~ The Checkerboard Guy's Blog ~


Thoughts Following A Recent Photo Shoot

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

For those of you who may have actually checked in on my Blog when I was writing on a more regular basis you’ll realize that I’ve been on Hiatus for about seven and a half months, and it’s not like this post really triggers my return to regular blogging , nor am I following the sort of guidelines that I set up at the very beginning for trying to spew out certain content on certain days… That’s all the disclaimer part… Now for the meat of the post…

A week ago I went back into the studio for a photo shoot with the specific goal in mind of capturing some more images to promote the Street Show and Festival work I do. The photo above is an example of the sort of stuff that came out of the shoot and for the most part I’m really super pleased with the shots we got! Kevin Clark, the photographer I worked with is awesome and is willing to put himself in almost harms way to get great shots! Also in attendance was my Manager, Corwin Heibert, who’s awesomeness is hard to describe. Corwin brought treats when he arrived, made sure props where where they needed to be, created a shot list to make sure we covered all of the ground we were hoping to cover, he generally oversaw things so that Kevin and I could play and worry more about capturing the fun nature of what I do than the pesky details that make any endeavour run smoothly.

Yesterday I swung by the studio to pick up a couple of discs worth of raw materials… In the two and a half hours (give or take) that I was at the studio last week we had nineteen set-ups, four costume changes with minor tweaks along the way, multiple props and a whole lot of fun capturing just over four hundred images.

While the experience is still reasonably fresh in my head and as I pour over the images on my screen, I wanted to make some notes (as much for myself as anyone else) about the things that worked and the things that I maybe could have improved upon so that the next time I go into the studio I’m more prepared and get an even higher percentage of awesome shots. Here then, in no particular order is a list of observations and self reminders for ‘the next time.’

  • Having Corwin at the shoot was awesome. Having someone to assist with props, keep the shoot moving forward and make sure all of the things that need to be in place are in place made the shoot go really really smoothly. This was great!
  • I occasionally use my yellow jacket when I’m doing street work, but I think I probably featured it more in the photo shoot than I should have. I don’t think I really got as many ‘non-jacket’ shots as I might have liked.
  • There’s a difference between doing what I do and getting a good studio shot… I like the shots of me posing with my ladder far more than the shots where I’m actually climbing the ladder… In future, remember to capitalize on being able to set up ‘posed’ shots in the studio and worry about capturing action shots when I’m in performance.
  • Check Check Check my hair each and every time that I put on a hat. Trust those around you, but don’t rely on other people in the studio to tell you your hair’s OK… I know how I like my hair to look much more than anyone else and many shots were compromised because I neglected to run a comb or brush through the haystack on my head after I’d had a hat on.
  • Interesting studio shots can involve the use of props in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with how those props are used in my show. This was true in the case of the ladder example above, but was true at other times during the shoot as well. Don’t pass over props that don’t seem as dynamic because you can make anything interesting if posed correctly and sometimes these possibly skipped over props can create some of the most interesting images.
  • Many things can be cleaned up in Post… I did a shoot wearing my stage outfit and forgot to wear my bow tie. I actually went in and did a second shoot with the bow tie, but some of the shots from the first shoot were so good that I ended up having the bow tie cut out from some of the shots in the second shoot and put into the shots from the first shoot. Photoshop can fix a world of pain!
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“The King Of The Lesbians”

Zimmy Page, comic author and wielder of puppets has another amusing tale from the road for us today. As a side note, I was in Nelson that year and I was never kidnapped by Lesbians… Hmmmm… I did distinguish myself by getting to the end of a show and puking about 60% of the way through my Hat Pass though… Heat exhaustion was the diagnosis… I just remember feeling like crap. Funny how different people remember an event in such different ways… Zimmy’s story is WAY more entertaining that mine.

Cheers!

d. – checkerhead

“The King Of The Lesbians”

Nelson, British Columbia, 1999. I am kidnapped by lesbians. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ana Shepherd • Interviews from the Inside

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Prologue: I first met Ana at the 2009 edition of the Winnipeg C.A.M.P. program. C.A.M.P. actually runs two weeks, the first week being a trip to somewhere in Northern Manitoba and the second week taking place in Winnipeg. I only did the Winnipeg run that year and met Ana as she arrived back in Winnipeg along with the regular crew from the northern run. She quickly impressed me with her vim and vigour and by her sly technique of sneaking up at the table of Settlers of Catan Geeks and winning the game. This year at C.A.M.P. she seemed to have a terminal case of the bouncies! Every time I ran into her she seemed to be bouncing around the room and that energy was somehow enormously appealing… Good time!

STATS

Name: Ana Shepherd
Birthday: March 5, 1982.
Place of Birth: Toronto, ON, Canada.
Started Peforming/Working in the Industry: 1998
Discipline: Aerial, Pyramids/Partner Acrobatics
Websites: www.dragonflyaerialarts.com
Venues Worked: Skydome, ACC, Harbourfront Centre, Palais Royale, B.C.E. Place, Fallsview Casino, Hawaii’s S.P.A.C.E., Grand Wailea…among others.

