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Archive for January, 2009

Charles B. Chochran – Quoted

2009-01-311Where in the world am I today?: At See aboard the GRAND Princess in the Caribbean

“I still prefer a good juggler to a bad Hamlet”

–Charles B. Cochran, Theatrical Manager

Addendum…

“…especially one with a keen eye for checkerboard fashion”

–David ‘checkerhead’ Aiken

Thankfully Charles B. Chochrane isn’t the only one who feels this way as it’s allowed me to make a living as a juggler for the past 28 years. Amazing!

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Robert Nelson – The Butterfly Man • Interviews from the Inside

2009-01-301Where in the world am I today?: Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA

Prologue: I think my first exposure to Robert Nelson was at the 1983 International Juggler’s Convention in SUNY Purchase New York. I’d only been juggling and performing for a couple of years and at the age of 14 was wide-eyed and drinking in everything that the convention had to offer. Robert’s larger than life persona left a real impression on me! In the years that followed we shared pitches around the world and Robert even acted as the Marriage commissioner at a performance wedding that my wife and I had at the 1997 Edmonton Street Performers Festival. The Butterfly Man really is a living legend in the industry.

Stats:

Name: Robert Nelson – AKA The Butterfly Man
Birthday: September 16, 1949
Started Performing/Working in the Industry: First Tip Collected in NOLA 1973 with Henry the Fiddler
Discipline: Sister Maria Goretti’s Ruler (or Comedy Juggler)
Website: http://www.butterflyman.com
Video Link: I have cable if that’s what you’re talking about. (see website)
Venues Worked: Pieces of my performer DNA are everywhere.

Hot 10 Questions:

  1. What’s your favorite color? • All/None (B/W)
  2. What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey …. Ben & Jerry asked Murph & Benji to attract them a crowd when they 1st started out selling ice cream on the Burlington mall … that one chance encounter led to so many of us working for their “Traveling Show” for years.
  3. Name one movie that would make it to your Top 10 all-time great films.Seven Samurai
  4. What was your favorite toy from childhood? • My Hopalong Cassidy Gun
  5. Who were your biggest inspirations when you got started?Bounce & Cyrus, Philippe Petit, Jango Edwards, Leo Bassi
  6. From the world of animation what one character do you most identify with or see yourself in?Jiminy Cricket
  7. Apart from the entertainment industry, name one other job you’ve had. • Making Carboxy Nitroso rubber for NASA
  8. What’s something you haven’t done yet that you’d like to try? Fly a Draganflyer X6
  9. What’s your least favourite thing about being a performer? • Going onstage
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? • “You can come in but the butterfly stays.”

The Nugget:

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

“Laugh or spill your brains on the ceiling”

–Robert Nelson, The Butterfly Man
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Earning your Nut

 

2009-01-29Where in the world am I today?: At Sea aboard the GRAND Princess

The expression ‘To earn one’s nut,’ is an old circus term that refers to making enough money to cover one’s expenses. I found the following from a trivia site that gave the following history of the origins of the phrase -

Back to old England for the origination of this phrase. There were gypsy circuses that would travel the country, entertaining and probably stealing from the townspeople. Before the city fathers would allow them to set up camp, they would come to an arrangement as to how much the circus would pay the city for the privilege of setting up. Once this amount was agreed upon, the city fathers would take the large nut that secured one of the wagon wheels on the biggest circus wagon. 

Until the circus was able to pay the amount, they would not get their nut back, and therefore would not be able to leave town. This was how the city fathers ensured that they got what was agreed to, rather than seeing the circus skip town in the middle of the night. 

What ‘one’s nut’ is, is a very objective thing for what my be enough money for one person may be more or less than another individual needs to feel comfortable. I’ve always been a fan of -

  1. figuring out what my nut is and 
  2. making a little extra in case something unexpected comes up along the way

The current economic meltdown seems in part due to the fact that people set themselves an unrealistic large nut to try and achieve and when things went sideways things seemed to slid right into a recession.

