In an article I recently posted – OH, THE GIGS WE HAVE DONE – I mentioned that I performed as a “Robot Sherlock Holmes” at some trade shows in Las Vegas, in the early 90’s. (I have also previously written about Mannequin Posing in an older blog.) My new friend-in magic, Robert Baxt, commented that I could write a whole article just about this Robot Sherlock thing. So, here it is!
So, the big question is, “How does a performer find himself in such a position?” Well, it all starts with my training. In NYC, I trained in Dance (Jazz, Modern & Tap), Circus Skills (with the famed Nina & Gregori Fedin of the Moscow Circus), and Mime (with a student of the great Grotowski, and with Daniel Stein, a celebrated Le Coq performer). All this studying was meant to prepare me for a life in physical and musical theater.
But then a surprising new opportunity presented itself – combining these skills to portray a mannequin or animatron. It was a brand-new thing in NYC, and agents were scrambling to find trained performers who could do this work in Department Stores, Fashion Shows and at Trade Shows. Even after Gretchen and I moved to Dallas, agents were calling to ask if we could match a party theme, corporate campaign or promotional character, using our Mannequin/Robot skills. It was crazy!!!
There were only a handful of us doing it, for the first few years, and the work was plentiful and financially rewarding. I even incorporated some magic effects as Robot Sherlock, like hiding a Fism Flash in the palm of my glove, so I could “take a photo” of my audience with an invisible camera. The work was hell on your knees and other joints, but we suffer for our art, yes? (and for the rent money) After a while it was everywhere, and less rigorously trained and lower paid performers were being hired, so it got a little schlocky. And so, it went from Sherlock to schlock.
But in its heyday, the audiences ate it up. Today’s distracted, hurried & jaded audiences would most likely not be as interested. And not many of today’s performers would put the time into the training or endure the bone-numbing hours on a pedestal. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.
And now I must go and ice my knee!