Hot 10 Questions:

  1. What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream and why? • Mmmmm…moosetracks! From Kawartha Dairy. You get it all: vanilla, chocolate peanut butter cups, caramel…what more can you ask for from ice cream?
  2. Name one movie that would make it to your Top 10 all-time great films. • Hard to pick out just one favorite.
  3. What was your favorite toy from childhood? • Do trees count as toys?
  4. Who were your biggest inspirations when you got started? • The amazing and strong women that I worked with. Cirque du Soleil also had some neat shows.
  5. From the world of animation what one character do you most identify with or see yourself in? • Eeek, I dunno, don’t know much about the world of animation. I really liked She-ra, the Princess of Power when I was a kid.
  6. Name something that scares you.Cotton balls. Seriously, don’t even pretend to make the noise they make when you touch them. I’m cringing just writing about it.
  7. Apart from the entertainment industry, name one other job you’ve had. Server.
  8. What’s something you haven’t done yet that you’d like to try? Skydiving.
  9. What’s your least favourite thing about being a performer? • Being asked what I do for a living by strange men – I have made up many many alternate careers for myself.
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? • “Sorry about that, but, hooray!”

The Nugget:

Pick one nugget of wisdom you’ve picked up from your career in Show Business to share with the World.

It’s not what you do but how you do it. Sorry, it’s an oldie but a goodie.

–Ana Shepherd

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Jeff Moche • Interviews from the Inside

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Prologue: Hmmm… Where did I meet Jeff Moche…we have to stretch all the way back to the late eighties on this one. I think it was probably at the 1988 Halifax Buskers Festival. There was so much going on that it was hard to keep track of at times… Those were the days when Halifax was really taken over by Buskers and there was magic on every street corner. Huge hats! Great Times!

That of course wasn’t the only spot I ran into Jeff. There was the time that we bumped into each other and hung out a bit at Le Festival D’été in Quebec City in 1993. And quite a few others as well. Jeff was also pretty instrumental with my thinking process when I decided to try out the cruise ship market a bit more pro-actively. He helped me understand the benefits and drawbacks to working with an agent and also gave me a bit more insight into what working on a ship was actually like. Good guy! Funny! Very New York! Awesome!

STATS

Name: Jeff Moche
Birthday: Mid-February of none of your business!  (Internet security issue, you bastard)
Place of Birth: New York, NY, USA
Started Peforming/Working in the Industry: 1987-ish
Discipline: Besides not having discipline, comedian-magician
Websites: www.jeffmagic.com
Video Link: http://www.jeffmagic.com/video.html
Venues Worked: Began as a street performer, but soon moved up to avenues and boulevards.  Mostly now I do cruise ship and corporate work, besides of course “pimpin’ my bitches”.

Hot 10 Questions:

  1. What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream and why? • B&J’s Americone Dream.  It tastes like Steven Colbert, and I fantasize that while I’m eating it it’s languidly melting atop Jessica Alba.
  2. Name one movie that would make it to your Top 10 all-time great films.Casablanca (Couldn’t admit to Russ Meyer’s Super Vixens)
  3. What was your favorite toy from childhood? • Mouse trap.  I loved the whole idea of a Rube Goldberg contraption and tried to build them at home.  Nothing ever worked though.
  4. Who were your biggest inspirations when you got started? • I saw a few really good street performers in NY, Philly and New Orleans, and the whole genre of street performing thrilled me.
  5. From the world of animation what one character do you most identify with or see yourself in? • (I’m going to answer more the question I wished you had asked…) George Castanza.
  6. Name something that scares you.The Checkerboard Guy. And not being properly prepared to do a job (I have recurrent nightmares about this).
  7. Apart from the entertainment industry, name one other job you’ve had. • I initially had thought to become a counselling psychologist and went to a very good university, graduated and worked in a brain function research study, a depression clinic and on a psych ward. But I found myself less and less interested in that, and finally had to make the choice to go on for a Ph.D or not. So in my mid-twenties I quit that career path and moved to New Orleans to perform full time.
  8. What’s something you haven’t done yet that you’d like to try? Jumping out of an airplane.  Starting a serious different business, hopefully while continuing to perform.
  9. What’s your least favourite thing about being a performer? • Marketing myself as a product, and doing all the phone and mailing stuff involved.
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? • “I actually quite admire that you held to your belief in my non-existence. Now here’s my angel who’ll show you to your palace, where the 72 virgins are waiting. And by the way, they’re our best quality virgins.”

The Nugget:

Pick one nugget of wisdom you’ve picked up from your career in Show Business to share with the World.

From someone who had been in the women’s dress business: “I was in the dress business for over 30 years. Dress #147 bought my house!”

-Jeff Moche

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Getting a shout out from Nature…

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

I love spring in Vancouver! Not that our winters are very harsh or anything, but the abundance of new life as the gardens burst into life is just awesome. Particularly awesome in our front yard as a few years ago my wife decided to plant some checkered lilies and every spring I’m greeting by natures little tribute to my geometrical pattern of choice.

This is perhaps marketing that only I get to enjoy which isn’t necessarily the best sort of marketing, but still, it puts a big smile on my face ever time I see it!

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Mick Jagger – Quoted

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada.

“It’s all right letting yourself go as long as you can let yourself back.”

Mick Jagger, English rock singer (1943 – )

Addendum…

“It’s significantly harder letting yourself back than it is letting yourself go.”

