Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Singing Showmen

I have through the times had some discussions with people about the music I like. It has been argued that the likes of Tom Waits have a facade, or theatricality which might seem unreal. That since they use theatrics they are somehow more contrived than the rockstar which enters the stage in jeans and some random t-shirt lauding some other band popular at the times. Well, people are entitled to their opinions, but if this is your attitude I think you are on the wrong track.
The nonchalant rockstar which has seemingly put no effort into his looks or stagecraft has no monopoly on emotional truth, rather to the contrary. The only thing I will concede to is that in such a fashion they can express a certain kind of truth real well, but the world is filled with truths of all shapes and sizes and the truths I believe in are best expressed wearing a long coat, a sombrero, staged in africa and punctuated with tosses of confetti.
There, I have said it and I feel better for it.

Below are three of my all time favorite musicians. 


C W Stoneking

Tom Waits

Monday, 30 July 2012

Alan Watts - The Joker

The following is an audio clip by the luminary Alan Watts with words transcribed by yours truly.
Alan Wilson Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) was a British philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. {Wiki}

"In some ways the joker and a monk has similar functions. The monk is a person who abandons society, he is an outlaw only he is on the upper side rather than on the lower side . As the ordinary criminal is below caste the outlaw in the sense of the monk is an abovecast. In the time of Buddha his followers wore orange robes because those were the garments of criminals. (think orange overhauls of guantanamo bay) they wore the garbs of the lower outcasts but were respected as upper outcasts. In modern society its very difficult to be in this position."
"The worst kind of criticism is the one who pokes fun... The joker doesn't out rightly deride things, he is not a slapstick comedian, he gives people the giggles about things they thought were terribly sacred and that is extremely demoralizing."
"The Fool's standpoint is that all social institutions are games. He sees the whole world as game playing. That's why, when people take their games seriously and take on stern and pious expressions the Fool gets the giggles because he knows that it is all a game. Not a 'mere' game' or mere entertainment but it is not frivolous.
The idea of game is this, the nature of things are musical. There is no purpose beyond doing it. Music has no destination. It isn't aimed at the future, It does travels in time, but it doesnt aim at a goal in time. The point of music is every phrase at it unfolds itself and how you perceive their relationship to earlier and later phrases.
Music itself is dance. You dance to dance. Everything is its own point. Things develop. A seed becomes a tree. But the purpose of a seed could be thought to be the tree. That doesnt hold up since each tree makes new seeds. The aim is to go on and on and on. Life."

"The network of life has no other objective than to do what its doing..."

I do love the blessed thoughts of the Reverent Alan Watts

Thursday, 26 July 2012

the Exoteric and Esoteric Showman

The Showman is like the moon; one side light and always in full view for the world to see, the other dark and forever hidden to all but the initiated few. The front attracts attention and is appreciated, but like the moon the dark side also draws the tide. 

The Crowd sees the exoteric.
(First an elucidation of terms to eschew from obfuscation.)

Before we start, what do these words mean? Exo-teric and Eso-teric? Like so many things they are of Greek origin.
Exoteric: Comes from exōterikos meaning pertaining to the outside, the exterior, or external. Of a doctrine or mode of speech intended for or likely to be understood by the general public. For us Showmen it is the sideshow banner line out the front, the shiny surfaces, and the gaudy facades of fun intended for the Crowds of townies and general public. It is the frivolous and random-looking act of a clown from the Crowd's point of view.
Esoteric: Comes from Greek esōterikos, comparative of esō ‘within' or ‘into.’  Esoteric pertains to the inner things, the secret, clandestine and enigmatic. It is the backstage, the real world hidden behind the banner lines and facades of fun. It's the secret techniques and tools of the trade and the inner world of the Showman. It is the hundreds of hours of creative work that went into making the clown act look chaotic and frivolous and it is the Showman's Carnival soul.

The traditionally Esoteric.
So now that we have got that out of the way, I would like to develop a way of looking at our vocation and lives from these two points of view.

The term 'Showman' is made up of two words; Show and Man. The first one can be seen as pointing to the Exoteric and the later to the Esoteric.
(Just to remind you all that here on the Illuminated Showman, the term Showman has nothing to do with gender. It does not mean to imply that the man ending indicates male, but is rather to be read and understood as the man ending of Human - Showman.)

Outside and inside.

Schopenhauer said in his essay 'the Emptiness of Existence' that the fact we get bored unless we actively engage with the world is proof that mere existence is not enough for fulfillment. To exist is not enough.  This is what he calls the inherent emptiness of existence. But by examining the world and our place in it we blast away this emptiness and replace it with meaning and purpose of our own creation. The way we hold this emptiness at bay is by our work ie. our creations, and fulfillment of our inner lives. The life of the mind inside us and the life of the world around us.
Socrates claimed that 'the unexamined life was not worth living,' this, to me is the antidote to existential boredom. If we are to live rich and thoughtful lives by presenting novelties, jokes and party tricks we need a firm foundation, an Illuminated Center Ring from where we can view the world.
The concept of me/the world, inner and outer is so fundamental that mentioning it might seem inane. We learn these distinctions as babies, but in thinking circles the fundamentals of human experience are of great importance. Cogito ergo sum. I think therefor I am. The world beyond the boundaries of myself is separate from me. I sense the world and it creates emotions, desires and thoughts in me. I am and also; the World is. Microcosm and Macrocosm. As without, so within. Esoteric and Exoteric. The two aspects; inner and outer can be discovered everywhere and in everything, it is not a scientific fact but rather a way to look at the world which can help make sense of things.

