Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Coney Island anno 1952

This is a sweet surreal or possibly impressionistic look at Coney Island. Great footage from behind the scenes and from before the crowds of the amusement parks and beaches arrive to the heated girls shows packed with people at night.

Coney Island, USAThe Venice Film Festival Prize-winning documentary Coney Island, USA (1952), narrated by New York wit & journalist Henry Morgan, without totally trashing Coney Island is the first film to really get round to a bigger dose or reality than might be expected of a tourist film.

Throughout it retains an air of the macabre, weird dolls & mannequins, shouting barkers, eerie angles of whirling rides like the Virginia Wheel & the Cyclone, the screaming of frightened funseekers, hairy arms tearing tickets, the promise of being half-killed, humanity swarming like insects as Henry Morgan narrates with venomous irony, "You & I in the sun, you & I alone."
Shots are speeded up, blurry, distorted; the music rises in an industrialist beat shifting into happy carny sounds shifting into suspense notes. 
Verging into horror documentary, the attitude of grotesquery never quite warns you away from Coney Island, but is a lot more honest than any earlier film, showing everything except the outright prostitution & pickpocketing.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Kurt Vonnegut on Writing

The advice in this clip is specifically aimed at writing a short story. The lesson we Showmen can take from it is by thinking of the short story like an act. In the Showman's work the act is the short story and the full evenings show; a novel.

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
{via Open culture}

And finally some thoughts on the structural shapes of stories and acts. DO take some time to ponder the similarities and what you can add of story to your act. It will greatly improve your understanding of your act. Further I would recommend thinking about your favorite acts, be it contortionists, magicians, acrobatics, handstands, clowning, stand up comedy - be it what it may - look at the act again with Story in mind and see what you learn...

Monday, 17 September 2012

Jung, Ferris Wheels & The Meaning of Life

I have seen many people die because life for them was not worth living. From this I conclude that the question of life's meaning is the most urgent question of all.
Albert Camus

If you are willing, and you have to be since you are here to take this complex journey through the sublimely meaningful to the outright idiotic.

“Life is crazy and meaningful at once. And when we do not laugh over the one aspect and speculate about the other, life is exceedingly drab, and everything is reduced to the littlest scale. There is then little sense and little nonsense either.”
"Which element we think outweigh the other, whether meaninglessness or meaning is a matter of temperament. If meaninglessness were absolutely preponderant, the meaningfulness of life would vanish to an increasing degree with each step in our development. But that is – or seems to me – not the case. Probably, as in all metaphysical questions, both are true: life is – or has – meaning and meaninglessness. I cherish the anxious hope that meaning will preponderate and win the battle”
C G Jung

The truth about Milk - Cow and Human

There is no better person to express the duality of the meaningless and meaningful than the showman. The jester can be the mirror which shows us that the deep and the shallow are all part of the same swimming pool. How deep it is depends on which end you jump into.
At the Carnival the duality of life's meaning and emptiness are like the full cream milk straight from a cow's udder or a mum's breast. If left to stand the fat separates out and floats to the surface. By stepping through the Carnival Gates we buy the ticket and take the rides. The rides shake us, roll us, and wriggle our bodies and our minds until the the separated mother's milk inside us all once again blend with the rest. On the gravitron, the Ferris Wheel and the Carousel the ridiculous and the vital becomes one again. Mechanically shaken by carnival rides some of us get so shook up the fat and the skimmed milk fuses so totally that it might never separate again. It balances us  like the  homogenized milk we buy in the corner store. The Carnival has the potential to heal us for life.

The world viewed from a Ferris wheel.