–David ‘checkerhead’ Aiken

Weight-wise I seem to hover between about 80 kg and 85 kg when I’m in decent shape and feeling on top of my game… From about the Fall of last year I sort of just ignored the scale for a while because I was pretty frantic work-wise and it was more important to make it through each day than it was to worry about how much weight I thought I was likely gaining… Well… After getting back from Winnipeg a couple of weeks ago I decided to step on a scale and was a bit alarmed by the number the popped up. Since I deliberately took some time off in April/May to just chill I all of a sudden don’t have an excuse to not be a bit more conscious about my physical condition. I’ve been going to the Underground Circus’s training space a few times a week, working out a bit at home and being a bit more cautious about what (and how much) I’m eating. The weights coming off slowly but surely, but it seems like so much less ‘work’ to put it on that to take it off… I know I’ll feel better for it though!


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Ivan Pecel • Interviews from the Inside

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Prologue: This is one of those weird cases of ‘we’ve never met, but we know all of the same people.’ I was originally introduced to Ivan’s work by Robin Chestnut. I kept hearing about him any time I worked on a cruise ship too. I figured since we knew all the same people I could ‘friend’ him on Facebook. Apparently this was enough to get me added to his newsletter mailing list. I’m cool with this and what it actually did was start a dialogue that eventually lead to this interview. The dude’s got a nice balance of show and business… No doubt about it!

STATS

Name: Ivan Pecel
Birthday: March 24, 1981
Place of Birth: Los Angeles, CA, USA.
Started Peforming/Working in the Industry: 1999.
Discipline: Comedy/Juggling.
Websites: www.ivanpecel.com
Video Link: www.youtube.com/ivanpecel
Venues Worked: Las Vegas Strip, Colleges, Cruise Ships, Comedy Clubs, Corporate Events.

Hot 10 Questions:

  1. What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream and why? • Mint Chocolate Chip… Because I neither like mint, nor chocolate chip individually… But put them together and it becomes a mouth full of joy.
  2. Name one movie that would make it to your Top 10 all-time great films.Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman
  3. What was your favorite toy from childhood? • He-Man action Figures… … Still is my favorite toy.
  4. Who were your biggest inspirations when you got started?Mark Nizer, Steve Martin.
  5. From the world of animation what one character do you most identify with or see yourself in?Superman… I’m still holding on to the idea that one day I will learn how to fly.
  6. Name something that scares you.Getting old. The movie “Poltergeist 2,” Not being in control.
  7. Apart from the entertainment industry, name one other job you’ve had. I was the shirtless guy that stood in the door way of the Abercrombie and Fitch Store for a few months in college.  Degrading yet fulfilling all at the same time.
  8. What’s something you haven’t done yet that you’d like to try? Sky-Diving.
  9. What’s your least favourite thing about being a performer? • Excessive Travel.
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? • What the hell are you doing here?”

The Nugget:

Pick one nugget of wisdom you’ve picked up from your career in Show Business to share with the World.

Show business is 2 words.  “Show” and “Business.”  You have to be great and work equally hard at both of them to be successful.  Doesn’t matter how great your show is if you can’t get booked.”

–Ivan Pecel

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Lynda.com

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Got home from Winnipeg and finally got around to selecting one of the free gifts offered to me by Adobe for registering the copy of Adobe CS4 that I picked up recently… For anyone in the know, you may ask why on earth I bought a copy of CS4 when CS5 is apparently just around the corner. Well, it’s like this… I’ve been drafted into helping create a yearbook for my son’s grade 7 class and it seemed more important to get the software sooner than later, so I bit the bullet and took a bid leap and spent a schwack of cash on the software bundle… There are rumours of being able to get a cheap or possibly free upgrade given the proximity to the release of the newer version, so I’ll be keeping my eye on that very carefully… Apparently Photoshop in CS5 has some pretty nice improvements and new features…

Anyway, as part of buying the software and registering it, I was given a selection of ‘thank you gift’ options from Adobe one of which was a one month subscription to the on-line training available at Lynda.com

I’ve known about Lynda.com for years and was first introduced to their software training programs by my friend Jim McCombe back in the late 90′s when we were both just getting into the whole webpage thing… Back then bandwidth was so limited that the idea of streaming videos was quite simply out of the question. These days with things like YouTube and various video codecs designed specifically to keep file sizes down and quality up video is a reality that we can enjoy on the internet painlessly. In fact, in my house, my kids spend more time watching YouTube videos than the TV…

I’ll have to admit that, even though the technology has improved to the point where these videos are easily consumed over the internet, I hadn’t really given much thought to revisiting Lynda.com until I got this free months worth of tutorials as a gift from Adobe. This may have been in part due to the fact that if I’m working on Cruise Ships the internet is both slow and expensive which doesn’t make it an ideal location to be tapping into on-line tutorials. April however is a month that I determined a few months ago would be spent at home and right after getting home from Winnipeg I signed up for a month’s worth of training thanks to Adobe and have been watching videos every day.

Yes I’m a bit of a geek to begin with, but I know that with certain pieces of software I own I’m just scratching the surface of what is possible. I know how to do what I want to do in most cases, but am also aware that there may be more efficient ways to do things and really haven’t taken the time to explore some of the hidden features and options that many software packages offer. I’m also keenly aware that just because I know how to accomplish a certain task it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m doing it in the most time efficient method. Sometimes it’s just easier to do things the way you know than to find the additional time to actually learn how to do it right.

Well, it feels good to be making the time to actually sit down and go through the tutorials for a couple of pieces of software and fill in all sorts of gaps in my knowledge. Even with task that I AM familiar with (writing this blog for example with in the WordPress world) I’m making the time to go through the instructional videos and am picking up tips and tricks that I know will end up saving me time in the weeks and months to come.

