performers' library

Those Tiny Voices...
Steven Ragatz

I recently did a corporate gig in Indianapolis for a small group of pharmaceutical suits. I had worked with the agent that booked this show several times over the past couple years and had gotten into a bad cycle of going out of my way to try to accommodate him on the grounds that our relationship was "just starting out." Well, even though I don't consider two years just starting out anymore, inevitably, each time he calls there is a compromise to be made that makes me sigh a lot.

So far, I've found that if I give an agent a video of what I do, they will never see beyond that. No matter what I say after the fact, they always seem to pigeon hole me into the box that fits that small piece of video footage. This comes as no surprise given that all the agent has to work with when representing one's act to the client is the video, but still, I often find myself having to reassure everyone involved that doing something other than the routines listed in the video would be better suited to the particular event. This time was no exception. Unfortunately, I didn't listen to the little voice inside my head telling me what not to do.

The footage that this agent has is a staged juggling routine for a large house. I sent him a tape of some shows I did that had lots of different types of prop manipulation with nice music, lights, tech etc. in a big house of over 2000. There's club juggling, ball juggling, cigar boxes, fire, a whole multitude of jugglery routines set to popular music in an up-up-up-for-everyone type show. So, he has this variety show gig in a small conference room under a 12 foot ceiling and he immediately thinks of me.

So far so good. Trouble is, he's already sold me to the client to do the fire routine. I tried to talk him out of it, arguing that there are issues with the fire marshal, the smoke involved and the tight space being dubious, but as I discussed it, I could feel that I was going to loose the gig if I didn't agree to do the material on the tape. In keeping with my trend of uneasy compromise, I give in, conceding that I would do my best to fit the routines into the provided space.

I checked out the room several weeks before the show to see what I was getting into. I also arranged a test run the afternoon of the performance during our rehearsals to verify to the local authorities that the fire wouldn't be a risk. Smoke wasn't an issue as I was able to use alcohol. The room had no windows and we had a light board to darken the room. The alcohol burns very clear and cannot be seen outside. For effect, it is far less desirable than other fuels, but in this case, I wanted to make sure that everything was safe.

Now, the reason this drawn out story is significant to some of the readers is because this exact same situation occurred at MotionFest last year. A juggler performing part of his street act got up on the small stage setup for the critique sessions and performed a fire routine. After the act, the other participants gave notes and suggestions.

I remember this individual vividly because as he went about his routine, I was acutely aware how close the flames from the torches were getting to the lighting instruments and to the curtain. I felt uneasy and unsure that he was truly in control. Although I didn't really expect him to burn the hotel down, I thought that the threat overshadowed his performance and made me, as an audience member, so worried that I was unable to see past the danger.

I debated with myself whether or not to bring up this issue during the critique, eventually, deciding that it was important enough that it warranted mention. I remember my exact words: "I would NEVER do fire in a venue like this."

I ate those words, and then some, because when the closing fire routine came up in my Indy show, and I looked into the eyes of the audience sitting no more that two meters from me, I realized that I had made two grave mistakes. The first was, I should never have a closing routine that relies on technical support, particularly if it involves sound, because it seems like the sound guy will screw me up every time. Yep, the wrong music came up and then cut out to silence. The second was, never do fire indoors. The torches, with their puny little blue flames, were gently swinging up over my head, when someone in the house pointed out to everyone that I was working under the fire sprinklers. Now I knew this as we had done a test run that afternoon for just this reason, but the audience didn't know that. In spite of my clever routine, everyone was just waiting to dive under the tables. There was a collective uneasiness and I could feel a sigh of relief from all of us once the last torch went out.

So, my apology goes out to whomever I belittled at MotionFest about ignoring their common sense and doing fire in an inappropriate situation.

The moral to me: Take my own advice and listen to the tiny voices coming from my head and not the ones coming from my wallet.

Steven Ragatz

Steven Ragatz has studied mime, stage movement and juggling with Fred Garbo, Tony Montanaro, George Pinney, and Michael Moschen. He currently resides in Bloomington, Indiana, with his wife, Lisa, and their two children, Andrew and Melissa. Someday he'll have his web site running.

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