~ The Checkerboard Guy's Blog ~

Archive for March, 2009

The Animated Gif World of Perceptual Motion…

2009-03-31Where in the world am I today?: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

My first memory of Todd Strong came from seeing him dressed up as Julius Caesar at the Juggling Games at the 1987 European Juggling Convention in Saintes, France. We formally met in about ten years later in Vancouver through mutual friend Robert Nelson, The Butterfly Man. When Todd moved to Vancouver and got married to a lovely Canadian woman, our chances to hook up increased exponentially and when ever I’m in town longer than a week or so I endeavor to figure out a way to hook up for a lunch or conversation or what ever… It’s just one of those friendships which is a whole lot of fun.

Having written for Juggle Magazine for years and having published books on various juggling related props, Todd has a wonderful eye for proof reading which I’ve tapped into on a fairly regular basis. In exchange (and I’m not entirely sure it’s a fair exchange) I’ve often helped demo the moves he’s writing about for Juggling Magazine which often end up on his website as animated gifs. By visiting his site you can access animations of various prop manipulations including ball juggling, cigar boxes, club juggling, club swinging, etc. I can be seen demo-ing some ball juggling, hat moves and shaker cup moves if you poke around the site enough to find me.

Admittedly animated gifs are a bit old-school in terms of web technology, but that Todd has taken the time to compile such a great collection of moves and is giving these away for free is a pretty cool thing. Working with Todd on capturing various moves has also been a real education because often after I’ve learned a certain move I don’t really think about how to explain it to someone else. Because Todd hast to write about the moves either for Juggle Magazine or for his own book projects he’s had to come up with a methodology and vocabulary for describing what’s happening in an image so that the reader/viewer can understand and follow the action.

In the picture above I’m manipulating three shaker cups, one black one, one white one and one striped one. This use of black, white, pattern is also used with other props through out the site and allows Todd to describe the action of a specific prop so that it’s movement can be followed in the context of the pattern. This very simple, very effective technique made me re-think how I was doing certain moves and allowed me to demonstrate them more effectively.

YouTube videos have in someways replaced the use of animated gifs as a delivery system for presenting material like this even for Todd, but this resource is still a remarkable depository of information.


Business Card-ness…

2009-03-30aWhere in the world am I today?: Winnipeg, MB, Canada

I’ve been staring at the design for a new Checkerboard Guy business card for a week or two now… It’s going to be a double sided full color front, full color back sort of dealy and the challenge from the beginning has been to find a suitable replacement for image/look on card I’ve been using for years and years.

This image has served me incredibly well because anytime I’d hand a card to someone with this image of me with my tongue sticking out on it, the reaction was priceless… It made people laugh from the get go! I debated keeping this image for the front of the card and just reworking the back of the card to be more in keeping with current promo. After much deliberation I’ve chosen to make a break from the old image and work with some more recent shots.

2009-03-30The new images are more in keeping with a lot of the other promotional materials I’ve put out recently in terms of their look/feel. They also feature me in my more upscale costume which is useful as I seem to be doing more and more work in venues that require a more corporate look.

I’m lucky to have worked with a couple of great designers over the years who’ve helped me craft some great rules to follow when it comes to attacking a new piece of promotional material. Coming up with these rules or guides, things like a consistent headline font that you’re going to stick with, a distinctive logo or logos, a consistent color pallet, established catch phrases or slogans and great photos allow you to put the building blocks together in multiple combinations for various purposes while staying true to certain pre-established parameters. There may be a bit of room to play within the context of these rules, but working from a place of a certain consistency does help to keep the ‘Brand’ recognizable.

So… I made certain decisions about the elements that I wanted to use for both the front and back of the card then took several stabs at laying things out in various configurations. My buddy David Duchemin endured many many emails and brain storming sessions where I’d craft something then throw it at him to see if it would stick… With out his eyes and brain I’m sure the end result would be far less effective.

For the business card I got all of the building blocks sorted out, configure them based on solid design principals. Thanks again to my buddy Dave who sat down next to during one configuring session and stressed the CRAP Principles – Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity (each word links to a post he wrote where he discusses these on his blog). Then, once I had what I thought was a design I was happy with I’d print it out at actual size and stick it on my monitor and just look at it for a few days and digest the look/feel of things. I did this two or three times before getting to the design above that I’m pretty pleased with.

