More from: SFBRP

Spoilers!

I’d like to explain why I like to avoid spoilers.

Emotions.

My definition of art is something created by human agency with the intention of eliciting an emotional response from the viewer/reader/listener/participant/etc. This isn’t an unassailable definition, but as an artist and professional performer it’s a pretty handy guide. It also lets me enjoy art that comes my way.

What is important to understand is that the emotional response doesn’t have to be a single kind, or even a positive kind. Joy and laughter is what most comedies aim for, but if all you get is laughs, there’s not much about it that will stick with you in the long term. That’s why comedies try to bring out other emotional responses. Romantic comedies want you to feel warm and fuzzy, others want you to feel uncomfortable in gross-out scenes. One of the strongest emotional responses I’ve had from a comedy recently was watching Bridesmaids, and one scene in which two of the bridesmaids are trying to outdo each other with speeches about the bride had me cringing. I literally had to stop the movie for a few minutes to let myself calm down. It was awesome!

Other comedies, like Groundhog Day, bring the laughs, but also brings about a sense of pathos, and even a sense dread, and makes you think about the futility of life. That, by the end, you are full of compassion and hope for the future is the genius of the movie, and why it is considered a classic.

This all seems pretty obvious, and knowing what is going to happen in advance in most comedies isn’t going to spoil much of your enjoyment. However, there are a few emotions that fiction is no longer able to instill if you know what is coming.

Surprise.

The most obvious is surprise. This is the easiest too, and done well, the least susceptible to spoilers. The movie Final Destination had trailers with scenes not from the movie itself, but featuring audience members jumping out their seats while watching the movie for the first time. I knew it was a movie about people living longer than they should, and death catching up with them one by one. Also, before seeing the movie, I’d heard conversations where people said “Holy shit! The scene with the bus is amazing!”

Great, I thought. Now I won’t be surprised. All I have to do is watch out for a bus, and then I can get ready for…

And if you’ve seen Final Destination, you’ll know how just unprepared I was for the death involving the bus. Even me telling you a bus is involved in one of the deaths isn’t going to spoil it for you, because it is so surprising. That is the genius of that movie, and why there are now a whole slew of sequels (none of which I’ve felt any urge to watch).

The only way to spoil that individual scene is to have seen the movie before. Or, in this case, to have seen that scene before. Which is why the trailer for the movie never showed that scene at all!

Unfortunately, many movie distributers aren’t this kind, and include all kinds of otherwise surprising things in their movie trailers. Which is why I avoid trailers. If I hear the movie is good, I’ll probably get round to watching it eventually. I take long flights all the time, and can fit in four movies while traveling to America or back. On cruise ships there are always recent releases playing, and at home I catch up with anything I’ve missed on DVD.

Shock.

I love to be shocked by fiction. Characters are going about their lives, or on an adventure, and suddenly something happens or is revealed, and everything changes. This could be for good, but it works far better if it is for the worst.

Unfortunately, unlike a good surprise, a shock can be spoiled if you know what is going to be revealed. Or more to the point, if you understand what is going to be revealed. The difference is subtle.

My name is Luke, so throughout life I’ve put up with people telling me they were my father, normally with a deep voice and heavy breathing. Even before I ever saw The Empire Strikes Back, people would tell me that they were my father. I understood it was a Star Wars reference, but didn’t understand what they really meant. I’d grown up with Star Wars: A New Hope, but Empire Strikes Back wasn’t shown on TV in the UK until the mid eighties, and then only at Christmas, so it was a while until I caught up with it. Then, aged about six or seven, I watched Empire Strike Back for the first time and holy shit!

Of course, I hadn’t understood the shocking reveal because I was just a stupid kid. The shock of it was no less meaningful though!

Now I’m not so much of a stupid kid. If I hear something about any story, be it a movie or TV show, I can usually work out, even before beginning to watch it, what the shocking reveal will probably be. Which is why, if possible, I try to avoid reading or hearing those spoilers.

