puppet psychology

jester, juggler and magician devilstick peat

This coming weekends event;image1(1)

Before I tell you about puppet psychology, let me tell you about next weekend.

This Saturday, the 9th of July I’ll be performing in Earith. It’s the primary School’s summer party. Ran by Friends Of Earith School.

It’s a fun filled day where you can enjoy yourselves safe in the knowledge that you’re helping a good cause. I.E. the education of children.

It’s being held at Earith Primary school, School Road, Earith, PE28 3QB

I’m performing there all afternoon, so do come and say “Hi”.

Puppet psychology;

Hello
Hello

I’m going to share with you a little trick of the trade that I like to call “Puppet psychology”. I was booked to perform at a 2 day country fair in Danson Park in Bexleyheath. The show opened at 10 a.m. and my first show was at 10 30 a.m. Doing a show half an hour after the event has opened can be somewhat problematic, as most people don’t want to stop for a show. Their instinct is to look around first and see what’s where. Luckily for me, over the years I’ve developed several strategies to convince them otherwise. This time I decided to use my favorite way. It’s my favourite way as it’s a little bit devious, in the sense that they wont know that they are stopping to watch a show until it’s too late.

Woodbine meets a friend
Woodbine meets a friend

The puppet set up;

I set up my stand in my allotted place, on the side of the walkway and stood in the middle of the path facing the entrance. In my hands was a puppet I call “Woodbine“, my pot noodle eating, burping polecat (of doom) and waited. I made a point of not looking at anyone, preferring instead to look into the distance, behind them. My head was bobbing about a little as I tried to look over and beyond the people heading my way. This head bobbing was important as it really helps to get their attention, even from a distance.

After a couple of minutes a family stopped, transfixed by Woodbine, trying to work out if he was real or not. After a few seconds I pretended to suddenly notice them, but only the children. I moved closer as I spoke to the two children, making a point of not looking the adults in the eye. Then, once woodbine was a few inches from the oldest boys face, he suddenly pulled his head out of the pot and burped in the child’s face. It was a long, loud, deep burp that made both children jump back in surprise, before bursting out in laughter.

The loud burp, sudden movements of the children and their laughter, all worked to make a few more people stop and watch as I held Woodbine out for them to stroke. Then, when the mother went to stroke him, that’s when he shot up my arm, resulting in her giving a little scream. This was just the reaction I’d hoped for as it caused even more people to stop and watch. Up to now I’ve totally ignored all the adults, concentrating solely on the two children. This was important as, if I’d spoken to or even looked at the parents or other adults, half of them would of smiled politely and walked away. Something that obviously I didn’t want, as these people were going to help me get an audience. They just didn’t know it yet.

I asked the two children if they wanted to see a quick little magic trick, they of cause said yes. The use of the words “quick” and “little” were vital here as they implied to the adults (who still wanted to look around first) that it wont take long. I went to my stand and produced a little blackboard. It was imperative that it was a small trick as this not only strengthened the idea that it’s a quick trick, but  also encouraged people to move closer when asked. I walked part way back to the children before motioning to them and the other children that have stopped to watch to come closer. Still I hadn’t looked at or acknowledged any adults. The children came a little closer, followed by their parents.

Getting them closer;

I started a routine that involves chalk lines that jump around the blackboard, disappearing then reappearing. Then, just before the magic actually happened, I paused. Now it was time to finally acknowledge the adults.

“If you come closer” I said, looking at the ones near the back, “I get bigger”. This not only got a laugh but also, because those at the back tend to stand there in the hope that the strange man wont pick on them, it also convinces them that they are actually safer in amongst the crowd. As everyone moved closer, so I took a couple of steps backwards until I’m in line with my stand. There was now only about 15 people watching the trick, but the fact that they were all laughing and loosely grouped together (almost a crowd) soon attracted others to stop and briefly watch to see whats happening. After all, humans are nothing if not inquisitive.

The jumping ring (of doom)
The jumping ring (of doom)

At the end of the routine people were going to clap and walk on, an idea that I had to remove from their minds. So as soon as I’d finished that routine and they started to clap I reached behind my stand. My hand reappeared holding the next routine up proudly in front of me as I paused. Pauses are as important to visual art as they are to music. Done right, at the correct length and tempo and they can double the laughter, make an audience relax, or simply increase their antici……….pation. Done wrongly and you’ll ruin your whole performance as surly as you would a song (and if you’ve ever heard me sing, you’ll know why I do comedy for a living).