Next… I got in touch with another buddy who’s got a great eye for proof reading and who had fresh eyes for this project. Not only is he a good proof reader, he’s also published several books and understands design. He caught something that I hadn’t even seen or thought about which was awesome… Just a simple little kerning issue (character spacing) which although subtle made a difference when addressed.

Over the years my process has gotten a lot more involved and time it takes to get from initial concept to final product seems to have increased as I’ve gotten more thorough about the checks I’ve put in place to make sure the marketing materials I create are as effective as possible


Mel Brooks – Quoted

2009-03-28Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

“Humor is just another defense against the universe.”

–Mel Brooks, US actor, comedian, & movie director (1926 – )


“And lets face it, if you’re defending yourself against the universe you may as well have a few yucks while you’re at it!”

–David ‘checkerhead’ Aiken

I love that in Mel’s vision of things the universe is out to get you and that laughter is the key to survival! For some I guess life isn’t a struggle but there are those moments in my day to day existence where I end up feeling like it’s all some sort of cosmic game of chess and I’m pitted against an opponent who’s WAY smarter than I am. The fact that I know how to make said opponent laugh means a moment of distraction to get out of check-mate and back into the game for another day, week, month, year… Ha!


Matt Baker • Interviews from the Inside

2009-03-271Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Prologue: I’m not exactly sure how they found me, but a few years back (2003 I believe it was) I got a call out of the blue from these guys calling themselves Brothers from Different Mothers asking if I’d come down to Seattle and host the public show for the Seattle Juggling and Footbag Festival. Went down, found Matt and his brother Alex and had a blast with the show. Didn’t end up spending much time hanging out with them as I wanted to get back to my Family, but had a good enough time that when they asked me to be a part of the show the following year I went down and did it all again. Good fun!


Name: Matt Baker
Birthday: Historians place it somewhere around the time of 11/09/1981
Place of Birth: Eugene, Oregon, USA
Started Performing/Working in the Industry: My current show started in 2001, but I started performing in 1999
Discipline: Comedy, Hackysack, and Awkward social moments
Websites: www.differentmothers.com (Show)
www.mattbakercomedy.com (Me)
www.comedyskills.com (My blog)
www.varietyartsforum.com (A project)
www.digitface.com (My art project)
Video Link: http://www.youtube.com/user/comedyskillsdotcom
Venues Worked: Corporate, Cruise, College, and Theatre

