Sunday, May 29, 2016

50th Birthday Performance Party

For my 50th birthday I created my own museum and I became my own party entertainment. 

And it was all Mark's fault.

See, every year he records my 'Pagan Humor' seminar at Pantheacon. And every year he presents me with a pro-quality, multi-camera DVD, with pictures interspersed and a menu with chapters and so forth.

That no one but me will ever see. Because technically my performance belongs to Pantheacon, and they do not take kindly to having parts of their 'Con posted online, (Even if the audience isn't shown) because they hate having publicity and buzz and people talking about it and wanting to come and spend all of their disposable income and....WHAT-EVER - 

my office
And every year Mark bitches
LAMENTS that all of my work just kinda goes up in digital smoke. (and his too.)

"Why don't you do something, you know, secular" He has oft been heard to complain
OFFER "and let me film it and then you'd have something that other people could actually see?"

And then in 2015 I had this zero birthday coming up, and those are a big deal, so I thought I would use that opportunity to host my own 'Performance Party' - use my friends as an unwitting audience - and finally get Mark off my freaking back THE VIDEO he's wanted for years.

The General Altar in the foyer
Which I did. Which he then did. Which you can purchase and take home and keep under your pillow. (Details at the end of this post, or see the main page of Angus-land.)

So that was the original plan: Storytelling filmshoot disguised as a birthday party. 

We needed a good backdrop, so I rented the Masonic Temple, which came with this enormous banquet room. My friend Espi then had the idea of using that space as a museum: Make displays (installations!) of various milestones of my life, interspersed with pictures on the walls.
Chris and I taking a break, sitting at one of the
diagonal tables. A potluck table is behind
us, and pics of my family are on the wall.

And this museum idea sat on my head and festered in my brain until it grew to really ridiculous proportions. Think about it! If you were going to create a museum of your life, what would it look like? What would you include? What would you NOT include?

The final layout had a main altar in the foyer with a big computer slideshow and various artifacts from my life. The banquet room proper had been laid out like a Celtic Cross. The middle of each wall hosted an 8-foot table with an elaborate display of one of the major turning points in my life. 

Center nexus on right, and lots of people chowing down.
The diagonals, from each corner to the center, were where the seating tables would go, so people could sit and talk and eat the potluck dinner that they provided.

The wall space around the room would show various pictures of me in roughly chronological order.

And in the middle would be the center nexus, showcasing the two common themes that have run through my entire life.
Here's a short youtube video I made of the basic layout, altars, diagonal tables, center nexus - and Nancy and Rox!

What to put on the four wall altars? Easy. My adult life has always been punctuated by the '6's, and these touchstones were the perfect visual adventures for explaining my life. 
Jesamyn and Sabrina, getting their
Pretty all over the place.
Here are the 6's: 
  • I was born in 1965, so one wall altar would be about my early life.
  • 1976 was the first '6', and it was hugely important to me because it was the Bicentennial. But I don't have much 'material' from then, so we'll skip that one.
  • 1986 was the Great Peace March
  • 1996 was the Canal Barge Adventure across Southwestern England
  • and 2006 was the Pirate Handfasting
  • (and yes, 2016 is upon us, and - thank you, Goddess! - another epic adventure has presented itself. But that's a whole 'nother post....)
I spent weeks going through the detritus of my life, sifting and sorting and filling a huge bin for each of the '6's. Plus a slideshow for each, of course.
The 1965 altar. And so I began.....

Each '6' altar had a card detailing why the event happened, why I think it was awesome, and some trivia factoids. 

Here are the wordages from these cards:


Event: My Birth

Reason for this event: Oh, I think we’re all familiar with the procedure. I will point out though that one of my nicknames growing up was “The Missed Trip to the Drugstore”.

Reason why this was awesome: Well, I wouldn’t be where I am today without this.
Christine. Not sure what 
her costume is, but I'm
not complaining.

