Monday 11 May 2020

In Defence of Children

In Defence of Children

Cuz i don’t and i slept in until 11 and it was glorious and I just wanted to let you know

Luckily for me the author of this excellent public service announcement from Facebook wrote in all caps lock. This is basically how I judge whether something is an important comment. As a rule, if it’s written in all caps lock, it is not important. Complexity and depth do not coincide with written shouting. But, as we say in Norway, “those who shout in the forest shall be answered”. In the shouted statement I saw a little question concerning children and since I tend to search for the deepest answers to the simplest questions, here is my answer.

In my feed children have been getting a hard time during the apocalypse. Usually its not really attacks on the kids, but rather something along these lines: 

“The only thing I love more than children 
is doing what I want all the time.”

You know what’s sweeter than the sound of a child’s laughter? 
The sound of silence from not having any f***ing kids.

What clever and funny ways of expressing the joys of egocentricity. How good to be able to drink during the day and binge-watch whole seasons of tv. How lovely it would be. But when I scroll further on my feed and read some of their other posts I’m not so sure they are so much happier than me who does have a kid.

The memes make me giggle, most are funny jokes, yet from my experience they spring from a kind of misapprehension. It seems they think the only thing a child does is to steal your time, yet like in any good transaction, it’s really more of an exchange. You get something more valuable in return. 

There’s an experiential dimension to kids that most childless people might not appreciate. In the stress of daily life even many parents forget this dimension. Like many of the most important things, this dimension is subtle, hence easy to overlook. Yet, once you get it, it is as obvious and life affirming as the difference between a set of directions to a place and Robert Frost’s poem the Road Not Taken. 


I sit inside brooding, my blinds are drawn shut. I’m unemployed because of the Pandemic, and the feeling of uselessness lies just beneath the surface.

To feel that what we do is right for ourselves and good for the world at the same time, is one of the great triumphs of human existence. I am a Showman and being a Showman is intricately connected to groups of strangers. I’d argue that you can’t understand what a Showman is except as part of a duality with Crowds. It is being watched by a Crowd which makes my Craft meaningful.
Crowds are integral to our Craft and simultaneously it is the very thing which will spread the Covid-19 virus. We performers, the Ones who Face the Other Way, are facing a very uncertain future. Possibly for the first time in history there are no crowds anywhere. We Showfolk are collectively lost. Not like wanderers lost in a wood, but like wanderers who have lost the woods.


The famous psychologist Carl Gustav Jung said that the majority of those who came to see him weren’t dealing with clinical neuroses but with a lack of meaning in their lives. In fear of loosing our Way completely, we must reignite our search for meaning.

Here I am ahead of the game. I have a hidden bedrock, a deeper dimension of meaning… Let me tell you the tale. It all began seven years ago very soon after my daughter was born. I was carrying her in a baby wrap against my chest to help her nap at least three times a day for at least three years. Up until then my identity was Showman. It was simple. Making, performing, touring, and talking about Crowds, creation and shows was my relationship, and usefulness, to the world. During those long walks this was beginning to change. A metamorphosis occurred, I was still the same person, but I was also becoming something more. 

My sleeping child was the seed for this growth. She sprouted invisible roots through my chest and straight into my heart. As we fused, becoming symbionts, my acts and my art lost ground as foundation for my identity. A new, deeper foundation became apparent to me. Like my relationship to Crowds had shaped me as a Showman, this new deeper relationship with my child, was reshaping me as a man. My responsibility grew deeper than entertaining Crowds. 

The transformation was akin to when I grew from a boy into an adolescent, and then onwards to a young adult. Each time, I gained something new. More autonomy, better grasp of the world, a different relationship to my genitals, and with that a different relationship to the other sex. With each change I went through a kind of expansion, further into the world. A new dimension appeared. I didn’t know it at the same time, but with each development I also left something behind. As I left the kingdom of childhood, I left my sense of play behind. This loss is very apparent to me these days as I see my daughter completely absorbed in play with her toys. I used to play endlessly with my Star Wars figurines and this ability is now lost to me. In transformation something is gained and something is lost.

Becoming a father changed my relationship to my vocation in a good way. It greatly expanded the meaning and purpose of my old identity as a Showman. Caring for my child made me an expanded man. Still a Showman, but expanded. It connected me deeper into to world wide web of life.

My previous identity as a Showman only connected me to other human beings. Showmanship only makes sense to humans. You can use a cat in your act, but you can’t do your act for cats. Show a dog a card trick and you will see what I mean. On the other hand, being a parent is something a dog understands. Try kicking a Doberman’s puppies and see it react. Its reactions might even be as powerful as a human being seeing a card trick. Maybe even more powerful.

