Tuesday, 11 June 2013


Pic by Rob Woodcox.
Showman is made up of two words; Show and Man. (So far I hope I have lost none of you.) Both are equally important aspects of attention for those who have chosen the Way of the Showman.
Often the individual Showmen lets one overshadow the other. As a young man, with little other to dig my fingers and mind into than Shows and the creation of acts, I found myself totally immersed in the Show aspects. Spending so much time pondering upon the finer details of timing applied to a particular physical slapstick gag, applying myself to mastering a push off double lift, or attempting to discover a synthesis of Albanian folk dance and utter ridiculousness. These days, as a first time father, the Man aspects have taken over. I have solo shows coming up in Norway soon so I am busy translating and creating a new stupid magic routine, but the majority of my brain power and time goes into my family.
Shep Huntly has been known to remind fellow performers to nurture a life beyond the Shows. Remember to have other hobbies, and this is very important. Even though it is hard to believe at times there is more to life than shows.

As I am drawn towards the Man side of the Way I have been thinking of play. The importance of
playing. The role of play in teaching us about the world. As the swedish clown without borders clown professor Nalleslavski says, the key to clowning is in Play and Connecting with the Crowd. That is it. Play, with the attention the Crowd gives you, get on stage, find the game, enjoy the game and play it.
Play is not just for children, but it is, if possible, even more important for them. Play is the child's work. This is a key insight. We work, if you can call creating and doing shows work, but at least it seems to fall into that category by being what you do to make a living even if your main purpose is to create a life.
Play is the child's work. They need it. They thrive in it. IF it is right.

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:s
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man.

The Child is the father of the Man and they both find meaning through their "work," the first in Play the second in finding a Way to Play at work.

The following is from an article in the Atlantic by Esther Entin, and the thoughts come from an article in the Journal of Play by Peter Gray.   

When children are in charge of their own play, it provides a foundation for their future mental health as older children and adults. Gray mentions five main benefits:

1. Play gives children a chance to find and develop a connection to their own self-identified and self-guided interests.

As they choose the activities that make up free play, kids learn to direct themselves and pursue and elaborate on their interests in a way that can sustain them throughout life. Gray notes that: "...in school, children work for grades and praise and in adult-directed sports, they work for praise and trophies.... In free play, children do what they want to do, and the learning and psychological growth that results are byproducts, not conscious goals of the activity."

2. It is through play that children first learn how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self control, and follow rules.

As children direct their own free play and solve the problems that come up, they must exert control over themselves and must, at times, accept restrictions on their own behavior and follow the rules if they want to be accepted and successful in the game.

As children negotiate both their physical and social environments through play, they can gain a sense of mastery over their world, Gray contends. It is this aspect of play that offers enormous psychological benefits, helping to protect children from anxiety and depression.

"Children who do not have the opportunity to control their own actions, to make and follow through on their own decisions, to solve their own problems, and to learn how to follow rules in the course of play grow up feeling that they are not in control of their own lives and fate. They grow up feeling that they are dependent on luck and on the goodwill and whims of others...."

Anxiety and depression often occur when an individual feels a lack of control over his or her own life. "Those who believe that they master their own fate are much less likely to become anxious or depressed than those who believe that they are victims of circumstances beyond their control." Gray believes that the loss of playtime lessons about one's ability to exert control over some life circumstances set the scene for anxiety and depression.

3. Children learn to handle their emotions, including anger and fear, during play.

In free play, children put themselves into both physically and socially challenging situations and learn to control the emotions that arise from these stressors. They role play, swing, slide, and climb trees ... and "such activities are fun to the degree that they are moderately frightening ... nobody but the child himself or herself knows the right dose."

Gray suggests that the reduced ability to regulate emotions may be a key factor in the development of some anxiety disorders. "Individuals suffering from anxiety disorders describe losing emotional control as one of their greatest fears. They are afraid of their own fear, and therefore small degrees of fear generated by mildly threatening situations lead to high degrees of fear generated by the person's fear of losing control." Adults who did not have the opportunity to experience and cope with moderately challenging emotional situations during play are more at risk for feeling anxious and overwhelmed by emotion-provoking situations in adult life.

4. Play helps children make friends and learn to get along with each other as equals.

Social play is a natural means of making friends and learning to treat one another fairly. Since play is voluntary and playmates may abandon the game at any time if they feel uncomfortable, children learn to be aware of their playmates' needs and attempt to meet them in order to maintain the play.

Gray believes that "learning to get along and cooperate with others as equals may be the most crucial evolutionary function of human social play ... and that social play is nature's means of teaching young humans that they are not special. Even those who are more skilled at the game's actions ... must consider the needs and wishes of the others as equal to their own, or else the others will exclude them." Gray cites increasing social isolation as a potential precursor to psychopathology and notes that the decline in play may be "both a consequence and a cause of the increased social isolation and loneliness in the culture."

5. Most importantly, play is a source of happiness.

When children are asked about the activities that bring them happiness, they say they are happier when playing with friends than in any other situation. Perhaps you felt this way when remembering your own childhood play experiences at the beginning of this article.

Gray sees the loss of play time as a double whammy: we have not only taken away the joys of free play, we have replaced them with emotionally stressful activities. "[A]s a society, we have come to the conclusion that to protect children from danger and to educate them, we must deprive them of the very activity that makes them happiest and place them for ever more hours in settings where they are more or less continually directed and evaluated by adults, setting almost designed to produce anxiety and depression."
Let the kids out in to the world without plans, let them make their own plans, let them discover themselves through play and you will get great creative Showmen and ShowWomen.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Lessons from the Way of the showman - 67

A sign that you have become a Master Showman is: When nervousness no longer exist.
There is always a particular energy present before a show. The Novice calls this nervousness, the Master calls the same energy Inspiration.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Searching for Sugar Man - Never give up

For any artist who has ever had their dreams broken, who has not found an audience, who has given so much of their heart but not gotten any response:
Watch Searching for Sugar Man.

Don't ever give up hope. Somewhere out there you might be bigger than Elvis!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

The Power of Stories

For those of you who don't already listen to Ira Glass's This American Life might not know the man talking in the film clip below. This American Life is a brilliant story telling show that is absolutely well worth checking out. In some ways the lecture Ira gives below gives the flavour of his radio show.
His topic is stories.
”Narrative,” he says, “is basically a machine that’s raising questions and answering them.”  
He talks about how to keep your listeners attention and how that then can get your point across with a story which grabs and keeps your attention.

Towards the end as he gives his thoughts on 1001 nights we get a glimpse of the true power of stories to change people and sometimes even save lives. This is inspirational and important stuff for Showmen in all genders and walks of life.