The smaller your nut, the less time you have to spend worrying about it and this can vastly improve the quality of your life and the things you can do for the simple joy and pleasure that they give you.

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Canadian Street Performers Festivals

2009-01-281Where in the world am I today?: Grand Turk, The Caribbean

I’ve been fortunate to work a variety of venues over the years, and even more fortunate that I’ve been around since the beginning of most of the Street Performers Festivals in Canada. Each of these events seem to be run in a slightly different way with slightly a different emphasis on the conditions that are provided for the performers. All can be an enormous amount of fun and a couple of them even help to organize tours of multiple events. The following is by no means an exhaustive list of Canadian Street Performers Festivals, but gives a taste of some of the events that are out there.

Canadian Street Performers Festivals exist in the following cities:

Events that organize multiple events in their perspective areas:

Readers wishing to add additional links are encourage to post other festivals in the comments area.

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dubé Polyethylene Cigar Boxes

2009-01-27Where in the world am I today?: La Romana, The Caribbean

In the category of ‘props that don’t break,’ today’s post is about the cigar boxes that are produced and distributed through dubé juggling equipment in New York City.


http://www.dube.com/cigarbox/poly.php

Years ago when I first started performing I used wooden cigar boxes and although the aesthetic with a wooden box is arguably nicer, although the satisfying thunk as the boxes are snapped together sounds more resonant, the simple truth is that when dropped over a number of weeks/months wooden cigar boxes don’t hold up. The corners of the boxes gradually disintegrate, the ends come off and you either need to re-glue them or replace them.

All of that changed in 1990 when dubé debuted his polyethylene cigar boxes. The boxes are produced in vivid colored plastic or black though for me that’s not really a concern as I decorate my boxes with gold foil tape. I believe the mold that dubé used has changed at lease once over the years and the poly boxes that I bought earlier on were slightly larger and I had a couple of ends crack on me after repeated abuse. The replacement boxes have a slightly smaller profile and have given me no problems what so ever. The just work. About the only care and feeding I need to do with this prop is to occasionally clean and re-decorate the boxes with new tape. That’s it. In my book that’s a great prop!

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cbg baseball caps

 

2009-01-26Where in the world am I today?: St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, The Caribbean

Thought I’d feature my cbg baseball caps as part of my regular ‘mondays and marketing’ feature. For about the last four years I’ve been doing an increasing amount of work on cruise ships. Like the postcards that I featured last week, I use baseball caps as a promotional item of sorts when I work on ships and, in fact, I use them at most events that I perform at. 

These caps fall under the category of ‘swag’ – items made for the express purpose of being given away to people who do nice things for you. Though these hats could likely be sold as merchandise at the end of my shows, I typically only give then away to the technical crew who help me make my show look and sound it’s best and to other people like the Cruise Director or Festival Producer as a way of saying thanks for having me.

Financially speaking the investment in a half dozen hats per gig doesn’t amount to more than about thirty dollars and these well-branded, well-made, caps seem to be the sort of thing that people keep and actually use and remember me for.

Often the guys running sound or lights this contract graduate to become production manager or sometimes even moves higher up in the company and can potentially be the guy in charge of hiring in the future. If you’ve been easy to work with and appreciative of the work that others have done for you from the beginning, this gets remembered. So, a relatively small investment in a cap today to say thanks, may have long reaching effects that are hard to measure.

Another reason why this particular item is in my mind at the moment is because I’m in the midst of ordering more caps and have been working directly with a company in China to produce these for me. For those interested, the new cbg baseball caps are being manufactured by Capwindow International. The guy that I’ve been corresponding with at the company, Jack Wu has been great to deal with and his communications have all been clear and response quick.

So why a baseball cap over something like a t-shirt? Well the baseball caps have a couple of advantages.

  1. They stack nicely and are easy to pack around other things I’m carrying
  2. Unlike a t-shirt which come in various sizes, baseball caps are far more universal in that they can be easily sized to fit just about any head meaning there’s less guess work when it comes to giving them out.