The Philosophical Ferris Wheel

From the top of the Ferris Wheel we get a new perspective. We feel ourselves enclosed in a colourful steel cage dangling on a slowly spinning orbit through space. We are alive. Butterflies swirls around our bellies becoming one with the corn dogs and cotton candy imbibed just before getting on the ride. For some the whirling of the carousels and Ferris Wheel makes the butterflies and corn-dogs dream of freedom and with a feeling of neausea they threaten to escape back into the world.
We feel life in our guts. But from our new vantage point atop the world we see the world as it is without us. For a second, whilst holding back the vomit coloured butterflies the world below becomes the primordial savannah. The beings below are grazing. Flowing like chaotic rivers and streams around the midway. The real roar of lions from the Menagerie tents fuses the unconscious dream with the reality below. Clanking of orbital machinery, clockwork wiggles of wooden skeletons adorning the ghost train and the melancholic cries of a child lost in the throng. A little hand wet with tears reaching up towards you as you descend, wet blue eyes with a quivering lip searches, longs, for nothing more than closeness, nothing more than a smile, and a large pair of arms to scoop him up and say everything is going to be alright. I am here now.

View from inside the first Ferris Wheel
I am here now.
So are you.
In that moment the world below goes from nothing to something. The grazing herds of mindless animals stumbling through life with little to no reflection vanishes and for the first time there is connection, reflection, recognition and conscious meaning. From the vantage point of your metal cage on the Ferris Wheel you complete the creation of life, with your mind melded with the lost child you give the world verifiable existence. Life no longer just exist, it knows that it exists.

Amongst the spokes of the giant wheel the cosmic meaning of consciousness becomes overwhelmingly clear, "Man is indispensable for the completion of creation, he alone has given the world its objective existence - without which, unheard, unseen, silently eating, giving birth, dying, heads taking in the worlds through hundreds of millions of years, it would have gone on in the profoundest night of non-being down to its unknown end. Human consciousness created objective existence and meaning, and man found his indispensable place in the great process of being." {Jung Memories, Dreams, Reflections.}


It is consciousness that gives the world it's meaning. "Without the reflecting consciousness of man the world is a gigantic meaningless machine, for as far as we know man is the only creature that can discover 'meaning'."

In this last quote Jung suggests meaning to be made by man for man, that is to say it is artificial. Much like the Showman's creations. Can we from this extrapolate that the creation of meaning in Big Tops is as real a meaning as we will ever find?
I believe so.
Meaning is what is experienced as meaningful by groups or individuals. There is nothing more to it. Meaning is, like truth, not something that is but something that happens.
The answer to the meaning of life is not to be found in scientific journals for it is not a scientific question. Instead we can say it has no answer and at the same time many answers all of which are absolutely and irrevocably true. Every answer springs from the mind of someone who have considered the issue at some length. It is based on human interpretation and conjecture created by our consciousness and according to Jung in his memoir it is a myth. In its search for meaning consciousness creates a myth, a myth of meaning.
This is what consciousness does, so it is what we do. We do it because we can't not do it.

Brotherhood of Illuminated Showmen

SO this is a goal for the Acolyte Showman.
An important part of his education and study is to get himself to a point where his own consciousness, or heart in the terminology of the Brotherhood of Illuminated Showmen, creates his very own myth of meaning. Meaning is like fire it can spread.
The young Showman's myth must be like the Greek myths and Norse Viking mythology. Not something to be shrugged off as childish or less than religion or philosophy, but as a firm foundation for well balanced, happy and always creative Showman.
"He who stands on firm foundation can move the world with the fulcrum of their mind." {
In the symbology of the Brotherhood the voice of individual consciousness is a little candle. It is a fire but since the newborn myths are mere whispers at first it is but a candle. They are shy and insecure in the face of strong personalities, childhood encounters with religion, secular organizations or media. Only by engaging in the Creative Process guided carefully by Crowds and fellow Showmen can one learn to discern the tiny whisper of a voice that comes from the heart. The sheer peal, almost inaudible at first slowly comes to ring true. First only fragments. Like single freestanding acts. But as the Acolyte Showman gains experience he creates more acts, each one building on the one before, each one containing new truths and insight that rings true to him. The pinnacle in the evolution of meaningful Showmanship is symbolized by a star. It is no longer a little candle, a mere whisper of unintelligible hopes and aspirations but a roaring giver of energy. The kind of powerhouse that fuels worlds.
As his Craft develops so does the Man. When the Show is deep the Man is deep. Before he goes through the Final Initiation his Acts have become a show. The Journey Man's Master Piece have become a fully fledged Seed Show and the Master Showman has mastered the most important lesson; to create a Myth for himself strong enough to be a fulcrum to change the Hearts of Crowds towards Good.