Years ago I actually purchased a DVD tutorial from a different company so I could learn the Final Cut Pro Studio suite of software and at the time it made sense because I was traveling a lot and didn’t always have an internet connection. At the moment however the trainings I’m watching at Lynda.com are the perfect way to incrementally increase my knowledge on various software packages that I know I should know more about. Got some time? Want to learn how to get more out of your computer and the software on it, well then, the $25/month subscription price well worth the price of admission.

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Pixel Pushing


PIXELS by PATRICK JEAN.
Uploaded by onemoreprod. – Watch original web videos.

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Got an email in my inbox from Jeff Moche with a little video he wanted me to check out.

Went, watched it and laughed… I think in our modern world a lot of what we do in the realm of marketing amounts to pushing pixels around. This video was a funny take on what might happen if we push those pixels too far.

Well worth the watch.

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Stacy Clark • Interviews from the Inside

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Prologue: I first met Stacy Clark as part of the Circus And Magic Partnership back in 2005. Of that first meeting I recall being struck by the fact that this acrobat and aerialist was also super business savvy and super nice. We seemed to have a similar world view and I was aware very early on that we were destined to be great friends! I also really enjoyed her smile though in this shot she’s got her bad girl cheer leader face on… She was posing for this picture looking tough, but it’s one of the few times that I’ve seen her with out a smile on her face… Well unless she’s attached to her Blackberry… The girls got some man phone skills too! Of our first meeting Stacy recall’s these things -

And I recall noticing that a) you are tall b) you are kind  c) you scrunch up your nose when you smile. You were also good enough to rub my aching shoulders after a day of hauling kids.

Over the last few years she’s made herself an indispensable member of the C.A.M.P. family and has been a huge resource of information when ever I’ve had questions about Cirque du Soleil because her day job is being a gymnastics scout for Cirque. Cool gig! Cooler person – very glad to count her amongst my friends!

STATS

Name: Stacy Clark
Birthday: December 21, 1969
Place of Birth: Montreal, QC, Canada
Started Peforming/Working in the Industry: 2000.
Discipline: Aerial acrobatics.
Websites: www.highstrung.ca
Video Link: http://www.highstrung.ca/video.php?src=videos/highstrung.mp4&type=qt
Venues Worked: Many a street, pitch, parking lot, field. In theatres big and small, on TV and in film.

Hot 10 Questions:

  1. What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream and why? • Häagen-Dazs butter pecan. Rich, pecan-y goodness!
  2. Name one movie that would make it to your Top 10 all-time great films.Dirty Dancing. Not even kidding.
  3. What was your favorite toy from childhood? • Lemon twist. I also had a balance beam in my backyard.
  4. Who were your biggest inspirations when you got started? •Having started street performing SO late in life, I admired anyone who made me laugh and feel connected. I still do.
  5. From the world of animation what one character do you most identify with or see yourself in?Cindy Lou Who.
  6. Name something that scares you. • Not being prepared.
  7. Apart from the entertainment industry, name one other job you’ve had. I have marketed/advertised aircraft, major sports teams and Broadway-style theatre shows… I also scooped ice cream in high school.
  8. What’s something you haven’t done yet that you’d like to try? • Being rich.
  9. What’s your least favourite thing about being a performer? • Bad weather. And maybe hauling our giant road cases through mud.
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? • “Welcome to the circus! And no, you don’t need liability insurance.”

The Nugget:

Pick one nugget of wisdom you’ve picked up from your career in Show Business to share with the World.

Be yourself, be accessible to your public, and no matter what happens, just keep smilin’.

–Stacy Clark

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Huge Time Suck Vol. 2

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

So… Over the past few months… Since about the beginning of the year really I’ve begun to notice how much time this Blogging thing is sucking up… Like ALOT! I started this project back at the beginning of 2009 as a way to force myself to write something other than emails which was the topic of “Huge Time Suck Vol. 1″ back on February 12, 2009 but now I’m finding that this Blog is turning into almost as much of a time consumer as the email (though lets be honest, few things can suck time up as efficiently as responding to notes in your inbox).

Sat down with my manager today and had a meeting about various things… Stuff I should be working on, stuff that could help move my ‘career’ (I still can’t believe I refer to what I do as ‘a career’) forward and how I should be handling my time to get the most out of my days. Creating blog content we determined was good, but daily blog content was taking up so much of my time that perhaps I should cut back to 2 – 4 posts a week and use the time saved to work on other more ‘career advancing’ pursuits…

My wife and I were talking about the fact that 24 hours in a day doesn’t seem to be enough some times. She recently quit her part time job which was really only a 15 hour a week time commitment, but having those extra 15 hours really seems to have helped her feel more on top of life and even with those 15 extra hours a week she really doesn’t feel like 24 hours is enough some days to get through the list of things she wants to do.

Part of this, I think, is a question of time management, part of this is prioritizing, part of this is about making smart choices about how I spend my time and what I want to achieve. When I set out to start writing a blog I didn’t really have a sense of where it was going or how long I’d be doing it… I sort of set out with the general intention of using this space as a venue for some sort of creative output and it’s been great for that. Now I’m thinking that I need to shift gears a bit so a bit less of my 24 hours and creative process is consumed by this particular outlet and can be focused on some other projects that are becoming a priority.

This begs the question – Will anyone care?