•      I was born on June 9th (Yes, Johnny Depp’s birthday), in Lynwood, California, future home to both Weird Al Yankovic and Snoop Dogg.
•      The first home I lived in had extremely cheap rent - because it was literally in the shadow of the half-finished I-105, “Century Freeway” which would eventually consume all of these bungalows in its path.
•      My birth-house then is now a slight turn in a freeway - how very L.A.
•      I was a breech birth, which demolished my nose and closed off one of my sinuses.
•      I am left eyed, handed and footed.
•      My parents thought that I would be a great spy because I have the highest pain threshold of anyone I've ever met.
•      I am forbidden to give blood because of ‘anomalies’ in my blood chart.
•      I've been a drummer for 51 of my 50 years, beginning in utero, where I used to kick along in time to the radio.
•      The first reading test I took, in 3rd grade, scored me at “12th school year, 9 month” or past High School graduate level. Off the charts, in other words.
•      To this day I cannot tie my shoes properly.
The 1986 Altar: The Great Peace March


Event: The Great Peace March

Reason for this event: The world was very, very close to “Mutually Assured Destruction”.
Plus, I was 20 years old, had no corporate debt, and was about to graduate from college and move on to a University that I had all of the paperwork and funding arranged for; perfect time to skip town and join 500 people who were about to walk across the country.

Reason why this was awesome: How many people can say they traveled with a group that walked across the flippin’ continent?
Plus, yes, I left School, but in doing so I got one hell of an Education.
(I went back & got my degree the next year.)
Wall pics of my early years.
•      March 1st to November 15th, 1986. 3701.4 miles, from the L.A. Coliseum, to Las Vegas, Denver, Chicago, New York City and down to Wash. D.C.
•      2,500 marchers left L.A. - 400 made it to Vegas. Others were added or returned, and on average there were 500 of us on the journey.
•      18 miles of walking a day, on average, 6 days a week (optimistically).
•      Diet: 8,000 calories a day. Basically anything we could get our hands on, in any quantity we desired.
More wall pics.
•      Everything I had for 9 months fit into two crates, a jacket and sleeping bag. (One crate was just cassettes and socks.)
•      I once spent my last $5 for sunscreen.
•      High Point: Loveland Pass, 12,000ft.
•      Low Point: Standing helplessly in the path of an oncoming tornado. (This was also a high point.)

The 1996 Altar. Canal trip across England.

Event: Canal Trip Across England

Reason for this event: Willow did a solo bike trip across Southwestern England in 1995 and she kept crossing and traveling on the towpath of the Kennet & Avon Canal.

She thought that this perfectly calm and flat mode of transportation would be the ideal setting for our friend Catherine, who has back problems.

The idea for a vacation was thus hatched, and eventually 6 of us, the “Caen Hill Beakers” spent two weeks piloting a 70ft. canal barge along this watery thoroughfare.
Ed and Fernando. I Love these outfits!

Reasons why this was awesome:
Totally unique way to get in shape, lose weight, and see spectacularly beautiful countryside. Also several spiritual awakenings transpired and we inspired a crop circle.

•     It was like spending two weeks on the Jungle Cruise. We barely saw a car for the entire journey and the biggest problem we had was finding food.
•     Our narrowboat, the "Caen Hill Lock" was 70ft long, but less than 7ft. wide.
•     The Kennet & Avon canal opened in 1810, and aside from a couple of modern electric car bridges, the original technology is still in place.
Margie and Matthew
(Photobomb by Jenya)
•     So we spent a considerable amount of time every day guiding our 12 ton narrowboat through 88 locks (44 X2), using a long wrench called a “windlass” and pa-lenty of muscle.
•     Our first sidetrip was to Avebury, the largest stone circle in Europe. 3 of us cabbed there, and 3 of us walked 8 miles along the Neolithic Ridgeway. Crop Circles - real and faked - abounded. Avebury was spectacular, vast, and chock full of Woo. Nearby Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Barrow also provided some adventures.
•     The turnaround point for our canal trip was Devizes. We parked the boat and cabbed it across Wilshire and Somerset counties to Glastonbury. Adventure awaited us here too, at the ruins of the cathedral, the Tor and the Chalice Well. We then returned to Devizes and piloted our narrowboat back down 400 vertical feet, 44 locks and 40 miles back to our starting point of Aldermaston.
•     After playing in several crop circles we were inspired to design our own. We drew our boats propellers and a doily squiggle around it, threw some salt around it and went to bed. The next morning, in the field next to our boat - nothing. But two counties away, our design (improved considerably) appeared. 
•     A working vacation to be sure, but also an unbelievably FUN adventure with great friends.
The 2006 Altar: A Pirate Handfasting!