Years ago I watched the first few seasons of Dexter, up to the end of season 3. Everyone said “Season 4 is the best, and the ending is such a shock!” But they were always sensitive not to spoil it, and I’m thankful for it. I avoided learning anything about it, and any news or discussion about anything beyond season 3.

Over the course of a few months I rewatched the first three seasons along with my girlfriend. I enjoyed them again, but in a different way, and found it fun to experience the surprising and shocking events vicariously through the person sitting next to me. We struck out into season 4, and everything was new.

Then we reached the last scene of the last episode of season 4. I knew a shock was coming, but I didn’t know what. As it turned out, it was way more shocking than anything I had thought up, and way more shocking than anything my girlfriend and I had wished for to shake things up for the characters involved. It was literally so shocking that we had to put on the first episode of season 5 immediately, just to make sure it wasn’t a dream sequence or a trick by the show producers.

And the shock stayed with me! I even had trouble sleeping that and the next few nights as I imagined something similar happening in my life.

It felt glorious. I love the fact that a TV show could make me feel something so visceral. It is one of those peak experience I crave in life. This happens so rarely with TV and movies, but I cherish it when it does, and I avoid spoilers because I want to have these experiences again in the future.

Stupidity.

The final reason I like to avoid spoilers, and try not to spoil things for other people, is that I like to be made to feel stupid. And on the other hand, I like to be made to feel intelligent.

Great works of TV and film stand up to repeat viewing, even if there is a twist ending. A twist can be shocking or surprising, but it also works on an intellectual level. Aiming to effect someone intellectually can be part of a work of art, but if that is the sole reason, for me it falls more into the category of lesson, teaching material, political propaganda, etc. However, clever artists use the intellect of the viewer/listener to move their emotions.

So the twist is different to the shock. It relies on the viewer having come to one conclusion, and then the narrative exposing that conclusion as false, and revealing one that fits all the presented facts, and then explains so many more.

An effective twist can elicit two distinct responses. The first is “Oh, how stupid I am! I should have seen all that, but I was totally blind!”

From the buzz about The Sixth Sense, it seemed that 95% of people had this same response. And everyone loved being made to feel stupid. Being tricked, when you knowingly participate in the tricker, feels really good. This is why people enjoy magic shows. They know magic is bullshit, and that the performer is using tricks and mirrors and magnets, but they love the feeling of being fooled.

My experience with The Sixth Sense was different. Two girls had a very loud conversation right next to me, and blatantly explained the twist ending, covering many of the relevant points along the way, before I understood what they were talking about. Then I cottoned on, and groaned.

When I went to see the movie at the cinema, I enjoyed the movie well enough, and jumped at some of the shocks, but the twist had very little effect on me. Some of tricks had passed me by, but I’d caught many of the others.

I was robbed of the feeling that I was stupid. Knowing the twist spoiled that element that I could have otherwise enjoyed.

Thankfully there are plenty more twists that make me feel stupid. The Prestige worked great for me in that case, and on so many levels, because all the way through the movie they are telling you that you are being tricked, and explaining the trick right in front of your eyes, and you still miss it.

Or at least I did. And if you worked out the twist without knowing it in advance? Well, that’s the last reason I like to avoid spoilers.

Intelligence.

I like to work things out for myself. Making people feel intelligent is opposite reaction to a good twist, and by intelligent I mean the combination of mental ability and relevant knowledge or expereince. If everyone guesses the twist ending, it’s not really a twist. If nobody guesses the twist ending, it’s probably comes too much out of nowhere, isn’t set up properly, and falls more into the shock category.

However, if between 80% and 90% of people are surprised, and 10% to 20% of people say “Oh, I worked it out from this, this, and this” you’ve probably done a good job.

And the 20% of people who worked it out feel clever. Knowing that they’ve used their intellect as the artist hoped, and are rewarded by the artist by the feeling of superiority over the other 80%, even if that superiority is only knowing just that little bit more about specific trivial things.