 

There are two reasons why I paused here. one is to acknowledge the applause and wait for it to die down. The other is to give the people a chance to look at the object I was holding. A carved length of wood with 3 pieces of rope hanging from it. On the end of one piece was a large ring. I wanted them to look at it so as to arouse their curiosity. Sure, some folk walked off, but most were happy to hang on for a minute or two just to see what it does.

Getting the children to sit;

“Here I have a piece of wood” I said, and again I paused as a thought suddenly occurred to me. “hey kids, the grass is dry so take a seat and watch whilst I perform some high tech magic”. I didn’t say “do you want to sit” as this implies that they have a choice, and I didn’t want them to choose to stand. If they were standing then there was more chance that their parents would get them to leave.

Once seated I looked at the back of the crowd of maybe 20-25 people. “Adults, can you just move a bit closer as we’re blocking the walk way”. They weren’t, but the closer knitted they were, the more they would laugh (strange but true). Also, it meant that more people would come over to see what I’m doing if there’s a crowd blocking their view (again, strange but true).

“That’s it, just come close enough to throw money”. This last line does several things. It makes them laugh and it convinces them that everyone else is already moving closer. “Only joking” I said, “I’m paid to be here, that’s how comes I can afford to pay these children to sit here”. This line is again important as I didn’t want them to think I’m busking. Also, as I mentioned the kids, so I looked at them. There were still one or two standing and it gave me a chance to politely ask them to sit so that the children behind can see.

The show had only been open 40 minutes. I’ve only been working for 5 minutes and already I’ve got a reasonably sized crowd. One that’s big enough for me to start my show. Job done, and I hadn’t even announced that a show was going to happen. Now how cool is that?

Rum and fun;

You'd have to be a fool not to try this rum
You’d have to be a fool not to try this rum

I done 4 shows that day and lots of walk about in between them, so it was a busy day. But even so I made a point of doing little bits for the stall holders.

One of the stalls was selling “morant bay spiced rum” and its owner asked me to pose for a photo holding a bottle. Of cause I obliged. “Do you drink” he asked? “Occasionally” I replied. I knew he was giving away free tasters and was all set to decline an offer to try it (I never drink whilst working), but rather than offer me a thimble sized glass of rum, he gave me a small bottle to try latter! I drank it on the train Sunday night and can honestly say that it’s one of the nicest spiced rums I’ve ever tried. If you like your rum, you’ll love this one. I give it 10 out of 10 for smoothness and flavor.

The day came to a close and tiered but happy I retired to my tent, sitting outside and enjoying the late afternoon sun. Then about 7 p.m. I headed down to the beer tent for food.

On Saturday nights the beer tent puts on a roast meal for those staying on site. Tonights meal was roast turkey, complete with all the trimmings. As per normal there was more than enough to go round. I’m a strict veggie, so I didn’t have the turkey, but richards roast spuds are legionary and a good hearty meal is just what one needs after a hard days work. Now not only does he do good spuds, but he also runs a good beer tent, with several real ales (I counted 5 at this event) as well as lagers, ciders etc. He also has all the spirits that you’d expect to see in a pub. Not just the basics but all the girly ones like archers etc. So if you’re looking for a beer tent for a wedding or event, give richard a shout. I think you’ll be quite impressed.

Sunday;

My victim, I mean volunteer
My victim, I mean volunteer

Sunday brought glorious sunshine and even larger crowds. Everyone, showmen, stall owners and public were in good spirits, which always makes my job so much easier. Even so, working in that heat and jumping around in a woolen motley (that’s the correct name for a jesters clothes) meant that I had to stop at regular intervals to take on water. It was during one of these quick breaks that I got talking to the owner of one of the miniature steam engines that were on display. % minutes later I had a massive grin on my face as I proudly sat on it’s seat, driving it around site, beaming like a school kid in a sweet shop. It’s just a shame that we didn’t get a photo of it.

The day came to a close, the public left and we started to pack up. I was on a tight schedule due to train times but made it to the station with minutes to spare. My train came in and I sat in my seat. I was feeling very tired and wondering how on earth I was going to keep myself awake. It was then that I remembered the bottle of rum I’d been given the day before. As we left london I sat there, sipping away on a wonderful bottle of rum. Thinking about driving steam engines and how incredibly lucky I am to do what I do.

