Well, after getting peppered with questions at our weekend at Scarlet's Mid-Winter Renaissance Festival, I determined which blog subject I should post about next. Even after a year and a half away, the rumors refuse to cease as to why we're no longer performing at the Castle of Muskogee and the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival. Well, let me finally set the record straight, for those who are wondering, on the multitude of reasons.
First, the back history... the Bilge Pumps began performing at the ORF back in 2000 and some of us had been there even longer as members of the cast in 1997 and as members of the Scottish Caledonian Gamers for the next couple of years. The owner of the festival, Jeff, remembered me from the characters I played back then and told me when I pitched the idea of the Bilge Pumps to him in the winter of 2000 that my street performances back then were a big reason he wanted to hire us, sight-unseen.
We performed there for the first two years for little money and a handful of shows a day. To supplement what we did on stage, Jeff wanted us to do some street theater as well, which we did. Starting in about 2003, though, our popularity had gotten to the point where he wanted us to do more shows during the day, including the infamous "kids show" that took place just before the knighting ceremony. As we did more shows on stage, we did less street theater because we had to recover our energy between shows, get food, schlep our equipment to the next stage, etc. As this happened, Jeff became less and less enamored with us. You see, Jeff likes street theater and seems to be a firm believer that being interacted with in the lanes is about the only reason that people go to renaissance festivals at all. He once told one of the Bilge Pumps that he would prefer not to have stage acts at all. A slap in the face. That's kind of an indication of his attitude towards us. Contradictingly, he realized we were popular with the patrons and kept us around regardless. However, he continued all the while to wheedle at us, trying and make us perform for less money or do more shows for the same money. Another slap in the face.
'Course, that's not much different than a lot of festival owners do, so that's not why we're not back. One of the biggest reasons is this: As many of you Okies remember, we did the Dragon Attack Stunt Show in Muskogee in 2004. In preparation for that show, myself and my hard working stunt show crew, which included almost all of the Bilge Pumps, built the Castleton Harbor ship stage from the ground up in a span covering over 22 weekends of driving back and forth to Muskogee from Dallas/Ft. Worth. One day, at morning meeting during the run of the festival, Jeff congratulated his on-site builders for building that stage. Not one mention of the fact the Stunt Show crew did 95% of the work. None. Another slap in the face. To be fair, we didn't do everything, his crew did dig out the pit with a backhoe at the beginning of construction and then a little bit of painting at the end. Still, a slap in the face. We also had some water stunts we were planning on performing during the show and wanted to keep the water at the stage as clean as possible so we wouldn't be falling into slop all the time. Jeff, however decided it was cheaper to fill the pit with runoff water from the parking lot, including all the oil and filth. That's what we had to fall into each day. Another slap in the face.
Then, after we put on the show to huge crowds during the 2004 season, filling the seating area way beyond capacity and overflowing audiences into the street (much to the delight of the nearby vendors that were extremely happy to have such a large crowd draw in that section of the festival, Jeff insulted us by offering us a contract worth less than 1/2 or what we'd made before. Obviously, we turned his generous offer down. I was later told that it should have been obvious that we were getting as much as we did in 2004 to cover the stage construction (which in our eyes was a labor of love because we wanted to do the show right). Hell, if we were going to charge him for the labor of building that stage, he would still be paying. Now, before anyone thinks we were breaking the bank in 2004, the Stunt Show (with more than 20 members in its production) barely made more than the Bilge Pumps and pulled in as much audience as the joust during our afternoon shows. In fact, we were up there in Muskogee the following winter, knee deep in cold mud and rain while building the stage up for the 2005 show, when he brought us his insulting contract offer. Another slap in the face.
Because of this ugly situation, we kicked around the idea of the Bilge Pumps not even returning in 2005, but we did it anyway because we knew we have a lot of fans there and didn't want to disappoint them. Things kind of coasted in 2005, mainly because we rarely saw Jeff at all and worked through Karen, his second in command. However, after my wife and I suffered the tragedy of a miscarriage at the Castle the 3rd weekend in 2006, I decided I'd had enough of dealing with a place that was only serving to make me and mine miserable and told the guys I wouldn't be back... ever. They did a tremendous job of covering without me (for the first time, I might add) on the last weekend of the festival that year but they ultimately decided that it wasn't worth the headache of dealing with the politics of the festival to come back and perform, either. To add a nice, final slap in the face, Jeff tried to not pay us for the last weekend since I wasn't there and the entire band wasn't present. This, despite the fact that there were 4 or 5 Bilge Pumps on stage all all times. Come to think of it, that's more of a kick to the groin than a slap in the face.
So there ya go. Most of the rumors I've heard are not true. We left of our own accord. We weren't fired because we were too dirty, or too expensive, or no longer popular with the fans. It was a combination of many different factors leading to our decision, but we still believe it was the right one. We're sad that we're not going to be performing for many of our NE Oklahoma fans, but we're not sad that we don't have to deal with the constant disdain from the ownership. Now, with all these negatives being said, let me say that we really enjoyed working with the other performers and cast members of the festival. Not to mention Karen, the Manager there, who was really supportive and helpful during our time there. I guarantee you, she has the toughest job in the faire. And most of all, our fans in the area who kept us coming back year after year. We hope to see all of you at the OU Medieval Fair in Norman.
Because it's all for me blog. Me jolly jolly blog.