On stage off stage

By being aware of them and knowing that both needs nourishment for a full human experience we can gain certain insights to benefit the development of our Craft.
The outside influences my inside. The thoughts, feelings and desires the outside stirs on our inside can be brought into the world as Art. This is the core of our vocation. We mirror the world and the Seeds of inspiration it plants we bring forth for others to see.

As you create, or after the creation of an act, you can examine your work from the two points of view. How well is the 'Show' aspect functioning? The practical; running time, props, costume and skill level. Then ask yourself: have I at all considered the 'Man' side of it. Have I begun to imagine what it would be like for the Crowd to watch this? What do they experience? Do they only see a man juggling or does the act point to something more? And further - what does it give you to perform it?

Questions and examinations lead to Illuminations

It is almost impossible to become an Esoteric Showman first, since a Showman must have something to show to be a showman at all. First we create our material, for only through creation can we begin to truly grasp the Craft. Believing you are a Showman after having read a manual of magic or manipulations is like considering oneself an actor after having read Hamlet. As our knowledge of the Craft grows we can start to introduce Esoteric aspects to our Acts and creations.
To be able to reach the Esoteric level of Showmanship, the Exoteric or 'Show' side of the performance must have become second nature. Once the Exoteric level has become a comfortable and natural he can begin to focus on the 'Man' or Esoteric nature of the Show. This is why we say: "The way to the Esoteric goes through the Exoteric."

Once an entertainer has reached maturity as a Showman, he can begin to ponder: 'Is there something more to what I do? Can I express something deeper than: I can squeeze through two tennis rackets?' Questions such as these are the sprouts of Esoteric desires. It is the Man, in the Showman, the deep human need for meaning and purpose that awakens. Once thought, the questions linger but the doubt is always there. To question is healthy and natural. We all wonder in our dark moments or when we have no work: Were people right when they thought I don't have a real job? But of course they were wrong. All it means is that you have reached the next level in the practice of your vocation. You are ready to take your Craft into a new realm, one that has always been there, but you are now ready to delve into.
It is natural and OK to think and to be considerate. All the big questions: Where do we come from? What are we doing? Where are we going? are to a certain degree Esoteric matters and any Illuminated Showman will at times dare to ponder these greatest of enigmas. Sometimes in those dark moments all you need is a little perspective on yourself, a little thought and a new point of view. It is easy to focus solely on the 'Show' - Exoteric side, since bills must be paid and life dealt with on a daily basis. But take time to think about the inside, where it really matters.

Strong Man, Clown, and Dancer,
by Everett Shinnca, ca. 1909

Where are you at?

How do we recognize what kind of Showman we are dealing with; which level he is operating on? If you ask a Showman and his answer is given as descriptions of details in the execution of his Craft, the showman is often interested in the Show (exoteric). This showman often worries about his costume and his technique.
If, on the other hand, the showman judges his importance to be how well he connected with his Crowd, or about whether he affected them enough to truly touch and perhaps change the Crowd's heart, he is an esoteric showman. This is, of course a gross simplification but I believe it gets the point across.
The Esoteric Showman finds meaning by understanding the full potential of his role and what he can do for others. His purpose in life materializes when he truly considers the material he is presenting and the impact it can have on his Crowd and himself. 

Go out in the world and learn about yourself.
Then go into yourself and learn about the world.

Reality bites its own tail.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Schlitzie the Pinhead

Schlitzie the Pinhead

"His Official Certificate Of Death calls him "Shlitze Surtees", but that's only because his "Legal Guardian" at the time was one George Surtees, a chimp handler and barker of carnival standing for many years, who also appeared with a trained chimp act for Ted Metz on the Tom Mix circus during Shlitze's time there. The Tom Mix Circus is where George Surtees and Shlitze met, and at the time Shlitze was most likely under the guardianship of Ted Metz who managed the sideshow, hence the "Shlitze Metz" moniker. It is doubtful "Metz" was Shlitze's surname any more than "Surtees", but for show traveling purposes in the day, it was more convenient to get a ward with the same surname as the show's owner or owners past customs, state authorities, etc.

So if neither Metz nor Surtees was Shlitze's surname, what was it? Strong possibilities exist that perhaps Shlitze's surname could have been either Sibley (Walter K. Sibley created the 10-in-1 format in Toronto, Canada in 1904) or Mills (the Mills family exhibited attractions). Exhaustive research indicates Mills is the surname over Sibley, but final proof has yet to be discovered."