I love my job, I really do

circus skills workshop in chatteris

Circus skills workshops march

This coming weekend I’m performing on my own (no circus skills workshop, Jester Dragonfly or encampment) at “The Danson park country fair” in Bexleyheath, Kent. Postcode DA15 9PW. There’s loads of other acts booked to support me including; birds of prey, steam engines, medieval reenactments, have a go terrier racing and loads more. I’ve never done this gig before so if you’re in the area then please come and give me some support.

The circus skills workshop gets a helping hand (or 2);

Stormageddon teaching spinning plates
Stormageddon helping daddy teach spinning plates

Last weekend we were performing and running our circus workshop, “the jesters school of…….well…..jestering” at “the chatteris midsummer festival“. This is a gig that’s close to our hearts as until quite recently, we used to live in the town. Also, my partner in crime (Jester Dragonfly) helped to start it up several years ago. The festival has gone through many changes since then. Originally it was a medieval reenactment festival, then a multi-period festival. Now, every year the town has a public meeting where the locals can decide on that years theme. This year the theme was “the Rio Olympics”.

Now I know what you’re all thinking. You’re thinking “what on earth has a medieval jester got to do with the Olympics”? Well the answer is not only a very simple one, but when you think about it, it’s also a very obvious one. Nothing, but the fact is that over the years we’ve become firm favorites at the festival. Enjoyed by both, adults and children alike. So it was a true pleasure to be invited back again. This year however the booking was different. This year I was booked not to perform, but to run a circus skills workshop with our jesters school of…….well……..jestering.

circus skills workshop at chatteris midsummer festival
circus skills workshop at chatteris midsummer festival

 

However, before we could arrive and set up, we had two major problems too over come. The first being that, due to problems with one of our trailers (see my last blog post) we needed some urgent welding doing to it. The second was that, due to the hire car that replaced the hire car (again, see my last post) not having a tow bar, we had no way of moving a trailer. Enter the wonderful world of reenactors.

 

 

The reenactment world is a small, close knit community of lovely (if somewhat strange) people who really do help each other out when needed. Within minutes of posting on Facebook I had two offers of help. One from a member of “the phoenix medieval group”, (a wonderful local reenactment group who are well worth seeing/booking if you get the chance). He offered to weld our trailer back together. The other one was from a member of “A moment in time“. Another reenactment group who were booked to run the have a go archery at the event. They reenact various different times in history and can even supply you with some unusual foreign armies. They offered to pull the trailer for us and we really cant thank those groups enough. Your true stars.

So it was that I arrived on site Friday morning and eagerly set up our medieval encampment. Then had a lazy evening sitting around a camp fire with some old friends from the pentacle drummers, before retiring for the night as tomorrow was going to be a busy day.

Parades, performers and a party in a park;

Stormageddon practising for when I'm older
Stormageddon practising for when I’m older

Saturday morning was spent putting the finishing touches to our encampment before taking Stormageddon and his younger cousin up town to the parade. The parade passed through he town center and was, as always, a noisy, colourful affair. It consisted not only of performers, but also lots of local groups, including brownies, preschools, army cadets etc. All dressed up as athletes, Brazilian parrots and the such like. Except the army cadets, they were dressed up like army cadets.

Taking the kids for a stroll jester style
Taking the kids for a Saturday morning stroll jester style

 

People cheered as the parade passed through the town with majorettes twiddling their batons, drummers drumming and preschool kids not having a clue what was happening, but happy to take part anyway. As we passed the crowds, so they would join onto the end of the parade and follow us down to the festival site. (Note to other events. This is a really good way of getting lots of attendance and the sudden influx of people, all full of excitement, really helps set the mood for the day).

Once at the site I stayed near the entrance, using my skills to entertain the queues and keep them amused as they waited to enter. Then I opened up the circus skills workshop, and I must say that I was genuinely impressed with how busy it was. All day long I was kept busy with teaching juggling, diabilo, devilsticks and lots of other circus skills. It wasn’t just children who enjoyed the circus workshop, but also parents and other adults had a go. Due in part to some comic one liners that I’ve come up with specially designed to entice the adults in.