Becoming a father connected me to a part of reality shared, not just by people, but arguably with the entire animal kingdom. Connecting to my child, I connected to something very much greater than myself and my kind. This experience was not merely cognitive. It permeated me completely, my feelings and thoughts were in perfect agreement with my will. There was no doubt in my soul I would throw myself without hesitation at the monster in my daughter’s closet, even if it was the last thing I did. The feeling was strange and unbelievably powerful.

Deeper connections are the very core of what you want as a Showman. A deep connection with the audience is the very point of the Way of the Showman. The lessons learned and transformations catalysed by my daughter expanded my range of connection beyond the circus ring and out onto the world stage. A lot of meaning is discovered when you can connect to something greater than just yourself.


I sat inside brooding whilst wasting some time scrolling on my phone when my friend wrote me asking how I was. I wrote something like: “I am fine as long as I’m in the moment. BUT, when I think about the future I very easily come undone. My wife can attest to the fact that my mood swings, often for the worse, when I’m not performing. Everything is up in the air. When will shows open? Will they open at all? When can I again provide for my family? When will my ridiculous skills become useful and meaningful again? Most importantly, when will it be safe for elderly people to once again play the slot machines at our local petrol station?”

In short: the NOW is OK but the FUTURE is uncertain. Uncertainty, especially about the future, can be very distressing. I try to convince myself that the Way to the future is made up of a string of now moments.


The first moments of my day I drink tea. It’s a couple of days before Easter. Like most mornings I sit with my daughter on the couch and we read. Her half-hour Zoom school starts at nine. Until then we just hang out. Most mornings I read aloud. We’ve been reading Harry Potter since the quarantine started and we’ve almost finished the second book. I do the voices. It’s not easy. There are so many kids and teachers in those books. I’m not exactly the man of a thousand voices. I’m mostly a one voice kind of guy. Or I was until I had a kid who loves stories as much as me, so now I have a few voices down pretty good. At the end of a chapter she says:
“I wish it was Sunday.” I look at her and put my tea cup down. Easter Sunday has become a big thing for her. I am not exactly sure why, but in these troubled times we need all the excitement we can get, so to feed it I am planning a treasure hunt. We have invited her best friend and quarantine buddy Richard over to our house to join the treasure hunt. I have great things in store for them. 
First they’ll discover a map dangling from a string on the balcony. They’ll spot it from the trampoline. They’ll have to study it. If they do, they’ll eventually discover an X which  marks the spot for the next clue. There will be many clues, one frozen inside ice in the freezer, one at the bottom of the pool, one high up in the olive tree. The final clue involves them having to walk 22 steps north west and 17 steps due east. I gave her a compass a while ago, now she will get to use it to find a donkey shaped piñata filled with chocolate eggs and bunnies, and a squishy toy for each of them.
“Why are there bunnies and eggs for Easter?” she asks. 
“It’s the mystery of life,” I say. “Winter has passed. New life is in the air. Easter is a festival of hope,” I’m quietly chuffed about my answer.

Hope is the fuel of my daughter’s treasure hunt excitement. The hope of chocolate and maybe a squishy toy rat makes her ecstatic with joy and anticipation. She doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but she is pretty sure its going to be good. She is facing the future playfully.


From my adult, grown-up point of view things are changing, the old world order is wobbly. There’s a pandemic and there’s also climate change, self driving cars, and AI. As the poet said, “the times they are a’changing.” 

Things are changing for my daughter as well but her change is not from something she  used to know to something new, since practically everything is new for her. The world is so vast, every day brings new things, a pandemic? She takes it in her stride. It’s no more strange and unexpected than the fact that we start doing jump rope for the outdoors part of our homeschool routine. Or that we one morning find our car has gotten a flat tire, which lead to a whole flurry of never-seen-before activities.

There is a petrol stain on the road. I’m happy to see it doesn’t come from my car. From the look of it it’s from my neighbour’s lawn mower. While I crouch by the flat tire, brooding over my broken future, my girl is chanting some verse from school whilst spinning her jumprope and splashing into the pool. Gargles and squeals and endless bell peals of a child’s laughter. It’s earlier than 11. The person who wrote that meme isn’t even up yet. I’ve been up for hours. She squeals with delighted laughter again. Part of me thinks: “How can you laugh at a time like this? The world is falling apart. My Way and means for making a living is evaporating like gasoline on hot tarmac?” 
The petrol stain next to me is a thin film on the ground. The sun is creating a gorgeous display of colours. My girl comes over, dripping wet with her jumprope wrapped around herself. She follows my gaze to the stain.
“Look Pappa, it’s a dead rainbow,” she says pointing to the evaporated stain of my future. My heart flutters and my eyes well up. “Wanna jump in the pool with me?” She asks. I nod, afraid my voice will crack if I speak.