My website has a stats counter on it and I see from the stats counter that lots of people are apparently coming to the blog to check out the content, but I get very little in the way of feedback in the comments section. I get the sense that there’s an audience out there and have been more or less blindly throwing content out there because people ‘might’ be enjoying it, but now’s the time to let your voice be heard. If you’ve enjoyed the content of this blog and have 2¢ you’d like to share about this decision to scale back the output I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The comments section is open for feedback, or if you prefer, just pop me an email to cbg@checkerhead.com

As of next week I’ll be posting a little less frequently I think…

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The Festival Market Places

Photo Credit: Leif NormanThe Forks Market Place, Winnipeg

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Almost with out exception major urban centres have some sort of Festival Market or Farmer’s Market and for the enterprising street performer these venues make an idea venue to set up and ply one’s trade.

I grew up in the Ottawa area, so for me the venue was “The Byward Market.” Initially I took my show down to the market during the day to play for the day time shopping crowd. This seemed to work particularly well during the spring and fall when the weather was a bit brisk, but sunny days brought droves of people out. At the time I didn’t have any competition for spots and I don’t recall ever being hassled about finding a corner of the market, setting up and doing my shows. I actually credit these early shows for my training as a performer or a sort of apprenticeship and I was extremely lucky to have the opportunity to learn by doing and doing and doing. The fact that there weren’t any other variety acts busking the market at the time meant that I had the chance to earn my chops and develop  my show and my stage character in a really organic sort of way. Awesome!

As my show developed and improved I also started performing in the Market in the evening as, not only was it the farmer’s market during the day, it was also a popular area for bars and restaurants in the evening. The ton of the space changed dramatically as evening set in and the street lights provided enough lighting to make evenings shows not only possible, but much more atmospheric. In the evenings people were also out to spend money in a different sort of way and I quickly learned that I could make substantially more money with evening shows than with shows during the day provided the weather was warm enough to entice people out side. For a few years, this represented the bulk of my summer employment.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that most urban centres have some sort of Festival Market or Farmer’s Market.  The Byward Market was the place I got my start, but it’s by no means the only venue of this type that I’ve had the opportunity to play in. Here’s a short list of just some of the different venues I’ve gotten to play at or visit over the years that all sort of fall into this category of space (there are lots and lots more) -

Many of the places listed above are well know, well developed tourist areas and as a result are often governed by corporate bodies who fear the worst from or litigious society and place all sorts of restrictions on what performers can and can’t do. On one hand this protects the public, but on the other hand, it’s a shame that it’s needed. Typically these venues are all well known for the street performances that take place as part of the daily chemistry of the space, and this vibrant performance dynamic often becomes a draw for crowds to the destination. Some administrator’s get this, some don’t, and even though these places are know for street shows which may help attract a crowd, the hoops you need to jump through to do your shows can at times be a bit restrictive.

The trick would be to fine a venue like this that wasn’t either overly developed and over regulated or already teaming with acts all competing to do shows. Not sure where that might be, and if it does exist then there’s a good chance there’s a street performer already there doing their utmost to keep it a secret so they can work the pitch much the way I worked the Byward Market back in the 80′s.

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Check out these Cups.

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

A few weeks ago when I was down in Seattle hanging out with Matt Baker he showed me the nicest looking shaker cups I’d seen in years. The cups are available from The Juggling Arts Website and as the website indicates they’re made out of Aircraft aluminum which is a nice buzz word I guess. The point that Matt made that struck me though was that the were very hard to dent. Matt’s cups were the blue color and it looked like the paint was a powder coating. No idea how long he’d had his cups, but they had started to chip a bit… I don’t think any paint is really designed to take the sort of abuse that throwing shaker cups around gives to the surface – but this paint seemed to be holding up fairly well. The most noticeable area of chipping was around the lips of the cups which take the bulk of the abuse if the cups get dropped.

Now I’ve got to admit that I’m not a hugely proficient shaker cup manipulator though I have posed for a few moves for my friend Todd Strong who writes for the Teach In column in Juggle Magazine as well as for use on his website, so I’m reasonably familiar with a few different prop maker’s take on shaker cups. After having a good look at the Juggling Arts website I also tracked down a nice comparative review on-line of three of the primary manufactures. Actually this website provides all sorts of information about the art of shaker cup manipulation, but this section was the part that caught my eye -

The Dube cups are taller and narrower than the other manufacturers, which makes them more similar to real cocktail shaker cups. It also makes it harder to do several moves, especially throwing two or more cups from another cup. They are also made of aluminum, which rubs off on your hands, and leaves the cups looking dull and defeated in no time at all.

The Jenack cups are wider and shorter, which makes some tricks decidedly easier. Unfortunately they too are made of aluminum, and although I can’t speak from personal experience, they don’t hold up as well as they should.

The Juggling Arts shaker cups are similar to the Jenack cups in shape, but are made from a metal alloy, which holds up much better. These cups haven’t been on the market for as long as the other two, so I guess the jury is still out, but they’re clearly the best of the three. The also cost more, but if you start out with aluminum cups, you’ll end up rebuying them, or getting alloy cups eventually. Plus, Dick Franco is now using these cups, so who needs my endorsement?

I’ve used the Jenack cups for years, but they’re apparently hard to come by these days, so that the Juggling Arts is making a cup that’s a similar shape and a bit more robust was exciting news to me as I may need to replace my cups fairly soon and I really didn’t want to go the Dubé route…

Anyway – for those who use shaker cups or are considering them as a prop, my recommendation would be to check out the cups offered by The Juggling Arts.