Why is this exploration so important? and if meaning is 'man made' and not something inherently in nature would it not be better to admit to life's meaninglessness?
I don't think so.
"Meaninglessness inhibits fulness of life and is therefore equivalent to illness." Whilst Meaning has an inherent curative power. "Meaning makes a great many things endurable - perhaps everything." {Jung}
" What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? to answer this question at all implies religion. Is there any sense then, you may ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is no only unfortunate but almost disqualified for life." {Einstein - The World as I See It."
For the weighty reasons stated above it is of the utmost importance for all Showmen to not only seek to create their own meaning but also use their unique position as communicator to help others find theirs.
"There is grandeur in this view of life." {Darwin}

Friday, 14 September 2012

On a personal Note

I do love to arrive into a new town to meet up with my fellow carnies. As I exited the spiegel tent last night and walked to the porta loos It struck me just how much I love the back stage areas of festivals. I spend a substantial amount of time of my life in these temporary places. Empty carparks or gravelly sportsfields gets transformed as techies, roadies and roustabouts pull tents, carousels, the Ferris wheel and bars off the back of rickety old trucks.
Within days the non-descript place is transformed into a brand new thing, an area where different rules apply - it becomes a Carnival.
A perimeter fence is put up to delineate the transfigured space. Like a church contains one type of sacred space, the carnivals edge marks another. A place where everything which is human is flaunted and celebrated.
The backstage area here in Brisbane has a spot in the fence where it is possible to peek over. Every time I see someone raise up on tippy toes to catch a glimpse of the magic world behind the scenes it warms my heart.
Watching this little boy sneak a peak at the English Gents melted my heart.
 I also wonder what they see.
For the world of the circus that they normally see is the shiny facades the ornate paintings and colourfull banners and posters. This is the beautiful side. Backstage we sit on plastic chairs, eat take away food, drink powder coffee from styrofoam cups. The artists are warming up on a children's puzzle play mat laid down on a dusty almost grass-less little patch. Temporary structures and gaffa tape holds up a fat plastic hose coming from the noisy industrial sized air-conditioning unit.

I wonder if the Crowds peeping in are disappointed or if they realize that it is in environments like this the Carnival Dreams presented out the front, inside the Spiegel tents and Big Tops are born. In the dirty, chaotic and temporary world where artists are cramped in. Minds both similar and and very different meet. Fleeting encounters with other creatives. People with open minds, but (mostly) not so open their brains fall out do their art, get drunk and talk about ideas as if they were already real.

It is from this stuff dreams are made.

The Front
The Back

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Edith Clifford

"Edith Clifford was born in Boston Massachusetts on November 22, 1886 of John Clifford and Emily Rivers-Clifford, who emigrated from England to the US before Edith's birth. Clifford began swallowing swords in 1899 at the age of 13 after learning from sword swallower Delno Fritz."
Awesome portraits of female sword swallowers in the 1800s"Swallowing swords takes a steady hand and the willingness to hazard the occasional sore throat and pierced esophagus. And fortunately for those readers who won't risk the taste of broadsword, the folks at the Sword Swallowing Hall of Fame are compiling the histories of sword swallowers past and present.
Some of the best photos in their archive date back to the 1800s, when sword swallowers like Edith Clifford, who learned the art at the age of 13 and could swallow 24 swords simultaneously, razor blades, bayonets, and saws. When she was a veteran, Harry Houdini witnessed her act and described her routine as such:
"The sensation of her act was when the point of a bayonet 23 1/2 inches long and fastened to the breech of a cannon was placed in her mouth and the cannon discharged with the recoil driving the bayonet down her throat."
Awesome portraits of female sword swallowers in the 1800s
In this video sword swallower Dan Meyer swallows Edith's saw. It is the original saw seen in the photographs above and below.

