Ann Arbor Magic Club

IBM 210 - SAM 88

Mirf Tales: The Debut

I was going to title this "Bring in the clowns!" but the competition was the next day, so nobody was in makeup…just a bunch of naked clowns.  Mirf made his debut at the Great Lakes Shrine Clown Units Association Mid-Year Shrine Clown Convention, April 21, 2023, 4:00 PM.

This is not offered as a how to train your cat article, this is just my reflections of Mirf and I. Let's roll the clock back thirty days before his debut.  Mirf is a seven-month-old Maine Coon kitten, I have been working with him since he was two months old (the day he came home) in one way or another.  I started by putting him in a duck bucket.  "Putting" Mirf in a duck bucket was a near catastrophic mistake, Mirf wanted nothing to do with being "put" into anything and he resisted so I immediately let him go and did nothing with any containers for a few days.  That first attempt nearly turned into an adversarial event by attempting to force or coerce Mirf into the bucket I believe it would have ruined his training.  Mirf would not see performing as fun, rather a prisoner and I didn't want that.  I envision myself working with Mirf in harmony, both of us happy to be working together, enjoying it.  I let things go for a few days.  I didn’t try to convince him to enter anything, I left boxes on the floor for him and the other cats to play with as they pleased.  This progressed to putting treats in the duck bucket.  Mirf would see me drop a few treats in the duck bucket and walk away.  Mirf would then go in and get them on his own and get out unobstructed after eating them.  A couple days later I found him napping in the bucket, that's when I started making a game out of closing and opening the lid.  Next, I started to extend the time until he would sit inside the bucket with the lid closed until I reached about ten or twelve minutes before he announced he wanted out.  This progressed to what is his production cage now.  I simply left the lid open and let him and the other cats (Jack and Ziggy) in the house just expose Mirf to it, play in it, on it, around it.  Because our other cats are allowed to play on it, it's not perceived as a negative thing.  Mirf climbs inside and instigates Ziggy to play through the bars or Jack paws at him from above, I often find Jack and Mirf sleeping in the cage on opposite sides.  Mirf climbs into his cage at home and sleeps in it on his own whenever he wants to.  He knows that it's his cage and it's his safe space.  Mirf likes the cage, and his part in the appearance is a game to him that he likes to play.  He likes being covered with the foulard and having it pulled off him quickly.  I will say the vanishing cabinet is a different story.   The vanishing trunk is more restrictive, there's plenty of room for Mirf, but I can tell he's only tolerating it as I think he knows he's the fuzzy adorable half of our show.   The good thing is he's safe while he's inside the cabinet and he's only in there for about two and a half minutes.  It's hot working outdoors during the summer so I don't want him inside anything restrictive for any extended length of time.  Mirf's production cage is different, his cage is open air while the roof provides shade so he can stay in the production cage where the audience can still see him for the duration of the show on day's he acts a bit squirley.  Now that I think of it, version two should have a white or tan color top to minimize heat absorption.

I've been working on Mirf's training in segments, animals are unpredictable with a limited attention span, Mirf is no exception.  I am blessed that Mirf has a great temperament and disposition, that gives me something special to work with.  Not only does he respond well to my training techniques, he naturally loves attention and attention he gets.  He will appear in the cage at the beginning of the show and vanish in a trunk at the end, but I feel there should be more interaction during the show so I picked up a set of Chinese sticks to do a routine with.  Unfortunately initial practice has been slower than I hoped, as in he completely lost interest in the pom poms when I started to work out a routine, it’s as if he decided to boycott the Nielsen Okito Chinese Sticks.  I need to master the handling of the Chinese sticks before I really try to train Mirf to interact with the sticks in an entertaining fashion that will convince an audience.  Until I can master my part of the routine, I'm not getting a good return on training time available so I decided to go with the acrobatic silks in the meantime, there's nothing Mirf really has to do other than paw at it. 