(From Findadeath.) 

"...Schlitzie - he had no choice. As I grew older I had a choice. I could stay in show business if I wanted to. He had no choice, so - I don't know how to express it about him but he - he just wasn't able to do anything else. Quite often you would get a crowd that thought they were funny, that they were funny and they would torment him or something like that but usually there were some roustabouts around that would see that that was broken up in a hurry and they were not allowed to torment him."
                                                    - Jeanie Tomaini, the half-girl, in "Freaks Uncensored'

Microcephaly is a neurodevelopmental disorder in which the circumference of the head is more than two standard deviations smaller than average for the person's age and sex. Microcephaly may be congenital or it may develop in the first few years of life. The disorder may stem from a wide variety of conditions that cause abnormal growth of the brain, or from syndromes associated with chromosomal abnormalities. Two copies of a loss-of-function mutation in one of the microcephalin genes causes primary microcephaly.
In general, life expectancy for individuals with microcephaly is reduced and the prognosis for normal brain function is poor. The prognosis varies depending on the presence of associated abnormalities.
"Schlitzie spent his finals days living with performer friends near MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. He passed away at the age of 81 at Fountain View Convalescent Home in Los Angeles from bronchial pneumonia. Schlitzie was interred at Queen Of Heaven Cemetery, Rowland Heights, California, Plot: Grave 69 - Tier 21 - Section E. The grave went unmarked for several years until members of the internet message board community at Find a Death raised funds to have the grave appropriately marked."

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Lesson from the Way of the Showman - 65

Mr Mysterio's parting advice to students.

"Before sending budding bafflers on their way, I always do my utmost to impress upon them that each performance, successful or otherwise, contains a lesson. Each failure show the performer what not to do, while each success shows the performer how it can be done. And there are still more valuable lessons to be learned.
"Was each line delivered at the right moment, for maximum impact? How well was your misdirection covered, in slights involving that interesting art? Were you able to control the attention of the audience in exactly the way you desired?"
For an attentive performer, the question never cease and the journey never ends. There are always ways to make even the oldest trick new, ways to improve the presentation or performance of virtually every effect you know. Even the simplest of feats can be refined to the point that it becomes a master piece."

Monday, 16 July 2012

A Circus Priest - and what followed

The beauty of the Internet -

I found this picture on may all your days be circus days.

"Father Ed Sullivan was THE circus priest when I joined out. Loved my times with him; he knew everybody, great stories -- he liked an occasional Brandy Alexander, too. In January, 1970, Father Ed passed away while blessing the Ringling 100th Anniversary train as it left Venice. So sad. Or was it? Good night, my friends. (Showfolks of Sarasota Photo Archive.)"

I really like the idea of a Circus or Carnival Priest. A hint of Showmen with their own religion.
In my mind the Carnival world is such a fertile ground for imagery to understand the world. The religious metaphore would blend in with the smell of freshly baked bread from a wood-fire stove on the back of a truck half filled with broken carousel horses. For such is the way of my mind.

A friend, Samora Squid, then commented on the picture and added this to the mix. Another Showman Priest.

This is a truly awesome Act. I have laughed so much and quoted lines from this skit for what feels like my whole life.
Now some of you folks out there might not get the reference to the Paul Daniel punchline in the end. I grew up on Paul Daniels Magic Show on TV. We got reruns in Norway from the BBC and Paul Daniels was on TV for what feels like every Saturday until I went to University. What added to this fact was that the Great Santini, my father, had a VCR recorder and we taped every magic show that came on our 1 channel (NRK). We also borrowed another video player so that we could copy the tapes of other fellow magicians, which might have been lucky enough to capture the first episode of Penn and Teller's Birth of a Baby dove in the Ghetto. So for those of you who don't know him here is Paul Daniels. The Great Wizard of the North.

Paul Daniels, born Newton Edward Daniels on 6 April 1938, is a British magician and television performer.[1] He achieved international fame through his television series The Paul Daniels Magic Show, which ran on the BBC from 1979 to 1994.

Here is a link to his current blog. Enjoy the further exploration of this magicians illustrious career.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Magician Halts Algerian Revolt