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Old School 3D

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Went to see the recent Disney 3D feature Alice in Wonderland with Johnny Depp today with my wife and kids and thoroughly enjoyed it. 3D really seems to be making a huge impact these days with lots of animated features being created in 3D and of course the huge success of Avatar and the world that was created and animated in that film. As cool as the latest 3D technology is with it’s funky dark glasses, I was recently reminded of the good old fashion 3D that required the red and blue glasses…

A while back I was doing a post which referenced ‘The Waldo Woodhead Show‘ and stumbled across a  link that took me to a homepage for the former drummer, Witlo (aka Ron Labbe)  for the Waldo Woodhead Show and dropped him an email to see what was what in his world… The internet is, if nothing else, an amazing way to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.

Ron wrote back right away and said that he had a 3D image of me in my 1974 Mini Convertible that I had driven out to the Halifax Buskers Festival in 1988. I vaguely remembered him stopping me and asking if he could take a 3D image of me, but had long ago forgotten that it had happened. If memory serves, he had a funky looking 3D film camera that he took the shot with, but I didn’t really think much of it until well over two decades later when he sent me the picture above.

Now… If you can track down some old 3D glasses, the ones with one eye that’s blue and one eye that’s red, the kind that these people are wearing in this picture then you should be able to see the 3D effect. Really cool I thought and a ton of fun to be reminded of that time in my life.

Emails between Ron and I went back and forth a bit as I thought it would be really cool to get an old school 3D promotional picture or marketing mailer made up and send it along with some old 3D glasses as one of those promo pieces that gets ‘talked about.’ I may still get to it eventually. He pointed me in the direction of a 3D Digital Camera which looked pretty cool but at the time there was a bit of an insurmountable gulf between the time I had for the project and the learning I needed to do to make it happen. Sigh…

I’ve had other ideas that sort of tap into the ‘retro cool’ of old school technology as a way to promote my show all of which come back to the same sort of concept which is to have your promotional materials stand out amongst the crowd. Event producers, agents, managers anyone who receives promo kits on a regular basis is so used to seeing a cookie cutter version of things that anything you can do to have your materials stick out and rise to the top or even get a second look will give you an advantage when it comes to landing jobs.

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Getting Stranded in Alaska

Another guest blogger joins the fold today… This time around a story by my friend Matt Baker from the Comedy Juggling and Footbag Duo – The Brothers from Different Mothers. This story was originally published on Matt’s ‘Comedy Skills’ Blog and he was cool with the idea of re-posting it here. This story has specific meaning for me because I happened to be in Juneau about to join a ship myself and heard some of this story first hand over a couple of beers… Funny Stuff! Enjoy!

A lot of times missing a flight is completely out of one’s control. It’s out of your power if your connecting flight was late, the people on the moving sidewalk were standing in your way, or the person in front of you happens to be the color that the terrorist alert was set to. I once missed a flight because the security guard had to check what exactly I was packing in my pants; which was 228.6 mm of heat. So many times you are not to blame for missing your transportation. I wish I shared that sentiment when I missed my cruise ship. The reason I could not share it is because it is incredibly hard to miss a cruise ship. Nothing was preventing me from missing my ship; I plainly lost track of time.

I imagine most people, when pulling up in their taxi to see their ship sailing away without them, would freak out like a cocaine-less Andy Dick. Instead, my reaction was to burst into laughter. I guess I responded that way because I had not fully realized that I was just abandoned. I kept waiting for the cruise director to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Surprise!” Like it was some joke they played on a passenger every trip. Like, I won a prize for being the most un-organized person on the ship. Of course there was no tap, but there was a prize. The prize was one night of freedom from my 2,000 all white, all old, and mostly fat cruising counterparts.  Of course I say that in a pro; old-fat-white person way (can’t upset the fan base.) I relished in the idea of a night free of constant picture taking and loud boisterous arguments on if that was a whale or just a shadow. “What do you think cast the shadow?” One man said, not realizing how dumb of a statement that was. You get a lot of those dumb statements on a cruise ship. I heard one women refer to the natives of Alaska as, “Alaskamo’s.” My favorite is what her husband called them. I believe the term was, “Snow Mexicans.”

This is not the way I would choose to get freedom from my fellow cruisers. Much like the Iraqi’s, freedom was being forced upon me. However, I do enjoy the idea of being stranded, because it forces me to have to accomplish a mission.  I imagined getting back on the boat and having a news conference to explain what happened, with a banner behind me that said, “A Mission Accomplished.” Then after the conference, everyone says, “I think the boat was better without that guy.” This newfound independence made me feel like I was watching a Laura Croft movie; at first it sounds great, but after, you wonder what the hell you were thinking.

So my fate was decided. I was stay in Juneau for the night. As I still stood at the dock admiring my own stupidity, I thought about all the other times I had been abandoned. There was the time my mom abandoned me at a K-mart. Not in the literal sense, I just felt like she was abandoning good mothering when she actually took me to a K-mart. Or the time when I was 13, my oldest brother Kevin abandoned me at the Salt Lake City Airport. I wanted a cigarette and he said, “If you go and smoke I am leaving without you.” When I ignored his threat and went to smoke he just disappeared with my ticket. I got the last laugh, when I went to security and had them announce over the airport PA, “Kevin Baker, we have found your brother please report to airport security.” So to say the least, I had been groomed for the occasion.

Here are three things to do if you are ever stranded:

Step One: Figure out when you can leave, and do it!

Step Two: Find a place to stay, and rent it!

Step Three: Find a bar and Get drunk. However, make sure that does not cause you to forget about step one.

