HOW MOVIES CHANGED THE PARTY PERFORMING SCENE- Letter from the trenches by Bo Gerard

I will now point out two things you constantly see in films that, if you haven’t noticed already, will stand out to you from this day hence.

1)   Every nighttime street scene, especially New York streets, will have a freshly wet-down street and sidewalk – whether it has been raining in the movie or not.  I guess one day some cinematographer noticed how good the shot looked when the streets were wet.  It hides the dirt and irregularities, and gives the shot a crisper look.  So, ever since then almost every nighttime shot of a city street has wet pavement.  Look for it!

2)  Every moving shot of a street fair, marketplace or large outdoor party will move past a fire eater or juggler.  They are static and the camera moves past them, and although they are surrounded by extras, hardly anyone is standing and watching them.  Their time in the shot is so short that they could never to do their “act”.  They are simply displaying one or two seconds of the most visually exciting portion of their act.  This works great for filmmaking.  It livens up your moving shot and gives your viewer some eye-candy as the main characters move through the scene.

However, this has effected what gets booked at corporate parties and outdoor festivals.  Party planners started wanting a more cinematic look to their events and they thought, “Hey if it works in the movies, it will work for my live event”.  So, about 15 years ago, jugglers, stilt walkers, and other variety performers started getting hired to stand in specific locations at an event and demonstrate their skill.  This was “ideal” because it didn’t “interfere” with the guests and their partying.

I was actually asked by and agent once if I could perform strolling magic without “bothering or interacting with the guests in any way”.  (I told him that my strolling act involves hilarious interaction with my audience, and that I was probably the wrong performer for his client.)  These performers that were hired actually had an full act, but they couldn’t really do it at these parties, because their audience was constantly coming and going.  So, they just stood and demonstrated their individual skills.  This was well tolerated by the party-goers and thus it pleased the party planners, who continued booking these performers.  As the years went by performers with great skill, but no act, started getting hired instead.  And why not.

So now, fewer variety artists are encouraged to develop and act - one with a beginning, middle and end.  One that has a theatrical arc, and reveals the unique personality of the performer.

Now this is neither good nor bad.  I am simply documenting what I think are the reasons for the shift to the less audience-interactive entertainment that is in vogue at this time at large parties.  I promise to notify you immediately if any more changes occur ;-)

HOW TO MAKE A GREAT LIVING EARNING $.50/hr – Letter from the trenches by Bo Gerard

Here’s something every creative artist already knows, so I’m probably preaching to the choir.

Truth is - I earn less per hour than an amusement ride attendant; and yet I make a nice living.  The reason the income and hourly wage have such a strange relationship is because most creative artists put an inordinate amount of work in on every project theywork on.  So much so, that the ultimate fee we earn for the work, after being divided by the number of hours actually worked on the project, probably comes to less than 50 cents/hour.

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The general public is mostly unaware of this fact and probably imagines that our art magically appears to us, fully formed, and ready to present.  Oh, if it were only true!  For example, every year Gretchen and I create a new Summer Reading Program for libraries, and we put in 6 to 10 months of work on it.  That’s 10 months of talking, writing, rewriting, composing, recording, prop building, music track editing and reediting.  Then we rehearse the Dickens out of the show, and sometimes even do a couple of free performances at schools, to tune the show up in front of a live audience before when we do our first paid performance.  And this is just one of the many projects we work on every year.

Like I said, any creative artists reading this are probably nodding their heads in agreement.  So why, then, do we continue putting ourselves through this long, grueling work, when the hourly pay rate works out to be a fraction of what of a part-time bag packer at Kroger’s makes?  It’s because art is not a thing… it is a way.  Art is when you hear a knocking from your soul — and you answer.

And we happen to make a nice living, too

LIGHT AND DARKNESS IN DALLAS SCHOOLS – Letter from the trenches by Bo Gerard

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Gretchen and I have been performing "original, musical shows with a message", in Dallas schools since 1989 and have been in every single one of the 277 schools at least once, and in some many more times.  So, I speak from experience when I say that there are a lot of hard-working dedicated teachers bring “light” to the 160,000 students that attend.  But getting light on the auditorium and cafetorium stages has been a challenge from day one.  And a couple of years ago, it got even worse. (Sort of)

I consider myself lucky to have had a career performing at both high-end corporate venues with amazing AV, and at schools and other facilities where AV might has well have stood for Awful Viewing.  Back when we started doing shows for DISD as the Dream Collectors, many schools had most of their stage lights missing or burnt out. And some had none working at all.  Prompting us to open shades and curtains to get the most light we could onto the stage.

But about 5 years ago the Dallas School District must have gotten funding to upgrade their antiquated lighting and sound.  I imagine that the District hired a AV consultants to bid on the project, and subsequently every school got a more modern lighting and sound system installed.  Except for a few cases, where the light truss was placed so far upstage that there was no way to throw light on anyone standing downstage of center, they did a good job of designing and installing the system.  They tied all of the lights into a dimmer panel, that was controlled through a wireless digital tablet.

