Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Positive Interactions

A bit ago an acquaintance of many years remarked on the fact that us renfaire performers (and even the merchants (we’re all performers at the renfaire)) are great at creating the illusion of intimacy. We are inviting and engaging, we walk up to complete strangers and ask them to participate in our lives, or our made-up lives. After years of training folks to do this, we’ve had people come back and say that they are better at their real jobs, better at working retail, better at communicating with clients, than they were before learning how to be a renfaire performer. Renfaire folks quickly get over their fears of approaching strangers or they do not last as performers.

We are also trained to go with the flow. There is a popular renfaire training game called: “Yes, and…” where you are forced to agree with the most outrageous statements, then expound on them. It means you can throw weird scenarios at us and we’ll probably toss them right back. I’ve got a friend who says wacky things to see what other people will do, so the other day he asked me what would happen if rain fell up from the ground instead of down, I said we’d all have to wear clown shoes to keep dry. He thinks it is one of my endearing habits, that I can keep up with him in a conversation, I think it is partially training.

A while ago on the radio there was a story about a troupe of improvisational actors who create their own reality and invite others to participate in New York City. The scenario that the radio show particularly concentrated on was a fake birthday party for an unsuspecting bystander. The entire troupe went to a bar, picked a mark, and threw him a birthday party, like they knew him. They picked a fake name, made up a backstory, and everyone gave him giftcards and paid attention to him all night. Their mark protested for a long time, but even after he stopped trying to tell them that he was not who they thought he was, he still felt awful and like reality had skewed on him. I have to imagine if you had put a renfaire performer in that spot, they’d have absolutely no problem being someone else for the night.

Does that make us skewed, just because we could easily fall into someone else’s fake reality? Does it give us an edge that we can engage with complete strangers? I am by no means suggesting that there are not people in the world who do this naturally. Really effective sales people,  nomads and travelers, group organizers all have to have a level of empathy and consensus building. Is it worse somehow if some folks are trained to it instead of developing it on their own? I know I am grateful for the training.

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