Step one was no problem. For $119 I was on the first flight to Skagway; where the cruise ship was stopping next. I don’t want to say the particular cruise line, but let’s just say it rhymes with Borewegian. Step two was a little harder. I had to walk around the town in search for an available hotel. It was really interesting seeing the town after all the cruise ships had left. All the characters came out. I kept waiting to see Sarah Palin and Todd stumble out of a bar and invite me over for a game of name that country. To my disappointment there were no celebrity sightings, and it saddened me that I had not seen any of these infamous Alaskamo’s.

I checked a few hotels and none were cheaper than $150. I have money, but I find something fundamentally wrong with paying so much money for a bed. For some people it makes sense. They need comfort and a sense of security, to be able to get a decent nights rest. As for me, all I need is a blanket. I can pretty much sleep anywhere. To save money in London, I took the subway to the airport every night, and slept at the baggage claim. In Maui, instead of the hostels, I simply slept on the beach. I can sleep pretty much anywhere. Along with identifying celebrity voices, and seeing midgets at far distances, it is one of my X-men abilities. Shelling out $150 for a place to lay my head for a few hours, even Jean Grey would laugh at. I needed to find something cheaper. So, I asked a guy who was trying to sell me a lighter for a dollar, if there was a hostel in town? He didn’t say a word and just pointed up the hill.

Up the hill I went. As I was walking, I passed a house that a woman had just walked out of. She was holding a Yoga mat and dressed like she was headed to work out. Our eyes met and she commented on my Descendents t-shirt.  She said, “nice shirt. The Descendant’s are like the best punk band ever.” I laughed and awkwardly said, “They are one of them.” Without hearing a word I said, she walked right by me brushing my right shoulder. In a very demanding voice she said, “My name’s Laurie, walk me to yoga.” I stood there absorbing the strange request. As I was sorting out the randomness of this occurrence, she continued to walk up the hill.  Without stopping she shouted, “Come on man. I am not trying to fuck you. I have a boyfriend. Hurry up, let’s go.” Her tone made it seem like I was inconveniencing her with my lack of sudden action. Whatever it was, it worked, because I moved like I was Kristie Alley chasing a Snickers bar.  However, it was less of me accompanying her, as it was more of, me awkwardly following her as she raced ahead. Even though she held a distance of five body lengths, she still managed to make conversation. She told me about her bartending job and her love for punk music. Fortunately the awkwardness was cut short, when we reached her yoga studio. I asked, “Is this it?” Surprisingly out of breath considering we had only walked two blocks. Ignoring my words and more luckily my sarcasm, she went on to invite me to her house later. “Stop by anytime. You can go there now and hang if you want. My boyfriend is there, but don’t worry he is cool.” She said as she disappeared into the yoga studio. As I walked away, I wondered all sorts of things about my new friend Laurie. I wondered; does she just not like walking alone? Does she do this to every person she passes on her way to yoga? Does she just wait in her window waiting for someone to walk by? I knew my questions would go unanswered and I continued on my quest for the holy hostel. I continued to walk up the hill until the street came to a dead end.  I stopped and asked a guy who was trying to sell me a barbeque skewer for $3.77 and he pointed (with the skewer) down this little path that led through some trees. I followed the path, which led me to a large house. It had a large porch in the front where a gutter punk couple was sitting.

Sam and Jeanie were from Denver, and welcomed me to the hostel. They took to me instantly, because I was wearing a Descendents t-shirt. Never before had this shirt gotten me so much attention. Was there some sort of Alaska-Descendents connection? We chatted on the porch for a while. They had only been in Juneau for 3 days and were giving me the 3 worthwhile spots to see in my 14 hours of furlough. They were staying here for the summer to find work and enjoy the 24 hours of sunshine. They told me about there horrid experience of sailing to Juneau from Seattle. They took a boat that transported vehicles to Alaska for people who were relocating there. 6 days of shaky seas and the disdain for their trip made me decide not to tell them about the giant cruise ship I sailed in on. I didn’t want to ruin the first people I had met who weren’t selling me something or asking me to walk them somewhere. Finally someone who liked me for the clothes I wore.

The hostel was even cheaper than I was expecting. When the lady at the counter told me that it was $10, I stared at her in awkward silence like it was the first time I saw a women’s breasts. After getting the brief introduction to the hostel I realized why is was so cheap. To cut down on the cost of paying employees, everyone staying at the hostel had to leave from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On top of the 9 hours you were not allowed to be there, you had to be back by 12 a.m. Or you were locked out. Not that being locked out in the warm sun is really that bad? They say that from June 21 to Dec 21st Alaska loses 5 minutes of sunlight a day. So in reality Alaskan’s loose 5 minutes of happiness a day. Not only did they dictate the hours you could be there, they also had the guests do all the chores. My allotted task was to vacuum the stairs and mop the dining room.

In my book there is only one downfall about hostels, it is the people who do weird things in there sleep. You are always rolling the dice when you are sharing a room with 4-8 people. Sometimes, you get people who snore; some who talk in there sleep, and once in the middle of the night I even heard people having sex. I love waking up to sex, but only when I am having it. I don’t want to hear the sound of a hand slapping water unless I am the one slapping. My roommate for the evening was Rustam from Kyrgyzstan. Rustam was an extremely nice guy, who would soon be added to my list of people I would never share a room with again. I actually really liked him, until about 6:30 a.m. That was the time he decided to set his alarm for. I don’t get people who set their alarm an hour before they want to get up. I have no problem with people who get up early. Or, people who are making noise as they leave, but I do have a problem for someone hitting there snooze 8 times when they are sharing a room with strangers.