Hot 10 Questions

  1. What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream and why? Peanut Butter me up. In 1998 I wrote Ben and Jerry’s a letter and asked them to make chocolate ice cream with peanut butter, and caramel. They said it was an interesting idea, and if enough people asked for it they would make it. Sure enough in 2002, they came out with my recipe, and called it Peanut Butter Me Up. I was shocked to see the name because I was sure they would have gone with my name for it, Bake’s Funk Deluxe.
  2. Name one movie that would make it to your Top 10 all-time great filmsI am going to name two. The first would be La Strada. How can you argue with one of the greatest directors ever, making a film about street performers? My other favorite is the movie Limelight. It is the only movie Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton appeared in together. It is a talkie, but fascinating in the sense that it is sort of the real life story on what caused Chaplin to fade away. Two classics for any film buff/performer.
  3. What was your favorite toy from childhood?
    1. My pee-pee. Boy, we had fun together. It seems like yesterday when we would enjoy long walks down imaginary beaches, and intense wrestling matches.
    2. We were pretty poor as a kid, which forced us to use our imagination. It was hard for me because as a kid I didn’t have a great imagination. I had to pay $10 just to play with my brother’s imaginary friend.
    3. It wasn’t really a toy, but we played a lot of games as kids. My favorite was tag. The only time tag wasn’t fun is when my dad would play. He cheated! Anytime he was it, he got to use his car.
  4. Who were your biggest inspirations when you got started?Being in a comedy/juggling duo I always strived to be like the best in the industry, the Raspyni Brothers. They were like stand up comedians who just happened to be doing cool tricks. Because of them I always strived to be a comedian first, and juggler second. Another inspiration would have to be the Smothers Brothers. Aside from Burns/Allen and Martin/Lewis there was no one who’s onstage banter was better. There straight man goofy man was executed to historical perfection. There simplicity in getting solid laughs really inspired me to establish a rapport with the crowd. Last, my biggest comic influence would be Rodney Dangerfield. The master of the one-liners keeps me laughing today, even though I have heard his material 1,000 times.
  5. From the world of animation what one character do you most identify with or see yourself in?It would have to be Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin sums me up perfectly. An imaginative kid, who does stuff just for the fun of it, has problems with authority and no one seems to understand him.
  6. Name something that scares you.Regrets. I don’t want to look back at my life and wonder “What if?”
  7. Apart from the entertainment industry, name one other job you’ve had.I have only had one other job in my entire life. For two weeks, I worked as a barista at a coffee shop. They fired me because they said, “Coffee wasn’t my forte.” Shortly after my firing I moved to Europe, and played hackysack professionally. If the sitcom I am writing ever gets picked up, I am going to send them the pilot episode, and a thank you card.
  8. What’s something you haven’t done yet that you’d like to try?Catch someone talking about me in another language. Traveling a lot I run into the situation when people assume I don’t speak there language, so they will talk about me while I am standing right there. It’s a safe assumption, because I don’t speak a second language. Although, some day I will catch someone, and I will have a field day!
  9. What’s your least favourite thing about being a performer?It’s hard to have any complaints about being a performer. It is an awesome livelihood and lifestyle. If I had one, it’s the assumption people have that since I am a performer, I like being in front of people. Although, I am fine on stage, it is not something I want to do when I am not working. I like to shy away from the limelight.
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?“Matt, you are one funny motherf*#^*&! I love your god jokes.”

The Nugget:

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

Here are a few:

  • There is enough work for everyone. Don’t worry about people taking your gigs. Work harder!
  • Be original. It is weak to be a performer and use other people’s material. There is nothing more gratifying then getting laughs and applause for things that are your creations.
  • You are never to good to get feedback. Some of your biggest strides as a performer can be the ability to not be so full of yourself that you can’t accept feedback.
  • Always have a backup plan. Put at least 10% of everything you make away. You never know when you will get hurt or the economy takes a turn for the worst. All you can do is be prepared for that time. 10% will help
  • Be working on something else. Always diversify your interests. Just working on different projects open’s your mind to different things you are not exposing yourself normally.

–Matt Baker


What’s your Ninjin?

2009-03-26Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

My wife is from Japan and the japanese word for carrot is ninjin. She’ll ask me at times what my ninjin is which refers to the image of a donkey with a carrot dangling in front of it’s nose as a motivation to keep it moving forward… In the context of how my wife uses it ‘what’s your ninjin’ could be translated into what are you excited about in life at the moment. Are you pursuing a goal? Are you working towards the realization of some project? Is there a new skill that you’re working on? Are you excited about a trip that’s coming up? It could be anything really, but it’s an interesting notion about what it is that leads me through my day.

At the moment my ninjins are a mixed bag of things. I’m working on a new show that I’ll be debuting at the Pacific National Exhibition in August and working on some of the technical issues as they relate to some of the props I’m hoping to use. Then comes the challenges involved with making sure the resources are around to cover the costs of said props while keeping in balance the financial realities that are demanded by responsibilities like being a home owner, husband, father. Then comes the balance of time between the pursuit of new ideas and the work on the new show balanced with the need to stay on top of the administrative and other work required to keep the current stuff going and money coming in…

I was out for a dose of inspiration and creative thinking with my friends David Duchemin and Shawn Farquhar again yesterday. We got together a few weeks ago and I enjoy the conversation and lunch so much I asked if they’d like to do it again. So we hooked up again and it was great! We gabbed for a few hours non-stop, I came home feeling refreshed and revitalized about attacking my crop of carrots with new vim and vigor! Hopefully the conversation had a similar effect for David and Shawn. We’re all very successful at what we do, and what we do is quite different from each other but there’s just something great about getting together and exchanging ideas, listening to stories and getting fired up and inspired to continue to work hard at what you do from other creative minds.