As much as I like being in the 80% of people who get the satisfaction of being tricked by the twist, I just as much enjoy working out the twist before it arrives. Who knows if I’d have had this kind of enjoyment with The Sixth Sense? Maybe. I do know that when I watched Unbreakable, I did work out the twist, although I fell asleep before the end, and then had to wind back to see if I was right or not. And I guessed the twist in The Village too, though enjoyed that all the way through to the end.

I like to be tricked by movies, but if I was tricked every time, it might get tiresome. I understand why some people don’t like being made to feel stupid by a movie, so if it is spoiled for them they don’t have to worry about it any more. I also suspect that many people who already know a twist like to tell themselves that if they didn’t already know it, they would have worked it out themselves. To be honest, many of the twists I know in advance seem trivial to work out. But then how can I be the judge of that? The only way to really test my intelligence is to go in not knowing, and seeing how the chips fall.

So there you have it. That is why I avoid spoilers. I like to be surprised, to be shocked, to be made to feel stupid, and to be made to feel intelligent. As an artist, these emotional responses are just some of the wide range I like to elicit, and as a reviewer they are experiences I like to leave open as options for my listeners to enjoy.


Working on a cruise ship Q&A

I get email!

Hello,
I’m Jan, I’m a Swiss circus artist. We don’t really know each others, we just shook hand briefly at the Bruxelles convention.
I’m mailing you because I study in the new circus school Codarts, a higher education in circus based in Rotterdam.
For my theoretical circus lessons, I’m writing an essay about the different working fields of a juggler.
I decide to send interviews to the jugglers I like. It would help me a lot if you would answer my interview.

1) What brought you to play on cruise ships? Was it your plan for a long time, or an accident?

“Along with Pola, my former girlfriend and performing partner, I created a juggling act called The Art of Juggling. I never intended to perform this act on cruise ships, instead I thought it would fit variety stages and gala shows. We made a version that fit in our street show, and we performed that at festivals around Europe in the summer of 2006.

In January of 2007 we performed at a small juggling convention in Scotland. We met another juggling duo there who told us our show would work well on cruise ships. But with a catch! Not many cruise ships just want a good 7 min act, instead they want a 50 min show. They said “If you can perform a 50 min show, we will recommend you to our agent in the UK.”

I wasn’t so interested in working on cruise ships, but Pola wanted to give it a go. I knew it would take quite a bit of work, but it turned out to be the right goal at the right time.

I had a lot of material after performing for seven years, and Pola and I could draw on our street shows for the way our characters would work in a longer show. That spring we were booked to perform at a theatre festival in Israel, along with a full-length show that the Israeli juggling convention, and that gave me the certainty that we could perform a very good and professional 50 min show.

So I sent some publicity material to the agent, and a few weeks later we performed for the first time at sea, on the Queen Mary 2, which at the time was one of the largest cruise ships in the world!”

2) I read on your website that you have a big passion for the reading of science fiction books and the writing of it!

“See the second part of my next answer.”

3) On cruise ships, is there a possibility to train? If no, not even “small tricks”? Do you get bored to be so much in the ships?

“I try to train every day, for at least an hour or two, but this doesn’t always work out. I normally train in the theatre, but not very often on the stage, because it is usually too dark, or other people are working. On some ships the theatre is too busy for me to train there at all. I sometimes juggle at the bottom of public stairwells, where I can take advantage of the extended ceiling height.

As for getting bored, I have loads of different hobbies to fill my time. I like making videos, writing music, taking and sharing photographs, etc. Reading science fiction is a long-time passion, and for the past three years I have recorded a review of almost every single book I’ve read. I release these reviews as a podcast, and at the moment I have between 3000 and 4000 regular listeners.

Writing novels is an extension of my love of literature, and I can certainly fill many otherwise-empty hours on a ship!

Having a good laptop computer is essential for me and my lifestyle, so early in 2010 I upgraded to a monster MacBook Pro. It heavy, which isn’t great for traveling, but as you can see, my hobbies are computer-hardware intensive.”