It took place in 1850s French Algiers. Revolution brewed against French rule, a populist uprising fed and nurtured by Algerian shamans called Marabouts-an Arab religious sect who used magic tricks as proof of their power, and thus stirred the people to revolt.
From the time that the French first claimed Algeria as a territory, the unpredictable and impulsive native population meant trouble to those administrating it. Again and again for obscure, sometimes unstated, reasons the wild tribesman erupted in wild orgies of bloodletting.
Before the Arab incursions into North Africa in the eighth century, the inhabitants of the region had been pagan. Under Muslim influence, orthodox Sunni Islam became the faith of the larger number of the population, but within the larger body of Muslims a cult of holy men, Marabouts, developed their own variation of Islam. The Marabouts claimed baraka , divine grace, and the ability to perform miracles. While the more orthodox Sunni were located in the urban centers, the Marabouts were well-established in the rural and mountainous areas of Algeria and other parts of North Africa.
In 1856, the Marabouts, who controlled the will of the tribesmen by dazzling them with feats of magic, had all of Algeria on the brink of revolt. 
Marabout teacher, (pic Matt Probert)
The Algerian wizards were highly accomplished, and anyone who commanded their power was listened to attentively. Many of the locals were wholly certain that when a Marabout showed them magic it was the real deal. Tricks such as eating glass without suffering any injury (a standard geek trick) and healing wounds were common practice. Faced with these god-like powers, people were willing not only to sit up and pay attention to the magic itself, but also inclined to go along with what the Marabouts wanted – and what they wanted was the French out of their country.
In a wise decision the colonial administration decided to try to beat the Marabouts at their own game and sent for Robert-Houdin, who had been entertaining the courts of Europe and had gained a reputation as the greatest magician in all the continent.

Robert-Houdin was small in stature, but to the Arabs who had seen him perform, his magic was as powerful as any of the Marabouts. The diminutive Frenchman had gained his initial success almost immediately after arriving in Algeria. Disguised as an Arab, he and a native confederate stole into one of the magic-religious ceremonies. His professional eyes quickly saw through the trickery of the Marabouts, and he was convinced that he could easily duplicate anything which they had done in the ceremony. 
The next day the colonial administration announced that a "French Marabout" would put the native variety to shame. Curious, nearly every Arab around Algiers turned up for the show. 
Even though Robert-Houdin unmasked every Marabout trick which he had witnessed, the Arabs who had gathered to view his performance remained mostly unimpressed. Only when he produced a small box and called on a fiercely anti-French native to assist him did the little magician raise a murmur of curiosity and excitement from the crowd.
"Lift this box," he asked the man. The Marabout follower, who was broad through the shoulders with a thick, muscular torso, had no trouble raising the little metal box over his head. 
"Now," said Robert-Houdin, after taking the box from the man, "I will make you as weak as any of your wives,"
He then began an impromptu magic ritual, bringing his hands around the box several times, chanting incantations before placing the little box on the sand at his feet. 
"Now, see if you can lift it," the little magician said confidently. 
The Arab bent to the sand, grasped the box with both hands, and pulled. It would not budge. Surprised, he threw his strength into it, his strong back and torso straining against the magic box. But as much as he groaned and strained, the box would not budge. 
"By the beard of the prophet," the man exclaimed to those who had gathered, "I cannot lift it from the ground." 
Then, as if he did not believe what he had said, he tried to lift it again. But when he touched it a howl of pain came from his mouth and his body writhed in agony, as he was unable to release his hold on the little iron box. 
The night before, Robert-Houdin had buried a strong electromagnet in the sand, and when the native bent to it the first time, Houdin threw the switch which held the iron box to the ground with enough force to prevent any man from lifting it. The second time Houdin allowed the current to pulse directly through the box, giving the native the first electric shock of his life. 
Mercifully the magician released the switch, and the dazed Arab straightened up slowly. When he had recovered the full use of his senses, the man fled in fear from the magic box which had caused him such pain.
While still a very young man Robert-Houdin, fell in with a traveling mountebank named Torrini. This man impressed upon the young magician the difference between an exhibitionist and a showman. Torrini also taught Robert-Houdin the trick which was destined to make him famous.
Tonini had his apprentice mark a bullet with a scratch mark, then he apparently loaded a pistol with it and had Robert-Houdin fire at him from point blank range. To the young man's surprise, the bullet appeared between Tonini's teeth, easily identifiable by the scratch mark which had been etched into it. The older magician had switched hullets, substituting a metallic ball which shattered on contact with anything solid and had palmed the original marked bullet into his mouth.
Robert Houdin
The Marabouts had responded as hoped to Robert-Houdin's first performances in Algiers, but the core of the rebellion, forever moving across the desert sands, had not been present to become impressed by the demonstration.
Robert-Houdin resolved that he would seek out the most powerful of the Marabouts and discredit them with superior feats of magic. To this end he began a trek across the desert. traveling without a military escort, putting on shows wherever enough Arabs would gather.
For several weeks Robert-Houdin moved over the sands, finding only a few scattered groups of Marabouts to dazzle with his magical brilliance. Then, through an informant, he learned where the main force of the rebellion had gathered.
Traveling to the obscure desert oasis, Robert-Houdin was greeted by the chief magician of this particular Marabout group, who waved a pistol in his face.
"You will die tonight," was the hostile man's promise.
The little Frenchman seemed unperturbed. But the entire Arab camp had come under the power of this magician, and Robert-Houdin knew that he had little chance to escape alive if he failed to impress them.
Forever a showman, Robert-Houdin did not let his confidence slide. When he was threatened with the pistol again, he told the Marabout to remove the bullet then to give him the pistol.
Morbidly curious, the man complied, watching carefully as Robert-Houdin began going through a magic ritual, waving his hands over the pistol.
"Now put a mark on the bullet and shoot me if you must," he commanded the Arab magician. Once again the Marabout complied, claiming the pistol immediately after the Frenchman had dropped the bullet down the barrel.