Came home and decided to work a bit more on the prototype for the cannon I’m going to use to launch William T. Wiener from – the Hotdog equivalent to the human cannon ball. The ‘Ketchup Cannon‘ is the working title for this device at the moment and after preliminary launches yesterday in the rain it was time to take a slightly more measured approach to the launch chamber’s length as well as the appropriate pressure to use when launching said ‘Flying Frankfurter.’

OK… I’ve got to be totally honest… It’s hard to write a line like that last one and keep a straight face… Man oh man do I love that I get to do stuff like this for a living and that I can legitimately claim that today’s ninjin was all about the ‘Ketchup Cannon.’ Hello! I love my life!


A few ideas from my address book…

2009-03-25Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

About a week ago I got an email from Becky Priebe suggesting that a friend of hers, Cory Tabino, who had recently moved to Seattle contact me as I might be able to give him some leads on work… I cracked open my address book and provided the following information – Cory seemed to appreciate getting it, so I thought others might as well…


If you haven’t already, contact the guys at LeapFrog Entertainment and introduce yourself to them –


They’re down in Seattle.

As are the Brothers from Different Mothers – http://www.differentmothers.com/

Who know the Seattle scene really well… Worth connecting with them if you haven’t already… Matt Baker does a comedy blog at http://www.comedyskills.com/ and is always looking for contributors…

Vancouver-wise – sounds like you’re already familiar with Busking down on Granville Island…

If/when you do come up consider inviting people to come and check out your shows. These folks may not have anything for you immediately, but it’s worth the effort to connect with them and invite them down to come and check out your work or offer to take them out for a coffee and meet them face to face so that the next time something comes up that you’d be perfect for you’re in their heads…

Me – Just so we can meet face to face

David Clark – BC Event Management – http://www.bceventmanagement.com/

Brett Brown – Noteable Entertainment – http://www.noteable.net/

Tom Stulberg/Borja Brown – Fireworks Marketing Group – http://www.fireworksgroup.com/

Steve Carmichael – Pacific Show Productions – http://www.pacificshow.ca

Beth Mackey – City of Surrey – http://www.surrey.ca/

Ann Phelps – City of Richmond – http://www.richmond.ca

Peter Boulanger – Underground Circus – http://www.undergroundcircus.ca/

Kira Schaffer – Firebelly Performance Society – http://www.firebelly.org/

Jay Nuns – Cirkids Vancouver – http://www.cirkids.org/

There are others in town who might be worth connecting with as well, so if you hook up with any of these folks ask them about other people you might hook up with as well. Being able to successfully network around the community will eventually lead to opportunities, so it’s well worth making the effort.


Some performers are fairly guarded about giving away their network of contacts to others, but I’m of the opinion that there’s enough work out there for everyone and don’t mind sharing this sort of information freely. If you’ve just moved or are just getting started as an entertainer making the effort to meet people in the industry and in your community will serve you well. Some may have information to share, some may feel a bit more guarded about the exchange, but like my grandfather used to say. Everyone can teach you something, so get out and do some learning.


Make Notes About Each Gig…

2009-03-24Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

OK… This isn’t anything all that complicated, but if it’s something you’re not doing it’s something you should consider taking up as a regular practice.

After I finish a show I try to sit down once the smoke has cleared and take some notes. I take notes about how the show itself has gone, take notes about some of the people that made a difference in the performance be they members of the audience or members of the support crew that helped put the show on.

I’ve got an atrociously poor memory, so for me taking the small amount of time that it requires to copy down names while they’re fresh in my head and making the extra effort to find out the names of the people who’s contributed to the show is well worth the effort.

When I’m on ships for example I try to take note of who it was that introduced me on stage along with other members of the crew staff, the cruise director (for sure), the technicians, the back stage crew. Making a study of people’s names so that I remember them when I run into them around the ship is hugely important as it helps make a personal connection with the people who can make and/or break the show.

Taking the extra time to make notes about the things that worked during a performance and the things that didn’t work also helps me grow as a performer and work on the things that look as though they’ve got some promise as well as re-evaluate things that didn’t go as well as they might have to ensure that they go better the next time around.