4) Is it hard to always behave the “right way” on a ship? (I’m asking this question because , as you know, on corporate events you have some rules on how you are allowed to interact with the clients. How is it on a cruise ship? Is it the same than on events? If yeah, it has to be very hard, when you are on the same ship during 2 weeks with the same client?

“I don’t find it difficult to behave the right way on a cruise ship. It’s just part of being a professional. I’ve never had any problems with the passengers or the crew, although sometimes I’ve made people nervous when I’m the last person back on the ship before it sails from a port of call!”

5) What about the stage performance; is there any format that an artist should respect to create his show?

“When working on a cruise ship I must have one show lasting between 45 and 50 min. On top of that I must have enough material to do another half show, typically 15, 20, or 25 min.

What I do within those shows is completely up to me. As long as I put on a good show, and entertain the audience, I have complete artistic freedom. Most jugglers think that the material I perform juggling conventions, nerdy stuff which only jugglers will understand, would be unsuitable for a cruise ship audience. I take the opposite approach, and respect my audience enough to go along with nerdy routines about site swap and trick names and other topics.

I format my show around two ideas. The first is that I want to tell my story, my life as a juggler. The second is that I want to answer people’s questions about juggling. You know, like how many can you juggle, when did you first start to juggle, can you juggle fire, can you juggle this random object, where is the most interesting place you have juggled, and all those kind of things.

So I combine these two ideas into a single narrative, and by answering different questions at different times I can swap different elements of my shows around from one performance to the next.”

6) Did hosting shows at conventions help you a lot with speaking on stage? Did the motivation to speak on stage came from there? Is your presentation on the cruise ships mainly about the juggling, or the speaking, or 50/50?

“Yes, speaking on stage or in public in any situation is good practice for performing. The only way to get good at anything is to practice hard and often. For the juggling skills this is easy, as you can do it at home by yourself. For performing, it’s a little bit different.

Between 2001 and 2006 I attended 15 to 20 juggling conventions per year, and I performed in some capacity at every one of them. I offered to be in every show, to host renegade and open stages, to host games sessions, and anything else I could think of. Maybe people got sick of me, but I got very comfortable on stage, and by continually trying out new material I developed a wide range of acts to perform on stage.

How much juggling versus talking I do in my show now depends on various factors. I often do 25 min shows containing very little talking, just 1 min of introduction, and then 5 min of juggling, and then another minute of introduction, and another 5 min of juggling, and so on.

To do this in a 50 min show would kill me, as so much juggling would tire anybody out. Also holding people’s attention purely with juggling for 50 minutes, even if spiced up with physical comedy, is a very hard task. Maybe I could do it, maybe not. Either way, it’s best to vary the tone of a show throughout.

So my 50 minute show is split three ways between talking (although I normally have props in my hands to demonstrate tricks), pure juggling routines, and physical comedy routines where the juggling and talking is less important than the clowning. These physical comedy routines often include audience participation, as me looking silly on stage is one thing, whereas getting audience members to look silly on stage is way more interesting.

Also, before talking about science fiction on my podcast, I presented the Juggling Podcast. In total I have recorded about 5 or 6 days worth of audio, the vast majority being me talking. Sitting down with a microphone, with no preparation except for a few lines of notes, and talking for 45 minutes, with no edits, and being entertaining and informative, is a difficult thing to do! Knowing that I can be generally entertaining, purely off the top of my head, gives me a lot of confidence as I walk on stage.”

7)When you play on a ship, do you usually play once, (like in the welcome or the good bye show) or do you present the same show over and over for different audience in the ship?

“I perform my 50 min show twice in one night, and then perform my 20 or 25 min show as part of a longer show twice on another night. Normally there are a few nights in between, and maybe a few nights either end, so while I only perform on two nights I might be on a ship for a week. Sometimes I perform just once on a night, and a few times I’ve been asked to perform my show three times. Three times in one night is simply too much, and the last show, while entertaining, certainly suffers from a lack of energy.