This is the public "dragons" display at
Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin's house in
Blois, which has been turned into a
museum. The "dragons" move in and
out of the windows in a theatrical display.
A statue of Robert-Houdin is at lower right.
"Now you will die," the Marabout repeated his promise. 
He pointed the gun at Robert-Houdin and discharged it at point blank range.
Blood spurted from the magician's chest, and Robert-Houdin staggered, nearly falling. Then, miraculously, he regained his balance and spat the marked bullet from his mouth, so that it landed at the feet of one of the most important sheiks. The desert chief picked up the ball and found the mark which the Marabout had scratched into its side. 
''This is real magic," the sheik told the Marabout contemptuously.
With the Marabouts discredited, the rebellion in Algeria fell apart. Robert-Houdin had received the recognition he craved by doing his former master, Torrini, one better. He had loaded the hollow metallic cartridge with blood so it would splatter when it hit his chest. To the Arabs, the "French Marabout" had powers which exceeded any of their own.
The scroll Robert-Houdin received in recognition of his services is still on display in the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Missouri. He wrote this and many other tales into his memoirs, The king of the conjurers (1859). The book became required reading for many aspiring magicians, and for one of them its effect was profound.

Young magician Erich Weiss, who was born in Hungary but whose parents moved to Wisconsin when he was four, was so impressed by the French conjurer’s feats that Robert-Houdin at once became his hero, to the point where he even based his stage name on the French master – and thus was Harry Houdini born. Robert-Houdin died in 1871, but he has been truthfully referred to as the father of modern magic.

So, that’s how one retired magician averted a war in Algeria in 1856 – a case of brilliant conjuring versus supposedly real magic. But some of you are probably feeling cheated – what about the real thing? 
(The above story has been pieced together from three sources. Brad Steiger, an article from Fortean Times, and finally from Whiskey and Gunpowder.
 POST SCRIPT (from flixist)
There's a line from David Hughes's Tales from Development Hell that captures the whole absurd process of failed film development: "This [script] is perfect. Who can we get to rewrite it?"
The first movie covered in the book is all about Smoke and Mirrors, a historical epic about the real-life illusionist Robert-Houdin being sent to Algeria to debunk a tribal leader with divine powers. It was stage magic combined with Indiana Jones and Lawrence of Arabia. A pitch like that has lots of possibility for adventure, swashbuckling, and grand theatrics. There's the the clash of illusion and magic to explore, as well as the contrast between logic and invention. There's a problematic colonial aspect to it too that makes the story messy (in the good way, I think), and two males leads that would have been fine foils for each other: the introspective illusionist Robert-Houdin, and Darcy, the dashing Legionnaire with a wooden hand.
Smoke and Mirrors was a hot property when the first draft hit in 1993, but then after years and years of rewrites, recasting (Sean Connery was interested at one point and got some rewrites, then ditto later on with Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones), and so on, the film vanished. Almost 20 years after that first draft was the hottest thing around, Lee and Janet Scott Batchler still think the movie may yet be made.
The fitting title of that first chapter: "Disillusioned."

Ordinary Miracles

I have been thinking about birth of late. I find that it has an inherrent dicotomy which I have come to describe as Ordinary Miracles. Things or phenomena, which are at once common and singular.

Dali: Birth of the New Man


On one side it is the most amazing thing two people can do. A man and a woman can have intercourse and create a new human. Create something truly new under the sun, a fusion of themselves manifested as a new person. It is a biological statement, ala Killroy Was Here, namely We Shared Love. This man and this woman blended their DNA. Together we tagged the world. It is a truly astounding process of creation unlike anything else in the world. It is primal. It is powerful. And it is miraculous. 


Whilst simultaneously the words of the angry poet Bill Hicks springs to mind as apposite description
“Two people fucking and making a baby is no more miraculous than eating food and a turd coming out.”
Reproduction is shared with every other organism in the known universe. It is a fundamental property of life to replicate itself. It is not special.

Another ordinary miracle is of course the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly.

If any of you can think of other phenomena or processes that would fit into this category of Ordinary Miracles please enlighten me with your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Missing Lessons From the Way - 8 - 26

(For Adam Ostrowski.)

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 26

Creation will take whatever time is allotted.
and no matter how long you have, the final week it will seem like it'll never be ready. But opening night the show is born whatever shape, form or sex it is. And you'll have to love it.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 25

It is paramount that you actually want to be on stage and that the crowd feels it.

Once you can telegraph this you'll have a perfect foundation to build your act on.


Lessons from the way of the Showman - 24

Aim to discover one new moment each time you do your act.

One reaction from the crowd that's new, an extra groan, an unexpected laugh - remember it and recreate it.
After 12 shows you'll need to lengthen your music or eliminate the weakest bits. You now have a natural selection happening. Your act is adapting and evolving.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 23

Turning seemingly facile novelties into unexpectedly moving spectacles, that is the power of the Way.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 22

The audience is the showman's director, watch them watching you.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 21

Failure is inevitable if you're doing something complicated.