Recently while working on the GRAND Princess I was really impressed by the work ethic of comedian Jim McDonald. Jim not only did great sets, he was also constantly working on new material and new jokes… He knew his rhythm down to the point where could just about dictate the number of words per joke to keep things in the rhythm consistent. Not only was if cool to see Jim working so proficiently on his material, but it was cool to discuss each others shows and bounce ideas off of each other.

Moving forward with material, working on new things, trying to expand and improve is a constant process and taking the time to make notes after each show gives you the best chance of making steps forward as quickly as possible.



2009-03-23Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

OK… I gotta admit that today’s post was partially inspired by the fact that my boys have been playing ROCKBAND a lot over the March Break and one of their favorite song to play seems to be Detroit Rock City by KISS, released on the Destroyer Album back in March of 1976. Man… That’s freakin’ 33 years ago and the kids are still lovin’ it!

Of course ROCKBAND has breathed new life into a ton of music, and introduced my boys to various generations of music in the addictive format of a video game, but for some reason I have less of a problem with this particular video game as a parent than I do for say a bang bang shoot shoot sort of game. Sure the game over simplifies what it actually takes to play guitar or drums, but that our boys are being exposed to music and having a hoot doing so is still pretty cool.

But I’m sliding waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay off topic. Monday’s are dedicated to marketing and the point I wanted to make today was about longevity. The Band KISS has a ton of stuff working in it’s favor when it comes to the marketing and promotion of their product. The look, the iconic KISS lettering, the sound, the incredible live shows, but the fact that they’ve been together in one incarnation or another for over 37 years means that they’ve been able to play to several generations of fans.

Admittedly it’s a bit weird driving down the highway listening to my eight year old belting out the lyrics to ‘Love Gun,’ but in a strange sort of way it’s also pretty cool. That KISS has endured as a band long enough to be around for my boys to enjoy is pretty cool not to mention the fact that I’ve become more of a fan of their music and their ‘show’ as a result of my kids than I ever was when I was growing up.

I never really thought about juggling as a career when I first picked up three bundles of socks and started throwing them around at the age of thirteen. I never thought that the checkerboard pattern that started invading costume elements around 1985 would lead to the performance persona that’s kept me working and happy with what I do for almost three decades, but it has and I still find it remarkable when people come up to see me and say things like – I remember seeing you in Ottawa on Canada day twenty years ago… If you can find something that you genuinely love and can find a way to keep the excitement for what you love alive, then you’re bound to be at it for years. Love what you do, care deeply about what you do and above all else, enjoy the ride!

Do all that and you may even make it to your own set of Russian Nesting Dolls!


George Carlin – Quoted

2009-03-21Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

“I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.”

–George Carlin, US comedian and actor (1937 – 2008)


“…so much fun to take a step or two past that line to see what the reaction will be.”

–David ‘checkerhead’ Aiken

I like the use of the word ‘duty’ in the original quote here…

duty |ˈd(y)oōtē|
noun ( pl. -ties)
1 a moral or legal obligation; a responsibility

It’s always been the clowns, jesters and comedians who poke fun at the established social order and question the rules and realities that have been crafted. Dancing along/across/beyond that line seems to be a requirement in comedy as though laughter itself was meant to test the boundaries of what’s deemed to be acceptable.


Jeremy Eaton • Interviews from the Inside

2009-03-20Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Prologue: Jeremy and I first met in the early 90s after I had moved out to Vancouver from Ottawa… Likely down on Granville Island where we were both lining up to do Street Shows on the local Busking Pitch. Turned out that we lived in very close proximity to each other, both juggled, both rode unicycles, are more or less the same age-ish… Over the years we worked many of the same gigs and we both eventually ended up marrying beautiful women from Japan. Jeremy ended up moving to Japan, I ended up staying in Vancouver. Last October we both end up performing in Nanjing, China at two completely different events so I swing by and took some photos… The one here comes from that chance meeting.