Some cruise companies are clever, knowing that I get paid by the week. They make sure I am on a ship for the last three days of one cruise, and the first three days of the next cruise. This way I perform my main show twice on two nights, and often my short show twice on another night, in the same time I would normally only perform two nights. It’s like 5 hours for the price of 3.”

8) Your website feels to me much more personal than websites of other professional jugglers. You show videos about the different places you travel, you speak about your other passions, which have nothing to do with your stage acts. Do you think the creation of your website like this helps you to sell your acts, because people see the human behind the professional?

“I don’t use my website for promotion. I have an agent who is very good at getting me work. When I worked with Pola, we would do our own promotion through LukeAndPola.com, mainly for street show festivals and variety work. As a solo performer it is now easier and far less stressful to leave the promotion and booking gigs book to my agent, who was happy to do it for 15% commission.

My website is really intended for people interested in me as a person and the kind of things I get up to. Many people see me on stage during a cruise and look me up online afterwards. They have no intention of ever paying me to work, but they’ll be interested to re-watch my routines, check out videos of me juggling around the world, might be interested in other things I do.

I’ve never use my website for promotional purposes, although without it I wouldn’t be a professional juggler now. 10 years ago my website was one of the most popular juggling websites on the Internet, and I constantly shared photographs, videos, tutorials, comedy writing, comics, reviews, and all different kind of things. Most of it was about juggling, but there was just as much about other things I got up to.

Because of my popular website I became one of the more famous jugglers internationally, despite not being that great at juggling, comparatively. This, as well as being known is an interesting performer, led to me being invited to many conventions around the world. I travelled from the UK to Europe many times, to the United States three times, and to Australia once. Those opportunities would never have presented themselves without my website.

Even now, years later, people often tell me how my website was the thing that inspired them to become a juggler, or when they began juggling it was one of their main inspirations. And many of these people never saw me at juggling convention, not for many years. Just how many people I inspired over the years, I’ll never know, but the e-mails trickling all the time, and random people I meet on my travels tell me the same story over and over again.

This, to me, is a way more important reason for a website than lists of clients I’ve worked for, or quotes about how great I am, or details of my show, or TV shows and media appearances I might have made. Really, who gives it shit about that? My validation as a juggler and performer is that A. I keep getting work offers, and B. I’ve helped inspire a whole generation of new jugglers.”

9) To work on cruise ships, is there a better country to officially live in, for administrative reasons?

“I live and pay tax in Germany. Berlin is a cheap place to live, so that suits me! If I worked abroad more, for over six months per year, I could probably apply for non-resident status in the UK or Germany, and pay tax in Switzerland or somewhere. I know a few entertainers who do this, but I’m not interested. I would rather live somewhere cheap, have to earn less money, and take more time off work.

Within the European Union being self-employed and living in a different country is very simple. When I moved to Berlin I just registered that I lived there, and within a few days I had registered myself with the tax office, and I registered myself self-employed a few months later when I was getting regular work.”

10) Are you making a lot of publicity to get hired on cruise ships, or once you got some jobs, others jobs come, if you did the last jobs well plus luck? About how much time do you invest in promotion?

“As I said before, I have an agent who I pay commission to find me work. I have very little interest in working directly with any cruise ship company, even if theoretically I could make a little bit more money. I believe strongly in going for the least stressful course. With my agent I might earn less per week, but with my agent I work many many many more weeks.

In a strict sense I invest no time in promotion. In a wider sense, again referencing my previous answers, everything I do is promotion. The more I share online, for free, the greater I become in the eyes of anyone interested in me. It’s like building a brand, if you want to use marketing speak.”

Thank you if you read the interview until here!

“My pleasure!”

If you have any useful information you want to share, I would be very happy to read it!
Thank you very much.
Best regards,
Jan von Ungern


New work trip today!