If you try something and get it the first time - complicate it and do it whilst doing something else and you might have the beginning of an act.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman – 20

To create imagined worlds you must know reality.

As a Showman's craft is infused with with make-believe he should make an effort to also explore reality.

A healthy study of the world can only enhance the Showman's imagination.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 19

A show is artificial

to deny this is a lie
a rockstar being himself in casual clothing
is more phony than a clown
in make up and a red nose


Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 18

The premiere of an act is its birth.

The rehearsals is the pregnancy, where all is developed out of sight. At birth the act is full of life, its beautiful (in its own way,) but has yet to find its feet. In time it will grow strong and wise.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman – 17

Difference is the fuel of evolution.

Tiny individual differences drive life onward. This is what we celebrate in the Sideshow.
The Carnival is place where being different makes you stronger.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 16

In theater less is more, in sideshow less is not enough.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 15

Collective learning made us humans different.

We have learnt since we became human OR we became humans when we could communicate learning. One person telling others. This was the roots of the Show Man.


Lesson from the Way of the Showman – 14

By mastering the Craft the Showman creates Art.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 13

The Showman is an honest liar.

Real or not is the heart of the Carnival.
I am a Showman and EVERYTHING I say is a lie - Everything.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman – 12

The Showman is a dream weaver.

His Craft is his loom, the fabric his Art and the weaving happens in the Show.
The Showman uses his Craft to weave dreams into reality creating Art in the process.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 11

The showman’s art is not physical it is spiritual,

relating to the human soul.
When the show is done, the show is gone - from the physical world.
Remaining only in the Crowd's hearts.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 10

A sculptor's Art is shaping clay.

The Showman's Art is molding human minds.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 9

a show is imagination made real

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 8


Showman            Crowd

There is a significant relationship between a Showman, his Craft, and the Crowd.

The link between the Crowd and the Showman is the Craft of Showmanship. From this link the Crowd gives the Showman's otherwise useless skills Meaning and simultaneously the Craft can be deeply Meaningful for the Crowd.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Meaning In Entertainment

Rambling - under the influence

I struggle with the dichotomy of meaning and entertainment. Can I produce a show which at once is appealing to the mind and eternity as well as capturing the crowds imagination today?
The question is age old. Goethe writes about it in his Prologue In The Theatre from his Faust (1828) where three characters discusses the business of creating shows. The Manager character is interested in selling tickets and is trying to find the balance between the Jester and the Poet's contributions. The former is only interested in making the Crowd laugh and enjoy the moment whilst the Poet wants to create work that will last for eternity.
I wish the crowd to feel itself well treated,
Especially since it lives and lets me live;
The posts are set, the booth of boards completed.
And each awaits the banquet I shall give...
...How shall we plan, that all be fresh and new,—
Important matter, yet attractive too?

What dazzles, for the moment born, must perish;
What is genuine posterity will cherish.

Posterity! Don’t name that word to me!
If I should choose to preach Posterity,
Who shall entertain the Crowds today?

Jeff Koon's balloon dog at Versailles. 
So the problem is old and touched upon in much great literature. In studying these issues I have lately wandered into the camp of science fiction. I believe there are certain similarities between the literary sub genre of science fiction and the Craft of the Showman. For both are areas of art which many will simply brush away as 'mere' entertainment without taking any closer look at it. I readily admit that there are much empty chatter and mindless drivel produced both within science fiction and circus, but amongst all the dirt, gems of diamond quality is unearthed.
Is it so that even these gems are reserved for people with special interest in the genres or can they reach beyond their fans? And ultimately, does it matter if they do? We are in the show business which requires both the show and the business to be successful if we Showmen are to put nutritious and varied food on our tables.

I have been reading the underrated and relatively unknown polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem recently. For those of you that don't know this writer here follows Wired description of him:
Stanislaw Lem has never been beloved by the science fiction establishment. Philip K. Dick accused him of being a communist agent. Members of the Science Fiction Writers Association booted him from their group. And no wonder: Lem has denounced popular sci-fi as trivial pulp produced by mental weaklings. Science fiction, he once wrote, "is a whore," prostituting itself "with discomfort, disgust, and contrary to its dreams and hopes." But strained relations with his peers hasn't tarnished Lem's career. The author of dozens of books translated into 40 languages, he is considered among the greatest sci-fi writers of all time.

So why is it that Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke are household names, but Stanislaw Lem remains unknown to so many Americans? Start with the obvious: Lem writes in Polish. His most important books have never appeared in English. Even his best-known novel, Solaris, is available in US bookstores only as an English translation of a French abridgement of the Polish original. Yet the main reason Lem's never become established here is that his wit has always been too cruel, his love of science too prominent, his outlook too cerebral to fit easily into a publishing niche devoted to fairy-tale adventures and timeworn astronaut yarns.
Drawing by Stanislaw Lem
 In this description I find Lem to be a kindred spirit, one who seeks to inject some important and deeper subjects into a genre which so often is looked down upon by the literary elite, possibly for good reason.