Useful online resource:

Capwindow International Company Ltd.: http://www.capwindow.com

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Satchel Paige – Quoted

2009-01-24Where in the world am I today?: St. Vincent, The Caribbean

“Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits”

–Satchel PaigeUS baseball player

Addendum…

“…especially when I’m at an airport!”

–David ‘checkerhead’ Aiken

Just somehow seemed like the right quote for a week when I was flying again. Vancouver – Toronto – Barbados to join the GRAND Princess… I’m certainly not complaining, but I do seem to spend a lot of my life in transit.

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Ben Robinson • Interviews from the Inside

2009-01-23Where in the world am I today?: St. Kitts, The Caribbean

Prologue: It wasn’t so much that I met Ben Robinson but rather that he came into my life though synchronistic events… I was performing at South Street Sea Port in New York City in June of 1997 and Ben happened to catch my show. He contacted me later via email sent me pictures from the show he had watched and we’ve been in touch ever since.

Stats:

Name: Ben Robinson – Illusion Genius
Started Performing/Working in the Industry: 1974
Discipline: Magician
Website: http://www.illusiongenius.com
Venues Worked: Private events, opening act for comedians and musical groups, resorts, clubs

Hot 10 Questions:

  1. What’s your favorite color? • Black to wear, blood red to paint with
  2. What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream • Chocolate chip mint, and I like it because it is not too sweet.
  3. Name one movie that would make it to your Top 10 all-time great films.Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.
  4. What was your favorite toy from childhood? • My teddy bear, still have it.
  5. Who were your biggest inspirations when you got started? • Magicians Doug Henning and Fred Kaps.
  6. From the world of animation what one character do you most identify with or see yourself in?Bugs Bunny, because he says what’s on his mind and he is a resilient character.
  7. Apart from the entertainment industry, name one other job you’ve had. • Worked 1 year as a lighting store manager, learned to wire lamps and set fixtures.
  8. What’s something you haven’t done yet that you’d like to try? I’d like to drive cross country.
  9. What’s your least favourite thing about being a performer? • Hauling props in large quantity. Love the line: pack small and play big.
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? • “Ah we have place for you, and the girl who works there now is single and very attractive.”

The Nugget:

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

Ah, the one nugget is simply Dai Vernon’s advice that I have modified, and it is this:

“Show up, say only what you have to, dress well, get paid, and leave”

–Ben Robinson, Illusion Genius

That is the job of the performer no matter what they do, and I think anything more is overkill. Some try to hang out with the audience, and make friends or sign millions of promo items and I say leave it on stage and let the audience come to you if they want more. Also, leave them wanting more…though that is not always possible.

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Pick two of the following three…

 

2009-01-22

Where in the world am I today?: Bridgetown, Barbados

I was told years ago that to succeed in show business you needed two of the following three things.

  1. A good show
  2. A good costume
  3. A good promo pack

Pick any two and you can be successful in this business…

There’s a grain of truth to this, though I’d hate to think that if I have a good costume and good promo my show sucks… Hmmm… Perhaps it’s best not to think about this for too long, but rather consider that these are three areas of the business that are worth working on.

When ever possible I like to watch other shows, check out performer promo, kits, videos etc. and see what they’re wearing because I think there’s always room to improve in these three areas and knowing what other people are doing gives me the best chance of making sure that the image that I’m presenting every time I send out a press kit or step on stage is as good as I can possibly make it.

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Children’s Festivals

 

2009-01-21Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada and on my way to Barbados this evening

Canada, for what ever reason, seems to have a plethora of different festival networks that can make touring in my home and native land a very attractive option for performers from around the world. Festivals here seem to co-ordinate with each other and will often agree to share the expenses of bringing in an act from overseas thus spreading the cost of an international ticket out over multiple events. 

One of the best circuits for doing this is with the Children’s Festival Circuit that runs from Mid-May through Mid-June.

I have had the pleasure of working at many of the Canadian Children’s Festivals and can certainly recommend them as a fantastic venue if your show is suitable for younger audiences. 

Be aware that the fees paid at these events can sometimes be a bit lower than what you might get from other venues, but the fun of being a part of an international cast and the opportunity to check out other shows that have been brought in for the event is fantastic!