I hope you can see the map above. On this new work trip I get to visit quite a few new places. Faroe Islands, Greenland and Newfoundland. I hope I have chance to see and do some interesting things. In Iceland I hope to re-visit that very ashy volcano. Other things I want to achieve:
- Good photos.
- Get some videos of me juggling in amazing places.
- Write a song for June.
- Continue writing my novel.
- Get round to writing blog posts that include the photos I took in Istanbul, Croatia, Montenegro, Venice, St. Tropez, Pisa, Olympia and… um… I think that’s it.
- Record a review of a book I finished TWO WEEKS ago.

I think that’s it.


Combat, my latest novel, is now available to download

Combat

It’s the followup novel to Minding Tomorrow. You can download it and read it for free, because I’m nice like that. Here’s the link to the Combat page on my website.

For those wondering why this post is also in the juggling category, the novel features a juggler as one of the main characters.

More information:
A near-future military science fiction novel by Luke Burrage.
Length: 52,000 words (equivalent to about 200 pages)
Release date: April 16th, 2010
Cover art by Stefan Kernjak.

Combat is the followup novel set in the same world as Minding Tomorrow. It follows the story of a secret military strike force as it comes to terms with new enemies and new technologies. It also tells the story, set eight years earlier, of a single soldier trying to make a difference in a new West African nation.

The events of this novel take place concurrently with those in Minding Tomorrow, and shares some characters and technologies. However, it is not a sequel, and can be read either before or after Minding Tomorrow. There are some mysteries in Combat that are answered in Minding Tomorrow, and some mysteries in Minding Tomorrow that are answered in Combat.

Of course, there are mysteries in both which will be answered in the third and last novel set in the same world.


New trip today: Antarctica and South America

In a few hours I’m flying out of Berlin, back down to south South America. The trip looks like this:

20100127 Antarctica and South America

Clicking on the map will take you to the sosauce.com trip page where you can zoom in and out stuff. Also, the trip starts and ends in Punta Arenas, number 1 and 8 on the map. This means a loooong journey just to get there.

Yes, I’m returning to Antarctica! It is, by far, the most amazing place I’ve been to while working on cruise ships. Last time I managed to get off the ship and get up close to penguins on the islands and mainland of Antarctica. I even have a stamp in my passport! This time the ship will be doing what’s call “Scenic Cruising” which means it doesn’t stop, and nobody gets off. I will, however, try my best to wangle my way onto the zodiac, which they let off the ship so the photographer can take photos in spectacular places.

Either way, I bough myself a new zoom lens, so I’ll try to do as much wildlife photographs as possible. I hope to photograph:
whales
penguins
orcas
seals
various birds

And, as you can see by the map, I’ll be back in the Falklands again, for the forth time in the past year, so I’ll once again do my traditional walk and see if the bird families have grown up.

Other goals for this cruise:

- Write. Or, more specifically, edit Combat (working title) and Monster Story (working title). Combat won’t take too much, but the ending needs to change. Monster Story needs more work, and I intend to break the story into two parts. From the feedback I found that people were interested in the back story, but I skip over these events in the novel. What I’m going to do is write the “getting to the planet” story as a stand alone novella, and explain the entire story there. Then Monster Story will become the second novella in a sequence. I always had one more story to tell in the same universe, so that could become part three in a trilogy.

- Shoot video. I just released my International Juggler 2009 video. It’s now 2010, and this year’s video will continue in a similar way, but with a twist. It’ll have more structure.

- Read and record SFBRP episodes. I’ve decided to try out audio books, mainly because I wanted to get a copy of The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, and audible could deliver it in minutes. Planning ahead means I could have ordered it from Amazon.com, but I’m not that clever.

- More video. I want to record some shaky footage of me in Montevideo and cut it into the Panic attacks video.

- New podcast. I’m thinking about starting a new podcast, where I release one per trip, telling stories and generally giving my thoughts about things I see and do. It’ll be called something like “Luke Around the World”, which is a crap pun, but sort of catchy. However, I only intend to release the podcast if I think it’s any good. Look out for that in a few weeks.

I think that’s about it. I’ll try to upload photos as I go.