"We are all lying in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

In his essay "Phillip K Dick: A visionary amongst the Charlatans," Stanislaw Lem brings up the subject of populism.
"Knight declared himself to have been mistaken earlier in attacking books by van Vogt for their incoherence and irrationalism, on the grounds that, if van Vogt enjoys an enormous readership, he must by that very fact be on the right track as an author, and that it is wrong for criticism to discredit such writing in the name of arbitrary values, if the reading public does not want to recognize such values. The job of criticism is, rather, to discover those traits to which the work owes its popularity. Such words, from a man who struggled for years to stamp out tawdriness in SF, are more than the admission of a personal defeat—they are the diagnosis of a general condition."
Should mass appeal make the work beyond reproach? I don't think so. Great art is rarely the most popular.

Does performances of the Carnival Arts have to loose their mass appeal when meaning is introduced? Let me rephrase the question. Does important topics necessarily make shows boring? I don't think they have to, but often they are.
Usually because the issues discussed in the performance are just that; discussed, or talked about. Some current political issue is just plastered on top of a performance like cheap wallpaper or shoved in between acts like mortar between tiles. This will not work. We must be more subtle and creative than that because our Crowds are smarter than that.
I know how one the People’s taste may flatter,
Yet here a huge embarrassment I feel:
What they’re accustomed to, is no great matter,
But then, alas! they’ve read an awful deal.

People say: nobody likes being preached to, but there are millions of religious people out there who gets preached at constantly so people can't mind it that much. I think it is a context thing. People don't mind being preached at when they are in church because they don't expect anything better from their local priest. Whilst when it comes to entertainment, they are a lot more choosy.
Squirrel powered musicbox
If a Showman has something to say, beyond the elements of his craft ie juggling, tightwire walking, magic etc, the Showman must make it funny or moving or scary or cool and fundamentally part of the act. Meaning should not be plastered over the top of an act it needs to be woven through it. Further and most importantly it needs to come across as real. If the person delivering the meaningful material doesn't believe in it 100% it will not work. But if they do share the passion so genuinely the Crowd might accept it and enjoy it in the most crude and preachy form, but I wouldn't rely on it. So make the meaning into material, treat the meaningful stuff with as much work as you do with your tricks and your Craft.
SO, for meaningful material to work it needs to be flawlessly integrated into the tricks and skill, it needs to be well crafted to hold its own as material whilst simultaneously ring true.

Most of the time when Showmen attempts this it falls flat, which must indicate it is a difficult thing to get right, but just because it's difficult doesn't mean we should stop trying. Rather the opposite. Like JFK said about the mission to get man to the moon:
"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."

Carnival Chronicles

The Logo that separates the Carnies from the Riff Raff
My fellow creator and brother in arms Hamish McCormick have begun a fine project over on vimeo which should illicit attention to the readers of the Illuminated Showman. Hamish is the brains behind the independent film production house Carnival Cinema, of which yours truly is a co-founder.
The project is called the Carnival Chronicles and appears in weekly installments. Short sharp clips that encapsulates the (mainly) Australian Showmen and Contemporary Carnival scene.

I would strongly recommend you all to check out his fine cutting and shooting craftmanship, and while you're at it follow him on vimeo. If you are not already a member, it literally takes 1min to do. It will set you up for carnival delights entering your digital device of your choosing for the future.

Here is one of my favorites; a short film called Carnival Casino I hope you enjoy it.


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Girls and Stars

Rockstars, Showmen,
writers and actors
all have girls.
Girls love fame,
Like we all do.

After shows girls
tries to meet their star.
And the stars love that.
It’s often why they
became stars in the
first place.

During the show
The star is in full control.
How we all long to find
Someone that knows what’s going on.

Stars give the appearance of knowing,
But trust me when I tell you that in the
remaining 23 hours of the day they are
as lost as everyone.

But the girls help them forget this.

(I wrote this poem in the year 2000.) 

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Kafka goes to the Circus

"First Sorrow" (German: "Erstes Leid") is a short story by Franz Kafka probably written between the fall of 1921 and the spring of 1922. It appeared in an art periodical called Genius, III no. 2 (dated 1921, actually published in 1922)[1] and in the Christmas 1923 supplement to the "Prager Presse". The story was also included in the collection A Hunger Artist (Ein Hungerkünstler) published soon after Kafka's death.

 In this story Kafka sets his peculiar existentialistic mind into that of a trapeze artist. As with many of his stories they are at the same time very straight forward and familiar whilst simultaneously hinting at deeper uncanny meanings. This is just the kind of material we enjoy here at the Illuminated Showman. What the story means seem to be as obtuse for scholars as for the general reader. The panoply of interpretations out there seems to reveal nothing less than that the story means what you take it to mean, even if that is nothing at all.
I find it fascinating as a kind of experimental myth and as someone who take a great interest in the mythopoetics of Circus and Carnival arts I really appreciate its dualism of familiar and fantastic. 