This virus has been terrible. With its destruction of lives and livelihoods. But, as morbid as it might be to admit it, it’s also a kind of exciting time. Who would have thought we would live through an apocalypse. The world is changing. The situation is new. I can’t predict or fix things the Way I used to. I need a new approach. I find this in the hidden dimension revealed by the children. They are my Easter, the hope, the new life and the Way forward. A reminder to not get overwhelmed by the future, and that I have to face it playfully. This is what I am doing before 11 in the morning, this is what having a kid adds to my existence, and I feel like I am a better man for it. Yet, I wouldn’t mind binge watching Unorthodox, about now.

I hope to see you all along the Way.
Yours Truly
Captain Frodo

Saturday 11 April 2020

The Day that Showbiz Died

The first casualty was Crowds, but they took with them the whole of show business. We are a social species. We dread isolation from others. Isolation is how we punish those that are already in prison. As a species we would rather spend time with murderers and violent criminals than spending time alone with our own minds. Also, it’s bad for us. Studies have found that social isolation increases your likelihood of dying as much as smoking. 
No gatherings of people, no Crowds. What’s left for a Showman to do in this new world? How can artists and performers help turn social distancing into merely physical distancing? And what is a Crowd in this strange new situation?

The Killer 
The 11th of march, the day before my birthday, all the artists from Opium got called into an extraordinary company meeting. It was clear that it would be about the Covid-19 pandemic. I immediately felt the stress come on. Tingling in my hands, and a sinking feeling in my stomach. On this exact day nine years ago, 11th of march 2011, the earthquake, which caused the tsunami, which destroyed the Fukushima nuclear reactor happened. That incident lead to me loosing a year long contract in Hawaii. Only a few years, 2014 I was in a different show in Vegas called Vegas Nocturne the casino we worked in got sold from a German bank to an American financial group. It resulted in immediate cancellation of all artist contracts.

 The business of entertainment is a fickle beast. Those on the Way of the Showman must be prepared for contracts to fall over on incredibly short notice.

The message my Boss, Ross Mollison, delivered at the extraordinary company meeting, was that they would keep all three of their Vegas shows, Opium, Absinthe, and Atomic Saloon Show, open for as long as possible during the crisis. We all signed a legal document with amendments to our contracts, essentially giving us four weeks notice. Promise of pay for four weeks. After that the show would take its decision to stay open on a day-to-day basis. Anything beyond the four weeks was a bonus. Shit was about to hit the fan.

My Awakening
The day after the Boss’ announcement, on my birthday, my family from Norway was set to arrive in Las Vegas. My father, my sister and her daughter of 7 had already begun their journey. My own daughter had been looking forward to her cousin coming with considerably more enthusiasm than to Christmas.

An hour or so after the Boss promised we would stay open, Trump announced the national borders would close. In that moment I understood the situation. It had been plain to see, but like a man in a disaster movie, making his bed and mowing his lawn whilst the nuclear bombs fall, I had refused to accept that everything had changed. I finally woke to the situation. I had to tell my family they needed to reconsider traveling. 

I think all us adults had refused to see the seriousness of the situation simply so we didn’t have to break our little girl’s hearts. I spoke to my sister on the phone, two and a half hour before they were about to board their plane from Norway to the USA. We decided they would have to stay home. We hung up and broke our daughter’s hearts. The world collapsed into a black hole of all-encompassing disappointment, pain, and darkness. 

Closing Time
We didn’t stay open for the anticipated four weeks. It only lasted two more days. The Casino ordered us to shut down. The pay dried up after one week. Everything was up in the air. Still is. At least I didn’t have to fight the ethical dilemma of having to work whilst it wasn’t the right thing to do for the pandemic. It’s hard to do the right thing when you still need to pay rent, electricity, your daughter’s school fees, and your own raging book-buying habit.

My show closed. Then the other two Spiegelworld shows closed. Then they closed the schools. Then they turned off all the gambling machines and all the casino’s closed. For second time in history. The last time was after the assassination of JFK. That shutdown lasted 24 hours.

When the Tsunami and the ensuing Japanese nuclear spill made me lose my Hawaiian contract, it was because the investors pulled out, since the Hilton resort, that would house La Soiree, had a substantial asian clientele, which they expected to loose. With that contract lost, I went to Australia and created a new one man show, called The Way of the Showman, and booked some seasons with that. I survived and kept the business of shows going by finding other contracts and other Crowds. That is not an option now. This time there are no other contracts on the horizon anywhere, on any continent, and there are no Crowds.