Here’s where the fun begins!  We would sometimes arrive at a school and find that the AV company had neglected to train anyone in the school as to how to operate the new system; or only one person knew how to work the tablet and that were sick that day.  Just the other day we arrived at a school to do one of our Pipdilly Shows and found that tablet had gone missing a year ago, and they hadn’t replaced it.  So, this schools $20,000 lighting system sits unused, gathering dust.

This school has two light trusses, with 6 instruments each, that go unused.

This school has two light trusses, with 6 instruments each, that go unused.

And how can a teacher or administrator, who is already overloaded with the work of running an over-crowded school, teaching to the test, and educating a student population that is largely not speaking English at home, find time to worry about whether or not the lights in the auditorium work or not.  Clearly an advocate is desperately needed; someone to help coordinate the personnel with the technology.  Is there an arts organization out there, like Big Thought or the Texas Commission on the Arts, that would be willing to help these schools present their arts-funded programs in the best possible light?

THE MASK WILL SET YOU FREE – Letter from the trenches by Bo Gerard

The earliest evidence of masks being used for tribal ceremonies and rituals is 7000 BC.  My first experience was in 1975.

Like many kids, I always enjoyed making friends and laugh with goofy walks and funny faces, but I was not prepared for the incredibly liberating feeling that wearing a mask can give you.  I was working in the payroll department of Consolidated Edison in Manhattan, and trying with every free moment to get the progressive rock band I was singing in, “Turn Down Broadway”, signed with a record label.  (We actually did get signed with a label, but that’s a sad story for another time.)

I decided to sign up for some clowning classes at the 92nd Street Y.  To this day, I still don’t know why; but it was a pivotal moment in my life.  The four-week class started with physical comedy and it soon became evident that I was a natural.  I took to it like a duck to water.  But when we started working on grease paint makeup and costuming, I wasn’t prepared for exhilarating feeling that came over me once I was wearing the mask.  I was no longer inhibited, hesitant, or meek.  I was bold, brazen and unstoppable.  It was my first experience with inhabiting another character; except with clowning, the character was really me!  My strengths, my shortcomings, my attitude toward life and the people around me – all magnified by 10.

Over the next few years I started experimenting with reducing the amount and the stylization of the makeup I wore; first moving to more of a mime face with subtle color touches, and then to just a red nose (the smallest mask).

I even studied and performed with character masks and commedia dell'arte.  As I moved away from the big Ringling-style makeup, I discovered I could still experience the abandonment without covering my entire face.

Once I had found the clown inside of me, I was eventually brave enough to transition out of grease paint, and I started working as a comedy magician. Once you experience the world though your personal clown’s eyes, you can perform in any costume.  I have incorporated many different masks over the years, both visible and invisible, but still treasure the profound experience that clowning gave to me.

My inner clown is with me always, but the folks at the grocery store or the gym never see him.  He is special, and he is reserved for my audiences.  Only my daughter, and now her son, have ever seen him off stage.

6 REASONS YOU DON’T NEED PRO AV FOR YOUR STAGE SHOW – Letter from the trenches by Bo Gerard

1)  IT’S HARD TO PERFORM WITH ALL THAT CRAZY LIGHT IN YOUR EYES – Who can concentrate when the mic is so hot the audience can hear you breathing, and the lights make it look like you’re making a prison break?

2)  CLIENTS WILL LIKE YOU A LOT MORE – You won’t be hassling them with contract riders, and then phoning and emailing to remind them about all the details in your contract rider.  You’ll be the “easy guy” to work with.

3)  YOU CAN CHARGE LESS   You spend less times on hammering out the contract details, and don’t have to recoup the expense of providing professional sound and lights.  The less time spent on making sure a gig is going to go great, the better, right?

4)  YOU CAN GET TO THE GIG LATER – No need to show up an hour before the first guests arrive to do a sound and light check.  You can stroll in 20 minutes before show time.  Sweeet!

5)  DIM LIGHTING AND A CHEAP SOUND SYSTEM CAN HIDE MANY OF YOUR SHORTCOMIMGS – Hey, what the audience doesn’t see or hear, can’t hurt em.

6)  IF THE CLIENT DOESN’T LIKE YOUR SHOW, YOU CAN BLAME IT ON BAD AV – Irony abounding!  And it’s always good to have someone to blame!

Listen, your job is to do your show and get paid, right?   Let someone else worry about how well your show is received and perceived.

DON’T PET THE SWEATY THINGS – Thoughts from Bo by Bo Gerard

If you want to come up to say hello after one of my shows, I recommend we start with a handshake, because… I SWEAT!  That’s right, I admit it.  When I am performing, I work hard enough to break out into a good sweat.  No matter how much cardio I do offstage, onstage the sweat still pours out of me.  There was a time when it bothered me.  We've all grown up watching performers on big screen whipping themselves into a frenzy, without excreting one drop of sweat; so I thought I was abnormal.  (Well. I am.  But not because I sweat) This on-screen dryness we've seen a million times is more a product of film editing than of biology.