Awesome portraits of female sword swallowers in the 1800s
"In the spring of 1919, Harry Houdini visited the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus to see one of Clifford's performances where she swallowed a bayonet that was shot down her throat with a gun. By this time, she had been sword swallowing for over 20 years. Clifford's show so impressed Houdini that he wrote about it in 1920 in his book "Miracle Mongers and their Methods": "The sensation of her act was when the point of a bayonet 23 1/2 inches long and fastened to the breech of a cannon was placed in her mouth and the cannon discharged with the recoil driving the bayonet down her throat"." 

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Soul Dust - The Magic Show of the Mind

This is a beautiful theory by Nicholas Humphrey

"Consciousness is a magical-mystery show we stage inside our own heads -- a show that paves the way for spirituality, and allows us to reap the rewards, and anxieties, of living in the "soul niche."

"Why a magic show? Why would an organism receive enjoyment from the feeling of existence? Well, the beings that enjoys existence would develop a will to live."

"Rather than being an aid to survival, consciousness provides an essential incentive to survive. Enchantment is itself "the biological advantage of being awestruck." Or, as the poet and Pooh creator A.A. Milne put it, "It's awful fun to be born at all."

Pic By Humphrey

Humphrey lays out his ideas of consciousness as a magic show that we put on for the enjoyment of our selves in the book Soul Dust: the magic of consciousness.

What exactly is the redness of a tomato, the salty taste of anchovies, or searing pain of a burn? Humphrey tells us it is a kind of magical recreation, a show that you lay on for yourself inside your head. In response to the stimulation of your sense organs you create an extraordinary art work for your mind to look at. A simulacrum of sorts.
But the show you put on does more than just recreate the outside world, it steeps it in subjectivity. It makes it not the world but your world and further, storing it in your head adds to the personal dimension as we colour it with emotion. The experience enters your head and is shaped by the previous experiences you have stored in your mind's magic show. Each experience is shaped and re-framed by the show they are slotted into. Like how water stays water but takes on the shape of the jug you pour it into.

What is the purpose of this show in the mind?

2D Penrose triangle
The reason your mind creates a show for you is to sell you the world and to interpret it for you in a stimulating and meaningful. A theater is not a replica of the world it is a place where scenes from the world are acted out to comment and enrich the Crowds by watching it. We go to be entertained and educated. The crowd wants to experience the added magic of watching a symbolic representation. Such it is with our minds Magic Show. It attempts to persuade us emotionally to enjoy the Show of the world. It is one part of our brain staging a show for another part of the brain. A little like the illustration below.

Origins of the show

Sensations have always been a kind of show. It has been a bodily representation of the world around us.
From the very first floating single cell organisms in the pre-cambrian waters beginning to register light and respond to changes in the water pressure as bigger predatory species swam by there has bee some sort of interpretation of the stimulus. What the organism feels is not what happens on the outside. In this way the mental world is fundamentally a representation of the world.
In the very beginning the change of light or pressure might have simply triggered a physiological response such as a flutter of the body to illicit movement and escape or perhaps to get closer to the stimulus. The next step would then be for the organism to be able to delay or choose which response to take to the stimulus. For this to happen the process becomes internalized, or privatized. It was no longer just an instinctual one step response. It would benefit the organism greatly to be able to choose its mode of outward behavior depending on the individual situations. To do this the internal theater had to begin. A very rudimentary representation of the outside world would be needed for the organism to choose. The stimulus would not just be objective anymore but highly subjective, since the immediate needs to stay alive are absolutely based on the subject experiencing the stimulus. 