The very thing my Craft of Showmanship requires is exactly what is not permitted in our new world situation. Gatherings of people are restricted. Having no Crowds of people have become an important remedy in fighting the pandemic, and saving lives. 

A friend performing in a Palazzo show in Austria got shut down a few days before us as a new rule made gatherings of more than one hundred people illegal. Across the world that number dropped and dropped, until the United Kingdom forbade gatherings of more than two. (As of 23 of March 2020, Regulation 7 makes it an offence for any person to participate in a gathering in a public place of more than two people.)

Closing the Loophole
Two years ago found a loophole in my deal with the showbiz devil, here in Sin City, Nevada. I no longer have to continuously tour leaving my family behind. Here in Vegas I can go to work and come home like a normal person. I can be in showbiz AND be with my family. I wrote about that loophole about two years ago. Perhaps I shouldn’t have publicly announced it in my inaugural “On the Way of the Showman” blog post. Now the devil has come back and dotted his i’s and crossed his t’s. Sin City is closed for show business and most other business too. The devil doesn’t do things by half, he shut down The Strip and killed the whole of showbiz, to let all us pious showmen sit in our social isolation and stew on our lack of significant transgressions. We had been too good for the Devil’s liking. He’s disappointed with us all. Let that be a lesson to anyone thinking they can trick themselves into a good deal in a Mephistophelian bargain.

The Culprit
At this time, practically the whole world is in isolation. We are practicing social distancing to flatten the curve. Staying at home is not a sign of fear, it’s showing that we care about those above 60, those with preexisting conditions, and the random others of any age and fitness who are dying and will die. We are collectively doing our bit to lessen the pressure on the world’s healthcare systems. 

The Covid-19 virus is making a triumphant march across the globe. Something like 20% of those who get infected need hospitalisation. When hundreds of thousands of people gets sick, the 20% quite quickly exceeds the available hospital beds. This is the crux of the problem.

The pandemic will not die down until we reach herd immunity. Which  means enough people, about 80-90% of the population, has become immune. (At the moment we don’t even know for sure whether having had the disease will provide us with immunity.)

I heard America is estimating the death toll to become between 100.000 and 240.000. These are staggering and unbelievable figures. It is a war going on, a war against a new tiny enemy. This war will shape us and our world, there is no doubt about that.

How Long?
When the artists of Opium were told the show was shutting down, it was for two weeks. I was, at that time, personally expecting it to be for three months. Now I think even I was too optimistic.

A vaccine is a year to eighteen months away. It will remain bad for a long while yet. That makes a case for 18-24 months of this Crowd problem. It’s not so bad for all industries, but for my fellow show folk across the globe, things will not improve rapidly. But we will prevail. The Greatest Show on Earth will not be knocked over by hard times, in fact, in the past, our kind of entertainment has been exactly what people want during hard times. Pure good times and emotional release, promise of catharsis through shared experiences in dark theatres and big tops across the globe.

80% or more of those who get infected will survive fine and out of them the majority will have minor symptoms. My hope is that, like was the case when the Swine Flu came and went, the 80% who are fine will be disgruntled by “the government, the world, the illuminati” over-reacting. These are the people I am crossing my fingers will go “fuck the virus, fuck ‘the man’ I am going to Vegas to laugh and drink and enjoy life, come what may”. But, that time is still very far away. In the meantime we are all locked up in our houses, and if, when walking the dog, we pass another person, we hold our breath. How do we as performers deal with this new reality?

What am I doing?
The last weeks before the pandemic hit, I was busying myself with finally writing out my occult philosophy of Showmanship, stringing all the loose ideas and concepts together into a book. That made sense until showbiz died. All my ideas, thinking, and contemplation on shows and showmanship became even less relevant than usual. The Covid-19 canon ball struck the showman-ship below the water line. I was left with the sinking feeling that my whole philosophy and Way of life, slipped below to the abyssal plains. 

My Way, which I so confidently had picked out step by step, insight by insight, through my life, had led me to the edge of a cliff. I found myself staring into an abyss. Which vacantly and ominously smirked back at me. I shivered. Wholly lost. 

Waking up in this new world, it didn’t seem appropriate to philosophise about showmanship. It seemed self-indulgent. But, if not practicing and studying my Craft, then what was appropriate to do for a Showman? With Showbiz dead what am I? What’s left of me? What is a Showman for in this new reality?

Some time passed. I became my daughter’s teacher. The family and I settled into a new routine without work, without income, without certainty, without any assurance my Craft or Way would ever rise from the dead. Trump promised the resurrection would coincide with the celebration of Easter where Jesus also rose from the dead. That ridiculous notion was quickly put to rest and replaced with a promise of more death and more uncertainty.