I have always ended my shows with a card trick I call the "Four Card Tear".  Now you might think the Mirf vanish should become my show's finale, I can see the logic in that but I decided I was better served vanishing Mirf in the lead up to the finale for hat reasons.  Many of the venues I work have a split compensation model.  You receive a daily rate plus tips or what's referred to as "the hat" and merchandise is referred to as "merch".  Some venues are hat and merch only, meaning you're performing for tips alone, some are daily rate only no tips, it varies.  The daily rate is nice because it's a minimum amount that you will make but tips and merchandise sales are where you make your money in this arena, thus "hat reasoning" or anything that helps to get each patron to come near your hat, in my case I use wicker baskets.  The closer patrons come to my tip basket, the likelihood they will tip me increases.  Tipping is an interesting subject; there are some that don't seem to like tipping and that is fine, there are many that do and I believe they get a type of return also.  Some feel good about sharing their good fortune with others, some tip out of a sense of self guilt, either way the closer to the basket they get, the higher the likelihood cash lands in the basket.  The Mirf vanish promises to be spectacular, but for the finale, the four card tear is utilitarianly mercenary.  There are two factors I considered in the placement of the Mirf vanish in my show.  First, Mirf needs to be available for a meet and greet after the show so by giving my human assistant also time to take the cage and trunk backstage, release Mirf from the chest and tether him backstage while I start the four card tear routine.  After my assistant has secured Mirf, he can come out and assist during the 4 card tear routine.  The four card tear uses four cards that are torn in half, it's an amazing card trick that generates trash that needs to be properly managed.  My assistant and I have a basket to collect all of those torn card pieces so they're not thrown on the ground.  During the 4 card tear finale, when I get to the point where we are going to start discarding card pieces I give a short speech.  "We're going to go through a process of elimination but first we need to have a little chat.  As we discard each of these card pieces one by one, while you could throw each of these card pieces in the air I would appreciate it if you would make a little pile next to you and I will tip my hat renaissance fashion some of you will tip me two or three dollars, I would ask that you consider five.  A small impact in your life makes a huge impact in my life but the most important thing is those card pieces need to make it into my basket.  If management finds a half torn card piece anywhere on festival grounds they know exactly where it came from.  I crank off management enough on my own, I don’t need any help.  That gets everyone to the baskets.  However performing my show for the Great Lakes Shriners Clown was a little different, they weren't drunk, nobody was rude and I wasn’t performing for tips.  It felt a little odd omitting my hat line as I don't do the Cap'n Sean show in a non-festival setting very often, however that appears to be changing by adding Mirf to the show.

The Debut:  I couldn’t have asked for a better first show…from Mirf.  I on the other hand made 3 errors and completely missed a training item that never occurred to me, microphone and sound system.  When Mirf was perched on top of his production cage he could see my lips moving but he kept looking back at the each of the speakers as if to tell me "I see you in front of me but I hear you behind me." It never occurred to me to train with the sound system while mic'ed up, not just playing music and narrations loud to acclimate to noise.  I would like to add that as an amateur perfectionist I was mortified by the post show films.  We did receive awesome reviews,  and I really appreciated my good friend Dan Jone's being my assistant in the first show.  When it was time to reveal Mirf for the very first time I was excited, nervous, hopeful.  This was the moment we had been working towards for the last six months.  Six months of working on hope and faith that all would work out as planned even though Steinbeck said it best "The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry".  It was up to Mirf the Magnificent Mouser to decide by his actions.  Mirf did not disappoint.  As I was standing on stage getting ready to present Mirf to the crowd of naked clowns, I looked under the foulard to see Mirf right in my face.  I asked him if he's ready, handed him a little bribery, readied the crowd, "all together - one - two - three, HELLO MIRF!" 

I pulled the foulard away revealing Mirf stretched out inside the cage… a collective gasp came from the room.  The audience was stunned into silence, and it nearly brought tears to my eyes.  I could not have asked for a better audience reaction than that.  Mirf is a big kitten measuring forty-one and half inches long weighing eleven pounds.  More impressively is his demeanor and behavior on stage, he loves it.  Another side effect of having Mirf on stage? It's easier to get audience members to volunteer to come up on stage so they can pet Mirf.  Mirf loves to be pet and his coat feels like rabbit fur, people love to pet Mirf.

The acrobatic silk routine needs work as far as Mirf's part, but we'll figure it out as we go.  The vanish was surprisingly awesome.  I must be honest; my greatest concern was the vanish.  This vanishing prop just didn’t start out good at all.  During shipment, the carrier that will not be named donkey konged it and the internals were destroyed.  I had to tear the inside out, clean it up, repaint the interior sides and install all new internals so it would be usable.  I had never used this method because I have always found it to be transparently artificial. I've been able to see through this method since I was about six years old, but I had no other alternative I could come up with, so I skeptically went with the suggestion of the production cage builder as a temporary vanish until I come up with a better solution.  My assistant Dan helped me put the vanishing cabinet on top of the production cage.  Dan held the door while I put Mirf into the load compartment of the vanishing cabinet, closed it, latched it.  Spun Mirf around a couple of times then led everyone in a one - two - three, goodbye Mirf chant and opened the front door showing the inside of the box empty.  The audience was stunned, the added bonus of putting the vanishing cabinet on top of the production cage is that the cage can then be used to roll off stage so Mirf can be released out of view without delay.  I left the cabinet open as Dan wheeled it away and the audience was amazed.  The audience liked the vanish.  I've already begun to not some improvements to version two.  After the show, I announced that anyone that would like to pet Mirf please line up.  Everyone in the room lined up, everyone wanted to meet Mirf and pet him.  Mirf loved it, he lounged on top of his cage while everyone pet him.  He tolerated every single one of them without complaint, then during clean up I put him in his cage and closed it.  He lounged in there and watched while we break everything down and pack it up.  When it was time to load out the cage, Mirf went into his backpack and chilled till we got in the truck and headed home.  Mirf earned his keep.  Next up, preparing for Canterbury Village.


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