"Sensation has always been theater of sorts. Its been been theater from the start but it was not magical theater. "

Once the theater of outside stimulation has begun, the leap towards being able to let the scenes run without the actual physical stimulus triggering it is not too great. Becoming what if? Rather than it is.
If the organism now instead of acting instinctively and immediately on the sensory input, one can easily imagine that the original evolutionary use for a reaction to stimuli would become outdated and needing a different response. For this to be possible the responses should become internalized and later evaluated for best possible response.

Why this theater?

Just how does this Theater pay off in terms of biological survival? "How can watching the show be genuinely life enhancing?"
In the process of becoming and remaining conscious, in the simple pleasure of being there, we discover a new purpose.
“The great object of life is Sensation - to feel that we exist - even though in pain - it is this "craving void" which drives us to gaming - to battle - to travel - to intemperate but keenly felt pursuits of every description whose principal attraction is the agitation inseparable from their accomplishment.”

Why, you might ask, would an organism develop enjoyment from the feeling of existence? Well, the beings that enjoys existence would develop a will to live.
Natural selection makes things that are important for the continuation of life pleasurable. Take sex for instance, or eating and drinking. So here we have a case for our consciousness making our experience of the world around us awesome.

From Nicholas Humphrey's book soul dust
The sensations we get from seeing the red of a tomato are actually formed in us. They are not inherent in the tomato itself. What we experience as red is simply a refraction of light at a particular wave length. But since every time we see a tomato we feel the effects of the red, deliciousness we begin to connect the two. In this way we now experience that the tomato is sending out something, and that something is more than just sitting there, it is indeed like a kind of communication, this at least is our experience of it. Like the tomato is sitting there showing us how red and delicious it looks.
So strictly speaking the world just sits there, but through our experience of it we feel like it is speaking to us, it is enticing us and stimulating us and this is a pleasurable process. We basically enchant ourselves into loving life. 


We watch the Magic Show in our minds and through it fall deeper in love with the world. This is why we love the world around us more whilst on mind altering drugs. They enhance our mental representations and all of a sudden the colour of a tomato or the complex details in the bark of a tree becomes staggeringly beautiful and interesting. We get the feeling that the world is sweetly shouting its beauty and its multi level existence to us. The world is always talking to us, giving us the feeling it is revealing but a tiny substrate of its nature but on drugs its shouting.
The experience of perception blows children away and can make them stop in their tracks to study a browning leaf or a bit of silver foil from a cigarette packet as if it were the greatest treasure.
As we get used to the experience of perceiving the world we begin taking it for granted and stop noticing the magic, the novelty wears off.
This is the catch 22 of being a Showman with a novelty act; once people have seen you, the novelty wears off and you become 'just' an act. But put us in a different show, change costume and alter your patter and all of a sudden the experience for the Crowd becomes Novel again, this is what drugs do to us; they enhance our experience of the world. 
With or without drugs we enhance the world and our experience of it. Our Magic Theater gives significance and glow to everything in the world and this is why we feel so connected to it. It transforms the world into an awesome place. "All the more astounding because of the intimate connection we feel we have to it."
Watching a fire or a swirling pool of water we sometimes get knocked back by the immense beauty of it and our sense of union with it. This happens because in the simple act of perception there is an awesome Magical Theater production enhancing the world. 

We are constantly blown away by the feeling that the universe speaks directly to us, like in a way we are the only or at least most significant spectator to it and so say all of us. We are all the focal point of the universe and we are all creating its awesomeness in our minds, in fact that is the fundamental principle of consciousness; a Magical Theater of the mind to please and enchant our souls.

In this view we find individualism, but that is not the end. For as we experience the awesomeness of a sunrise we are immediately closer to the thought of what does this feel like to others. So in this way the creation of awe in us connect us to others and engage us in sharing the awesomeness of the world. From here comes The One Who Face the Other Way.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Interview with me...

I was asked a little while ago to do an interview with Map Magazine for our La Soiree season in Brisbane. It turned out that it was an email interview, which means they send me some questions and I write down the answers. Then they cut and past those into something. To the right is what they printed and this is what I wrote...