Despite all this, my mind drifted back to the Way. 
Sometimes the Way falls away. A crag or hill hides the Way ahead, but as you expect to fall, the Way appears again. The Way forward is, in the end, always the Way you followed. It catches you and carries you along. It comes into being as you walk. Don’t stop walking. “You are more marvellous in your in your simple wish to find a Way than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach.” (D. Whyte)

Redefining Crowd & Material
I am still a showman, but what does that mean now? And, what the hell is my next step? I dug back into my notes and pages, studying about that good old Way. I put on the starry crown and hoped to rediscover the Way onwards.

A showman is someone who faces the other way. 
Who has walked with the Crowd 
then turned around to Face the Others. 

I have mainly thought of a Showman as one person facing a Crowd. This is probably because that’s what the majority of my career has consisted of. In our new reality without big Crowds, UK’s legal Crowd size being two, made me think of those who perform close-up magic.

They perform tiny shows. For tiny Crowds. They might sit down with a couple having dinner at a restaurant and accost them with a show. Jokes aside, how to ingratiate yourself and get invited to show your tricks and material to an exclusive Crowd of two, is a real consideration. A close-up performance can even be a one-on-one encounter. (Making it a gathering of two. One Facing one Other is just on the side of legal.) 

A one-on-one performance doesn’t have to be magic, but not every kind of performance immediately lends itself to a one-on-one show. Some skills would need an enormous amount of creativity to be suitable. A Showman must always know their Crowd and tailor the material and presentation to suit. We must totally reimagine our material. We must not focus on skills and tricks, these become obstacles of artifice thus not suitable in one-on-one situations. Specially if we are doing the shows in non-traditional venues, such as at home.

If a Crowd can still be a “Crowd” with just one person, the core of what a show can be is revealed to be even deeper and more fundamental than one person presenting preprepared material to a group. It can be one person meeting another, having an exchange of attention and making a connection. The essence in the meeting between Showman and the tiniest of Crowds is, not the preprepared material, but the connection.

Perhaps thinking deeply about Showmanship isn’t so self-indulgent after all. 

The Showman’s obligation
A showman’s responsibility is to make sure the time and attention given by a Crowd is rewarding and worthwhile. They need to feel like the time given was enriched, that their investment of time an attention paid off. Keep this in mind as you make the connections. It is the only preparation needed for you “material.”

In the Warped Space of the stage
the Showman steals the Crowd’s time
But like a twisted, alchemical, Robin Hood 
he returns it refined as: Show-time.

The Daily Show
Your first Crowd is the one inside your lockdown bubble. The experience of isolation shall be broken by connecting closer, by really being present with each other. Connections are made by paying attention. Being present. By taking time in the space of isolation to give each other our full attention. This is how we shall change our social isolation from equivalent to a preexisting condition like smoking, into a boost of our immune-system. (A fraught term, but it gets the point across).

For those of us with children, this isolation is a bizarre children's show. Remember this, you are constantly on Show for them. More than usual. This isolation is like a pressure cooker. The post-apocalyptic, record breaking amounts of dead-in-a-day-show, that’s going on all around us, is not the show the kids should see. My daughter is paying close attention to my wife and myself, we are the show together. 

I believe once all this is behind us my daughter will remember how we behaved, and how our home felt during all of this, rather than anything about the virus. She is watching me and learning how to respond to uncertainty. Connections are made, between us, and inside our brains. How I act as a Showman in this daily show will determine how the wiring of these connections will be. I am aiming for resilience, not fear, as the response to chaos. This will be the flavour of my preprepared material in all my connections. Fingers crossed I am Man enough for this Show.

See you all along the way
Yours truly,
Captain Frodo

Monday 28 March 2016

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 70

The Illuminated Showman wears his heart on the sleeve, displaying it for all the world.

Thursday 25 February 2016

Between The Folds

This is a very inspiring documentary about Origami. It is directed by Vanessa Gould who manages to get an extraordinary depth to her story. The people she introduces are an eclectic mix of fine artists and eccentric scientists who have devoted their lives to a Craft as unusual and obscure as our own Craft as Showmen. It carefully describes the passion behind such an obsession, and it shows the artists who all in their own way struggle to make something which on the surface seems like a childish past time, into an art. Yet, the documentary also goes on to demonstrate the surprising real world applications of Origami in engineering and biology and medicine.

As you watch this, if you keep our own sacred Craft in mind I think you will find it is like the documentary is describing our own Way.

