeches. He came over to my wife, grabbed her, threw her to the ground, ripped off her skirt and... I tried to move, but the soldiers held me fast. And he leapt upon her, and took her as if she were a cow. And I and the children had to stand there, with our eyes bursting from our heads, watching... I moved forward, with a leap. I managed to free myself. I took a hoe, and I shouted:
'You bastards!'
'Stop,' my wife cried. 'Don't do it. That's all they want, that's exactly what they are waiting for. If you raise your stick, then they will kill you. Don't you understand? They want to kill you and take away your land. That's all they want. He is bond to defend himself. It's not worth taking your stand against him. You have no honour to defend. You're poor, you're a peasant, a country person, you cannot go thinking of honour and dignity. That is stuff for rich people, for lords and nobles They are entitled to get angry if people rape their wives and daughters. But you're not! Let itAnd I began to weep, weeping and looking all around. The children were weeping too. And the sodiers, with the lord of the valley, suddenly went off, laughing, happy and satisfied. We wept, how we wept! We could not even look each other in the eye. And when we went into the village, they began throwing rocks and stones at us. They shouted:
'Oh you ox, you who don't have the strength to defend your honour, because you have no honour. You are an animal. The lord has mounted your wife, and you stood there, wihout saying a word, for a handful of earth. You wretch!'
And when my wife went around the village:
'Whore, cow!' they shouted after her. And then they ran off. They would not even let her go intochurch. Nobody would let her! And the children couldn't go out in the village without everyone picking on them. And nobody would even look us in the eye. My wife ran off! I never saw her again; I don't know where she ended up. And my children wouldn't look at me. They fell ill, and wouldn't even cry. They died. I was left alone, alone, with this land. I didn't know what to do. One evening, I took a piece of rope, and threw it over a rafter. I put the noose around my neck, and said to myself:
'Right. Now I am going to end it all, now!'

I was just about to do it, just about to hang myself, when I felt a and on my shoulder. I turned round, and saw a fellow with big eyes and a pale face.
He says to me: 'Could you give me something to drink?'
'I ask you, in heaven's name, is this really the moment o come asking somebody for something to drink, when he's just about to hang himself?'
I look at him, and see that he too has the face of a poor wretch. Then I look further, and see that there are two mor men, and they too have faces full of suffering.
'Alright, I'll give you something to drink. And then I'll hang myself.'
So I go to get them something to drink, and I take a good look at them:
'Instead of something to drink, you people look as if you could do with something to eat! It's been days and days since I last cooked anything to eat... But anyway, if you want, there is food.'
I took a pan and put it on the fire to heat up some broad beans. I gave them some, one bowl apiece, and how they ate! I, personally, wasn't very hungry. 'I'll wait till they've finshed eating,' I thought, 'and then I'll hang myself.' Anyway, while they were eating, the one with the biggest eyes, who looked like a right poor devil, began to smile. He said:
'That's a terrible story, hat you're going to hang yourself. I know why you want to do it, though. You have lost everything, your wife, your children, and all you are left with is your land. Yes, I know how it is! But if I were you, I woldn't do it.'
And he carried on eating. How he ate! Then, in the end, he laid aside the utensils, and said:
'Do you know who I am?'
'No, but I've got an idea that you might be Jesus Christ.'
'Well done! You've guessed correctly. And this is St Peter, and that over there is St Mark.'
'Pleased to meet you! And what are you doing in these parts?'
'My friend, you've given me something to eat, and now I'm going to give you something to say.'
'Something to say? What is this 'something'?'
'You poor fellow! It's right that you have held onto your land; it is right that you don't want bosses over you; it is right that you have had the strength not to give in; it's right... I like you. You're a good man, a strong man. But you're missing something which is also right, and which you should have: here and here. (He points to his forehead and to his mouth) You shouldn't remain here stuck to your land. You should move around the country, and when people throw stones at you, you should tell them, and help them to understand, and deflate that great bladder of a landlord. You should deflate him with the sharpness of your tongue, and drain him of all his poison and his stinking bile. You must crush these nobles, these priests, and all those who surround them: notaries, lawyers, etc. Not only for your own good, for your own land, but also for those like yourself who don't have land, who have nothing, and whose only right is the right to suffer, and who have no dignity to boast of. Teach them to survive with their brains, not just with their hands!'
'But don't you understand? I am not able. I have a tongue which refuses to budge. I stumble over every word. I have no education, and my brain is weak and useless. How am I supposed to do he things you suggest, and go about speaking to other people?'
'Don't worry. You will now see a miracle.'
He took my head in his hands, and drew me to him. Then he said:

'I am Jesus Christ. I have come to give you the power of speech. And this tongue of yours will lash, and will slash like a sword, deflating inflated balloons all over the land. You will speak out against bosses, and crush them, so that others can understand and learn, so that others can laugh at them and make fun of them, because it is only with laughter that the bosses will be destroyed. When you laugh at the rulers, the ruler goes from being a mountain, to being a little molehill, and then a nothingness. Here, I shall give you a kiss, and that will enable you to speak.' He kissed me on the mouth. He kissed me for a long time. And suddenly I felt my tongue dart about inside my head, and my brain began to move, and my legs began to move with a mind of their own, and I went out in the streets of the village, and began to shout:

'Gather round, people! Gather round! hear ye! The jongleur is here! I am going to play a satire for you. I am going to joust with the lord of the land, for he is a great balloon, and I am going to burst him with the sharpness of my tongue. I shall tell you everything, how things come and go, and how it is not God who steals! It is those who steal and go unpunished... it is those who make big books of laws... They are the ones... And we must speak out, speak out. Listen, people – these rulers must be broken, they must be crushed...!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Monty Python Comedy Lecture

From their Live at the Hollywood Bowl we get an informative physical comedy lecture. The format of the comedy lecture has been feature earlier on this blog, it is a show/act structure that we very much enjoy.
Featuring lessons on planks, cream pies, banana peel and prat falls - all the good stuff.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Money, Shows and Happiness

When watching the following TED talk about how, contrary to popular belief, money actually can buy happiness, I thought it seemed relevant to an important aspect in the Showman's Craft.
To understand how, we need to think of spending money on others as akin to the sharing experience of giving a performance. We also have to look at money from a slightly different perspective.

Michael Norton tells us that if the money is spent on others we not only feel better but perform better. He describes, flippantly, an experiment where a dodge ball team were given envelopes of money with instructions to spend it on each other. They reported that they felt happier when being generous with their team mates but also began dominating their league. They felt closer and happier and thus achieved better results as a team.
These findings replicates what is taught in the Shoman's Craft; by seeing a Show as an act of giving the Showman will not only feel better but perform better.

This is the phenomenon of sociability at work. Nature guides us to better performance and more enjoyment by rewarding us with good feelings when we do things that benefit us such as socializing and sharing with others. This is one of the underlying phenomena which makes us humans enjoy shows.

Fundamentally the Showman's Craft is to mold time and focus given to them by a Crowd. If the Crowd believes they got more back than they put in, the Show has been a success. They must feel like they got their money's worth and that it was a good investment, ie. it made them feel good, forget time, made them think, or whatever else a Spectator might find enjoyable. In this exchange of time and focus everyone gains. This beneficial process is part of what makes us human.


When a professional Showman performs he gets paid and by what Michael Norton says; those who pay the Showman feel happier for it. As a Showman myself I like to hear that. I had never considered my invoices to cause happiness, although I can easily imagine that the smiles on peoples faces after a street show as demonstrating their genuine enjoyment in the paying process.

To understand what money is on a deeper level, we can see the process of paying for a show as an exchange of energy.
A street show, where a performer gathers a Crowd, does a Show and then gets paid by his onlookers, can be seen as the prototype of show business. This has been a core structure of early performances on streets and market squares throughout time.
In such a show the Showman gives his energy to the Crowd and after the show they pay him money. Their money is what they got from their employers as a symbol of the energy they expended doing work for him. It could perhaps also be seen as a battery. Printed paper and metal discs that somehow retains the energy they gave their employer through their work. By offering their money to the performer after the show the Crowd gives the street performer tokens of their energy.

So if we look at the exchange of money as an energy exchange this Ted talk gives scientific evidence for what Showmen have known for aeons, giving is good for us. Altruism, social interaction, and sharing makes us feel good and makes life meaningful. It is a process where every part benefits, a good times machine. It is our Craft.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

In defence of the Comic Actor

Donald O'Connor in a classic scene from Singing In The Rain a great all singing, all talking Showman. Great physical comedy