The main problem is not how many times he hit the snooze; it was how long the alarm lasted before he hit it. The alarm was not loud enough to wake him up, but was loud enough to wake up me, and the people in the room down the hall. Also, the alarm sound he chose was the most annoying thing I have heard since the first time I heard Celine Dion’s voice. I can deal with birds chirping or, a cool song, but his alarm made the sound of babies crying sound like ocean waves. It was one of those alarms that the longer it went, the louder it got. Before Rustam hit the snooze, the alarm would be going off for a good minute (which in official sleep time is the equivalent of 32 minutes.) Not only did it begin to get loud, after 30 seconds it added a voice saying something in some strange language. I imagined it was Kyrgyz and the voice was saying, “Get the fuck up you inconsiderate asshole.” Finally I sat up and in my politest voice said, “Hey dude, you got to turn that fucking thing off. Fuck…” He obliged, but not in the way I was hoping. I assumed after an hour of hitting the snooze button, and waking me up every 5 minutes, he would turn the alarm off. Instead he switched the alarm to what he thought was a more pleasant wake up call, a rooster crowing. The moment I heard the first cockadoodldoo I jumped from my bed and headed across the room. My intention was to take his phone and throwing it out the cracked window. Instead, Rustam rolled out of bed and apologized for waking me. Since I was standing there in my underwear looking as pissed as if I was Tom Cruise finding out scientology was just a ploy to get my money. I accepted his apology and went back to bed.

My sleep did not last long, because again I was woken up prematurely. This time however, it was the lady who checked me in inflicting the punishment. As she was shaking me she said, “Mr. Baker, you have not done your chores yet and you have to get out by 9.” I rolled my eyes and told her I would get right on it, which I did. I got out of bed, got my things together and when the lady wasn’t looking, slipped out the door and got right on getting the fuck out of there. I caught the first cab I saw, and instructed him to head to the airport. When we arrived at the Juneau International Airport, I had to ask the driver if this was the right place. I had to check because we were sitting in front of a building no bigger than a Radio Shack, and there were no planes in site. There was a long strip of land that resembled what an abstract artist might paint as a runway, but nothing that would hint to future archeologist that planes actually landed there.

The inside of the airport didn’t inspire much hope in me either. I felt like I was on the set of Wings, which ironically was the name of my airline. I walked up to the counter and told them I had a reservation and they handed me a ticket. No asking for a name, no looking at ID, no asking if my bag had hazardous material, I guess they just give ticket to anyone who claims they made a reservation. The security was just as lackadaisical as the check in. Apparently, metal detector technology has not made it’s way to Alaska yet. To be honest it was quite nice to not have to take my shoes off and put everything in a baggie. When I heard you were not allowed to bring 3 oz of liquid on a plane, I wondered what next? I thought, let’s just hope the terrorist’s don’t figure out a way to make urine dangerous. The frustrating thing about security screening is that every airport is different. There is no unified system to what they allow and don’t allow. For example, The Seattle airport allows me to have shaving cream, but when I go through Spokane; an airport the size of my middle nut, they freak out like I am secretly plotting to lather up the plane and shave it. Another time in Lisbon, they pulled my bag aside because I had some liquid that exceeded the amount allowed. When they opened the bag and found my axe body spray, they laughed and let me go. It was strange, like I was secretly shooting a commercial for axe.  Regardless, of if other people were bringing on bombs that would crash and kill everyone on the plane it was nice for once to not have to throw out my toiletries.

When the flight was ready, the counter lady went around; from memory, and got all the passengers who were flying to Skagway. All 9 of us huddled up around the grey bearded pilot, like he was going to give us some sort of strategy we needed to stick to if we all wanted to survive. No real strategic maneuvers, all he said was, “Alright, we got a full flight. Be careful walking out on the runway there are a lot of holes and I don’t want you to twist an ankle.” I laughed out loud because he reminded of me of Santa Clause preparing his reindeer for the tough flight. We all got on the plane, and I was the last to board. As I was about to get on, Santa say’s to me, “I like you. I want you to be my co-pilot.” Shocked; I replied, “Really?” The thought flashed through my head of having to land the plane on a glacier because someone took out the pilot with their nail clippers. The same ones that normally get confiscated because of metal detectors. I was excited. When I got on the plane, I realized that the only seat available was the one sitting next to the pilot. Even though Santa was being nice in making me think I would actually assist him in the flight, I did not let that stop me from thinking I was the Neo of this flights matrix.

I have flown on a lot of small planes. I think this was the first plane I had been on where you can flick the pilot’s ear from the back seat. The co-pilot’s seat was comfy. So comfy, I fell right asleep when my ass hit it. Finally a sleep not interrupted from annoying alarms that make you want to punch nuns, or people shaking you trying to get you to do some mundane choir. I awoke to the sound of wheels hitting the gravel that paved the Skagway airport. My eyes opened to see my cruise ship sitting there, beckoning to me to come aboard. It was a nice way to wake up. Even though I had been gone less than 24 hours, I kind of missed the little things on the cruise you take for granted; like the drink holders next to the urinals and the people on carts driving around while drinking Franzia.  The moment I walked on the ship I was greeted in the elevator by two middle aged folks who took the elevator up one floor and it made me glad to be back.

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