Monday 16 November 2015

Clown Truth

Since the dawn of humanity clowns have danced a closely intertwined dance with truth. This dance is a fundamental feature of their timeless attraction. Truthfulness is, behind the mask of grotesque ridiculousness, what makes a clown. When a clown comes from a place of authenticity the clown can say things others wouldn’t dare. 

The clown is a liminal character, polarized between the lowest social standing and a unique position of receiving attention, which in and of itself is a form of social status. Attention not just from common people but also from the rich and powerful. In medieval times the court jester was a clown in service of a King or some other elevated noblemen. In this role jesters had unique access to, literally, the most powerful persons in the land. On top of that he had a unique permission to speak the truth.
The jester’s freedom to mock or contradict rulers is described in records from all over the world, throughout history. India, Persia, China, and Europe all had their own versions of it. Aztec regent Montezuma II (1502-20) said of his jesters: “They frequently pronounced some important truths,” and in Erasmus’ (1469-1536) Praise of Folly he writes: “They’re the only ones who speak frankly and tell the truth, and what is more praiseworthy than truth?”
We must assume Kings were fully aware of this aspect of their fools role. So they would take great care in selecting their court jester. To gain the privilege, of being taken care of and to possibly assert influence, the clown had to deserve it. Only masters of their craft would have gotten the honor of becoming court jesters. They would have had to be able to improvise and have a broad palette of skills to draw upon and combine as they in essence would perform to the same crowd repeatedly. Obviously they would also have to be compatible with as well as being stimulating to the individual King’s humor, taste, and temperament.  
From the Jester or Clowns point of view an important part of their education and development is to discover and develop a truthful representation of themselves. A character which can fall down, juggle, sing comic songs, tell stories or what have you, and  come across as being truthful and himself through it all. They need to be able to pretend without pretense. 

“The clowns who are masters are themselves. They make something wonderful out of who they truly, deeply and simply are. They don’t hide or conceal themselves in clown character, to appear as someone else, or someone good, or someone right. Yes, they borrow routines, shtick, and ideas from one another and their predecessors, and, true, they frequently belong to a long performance lineage and have learned, as apprentices, specific techniques that perpetuate a certain tradition. And yet whatever material they perform, whatever character they present, they enter into their clown persona as a way of being more generously themselves than they might be under usual circumstances. Every time we watch one of them, we don’t view a form or a character or a concept. We see, simply, them.” (Ezra LeBank and David Bridel, Clowns: In conversation with Modern Masters.)

There were of course particular, if unwritten, rules for the way these transgressive expressions of truth could be presented. Guised in silliness, displayed and expressed from a grotesque and lowly state of dignity, the King would be free to take from it what he wanted and discard the rest as jest and absurdity. If the King sifted out a grain of truth from the jesters rants and chose to take the it to heart it was more likely for the grain to fall on fertile ground. 
The jester could speak truths, but the telling of truth is not just a matter of stating facts.  “Earth is not the centre of the solar system,” might have been a fact when it was first uttered, but it was not experienced as such by the vast majority. The type of truth best expressed by jesters and clowns is not factual truth, what German film maker Werner Herzog calls “accountant’s truth,” but rather what he calls “ecstatic or poetic truth.” 
“If facts had any value, if they truly illuminated us, if they unquestionably stood for truth, the Manhattan phone directory would be the book of books.” (Werner Herzog. A Guide for the Perplexed.)
Facts might reflect objective reality, but they do not illuminate. Only truth illuminates. Poetic truth is an experienced truth, greater and more powerful than any fact. It is a process of communication where a recipient experiences someones expression as a deeper and more visceral truth. Poetic truth is not separate from human participation. It is not something which is, it is something which happens between humans. Poetic truth is artificial, meaning “made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, typically as a copy of something natural.” (New Oxford American Dictionary.) A poetic truth is fact artificially crafted to make emotional connection.
For poetic truth to happen there needs to be trust between the presenter and the receiver. The King would have to trust his fool. For this trust to develop the fool had to express his self. If the King felt his jester spoke the opinions or truths of ministers or bishops, chances are the fool would have his privilege revoked, possibly by having his tongue ripped out or head chopped off.
 The process of telling truth is a delicate business. As a clown attempts to do so there is always risk. Risk of failure. Not the kind of failure which is mimicked in a clown’s performance, which in actuality is only imitation of failure so well crafted it really is a success, its rather a failure of communication, failure of connection and understanding. If any of these three factors fail; the truthfulness of the clown, the particular truth expressed, or the King’s experience of either, the clown risks death. The historical jester who’s truth broke down could probably face literal death. Todays clowns risks dying on stage. Certainly not as bad as death, anyone who isn’t a clown would say. Yet, the clown’s truth is the clown’s soul.  When a clown dies on stage the truth of his self fails, without which the poetic truth of his message can no longer happen. What dies, when a clown dies on stage, is his soul. Without it the clown is reduced to a soulless clown zombie. Wandering undead in greasepaint with a red nose being but an empty shell. A fate on par with death by royal executioner. (It’s zombie clowns like this, roaming shopping centers and birthday parties which is giving clowns a bad name.) 