"In fact, the theme seems so large for such a short story, i.e. the notion that expanding on one's world (however cramped it is) by any measure is a rubicon of unease."
from Yolacrary

The illustrations were made by Argentinian artist Christian Montenegro for a South American edition the story.

First Sorrow

by Franz Kafka, translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

A TRAPEZE ARTIST—this art, practiced high in the vaulted domes of the great variety theaters, is admittedly one of the most difficult humanity can achieve—had so arranged his life that, as long as he kept working in the same building, he never came down from his trapeze by night or day; at first only from a desire to perfect his skill, but later because custom was too strong for him. All his needs, very modest needs at that, were supplied by relays of attendants who watched from below and sent up and hauled down again in specially constructed containers whatever he required. This way of living caused no particular inconvenience to the theatrical people, except that, when other turns were on the stage, his being still up aloft, which could not be dissembled, proved somewhat distracting, as also the fact that, although at such times he mostly kept very still, he drew a stray glance here and there from the public. Yet the management overlooked this, because he was an extraordinary and unique artist. And of course they recognized that this mode of life was no mere prank, and that only in this way could he really keep himself in constant practice and his art at the pitch of its perfection.
       Besides, it was quite healthful up there, and when in the warmer seasons of the year the side windows all around the dome of the theater were thrown open and sun and fresh air came pouring irresistibly into the dusky vault, it was even beautiful. True, his social life was somewhat limited; only sometimes a fellow acrobat swarmed up the ladder to him, and then they both sat on the trapeze, leaning left and right against the supporting ropes and chatted, or builders’ workmen repairing the roof exchanged a few words with him through an open window, or the fireman, inspecting the emergency lighting in the top gallery, called over to him something that sounded respectful but could hardly be made out. Otherwise nothing disturbed his seclusion; occasionally, perhaps, some theater hand straying through the empty theater of an afternoon gazed thoughtfully up into the great height of the roof, almost beyond eyeshot, where the trapeze artist, unaware that he was being observed, practiced his art or rested.
       The trapeze artist could have gone on living peacefully like that, had it not been for the inevitable journeys from place to place, which he found extremely trying. Of course his manager saw to it that his sufferings were not prolonged one moment more than necessary; for town travel, racing automobiles were used, which whirled him, by night if possible or in the earliest hours of the morning, through the empty streets at breakneck speed, too slow all the same for the trapeze artist’s impatience; for railway journeys, a whole compartment was reserved, in which the trapeze artist, as a possible though wretched alternative to his usual way of living, could pass the time up on the luggage rack; in the next town on their circuit, long before he arrived, the trapeze was already slung up in the theater and all the doors leading to the stage were flung wide open, all corridors kept free—yet the manager never knew a happy moment until the trapeze artist set his foot on the rope ladder and in a twinkling, at long last, hung aloft on his trapeze.
       Despite so many journeys having been successfully arranged by the manager, each new one embarrassed him again, for the journeys, apart from everything else, got on the nerves of the artist a great deal.
       Once when they were again traveling together, the trapeze artist lying on the luggage rack dreaming, the manager leaning back in the opposite window seat reading a book, the trapeze artist addressed his companion in a low voice. The manager was immediately all attention. The trapeze artist, biting his lips, said that he must always in the future have two trapezes for his performance instead of only one, two trapezes opposite each other. The manager at once agreed. But the trapeze artist, as if to show that the manager’s consent counted for as little as his refusal, said that never again would he perform on only one trapeze, in no circumstances whatever. The very idea that it might happen at all seemed to make him shudder. The manager, watchfully feeling his way, once more emphasized his entire agreement; two trapezes were better than one, besides it would be an advantage to have a second bar, more variety could be introduced into the performance. At that the trapeze artist suddenly burst into tears. Deeply distressed, the manager sprang to his feet and asked what was the matter, then getting no answer climbed up on the seat and caressed him, cheek to cheek, so that his own face was bedabbled by the trapeze artist’s tears. Yet it took much questioning and soothing endearment until the trapeze artist sobbed: “Only the one bar in my hands—how can I go on living!” That made it somewhat easier for the manager to comfort him; he promised to wire from the very next station for a second trapeze to be installed in the first town on their circuit; reproached himself for having let the artist work so long on only one trapeze; and thanked and praised him warmly for having at last brought the mistake to his notice. And so he succeeded in reassuring the trapeze artist, little by little, and was able to go back to his corner. But he himself was far from reassured; with deep uneasiness he kept glancing secretly at the trapeze artist over the top of his book. Once such ideas began to torment him, would they ever quite leave him alone? Would they not rather increase in urgency? Would they not threaten his very existence? And indeed the manager believed he could see, during the apparently peaceful sleep which had succeeded the fit of tears, the first furrows of care engraving themselves upon the trapeze artist’s smooth, childlike forehead.