“Never let ‘em see you sweat!”  That’s the old saying.  But what is so horrible about sweat?  The fact of the matter is when you are really giving it your all, you are bound to schvitz a little.  Or even a lot.

This is not flop sweat like in “Broadcast News”.  This is good honest “I’m-giving-it my-all” sweat.  So, Sweaters of the world take heart.  You are in good company.  Many great live performers are card-holding members of “Clean Pore Club”.  Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, James Brown, and Meatloaf, to name just a few, leave a puddle on the stage big enough for a bird to bathe in.

I had a great teacher in NYC, and he always told us “Leave it all out there on the stage.  Don’t hold anything back!”  And that’s what I do.  And if you don’t mind a little moisture in your hugging, please do come up to me after a one of my shows and lay one on me.  I would be most happy to see you.

5 REASONS TO STRIVE FOR MEDIOCRITY – Thoughts from Bo by Bo Gerard

#1  ONLY THE MEDIOCRE ARE ALWAYS AT THEIR BEST - This quote from playwright Jean Giraudoux says it all.  If you are tired of the emotional and physical highs and lows that accompany a life in show business, and would like your life to have more of an even keel, then maybe mediocrity is for you!

#2  HIGH ACHIEVERS END UP WORKING UNPAID OVERTIME - Why put in all that extra work, when it’s likely no one will notice or appreciate it?  You’ve see some performers who are just basically phoning it in, and they’re getting loads of bookings.  Why work to offer a better product if it won’t get booked?

#3  NO RISK OF FAILURE - Failure is embarrassing.  Failure is depressing.  By just being adequate, you greatly reduce your risk of failure, and you won't have to face any of that.

#4  YOU CAN FOCUS ON YOUR LIFE OUTSIDE WORK - This is awesome.  If you want to spend more time with your friends, family or on your hobbies, striving for mediocrity with your work means you'll have time for that. No late-night prop making sessions, no free time eaten up by researching or rehearsing new material.  It's not a bad life.

#5  LESS COMPETITION FOR PERFORMERS LIKE ME - who want to be the very best at what we do and don’t mind putting in the work that it requires; who don’t mind working all day and night, and are willing to risk failure.  Who are willing to ride that emotional and physical roller coaster and make sure our family life doesn’t suffer too much from it.

Remember – Mediocrity starts with Me!  So, give Mediocrity a try.  But don’t try too hard!

ANGEL IN THE 7-11 – Tales from Bo by Bo Gerard

Life as performer is sometimes fast-paced and hectic.  So much so that it’s sometimes easy to forget just how blessed I really am.  Luckily, there are angels in the world who gently remind me to feel gratitude for my wonderful life.

I met one such angel in a 7-11 one day.  I had just performed with The Dream Collectors at a Dallas elementary school and I was headed over to Fort Worth to do a show for a corporate luncheon.  I was stressed because time was already going to be tight and I had gotten out of the school later than I had hoped.  So, it looked like lunch was going to be an Arizona Green Tea and a bag of nuts at a 7-11 near the school.  When I ran in the store I was stopped in my tracks by a wet floor.  A small, older woman was mopping and blocking my access to my hasty lunch snack.  I looked at her and said “I’m sorry I have to walk across your clean floor”.  Well, this woman just smiled at me and sweetly said “Oh don’t worry.  That’s job security!” 

HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT!  This woman in her 60’s, mopping the floor in a 7-11, in a sketchy part of town, had a better attitude about life than I did.  Here I was, feeling rushed, over worked, and underappreciated; and she managed to feel gratitude for her job and even show kindness towards me.  Her lesson has stayed with me to this day.  SHE is an angel!

Since then I have met many more angels, maybe because I sometimes manage to look for them more often now.  Sometimes the angel doesn’t even say anything.  Sometimes it’s just a special smile they shine my way.  “Saber” was one of those.  Gretchen and I had just finished performing at Silverado Senior living in Dallas last July, and it was a Texas squelcher of a day.  As we came out of the building after the show we met “Saber”.  This small, slight man was stationed outside of the building, in the unbearable heat, valet parking visitor’s cars.  Even so, he managed to give us a warm smile and ask us what we had been doing inside.  We learned he was from Azerbaijan and was parking cars so he could make enough money to go to night school.

He was so open and warm, and had such a powerful sense of caring that his name should have been Light "Saber".  We were so touched by him that we drove over to a Dunkin Donut, picked up an icy cold Frappuccino and brought it back to him.  This man was so moved by this small gesture that he almost couldn’t believe someone would do such a thing.  But a cold drink was nothing compared to how he made us feel.  He reminded us that we should enjoy the world and everyone in it, no matter how hot it is or how difficult your day is going.  HE is an angel!

Look for angels –

they’re out there!