Name: Jeremy Eaton
Birthday: November 15, 1968
Place of Birth: Manhattan, NY, USA
Started Performing/Working in the Industry: 1989-ish
Discipline: Verbal contortionist/juggler
Website: http://www.airjair.com
Video Link: http://www.airjair.com/jp/vid/vid.htm
Venues Worked: Restaurants, Stage, Hotels, Casinos, Cruise Ships, Private Parties, Corporate Shows, Trade Shows, Magic Conventions

Hot 10 Questions:

  1. What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream and why? I used to like tigers tail, which was licorice and orange, but as I got older I began to think that was only for ascetic reasons. Now I like anything that combines, carmel, chocolate, coffee, and maple sugar tastes.
  2. Name one movie that would make it to your Top 10 all-time great filmsHere’s all ten! Plus one more for extra credit!
    1. Star Wars – Once my aunt blasphemed and suggested that, “Not everyone thought Star Wars was the greatest movie ever made.” I regarded her at that moment as someone in need of treatment.
    2. Casablanca – Great dialogue and a reminder to us all, that in order to be the truly cool, you have to walk away at the end. Without the love interest or loads of money.
    3. Shawshank Redemption – Sometimes you have to wade through a lot of crap to get from prisoner to king. Great storyline, and inspiration for the harshest of situations.
    4. Diva – This one has everything. Great cinematography, action, a great plot, and fabulous soundtrack. Excruciatingly beautiful at times. Everyone lives in a renovated warehouse. ‘Nuff said.
    5. Cinema Paradiso – This is in strong competition for my all time favourite. Heart warming and melancholic.
    6. Animal House – At the impressionable age of 12 my parents took me to see it. 4 TIMES!! During the 2000 election, George W Bush quoted Bluto: “It’s not over until we decide it is!” Laura was amused.
    7. LOTR Series – I saw the fellowship of the ring in New Zealand where it was filmed. It was great to leave the theater and then embark on a drive through middle earth. The Two Towers is also my all time favourite book.
    8. The Wanderers – Greatest sleeper film of all time. Saw it as a teen, so I may not like it as much as I did then. Read a lot of S.E Hinton (The Outsiders) at the time.
    9. Children of Heaven – Probably other movies I liked better, but this is a heartwarming/wrenching story about poor kids in Iran. Watch it and count your blessings.
    10. Zoolander – This wouldn’t be on my top ten, except for that “freak gasoline accident”.
    11. Matrix, T2, 2001 – A three way tie for all my all time favourite sci-fi movies.

  3. What was your favorite toy from childhood?Big Trak. It was a futuristic tank that you could program to move around and fire a laser (blue neon light). After 48 hours of continuous use, IT broke. I STILL want to play with one.
  4. Who were your biggest inspirations when you got started?Too numerous to mention them all. Certainly, all the Vancouver performers, Rick Lewis, Bill Ferguson, Alex Elixer, and some checkered guy. Some New York performers, and Tom Morrison, for without whose help, I would have starved to death.
  5. From the world of animation what one character do you most identify with or see yourself in?The green guy in Mask. On a good day, Bugs Bunny. On a bad day, Goofy.
  6. Name something that scares you.Missing props.
  7. Apart from the entertainment industry, name one other job you’ve had.I once worked as a door to door canvasser for Greenpeace.
  8. What’s something you haven’t done yet that you’d like to try?Riding in a helicopter.
  9. What’s your least favourite thing about being a performer?In a word, luggage. Either that, or missing props.
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?“Welcome, which super powers would you like?”

The Nugget:

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

People all over the world are generally good, and generally try to do the best they can. This job just wouldn’t be possible if that weren’t true. No matter how much the audience sucks, never let on that you think that. God help you if you actually tell them that.

–Jeremy Eaton


A bit of March Break Fun…

2009-03-191Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

So my boys are both enjoying their March Break at the moment and the challenge as a parent is to come up with interesting things that keep them reasonably entertained, encourage them to do more than simple plonk themselves down in front of the TV to watch a movie or play some video games and promote a some level of exercise. So it struck me that this might be the perfect opportunity to encourage my older son Koji to work on his juggling.

I’ve never really pushed what I do on my kids, though I have exposed them to it. We got a unicycle for Koji when he was about seven or eight and certainly encourage him and his younger brother Owen to give it a try. Koji seemed to take to it, Owen not so much which was fine. Koji also took a circus skills workshop with a friend from school a few years ago and was working on Diabolo as well as his unicycle skills.

