Carny Life

Carny Life

I’ve just finished a great book called ‘Memoirs of a Sword Swallower’ by Daniel P Mannix about the true stories a sword swallower touring with a sideshow/freakshow in a carnival around America back in the day. Really excellent. Here’s the closing conversation between him and the Fat Lady (Jolly Daisy) at the end of their summer season:

“Everyone with a carny isn’t a freak, Daisy”
Oh yes they are. Maybe it don’t show on the outside like it does with me, but everyone ‘with it’ is some kind of freak. They ain’t none of them normal. Look at May, crazy in love with her snakes, and Captain Billy having himself covered with tattooing trying to be an out-and-out freak like me, and even you – a college graduate swallowing swords and eating fire when you knew all along it was liable to kill you. I’m a freak because I gotta be, but somebody like you is making a freak out of himself because deep down inside you’ve got a craving for it. And the longer you’re ‘with it’, the more of a freak you’ll get unil pretty soon you can’t be happy anywhere except in the carny where there’re other freaks for you to be with.”
Although the fat woman was speaking in a dull, monotonous voice I felt my flesh crawl as though se were delivering a curse.”

I’ve currently found that I’m now rehearsing and performing with The Maydays, rehearsing and performing with Shotgun, producing, rehearsing and performing with Music Box, running Hoopla Tuesday shows, Thursday workshops , Saturday workshops and working with John Cremer on corporate workshops. Miraculously nothing clashes with each other.

Doesn’t quite seem real. Some people might say “don’t too much”. But if you spend the entire week watching X factor and checking facebook nobody says “don’t too much”. Actually that’s not even true anyway, nobody has said that to me, I think because I’ve ended up being entirely surrounded by improvisers all week.

Also the great thing about doing the Shotgun and Maydays auditions is that there was a bit of doubt before about performing, like maybe I was only doing it because I also happened to be running the groups that I performed with. But getting through auditions is a bit of a green light with all that stuff.

In other news we had a great Character workshop and Scenes Scenes workshop recently. So much so I’ve decided to squeeze in some more Saturday workshops before Christmas and use them to try out some stuff I’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had the space before – impressions, accents, Commedia etc.
We had a Horror show too, which was fun but I think I was guilty of putting way too much energy on props etc and not enough on enjoying myself.
The Couch was this week and it was a great show, they’ve got a really good vibe among that group that you can feel on and off stage. A real carefree light touch attitude.

Also we ran the Music Box auditions recently which was an amazing experience. Loads of incredibly talented improvisers and actors were there, so much so that if I had time I’d really like to set up more shows with them. We had our top four but there was another definite wave of people who we all thought would be awesome to have in the show too if there was space.

It taught me a few things about auditions that were really helpful. Looking at people in that light you could see that audition decisions and feedback really aren’t personal. There was just some people where we thought “could do with improving this little tiny bit of impro and such and such” and you just knew if they did those things they’d be great, it was really clear. It made me decide not to shy away from auditions in the future, you learn lots and it gets you out there.

One of the chaps who got in had a certain ‘spark’ about him. So much so that afterwards I asked him what this was. He suggested I read ‘Presence’ by Patsy Rodenburg, so I’ve been reading that too. It’s already mentioned a few things I’ve spotted in workshops, like the weird need to be relaxed at the knees, and even mentions why so many people ask me for directions the day after a show (I got asked three times in one day last week). Also, and this is important, you know that pre-impro exercise of reaching up to touch the ceiling and then dropping down with head hanging before rolling up again?? It comes from this book! At last the source. Now I just need to find the ancient rule that states all impro shows should start with Storyteller Die.


Originally posted 11th November 2010.

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