Friday, February 27, 2009

Brendan’s critique of our new routine:

First, let me lay it out.

We begin by gathering a crowd of at least 5. I ask people to stop by saying:

You came for the show? Good, come join our invisible audience.
Have you look in the mirror lately...? because you are a vision of an audience.
Psst... don’t tell her [meaning Stina] but the show is free for you.
(Make a lame joke) You can tell that I make up all this material on the spot because of how lame that joke was.

Stina chimes in with her own lines.
After we have two people, we let them know that the show will begin when we have 3 more people, and they can help us gather a crowd.

Once we have 5 (or more) people, we pitch ourselves:

We are improvisational storyjugglers! You have never seen the likes of us on the street before. We are about to tell you a story made up as you watch. To prove it, we’ll take a few suggestions from you and tell a story based on those suggestions.

We then get 2 people’s names. After the first name, we annouce

I’m sorry, [sir or ma’am], but you are the villain of our story. [to whole audience] Whenever you hear [name], I want to hear your harshest booooo [hissss for people who have lost their voices screaming during Mardi Gras]

After the second name, we announce

Congratulations, [name] you are the hero of our story! [to whole audience] Whenever you hear [name], let’s hear a great big Huzzah!

Then we have them respond to the names a couple times. At last we choose someone from the audience to give a suggestion, like their favorite magical animal or something they would say on a date. Then we tell a juggling story using the names, suggestions, and huzzahs and boos.

That’s Act One

How it went:
Okay. The audience started out titilated at the booing and hooraying. Our story was very average. It’s hit or miss with our stories. Sometimes we have an incredible twist that just happens or a detail that stands out, but sometimes they're kind of blah. I think because we were concentrating on how we could incorporate our two main characters, we fell into a kind of blah story and didn’t feel as free to take the risks that sometimes result in amazing unexpectedness, and sometimes result in driving our audience away with our mumbledy-jumbledy.
So we used their names. A lot! They Huzzahed and Hissed all the way through. By the end though, they sounded less enthusiastic. I didn’t include acts two or three because we didn’t get past halfway into act two when our audience meandered away.

How we can improve:
1. Make it special. We definitely overused the trick up our sleeves. It was only fun maybe 6 times to cheer for their friends.
2. Stop Juggling. Stories are equal parts plot and storytelling. While we can offer some inflection while juggling, unless we can look at our audience, we can’t convey everything. So somehow we need to look at them.
3. More audience interaction. If the rest of the audience gets to cheer and boo, perhaps we can make the villain say “Muahaha” and the hero say “Hip, hip...” (to go with Huzzah)
4. We need to work towards a punchline. I don’t know how we can practice that improvisationally except to work on it and work on it and be aware of the need for it.
5. Give a hat line after the first story. Use it to entice them to stick around for the second.

Once we test them out, I’ll tell you about our third and second acts (we might cut it down to two, though).

It’ll be a while until that happens though, as we’re leaving New Orleans in a few days for some hitchhiking to Houston. Wish us big hats and lucky thumbs!

By the way, if you’re looking for information about busking laws in New Orleans, call the Eighth Precinct. Their beat is the one that encompasses Jackson Square and Royal Street. The laws governing busking in this town are general ones of fire lanes and vendors’ rights. If nobody complains, you’re generally fine.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Where we've been living the last four months (a pictures post)

Welcome to our house! Please, step across the street and come in.
Doesn't our gate look lovely? These beads are from Mardi Gras, of course! Let's go inside.
This is our front room. It's mostly a place to store things. Follow us through the open double-wide doorway and we'll pass through...
...Eric's bedroom. No, he doesn't use the fireplace, but he does keep candles on top of it! Let's go straight through our shotgun style house to the next room.

This is the middle sitting room, where we often actually do sit and read, or eat, or play games.

And this is our bedroom! It's also the main thoroughfare to the kitchen and bathroom.

And finally, the kitchen, and that final doorway you see is to the bathroom. Yes, you just go straight through, passing through one room to get to the next! I know, isn't it a funny style house?! Who needs hallways? Ha ha, ha ha.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Shame on Cascade Stables (or Mom, You Were Right)

From the title of this post, you can guess that our experience walking horses in the Krewe D'Etat parade was not a positive one. Allow me to recount the whole experience and you can see for yourself why.