A few weeks ago one of Koji’s friends was over visiting and asked if I’d teach him to juggle. I said sure and went through the basic moves involved in a three ball cascade. Prior to this Koji had shown very little interest in working on juggling as a skill, but when a friend asked me to show him how to do it, all of a sudden Koji’s interest picked up and he started throwing balls around more than I’d seen him do ever before.

So the week started out with a simple goal. Make six throws and catches successfully. He nailed that on day one. Next – make it twenty throws, and bit by bit the number of throws he was making consistently increased. His pattern is still quite sloppy and will need to smooth out a bit before I show him any of the more advanced moved, but watching him struggle with the mechanics of what’s involved and getting hooked on working on the skill reminds me of exactly how I felt when I first started to juggle when I was thirteen year’s old. Koji’s eleven, so if he sticks with it he’ll have two more years than I ever did under his belt should he ever decided to ‘go pro.’ I’ve taken such pleasure in watching him work on this skill that it’s put a great big smile on my face.


Granville Island Busking

2009-03-18Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

When I first moved out to Vancouver back in the Fall of 1990 the income I made from the street shows I did down on Granville Island really did represent a significant percentage of my income. Back in those days the performers policed themselves. You showed up in the morning and took your place in the line up. It was a first come first serve sort of deal, so if you REALLY REALLY wanted the first show you got their at the crack of dawn… That honor typically went to Rick Lewis who would often get the first show in and as a result of his diligence the last show too…

Now to keep your place in the line-up you had to leave some of your props near the pitch and what ended up happening was that the venue, which is located in front of a retail business, ended up looking a bit like a bizarre garage sale. Though the retailer, was, is and hopefully will ever be, busker-friendly, having a pile of crap in front of the store didn’t appeal… After enough complaints the governing body of Granville Island established the Granville Island Busker’s Program via the Granville Island Cultural Society.

These days, the system is far more regulated (including a busking permit that needs to be purchased) than it ever was when I was working down on Granville Island on a regular basis and in fact, I was recently asked if I’d be willing to be on the jury committee for the SEGI (Summer Entertainment on Granville Island) program. Applicants either submit their promotional materials and video or perform a live audition and are programmed into the best performance times on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from mid-May – the end-ish of September.

Now… Since the permit system went into effect I’ve had mixed feelings about paying for the privilege of working a street pitch and some of these mixed feelings were echoed in response to the announcement of the 2008 SEGI Program that was made on Performers.net. Hard core street performing has always had an element of defying authority and creating something where there was nothing, and to have a street pitch this regulated feels a bit off to me. That being said, the pitch is a lot of fun to work, having pre-scheduled times that you know are waiting for you is a luxury that many street pitches around the world don’t have and if you commit to making this a regular staple of your performance diet, then the fee is more of an annoyance than anything else.

There is good and bad to just about any performance space be it on the Street, at a Corporate Event, or on a Cruise Ship Stage. The beauty of working on the Street and one of the things I still absolutely love about that environment is that it makes you sharp. If you’re not doing well, the audience simply walks away… If you can make it work on the Street you can make it work just about anywhere, and Granville Island is certainly one of the nicer street pitches in Canada.


I so wanted to love this…

2009-03-17Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

OK… I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a tech geek and do suffer from gadget lust… Over the years anytime I found myself in a computer store that had a Wacom Tablet on display I’d walk over and play with it vowing to one day own one, but never making the jump to actually making the purchase. For those of you who don’t share my passion for all things tech, Wacom tablets are a device that allow you to move the curser around your computer screen with a pen pressed against the surface of the device as opposed to using a mouse. The tablet also comes with a traditional mouse for moments when mousing is a better option than using the stylus.

So I’m over at my friend David Duchemin‘s place the other day and having read on his blog that he’d upgraded his old tablet to a new bigger better stronger faster version I asked what he had done with his old one. Turns out he’s keeping both and using one for home and one for travel, but he was quite happy to lend me his Graphire 3 (the model of his original tablet) and gave me the instructions on what I needed to do to get things working once I had plugged it in to my machine at home…

So I get home… I download the driver for the device I plug it in and it works flawlessly from the get go… I force myself to use the stylus to navigate around the screen and flip between it and the provided mouse to see if I like it and after a couple of days of trying to love it, I just wanted to go back to what I know… The familiar feel of the mouse I’ve used for years.