Our encampment and circus skills workshop
Our encampment and circus skills workshop at the chatteris midsummer festival 2016

Some had never tried circus skills before, others wanted to improve their circus skills and learn more tricks, or the chance to show off to their mates etc. Whatever their reasons for joining in, join in they did. All day long. So by the end of the day I was a tired but happy jester who was proud of the fact that I’d managed to teach so many children and adults so many circus skills. My only regret was the fact that so many people asked what time my show was going to be and I had to tell them that it wasn’t happening because there were so many other acts booked this year. So once I’d finished for the day I went and spoke to the organizers who reorganized the Sunday program so that I could do two performances, and I didn’t even charge them for it, but then you know what they say about a fool and money.

Learning archery with "A moment in time"
Learning archery with “A moment in time”

Although the circus skills workshop finished at 5 p.m. the festival didn’t, as on the Saturday night they have “the party in the park”. A long mobile stage (I.E. a lorry trailer) is set up at one end of the festival and here local, yet highly talented bands and musicians can showcase their skills with a wide variety of music ranging from country to rock. One man and his guitar to complete bands. The weather was good and the night air warm, so people relaxed in chairs under the large half moon listening to artist performing both original works as well as covers.

Whilst enjoying the music, they also enjoyed a pint or two from the  sportsman beer tent, including some lovely real ales. The sportsman supports the festival all through the year, running fund raising nights etc. So if you’ve enjoyed the festival, please show it by using their pub, especially on fund raising nights.

Just chilling
Just chilling

Tug of war shenanigans;

DevilStick Peat being manly and Joining in the tug of war
DevilStick Peat being manly in the tug of war

Sunday the event changed somewhat. There was still lots of entertainment, but also lots of competitions. These included an archery competition ran by “a moment in time” in which my partner in crime, Jester Dragonfly came third. I should add here that she is also a medieval archer, which is why I’m always happy when I get home and she says that she missed me. There’s also a dog show with lots of different categories. A silly yet fun “it’s the knock out” type of games, and a tug of war.

This year the first two teams in the tug of war was the sportsman (Now I think I’m right in saying that in all the years that the tug of war has been held, they have always won it), and the festival crew. The crew team was made up of mainly ladies. The sportsman’s team was made up of fit, burly men with a giant of a man on the end. Jester Dragonfly, who was helping to run the competition wasn’t too happy with this. She thought it was somewhat unfair. So did she offer to join the ladies? Oh no, instead she volunteered me!

I strutted out to the middle of the field in a manly manner. Well, as manly as one can in curly up shoes and a horny hat. I took hold of the rope and leaned back, ready to pull for the crews honour. Then, after someone pointed out that I was facing the wrong way, I about turned and awaited our chance to do what every team has done over the years. Lose to the sportsman. So I was somewhat surprised when we won the first of the best of 3 rounds. Then came the second round. Win this and we’ve finally broken their years long winning streak.

The sportsman’s team eyed us like a pack of lions eyes an injured zebra as we, bolstered by our surprise win, took the strain. Others, encouraged by our British trait of reveling in the face of certain disaster, decided to lend a hand and came running across the field to join us. And so it was that, in a totally fair match (well, as fair as possible when your team has 7 more members than your opponents) the festival crew team won first place in the tug of war. Hooray.

My second show;

After our win it was time for my second show of the day. Some of the audience had come to my first show, so I decided to change some of my routines for this one. Amongst the different routines I put in was a routine I call “the blindfolded card trick performing duck (of doom)”. I really enjoy this routine as it not only involves a child volunteer, but also a quick one liner gag that, in true Tommy Cooper style, is guaranteed to make the adults groan out loud. Today was no exception and the whole show went down a storm. I even got a couple of enquiries for birthday parties out of it. A sure sign that I’m doing something right.

Then, after the last of the competitions had been won (and lost). The last show performed and the last child with an ice cream smeared face was led sleepily home, it was time to pack up the circus skills workshop (much to the disappointment of the adult who’d spent most of the weekend perfecting his club juggling). Drop the tents and head off site and back to the real world.

Amember of the public learning club juggling at our circus skills workshop
A member of the public learning club juggling at our circus skills workshop

Because it was a local event it didn’t take that long to get back home and I must say that it made a pleasant change to arrive back at base at a civilized hour. Once home I kicked off my boots, put the telly on and watched the news. It seemed full of people reeling with shock and horror and saying how horrible it was that the British voters had got their own way regarding Europe. As I watched this it occurred to me that the British people view politics much the same way as they do the summer. I.E. they spend most of the year saying how good it will be when it happens, then come the day they complain that it’s too hot

But hey, what do I know after all, I’m just a fool.