We arrived at the stables at 3pm Friday along with the other walkers, grabbed a Cascade Stables t-shirt and hat and waited around for about 45 minutes. During that time we learned a few things from people who had already walked horses in a parade the day before. We found out about how much we would get paid ($30 from the stable, plus tips from the riders), that the horses were not owned by the stable, and that they were probably going to dope the horses. This last statement was affirmed when I saw a stable employee walking around with a cup full of syringes.

After the waiting around period, the stable owner, Barbe Smith, came out to talk to us. She told us three things. One, the riders pre-tipped, so don't bug them for more tips. Two, pretend like you know what you're doing even if you don't. And three, don't stop under the overpass because someone could die. Then they loaded up the horses and the walkers and took us to the start of the parade route.

On the way to the parade, we met a woman who is boarding her horse at the stables and she told us a little more about the horses we would be leading. Most of them had never walked in parades before and had been purchased at auction months earlier. The stable rents the horses from outside parties specifically for the parades and afterward the horses likely go back to auction. This woman we met had been riding some of the horses over the previous week and told us that they are not well-trained riding horses, either. We also heard from the other walkers that the people who would be riding the horses did not necessarily know anything about riding.

One scary thing that happened was when they were unloading the horses from one of the trailers. I didn't see what caused this, but one of the horses freaked out coming off the trailer and either fell or reared and then fell. I looked over just in time to see the horse flip onto its back. It stayed down for several moments, but eventually got up and seemed to be okay.

I was given a small chestnut horse named Sport to lead. He looked like an older horse and was fairly calm throughout all the excitement of marching bands practicing nearby, floats lining up, and revelers passing through. I met my rider soon after we got there and he told me he had been doing this for 25 years, knew how to ride, and could go off-tether. I confirmed that with Barbe before the parade started and she said it was fine. We had to wait around for probably another half an hour, during which time my rider came by and fed Sport carrots, stable hands checked the tack and added more gold spray paint to Sport's hooves, and one stable employee injected my horse with some sort of tranquilizer.

By this point it was clear that those of us walking the horses were barely regarded as people. No stable employee told me anything about what to expect in the parade or why they were doping the horses, nor did anyone give any of the walkers instructions about leading horses, even though most of the other walkers we talked to had zero experience working with horses. By this point Brendan and I were both infuriated and didn't know what to do other than our best in leading these horses and trying to keep our horses, our riders, and ourselves safe throughout the parade.

So the riders mounted up and the parade began. The next scary thing that happened was a horse got spooked by something (there were a myriad of things that could have scared an untrained horse. The flambeaux were blamed. Flambeaux are people who walk alongside the parade with giant flaming sticks), reared, and the rider fell off. He had a bloody lip, and I heard that the horse had stepped on him after he fell off. That horse was pulled and the rider was going to be taken to the hospital. I never heard anything else about how he was. (Brendan: I overheard my rider talking with the man in the car ahead of us. The fellow who went to the hospital had no critical injuries.)

We continued on, and once we were walking down Magazine Street I took the lead off my horse, but stayed up near his head in case anything went wrong. My rider was having fun and seemed confident, and Sport seemed fine aside from uncomfortable from being held on too tight a rein. The parade moved very slowly, and there were times when we would stop for what seemed like a long time before moving very slowly again.

About 15 or so minutes into the parade at a point when we were stopped, I noticed Sport pawing the ground a lot, and keeping his head very low to ground, and behaving in a way I've seen horses behave when they are about to try and lie down. I also noticed that his neck was very sweaty. I told my rider I was afraid Sport was going to try and lie down and asked him if I could put the lead back on and walk him around. He was fine with that. I began leading Sport in circles and about the time we completed our third circle Sport went down. Barbe's son, who'd been leading a horse just ahead of mine, handed his horse off to Brendan and came running over. It all happened so fast, but I remember telling my rider to let go of the reins and Barbe's son helping to get his feet out of the stirrups. Then Barbe's son took the lead and got Sport up again, and I went over to my rider and helped him up. He was a little shaken, but fine, and ready to get back on if Sport was okay.