I’m sure if I actually stuck through the awkward stumbling period while I adapted my work flow to the new device I’d end up getting more accustomed to it and be able to get more out of the device. Especially for graphics applications like work in Photoshop and/or Illustrator, or even video work with things like Final Cut Pro and programs like After Effects and Motion… But for what ever reason I just didn’t want to put myself through that learning curve right at this particular time…

The embarrassing reality is that, although I love working in Photoshop and Illustrator and have a blast putting videos together, I seem to be using my awesomely capable computer as a text editor more than anything else these days… A chunk of my day being spent processing email, writing blog post(s), or surfing the internet either doing research or else just getting sucked in to things like Facebook

And so, after only a couple of days of only semi-noodling with it I packed it up and it’s waiting for me to take back to Dave. I’m well aware that a tablet is the right tool for the job for many of the things I occasionally do, and that word ‘occasionally’ is the key. If I was a full time graphics professional making my living from the use of the software mentioned above it might make more sense to get through the learning curve, and really wallow in the greatness of what the Tablet is capable of but the reality of my typical computer day doesn’t warrant putting myself through the awkwardness of the learning period or at least not at the moment. Never say never, but realize that you don’t need an elephant gun to swat a mosquito.


Media Hits

2009-03-16Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Often when one is performing at a festival or an event that runs over a number of days there will be opportunities to do special media hits. Interviews with local newspapers, a chance to appear on TV as part of the evening news or perhaps the morning breakfast show, visits to the local radio station, you name it, a chance to get out and plug not only your show, but the event at which you’re performing.

The dreaded breakfast TV spot is by far the biggest challenge I’ve encountered on this front. Waking up at the crack of dawn to head to either some predetermined location or to the studio and then getting the energy and momentum up at an hour when the thing I’m really most excited about is the prospect of putting my head back on the pillow not interacting with the often too friendly and excited morning host…

But what’s the real down-side to it? Loosing a bit of sleep? Not the end of the world, and if you’re lucky enough to get decent press coverage at the event you’re working at it can help build a very impressive portfolio to help promote your show to other events thus feeding a cycle of getting more gigs and doing what you love to do – performing. Not only that, but event producers understand the challenges of getting performers to wake up early, so if you make the effort to do so you’ll leave a very good impression with your current employer and open the door to repeat bookings.

Finding ways to creatively interact with the media can go a long way to getting your picture in the paper or making a great impression on that appearance on TV as well. Anything you can do to have a fun, positive and memorable interaction with the person who’s doing the interview is great! You want to do something that packs a bit of a punch so that the TV hosts continue to talk about you through out the show and anytime they mention the event you’re at.

Especially for caption shots in newspapers, there’s usually a ‘Ta-Da!’ moment in your show (usually something to do with your finale) that the photographer who’s working for the newspaper will want to capture. If you’re able to perform the ‘Ta-Da!’ moment on command in a specific location for said photographer, to stage the shot that they’re after and work with them to get the ‘money shot’ you may well become the darling of the media and be asked to do multiple shots.

I have a friend who used to blow fire as part of his show… He was keenly aware of the best angle and position for the photographer to be in to get the most dramatic shot of him with fire leaping from his lips and that shot showed up in just about every newspaper around… Mind you, the moment happened so quickly that it wasn’t as good for TV, and there wasn’t an easy way that a TV host could interact with the fire blowing, so he typically did some other part of his show for TV hits…

In the end what you’re after is creating a buzz about your show so that more people come to enjoy it. Using the media to your advantage to help build that hype is a art in and of itself and learning how to get the most out of this opportunity will take you a very long way.


Charlie Chaplin – Quoted

2009-03-142Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

“Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.”

–Charlie Chaplin, British actor, director, & screenwriter (1889 – 1977)


“Fear of failure might stop you from enjoying making a fool of yourself, so get over it already.”

–David ‘checkerhead’ Aiken

If Fear and Courage were baseball teams, I think I’d rather play for courage. There’s a ray of sunlight and hope in courage which just appeals to me more than the negativity of being scared.


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