Q&A for map magazine

Please answer the questions with approximately 20 word answers where applicable. Thank you!

NAME: Captain Frodo
OCCUPATION: Incredible Rubberman

where were you born?
In the beautiful fjord lands of Norway.

what was the performance that first made your world come alive?
My father is a Magician. With a dad that actually could do anything made me want to be like him.

describe yourself in ten words?
A philosophically minded Showman making people laugh and think.

what gets you out of bed in the morning?
At the moment my 4 week old daughter Saskia.

what is something you discovered this month?
Having a baby changes everything you ever thought about the world, yet the world goes on as if nothing happened.

the last thing that made you smile & why?
All these questions asked at this particular time in my life begs just one answer – my little girl.

what is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?
As above, Chaplin’s The Kid, Chaplin’s grandson James Thiérrée’s Au Revoir Paraluie, The Black Rider with music by Tom Waits.
what’s your idea of complete happiness?
Going to bed with a book, falling asleep before finishing page one. Dreaming the book and later realizing my dream was better than the book.
when was the last time you did something for the first time?
I have been paving our bush property with rock from our own quarry. Mixing cement, using a scotching hammer and feeding my baby.

tell me about passion … ?
It’s the fire in your heart that illuminates your journey. It’s contagious. The job of a Showmanis to pass on enthusiasm.

what makes you different?
I make a living squeezing myself through two tennis rackets and sitting on a tin can.

what scares you?
At the moment, America.
Imagine going to work in a flight simulator controlling a drone bomber on the other side of the world. You kill a bunch of people, destroy a neighbourhood then rush off to pick up your daughter from drama class…
I find it truly frightening.

what’s worth fighting for?
A meaningful life, and (as the beastie boys reminded us) - the right to party.

tell me about creativity …?
To be creative seek out inspiring art, ideas and experiences and then express what that makes you feel and think in whichever way you can.

your biggest inspiration?
Those that do stuff others call impossible and the guy that carved an Eiffel towers that fit inside the eye of a needle.

what is the world you imagine?
A world where Illuminated Showmen plant Seeds of change crowds and show by show they make the world a better place.

what are your words of wisdom?
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams it is still a beautiful world.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

the Plank

Of late I have been helping direct slapstick and this sweet film with Tommy Cooper and Eric Sykes' The Plank keeps popping up in the creative process. Its a slapstick Odd-yssey and a classic.
The Plank is a 1967 British slapstick comedy short film made by Associated London Films. It follows the misadventures of two builders who require a floorboard. It was written and directed by Eric Sykes, and produced by Jon Penington. The story was based on an episode of Eric Sykes BBC comedy series Sykes and A... from 1964, called 'Sykes and A Plank'.
Although not strictly a silent film it is unusual in having little spoken dialogue, instead the film is punctuated by grunts, other vocal noises and sound effects. {wiki}
The film is a series of "plank jokes" elaborating on the "man with a plank" slapstick routine seen in vaudeville and silent films, and adding new ones. For instance, at one point the plank is tied to the top of the car and projects backward into the open back of a large van. A man enters the back of the van and sits down. The van drives away, leaving him suspended in mid-air sitting on the end of the plank.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Clown Vs Mime

COntinuing on the clown film theme...

Q: What happens when you stab a clown in the eye?
A: He DIES. Just like everything else.

Here at the Illuminated Showman we do enjoy a bit of splatter clowning and that is exactly what we get with Clown Vs Mime. Funny short and to the blood dripping point.
Created by Brock England and Darren Scharf.
Clown vs Mime. The newest most amazing conflict in the history of amazing conflicts: Tom and Jerry, vampires and werewolves, clorox and bacteria, democrats and republicans. Like these epic foes of man's history, they spend all their time creating new and gruesome ways to realize each other's death. Will the Clown use a balloon animal noose to strangle the Mime? Or will the Mime use his powers to conjure invisible C4 and blow the Clown to Marakesh? Watch and see!

episode one:

episode two:

episode 3: