Take Care of Yourself (part 3)

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staple holes – lots of them… and some staple marks… and some burns, too. maybe a few darts… typical night on the stage.

So – this is part 3 of Take Care of Yourself. Saw part 1 a couple weeks ago (read it here), and then part 2 last week (read it here). As I mentioned, your Reverend Tommy Gunn has been in recovery from several sinus surgeries – AND on some amazing painkillers – so they have rambled a bit. But now is the time to really talk in more detail about it…

Did I tell you they gave me Fentanyl? Basically, heroin-light… being very careful to avoid opioid addiction.

After my last post(s) about taking care of yourself, I got some feedback on the subject from the unbelievable performer known as Bazoo the Kloun! Bazoo and I have chatted online a number of times – and he has run into FreakShow Deluxe on numerous occasions – so he did not just drop me the line out of the blue. Looking forward to getting to hang out and chat with him at the 2018 Southern Sideshow Hootenanny!!

And, here is what he had to say:

I’d like to share the story, if you don’t mind.

Early last month, I broke the world record for body stapling (submitted, just waiting on confirmation) with 729 staples. The act itself pretty much sucked, but the recovery was even worse. I did it on a Monday and pretty much stayed in bed til Wednesday evening. But I had a show on Saturday where I had to do 4 ups on stage. On my 2nd up, I took off my shirt, talked about the stunt and record, showed the punctures and bruises, and tried to build the stapling for tips thing. It didn’t go well. No one wanted to staple into where I was “injured”. Luckily I was able to get a few in the face and one on the nipple, so I was able to make a little extra money (bigger bills). But it made me realize that while people are willing to hurt me when I feel no pain, they really don’t relish the idea of inflicting more injury, unlike when I’m in good health and just take it with childlike glee. And while the point of the game is making money, I think I’d rather have 20 people with singles get to experience it, than 3 people with 10s or 20s.

I also had a photoshoot on the Friday between the record and gig where I had to appear topless (well, more like no shirt in an open kimono). The photographer liked the shots we got, but wasn’t happy about needing to photoshop out all the bruising. So I’m not sure if I’ll get the chance to shoot with him again or not.

Needless to say, that whole experience got me thinking about everything you wrote about and the need to keep myself in good shape, internally and aesthetically. Solely for the perceived notion of missing out on future work because of it.

So, then I asked him if he had any advice for anyone – and he had this to say:

Know your limits!!! Over Halloween I did 3 days in a row and stapled each day (and I’ve done a few couple of day festivals). Thankfully I was able to do each day and not get chewed up hardly at all. I may not recover as quickly these days, but it’s good to be resilient in the first place… With the bruising I showed, I wasn’t doing anything to hasten the healing process cuz it took so much out of me to do. Showering that night, and even just laying in bed or trying to roll over, hurt like hell. I was able to wipe myself down a few times with antiseptics, but that was all the aftercare I did for the first few days. I lost all trace of any bruising or puncture scabs within about 9/10 days. I definitely found my limit that week. And I’m pretty much sure (99%) that I won’t do it on this level again. But, never say never, limits are made to be pushed, and records are set to be broken.

That is some good advice, right there. I, myself, have been known to have a talk with a performer who is unable to do the stunt repeatedly… like the person doing glass walking who gets cut every time and freaks out about taking care of it afterward. Or the person who was stopped being able to regurgitate the goldfish they swallowed every single time (or at least most of the time…). Or the person who always wants to do stapling at the end of the show – but their wounds afterward always looked awful and seeping almost immediately, no matter what they did in before or after care – which makes the audience not want to staple them (like for Bazoo).

To be a good, dependable, professional performer, you need to be pretty resilient – and able to complete the acts you are supposed to do each time and in a timely fashion. This is not to say that sometimes things happen that keep you from doing it – they do. But most of the times you need to be able to complete the act as you are supposed to. Not only because that is the audience’s expectation – but the producer’s too.

When a performer I was working with was having a real problem regurgitating the goldfish every time on cue – only being able to do it about half the time – I had to ask him to stop doing that act for our shows until he could get the skill back to a professional level. We were friends – it was tough, but necessary. There is more to doing this than just being able to do the stunt, you have to be able to carry the act.

Imagine there was a magician who could only successfully complete their signature card trick about half the time… Would you want to pay to see them?

Despite what some might say, most audiences (and especially those with money), and not interested in paying to watch someone torture themselves. They expect entertainment! Otherwise, they might just as well watch themselves in the mirror drinking their lives away.

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Reminder: I need to watch my alcohol intake… don’t want there to be a problem there…

Or is that just me…?

Injuries on the job performing are not just relegated to sideshow. It is one of the things that annoys me when I see posts from people looking for “the safest way” to do a particular stunt. While I agree that you should be smart and not be setting out to get injured… the fact is, you are doing dangerous stunts that put you at risk. Part of your job as the entertainer is to do them in such a way that you minimize your risk, while at the same time keeping the audience and venue safe. But know that you will be injured.

When I was younger I was in a play that was on a big outdoor stage. We rode horses on the stage. Did stage combat, both unarmed and armed. Fired black powder firearms and shot flaming arrows with bows. Fired six-pounder cannons. Plus, we set off huge explosions on the stage during a high point.

None of the performers just approached the stage and “did” it. There were rehearsals. There was training. There were safety procedures and protocols. Horseback riding lessons. Bow and arrow training. Firearm training. Cannon training. All stage combat was meticulously choreographed and followed Society of American Fight Directors guidelines.

They did all of this, with memorized lines, cues to follow, costume changes, and a story to get across to the audience six nights a week for months.

And keep in mind – these are not highly paid union performers with protection and ambulances standing by!! Average pay was about $175 a week. You paid for your own training certification. While there was Worker’s Comp Insurance for accidental injuries – it was pretty limited about how much it covered for those injuries. Long-term care for something ongoing falls on the performer to cover. THAT is the norm.

Even with all this training and safety precautions – sometimes things still went wrong!

I was more experienced than some riding horses – but one time I got thrown from a horse backstage, breaking my wrist in such a way it will never heal correctly. Another time, the horse I was riding spooked and ran off the wrong side of the stage – into another horse and rider – throwing the riders off and trampling both us. I was an experienced archer, but one time a flaming arrow I shot on target caught an updraft and went off target, narrowly missing another performer. Black powder firearms would not fire when the trigger was pulled – then just discharge on their own a bit later.

In another show, despite being an experienced martial artist and certified actor combatant with SAFD, I got knocked out onstage by another actor during a combat scene – only for a moment, though – but it still happened. I was a puppeteer in another play where a puppet made out of a 2×4, swung across the stage, hitting me in the head and knocking me out briefly. In a movie I was working on ,

Jeez… the list just goes on and on… and that is straight gigs! It does not even include stuff that has happened to me onstage performing sideshow. I have bled, caught on fire, been impaled, been squished, been hit with everything from concrete blocks, to grinder wheels, to flaming poi that broke off the chain – even had audiences members fall on me accidentally (not including the ones who purposely tried to injure me). Oh, yeah… that happens.

And that is all the crap that has just happened to me! I have seen plenty happen to other people.

Accidents happen. Things go wrong. Shit gets out of control sometimes, because you absolutely cannot control everything. The difference is: you have to accept that they will, and be willing to work with that risk. AND you had better have procedures in place to deal with whatever possibility may happen. Not just the group or company’s procedures. I mean the list you have of things to take care of for yourself.

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This is just another day on the road…

If you are not going to – then find a safer business! I recommend Accounting… way less risky.

Next Week:  The final(?) post on this subject: Take Care of You (part 4) scheduled for 2/12/2018

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