 The truthfulness in the jesters persona is the key to his privilege as truth teller. When a clown successfully acts from his heart, the wellspring of poetic truth, truth can happen and rings true. In this subtle, yet powerful, process comes great power. Laughter and levity lowers the minds defense mechanisms, and as cynicism and distrust recedes, the listeners own heart becomes exposed, fertile ground. In such moments the heart of the jester can speak directly to the King’s heart and under these peculiar circumstances a lowly clown can plant a seed of poetic truth in the Kings heart. A seed which has the potential to sprout into governmental reform. If a clown whispers his truth to the King’s open heart, change becomes a possibility. Change of heart. Change of mind. Change of world.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Lessons From the Way of the Showman - 69

Think of nervousness as excitement. With the alchemical powers of the mind you can create this transformation and a greater, more confident Showman will emerge. 

Thursday 20 August 2015

The Way of the Showman - III - Sideshow Part Two

Inspired by meeting John Kamikaze and getting invited to join his family of freaks, the Space
Cowboy, Shep Huntly, Tigerlil and myself decided we wanted to create our own sideshow.
The Kamikaze Freakshow was a hardcore experience for the crowds. John Kamikaze's art can be difficult to watch for even the most ardent sideshow enthusiast. So we wanted our sideshow to be a softer experience for the crowds. Personally I have always been drawn in the direction of laughter. A good laugh and gag can make the sideshow medicine go down easier. We wanted to create a show which could manage to convey just how fun and exciting we found the stunts and skills of the sideshows, and make the crowd feel that same excitement. In our talks we talked about wanting it to be a happy vibe show. Shep Huntly had, at the time a smiley face dyed into the hair on his head. He also played the Toothfairy song "You got to be Happy Now," at the start of each of his street shows. Eventually this idea of wanting to make a happy sideshow became our name, not just a description of what we wanted the show to be like.
This next episode in the Way of the Showman series shows glimpses from some of the early exploits of the Happy Sideshow, Australia's Premier Freakshow.
It shows a bunch of the madness arising when The Happy Sideshow opened for the extraordinary showbiz band Machine Gun Fellatio. It was some seriously good times. A deadly cocktail. Rock and Roll meets Shock and Roll.

Monday 10 August 2015

The Way of the Showman - I - 1 Day in Norway

In this episode Carnival Cinema has dug up an old gem. Flesh hooks, clog dancing, extreme tattooing, and myself without a mustache.
Hamish McCormick and myself traveled to Norway in 2004. One of the days there we spent with my friends at Solid Tattoo and Piercing. It all seemed so normal and straight forward at the time. Looking back at it now I realise I used to be really tough. It was quite a day!

Links to the other episodes

CW Stoneking Film clip
Teaser Introduction
Part I - 1 Day in Norway
Part II - Sideshow #1
Part III - Sideshow #2
Part IV - Act Analysis
Part V - You Create Your Own Reality
Part VI - Confetti and Aardvarks

Monday 27 July 2015

Invisible Thread

A short movie starring Penn & Teller? How sweet. A simple magic trick saves the world, it might just be plausible.
The movie is from 1987. Features a cameo from James Randi.

Thursday 30 October 2014

The Pitchman

Mark Mason - Pitchman
This is a great short film spanning a life of using showmanship to pitch con games, towels, and
eventually magic tricks to magicians. He tells of working on carnival rides in Blackpool and numbers games. Very interesting and worth a watch.
"Mark Mason is "The Pitchman", magic's best salesman. He started out working as a carney, running mock auctions and pitching merchandise around the UK. Now he develops and markets effects for amateur and professional magicians, often hosting the most successful and entertaining booths at the world's biggest magic conventions."

Friday 24 October 2014

Appalachian Show Folk

Alan Lomax recording before digital.
Watching Alan Lomax interview and explain the customs of story tellers, musicians, mountain whittlers, clog dancers, banjo players, ballad singers, coal miners, and bootleggers, set me thinking about this peculiar breed of showmen. 

Their style and Ways are less showy than most others ever featured on this blog. They do not rely on dazzle dazzle but rather on an immediate ability to connect. Hard working, hard men and women pouring their hearts out through their music and stories. Their stock in trade; a truthfulness and no nonsense. There aint no arguing with this kind of showings of the soul.