The Vancouver Children’s Festival has a Fantastic listing of Children’s Festivals listed on their resource page here which includes not only Festival in Canada, but others from around the world and is well worth checking out!

Click here for the Children’s Festival Listings

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Hardigg Storm Case – iM2950

 

2009-01-201Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

I’m a huge fan of hardware that just works and for years used a hard case that was virtually bullet proof. Mind you, that bullet proof case also weighed about 30 pounds (13.5 kg) when it was empty. This was fine back in the days when airlines would allow you to carry cases up to 70 pounds (32 kg), but when the restrictions dropped to 50 pounds (22.5 kg) I needed to re-examine things and look at how I could reduce the overall amount of weight I was carrying.

2009-01-20bI remember specifically walking through Miami Airport and seeing a guy zip past with a cool looking carry on case and out of the corner of my eye was able to see the Storm Cases logo on it. When I got home I looked up Storm Cases on the Internet and with in weeks had one waiting for me to customize it with dividers to suit my specific needs.

The other case I considered at the time was the Pelican 1650 made by Pelican Cases, but I opted for the Storm Case iM2950 because I preferred Storm Cases latches, the style of the grips on the carry handles and the sliding handle and wheel hardware. The real clincher for me though was the fact that Storm Cases came in better colors. I opted for a bright yellow that is in keeping with my costume/character and had an additional cover made for the case to keep the yellow looking as good as possible. 

After two and a half years of dragging the case around the globe I’m happy to report that I haven’t had a single problem with it. It just works.

Storm Cases on the Web: http://www.stormcase.com

My Storm Case on the Web: http://www.stormcase.com/StormCaseSizes/StormiM2950.htm

 

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Get Yourself Some of These!

 

2009-01-19Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Not necessarily the first piece of marketing material you should put your hands on, but postcards ROCK, there’s no doubt about it. I’ve created a bunch of different designs over the years and have used them for everything from thank you notes to direct mailings, to give-aways at the end of shows. While working in Japan I also managed to use postcards as a way to collect extra tips at the end of my show. 

I first has this happen while working at the Canal City Shopping Complex in Fukuoka, Japan. The client didn’t like the idea of collecting tips as per a traditional street performance, but when I suggested that I give away postcards to anyone who gave me a donation they lifted their no-tip policy and I was able to put a fair bit of extra $$$ in my jeans as a result.

At the end of my shows on cruise ships I stand at the exit of the theatre and give postcards away to anyone who wants them as a free souvenir of the show. I get paid well enough on ships that the cost of giving away a couple of hundred postcards at the end of a show is easily rolled into the fee I’m receiving. The results are always positive and give me yet another chance to connect with the passengers in the audience and leave a good impression with the staff I’m working with by making a little extra effort.

Any time you can do something that helps cement a good impression with your audience and your employers, you’re paving the way for repeat bookings. ‘nough said.

Useful online sources for postcards are:

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Living one’s life by Slogans

2009-01-17Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

–Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher

Addendum…

Remember to wear the shoes you like”

–David ‘checkerhead’ Aiken

I’ve got a friend I correspond with fairly regularly who I find I often drop quotes on… They just seem to come up in discussion or in the sorts of conversations that he and I carry out by email… On more than one occaision he has commented that the problem with living life by a neat little slogan that seems to capture the moment in a single phrase is the fact that LIFE tends to be a bit messier than what can be contained by a snappy one liner…

I totally agree with him of course, but these nuggets of wisdom still seem to appeal to me for some reason. Perhaps, if you choose to heed the advice of one of these often cliché-ed sayings you should give yourself permission to add an addendum to the original text to make it, at the very least, a little bit more fun. Might try doing this a bit on Saturdays, just for the heck of it…

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Mike Wood • Interviews from the Inside

2009-01-16Where in the world am I today?: Vancouver, BC, Canada

Prologue: My first awareness of Mike Wood came in the form of his Hawaii Two-O Trading Card during the 2000 ‘Millennium Edition Super Star Performers Trading Card Season. I later met him face to face in Ottawa at the Ottawa Buskers Festival and then kept running into him at other events. One of the things that struck me on one such meeting was Mike’s comment that he was a “Student of the Game” meaning he still got out and watched shows as he felt that everyone could teach him something… I was flattered that he came to my show more than once.