Sport was not okay. This horse had been fine when unloaded from the trailer. He was calm, but also very alert and energetic. But when he went down, he was sluggish and sweaty and could barely hold his head up. The only reason he went down was because of the tranquilizer. I told Barbe's son I didn't feel comfortable leading a horse that might fall down, and he said he would lead Sport for awhile. He kept saying he would fine once the parade got moving again. So, once it was moving, my rider got back on, but Sport was not sound. His hind right leg wasn't moving quite right, and Barbe's son made the judgment call to take him out of the parade. My rider ended up getting into a convertible just ahead of us and riding in that for the rest of the parade.

Barbe's son took Sport back, which meant Brendan got to lead his horse, which was carrying the Krewe captain (the organizer of the parade). I took turns with another walker leading a horse named Rita. Rita was hard to lead. She constantly wanted to go faster. The man who was leading her was doing his best, but he had very minimal horse experience, and I had a hard time with her too even though I have a lot of horse experience. In the circumstances, though, it was nearly impossible to get a horse to listen.

It was around 10pm when we finally got to the end of the parade. They loaded up the horses as they arrived, but since they were staggered throughout the parade we had to wait awhile for everyone to show up. By this time, we had been working steadily for 5 hours with no breaks or water. They did not offer us water at this time either, though some of our fellow walkers had acquired alcohol from their riders at the end of the parade. We had to go back to the stables in order to get paid, so we chatted with the other walkers while we waited. No one else we talked to had had horses rear or fall down, but Brendan did hear that a total of ten horses had been taken out that night, both from the Krewe D'Etat parade and the parade just ahead of it.

I'm still so angry about it. These people, Cascade Stables, and namely Barbe Smith, the owner, are running a completely shoddy operation that is dangerous to the horses, the walkers, and the riders. They are putting everyone in the worst possible situation. The horses that are terrified because they've never been in parades before (let alone Mardi Gras parades, which have huge screaming crowds along the entire route who come running up the horses to try and get beads or doubloons from the riders), and to try and counter that they drug the horses, which causes a host of other possible problems, like what happened with my horse. Then there are walkers who are nervous because they have no idea what they're doing who are at risk for injury. One woman we met who had walked in a parade the day before had a broken toe from a horse stepping on her foot. Something like that could happen even to a horse-person, but if these people were given just a little bit of training it would greatly minimize the risk. And it's not as if there wasn't time. We were all at the stables just standing around for nearly an hour. They could have given all the walkers a chance to lead the horses around and simply get used to it. And then there's the riders who don't know what they're doing. I had to continually tell the rider on Rita to let up on the reins. He apologized for this and said he kept holding them even though he knew he didn't need to because when she started moving he just instinctually grabbed at them as something to hold onto.

Horses, riders and walkers are getting injured because of what Cascade Stables is doing. And for what? Just to make a buck. Part of me almost wishes one of the riders (because they're the ones with any kind of rank and money) would get seriously injured to draw attention to what's happening. But I don't really wish that. Instead, I'm going to try and draw attention to what's happening. I'm going to wait until we go to the stables on Thursday to pick up our checks so I can try and find out what they're using to dope the horses, then I'm going to write to both The Gambit and the Times-Picayune. I'm hoping this will be the last year Cascade Stables is able to provide horses for Mardi Gras parades.

Friday, February 20, 2009

And so begins Mardi Gras weekend...

We have a new routine. Our plan was to start trying it out on people today. But today we got an exciting phone call...

We get to walk horses in a Carnival parade!!!

On a whim, we responded to an ad in the back of the Gambit calling for horse walkers. When we went to sign up, the 5 pages of poster board were all filled to overflowing. We marked out a tiny spot and wrote in our names. We thought for sure, as we were on the end of a very long list, they'd never get to our names... but they did, and today we get to both walk in a parade and get paid. Two very exciting things. (We'll Twitter which parade once we know ... click the link in the sidebar to go to our Twitter.)

Speaking of finances, I haven't done the figuring lately, but we're feeling much better about our situation as the end of this month approaches. Thanks to our generous donors, we hope that writing and performing radio plays can become a supplement to our income... if our stories are worth a donation of even a dollar, and a few dozen people listen (so tell your friends if you liked the radio play), they can help us stay on target with our budget. We plan to roll out a new radio play once per month or so. Big donors ($10+) will get access to several in a row.

In addition, Stina will get a sizable chunk of tax refund, and our new busking routine should net us bigger hats than our old routine did.

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Gras Weekend

Parades everywhere.

I suppose we haven't made it clear, and if you never live in New Orleans, you would never know. Mardi Gras is not the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is a season. Beginning at least 3 weekends before the day itself, New Orleans celebrates with regular parades and festivals (I suppose we know it as Carnival). And by regular, I mean that the library closes an hour early every day this week to accomodate the parades.

Everybody loves the parades well enough that the same people will tell us again and again "THIS is the parade you need to see." A few days after that one, they say "THIS is the parade you HAVE to see." And they disagree. And some of them will consider one parade famous, and others another, and they may not concede any credibility to another's claim.

Well, we really just figured this out, so we've been seeing parade after parade after parade. We saw two on Saturday and one on Sunday and then I said "STOP" before the 2nd one on Sunday. I felt paraded out. It's more stressful than you might think. Suddenly, you're pelted with hundreds of beads, which are shiny and bright, and you want them because everybody else wants them, and then you have them, and then your neck is too heavy to hold up, and you fall to the ground, and the children scurry to your prone corpse and loot the body.

Sunday was all about that. We went to Family Gras (Fat Family - very Supersize Me) to volunteer with Amia* (names have been changed to protect the innocent) at the Al Copeland Foundation booth (which is raising money for cancer research). While there we saw a genre of performers that I had no idea existed - pre-fame pop singers. Hilary Duff-esque, Justin Timberlake-esque... I had no idea people could be small time tweeny boppers. Stina also realized and told me that there was a legend on stage. It was true. None other than Monkees hottie Davy Jones performed some of the greatest songs of one of the earliest and greatest made-up bands. WOOT!

Going back in time, on Saturday we met the muppetiest dog in the city. His name is Bailey, and he's one quarter Shitzu, three quarters Maltese, 100% Jim Henson. He lives with Matt, against whom and whose friends Stina and I dominated game day. (Settlers: Stina 1st Place, Brendan 2nd, Munchkin: Brendan 1st Place, Stina 2nd, Scrabble: Team Brendan and Stina 1st Place, Lunch Money: Stina 1st Place, Brendan 2nd)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thoughts about performance style, and pictures

First off, a great big shout-out to those who have donated! We really weren’t sure what to expect when we added that button, and are now reminded what generous friends we have. Thank you so much!

Yesterday we got together with a juggler we met on Sunday in the French Quarter. He is a traveling street performer. He can juggle pins and fire and handle devil sticks and do this while balancing precariously on a balancing board thing, with witty banter to boot. He also does magic. He approached us on Sunday when we were out performing to see if we knew of any juggling clubs in the city. We don’t, but we met up with him to play around and are going to try and regularly meet to see if we can help establish a juggling club with locals who could carry it on after we leave, and after our new friend leaves in April.

Ever since we met up with him, I have been feeling like not only do we not have the skill set other performers have, but I, at least, do not really have a desire to learn the witty banter and the hat lines. It doesn’t feel natural to me and my personality. I’ve never considered myself very quick on my feet when it comes to saying clever things in conversation, nor good at making jokes. I have a love for performing, but express it by singing in choirs or musicals, or by singing solos at my parents’ church. I have a love for entertaining, but express it by being goofy for my sister until she laughs so hard she cries.

It’s no surprise to me, though, that street performance was going to be way outside my comfort zone. I knew that, but felt and still feel that the challenge of it is totally worthwhile. But the worth, for me, comes from brightening a person’s day a bit, surprising them with a spontaneous and whimsical story, and the stories I am given in return, like the drunk man who stopped to have a conversation with us and told us we were the greatest. And yes, it also comes from someone appreciatively giving us $1 or, even better, $5 after a good story. But even if we don’t get a tip, I’m still glad we told that story and that those people stopped and listened to it.

The problem then, for me, is that for us to really be making a livable income with our busking, we would have to change our performance so much. We would have to make up or borrow all the clever things to say, both to get people to stop in the first place and to get them to give us money, and we would have to really build a show. Maybe I would feel more like doing this if I felt like we had the skill set to back it up, but we don’t know a lot of juggling tricks or have a real big finish. I feel like I’ve just gotten somewhat decent at three ball juggling, and adding tricks to that is doable, but realistically would take several more months to nail down well enough to include them in a show.

Even if we did have all the skills, I’m still not sure I would want to do that kind of show. It’s entertaining, yes, but not particularly original. Maybe that’s where all this is stemming from. I want to do something original. Our stories feel original. No one else out there is doing it, plus they are different every time we tell one. And maybe there is a way to make more money and still do what I feel we're best at, but I don't know what that is yet.

In addition to musing about what exactly it is we’re doing, as we are so wont to do, we’ve also been up to some fun activities. Game nights, dumpster diving, picnics, radio plays, parades...and here are some pictures from a few of those activities:

Picnic with Aaron and Amalie--I'm stealing their baby!

Krewe de Vieux, fake dollars being handed out

Krewe de Vieux #2, those plastic cups were also handed out

Krewe de Vieux #3, band member

Ah, the parade loot! (and scary red eyes)

Brendan's parade bling

The inexhaustible game of Power Grid

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Visit the Website!!!

For those of you who just get an RSS feed of this blog or visit blogspot to get it, go visit our website,
There, in the sidebar, you will find a new feature: The DONATE button! You can donate to us either via paypal or by sending us a check. When you do, we'll give you access to a special feature: our latest Radio Play (as I'm writing this, our ONLY radio play). We accept donations of any size, and there's nothing silly about a carton of eggs ($1.89), a gallon of milk ($4.59), or even a can of kidney beans ($0.50).
So, if you like stories where the bully gets a unique comeuppance, a father has a silly voice, cats get fed, and the flushing of the toilet goes on for a bit too long, donate to keep ...And Juggling online and on the road for a few days longer ($10.45/day).

Monday, February 9, 2009

More on this past week

Saturday's 3-minute blog was a symptom of accessing internet at 4:42 at the library, which closed at 5pm.

It's been a... busy? ...productive? active week for us.

We've begun running each day for about 10 minutes, and have already seen it get easier.
We've taken on a project that we hope to finish by Wednesday, a 5-minute radio play to submit to the podcast Once Upon a Podcast about an adolescent girl who deals with bullies in a unique way, I call it Imagothen.

We continue to ask ourselves the how and what and why questions of our undertaking. Specifically, after a weekend of both performance and observing other buskers, we wonder what we're doing not as well as they are. We know we need to be more engaging and attract more attention, but we're not really sure how to work that into the skill set that we have.
I've begun to learn a few new tricks... or really, to simply realize that I could do a few new tricks by virtue of being entirely comfortable with my 3-ball juggling. I'm especially proud of how I can bounce the ball off my elbow and keep juggling, as that one seems the flashiest.

We're playing basketball with our next door neighbor, who taught us Hustle (a 3-person game like basketball).
We spent some time lounging in a park with friends, and are looking forward to a weekend of games and parades.
We attended last night's Krewe de Vieux parade. It was every bit as debaucherous as we'd been led to believe (though there was no actual nudity, and we got beads without showing our breasts).

I broke my pants for the Nth time in N-1 pairs of pants, and I do not know how to be careful with them.

Finally (but not forlornly), we are still leaking money, and no matter how much we try to staunch the flow, something more needs to be bought. We will survive, but taking jobs that are not busking may be necessary in the near future. Wish us luck.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

3 minute blog

Went busking today. Feel like a plinko piece.

Can't do it here, try over there.
Can't do it here, try over there.

Still, lots of fun to be out in the sunshine, juggling and smiling at passersby.

Monday, February 2, 2009