We meet men like Nimrod Workman who worked 12 hour shifts in the depths of coal mines, digging away at the hearts of those mountains to emerge singing ballads of black lungs. With the truth of each word knocking the dust off their helmets and overhauls. Its a simple truth, the most difficult to tell, because of its nakedness and directness. Telling us about how the coal seeping into their bodies, showing it like faint tattoos under his skin, and of course giving them black lungs. But somehow in his passion giving off the feeling that the coal inside them has been forged into a diamond, by the pressures of life and the alchemical process of refining life experience into truth told by art.

With Alan Lomax himself throwing in commentary like: 
"The huge crowds which applaud the precision cloggers represents the modern passion for spectacles of regimented movement." 
I love that sentence. He then goes on an Appalachian Journey for the individual movement and style and passion in the hearts of the mountain folk and how they express it through a stripped back practical showmanship.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

In Jesus' Name: Taking Up Serpents

I love this shot. The one armed man; deep faith resides there.
Mark 16:18: "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name . . .they shall take up serpents."

I find the fervour and enthusiasm of Crowds, Congregations and the Preachers leading religiously themed performances deeply fascinating. 
The quality of the recordings in the clip below, its candid and autodidact feeling makes it all the more intriguing. It is like you have stumbled upon a tiny church deep in some hidden away holler. You are drawn in by the honesty and heartfelt interpretation of religious bluegrass and walking up you peek through the cobwebbed windows. 

There are interviews with some of the participants, but for the main part we just get to experience the no frills, all emotion and commitment of the little congregation.

There is great power in the shadow lands between performance and religious ecstasy. Real emotional healing and transcendent experiences has been created in settings like this for aeons. Here we get a rare unpolished and raw glimpse of it.

Thursday 17 July 2014

Prophet of the Third Reich

Psychic Erik Jan Hanussen leads
a seance in prewar Germany.
The Jewish-born mentalist improbably
became an advisor to Adolf Hitler.

Born to a family called Steinschneider, Erik Jan Hanussen arrived in decadent Berlin, and became the prophet of the Third Reich.
I first learnt of the existence of Erik Jan Hanussen from a magic manuscript by Bob Cassidy, a fabulous mentalist. The very peculiar tale, certainly more strange than fiction, was woven into a mentalist routine. I then looked into him and lo and behold his tale is a peculiar one.

"The story of Erik Jan Hanussen, the Viennese-Jewish psychic who befriended Adolf Hitler and became known as the “Prophet of the Third Reich,” is one of the most peculiar in modern European history. Few twentieth-century historians have acknowledged Hanussen as a factor in the dissolution of the Weimar Republic. That the Führer had engaged a wily Jewish clairvoyant might seem the stuff of mocking political fantasy or occult make-believe — but the story is true."
 "Hanussen’s yacht was the scene of lavish feasts, where drugs were offered that even sophisticated Berliners — who were quite familiar with the enchantments of cocaine — didn’t know about. Naked women and exotic boys performed shocking revues. Sometimes, after midnight, Hanussen demonstrated one of his specialties: his ability to hypnotize women into sexual frenzy and then sustained orgasm. A Swedish baroness, Barbara van Swieten, otherwise known on the nightclub circuit as La Jana, often hosted these events and sometimes acted as a willing participant. Even for a Berlin accustomed to debauched nighttime displays, Hanussen’s were considered phenomenal, over the top. 
"A debate over the veracity of Hanussen’s omnipotent powers was on every fashionable Berliner’s lips. But still he capitalized on public interest by purchasing a Breslau printing firm in 1931, and then launching an occult journal, Hanussen Magazin, and a biweekly tabloid, Bunte Wochenschau. Prominent writers and artists such as Gerhart Hauptmann, Hanns Ewers, and Conrad Veidt furnished pieces on their experiences with the paranormal. Thomas Mann, the leading novelist of the day, was a regular contributor. Subscribers were encouraged to apply for memberships in the Hanussen Society, where tickets to his stage productions were offered at a fifty percent discount. Clairvoyant workshops and discussion groups formed around the magazine, and its circulation rose into the hundreds of thousands. But as the psychic’s fortunes grew, Germany’s fell.  

The excerpts above are from a superb article by author and scholar Mel Gordon. The authority on the life and peculiar times of Hanussen. A well worth read.

For further reading there is an interesting article, if oddly presented, on the Steinschneider (Hanussens birth name) Family's Genealogical website.

This blog article by Chet Loggins is also great for its pictures and historical reproductions.

Mel Gordon talking about Erik Jan Hanussen, Hitler's Jewish Clairvoyant. Unfortunately not available on Kindle, but here'a link to used copies.