Stats:

Name: Mike Wood (or, if I’m in trouble with my Mom, Michael Edward Wood)
Birthday: I’m a Libra and I like long walks in the woods.
Place of Birth: St.Thomas (In Ontario. Not the tropical island)
Started Performing/Working in the Industry: I started being funny for money in the early 90s, in and around St.Thomas, then across Canada
Discipline: Comic
Website: http://www.mikewood.ca
Venues Worked: wherever will have me

Hot 10 Questions:

  1. What’s your favorite color? • Gah! That’s the American spelling of “favourite”. Now I’m all distracted. Anyway. My favourite number is 9.
  2. What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream • Mint Chip
  3. What makes you laugh? • I love clever wit, self-referential humour and call backs. Both Looney Toons and Futurama do it for me every time. Also: a man, dressed as an old lady, falling down a manhole.
  4. Who were your biggest inspirations when you got started? • My comedy heroes are George Carlin, Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld. When I started being funny for money however, I was a juggler; so I looked up to guys like The Passing Zone.
  5. If you could describe yourself as a character from Whinnie the Pooh, who would it be? • I don’t really know Winnie the Pooh all that well. But I think I like the Donkey the best. He’s got that awesome bow on his tail, and he’s dark and emo all the time.
  6. Apart from the entertainment industry, name one other job you’ve had. • Mining engineer.
  7. What’s something you haven’t done yet that you’d like to try? Twins. [if that's an inappropriate answer, here's another] Fatherhood.
  8. What’s the best thing about being a performer? • I love making people laugh. It’s an incredible feeling. Better than anything else I’ve found yet.
  9. What’s the hardest thing about being a performer? • Finding enough enjoyable work to keep myself busy and solvent.
  10. Why do you keep performing? • I don’t have a choice. I love it too much to stop.

The Nugget:

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

Mike Wood’s School of Thought –

I subscribe very much to the “less is more” school of thought. My nugget of showbiz wisdom would be

“Do one thing. Do it well, and slowly.”

–Mike Wood, Comic

I’m naturally concise, and as an added bonus I tend to be a little lazy. So when I sit down to create I am guided by my principle pretty easily. However when I’m writing or really concentrating on the show, applying the principle makes it even better. I heard a great anecdote about Jay Leno (whom I don’t really love, but whom you’ve got to respect) and his writing process. When he writes, first he finds a joke that gets the laugh he wants. Then to punch it up he removes one word the next time to see if he can get the same (or better) laugh. He keeps removing words until it can’t get the laugh, then adds back the last word. He wants his Way to be as funny as what he Says. When you watch him tell jokes, this exercise is obvious. He would never say, “It’s like my mother-in-law is from space.” The Jay Leno version of that line is “My mother-in-law. From space.”

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Reckless Abandon…

 

2009-01-15Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Since posting my review of “Man on Wire” last week I’ve had conversations with a couple of friends and their take on the film and on things that I hadn’t originally commented on… 

One friend even shared with me a digital version of a brochure that Petit created after he had accomplished the coup August 7, 1974… Which is where the image above came from… Another had this to say -

“The astounding lesson for me was how abandoned his friends and his lover felt by the end of the mission.  Petit seemed to have learned (and taught) many important lessons for performers and artists but not of life.”

The act of walking between the towers of the World Trade Center took an act of reckless abandon to achieve. Who in their right mind would walk a 200 foot cable strung 450 meters above the ground. 

The rift in Petit’s personal relationships after ‘Le Coup’ seems to have been a different sort of act of reckless abandon and although he created history on the wire, one could ask if the price he paid by loosing such close friends was actually worth it. Fame is a fickle mistress, but the beauty of life long friendships will give you strength long after the Fame has faded…

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