Event: A Pirate Handfasting

Reason for this event: Well, it wasn’t OUR idea.

Reason why this was awesome:
It was only the greatest wedding ever, thanks to all of our wacky friends - who we worked like punch-presses.

•      Trivia Fun: Who proposed to whom? (answer below)
•      The concept for the Pirate Handfasting was 1/2 Wedding, 1/2 Wiccan Ritual, and 1/2 Benny Hill sketch.
Kimberly (video assistant) and Chris (still
photographer). Pic by Daev, who also ran the
video cameras.)
•      Karen’s sole direction to me was that she did not want to miss any baseball. Beyond that she was game for anything I thought up.
•      150 celebrants were grogged, dined, danced and entertained for 1/3 of the cost of an average wedding in this county.
•      The Banquet room - this same room - was set up as a wedding chapel with cheap paper decorations. But at the last minute Matthew the Town Crier directed everybody into the wildly decorated Lodge Room where the actual Handfasting took place.
•      Willow, Karen, Tymn, Angel, C-Marc and I took weekly Swordplay practice with Mykey for more than 4 months in preparation for the ceremony. (Actual rapiers were used.)
•      Once you see a wedding with swordfights, anything less is kinda dull.
•      Our honeymoon was supposed to be in New Orleans - which in March, 2006 was a burned-out, looted, soggy Post-Katrina hellhole. (We went to Lake Tahoe instead.)
The Center Nexus: Lego Sculpture with boombox
•      The ships of Admiral Karen's 'fleet' were the "Uncle Charlie" and the "Six-of-One". Captain General Angus piloted the "Half-Dozen" and the "Molly Malone".
•      Penelope dutifully spent all afternoon toasting 150 pieces of bread and distributing them to the confused celebrants, just so I could stand on a table and say "A Toast!" and have everybody throw toast in the air.
•      The first of 5,000 emails went out during the 2005 World Series, and we wrote, rehearsed and worked all through the Winter. The Ceremony happened on March 18th, 2006 (exactly half-a-year away from "Talk Like a Pirate Day), and we returned from our honeymoon a week before the Baseball season began. Safe!
•      Who Proposed? Why it was Mama Jenya, who proposed to both Karen and I at Solaris in 2004.
•      She said “You two should get married, and it should be a Pirate Handfasting.” We looked at each other, shrugged and replied “Okay - but you’re officiating!”

Top-down on the lego sculpture. 
And in the center of the room was the two themes that have been ever-present in my life from my first glimmers of consciousness: Sculpting in Lego, and Music.

On a card table I placed a new sculpture, and beneath the table was the boombox with a 12 hour playlist of my all-time favorite songs. 

So that was the party part of the night: Potluck feast, good music, costumes (why not?) and a host of interesting visuals. I have to say, it all worked wonderfully.

The Performance Party
Telling the tales......

But that was only half of the evening. Or, should I say, half of every hour. At the top of each hour, in the large, ornate Lodge Room I would read some of my 'greatest hits' from the Pantheacon Pagan Humor seminars and posts from the blog. This was the part that was filmed. 

At the end of that segment the guests were released to the banquet room to rest and recoup before we drug them all back at the top of the next hour.

Choosing which stories to read was fairly straightforward. I had the analytics from the blog to show which posts are the most popular, and Mark's DVDs to gauge which Pcon stories got the biggest laughs.

Some of the crowd
The fun was in grouping all of these pieces into 4 chapters of more-or-less equal length, and then to write some 'connective tissue' to link the pieces of each chapter together.

And of course, once-a-writer-always-a-writer I had to wade deep into these 25,000 words and whittle them down to the 20,382 that I spoke that night. (Even your oldest friends could always benefit from a little updating and trimming.)

Here was the 'menu' from my Birthday Party:

No idea what I am going for here.
Bill of Fare 
7pm - 7:45pm:
8pm - 8:45pm:
Tales from No-tell Motel
Hotel Arcata
Car Names
British Meals 
9pm - 9:45pm:
The Lance Gunn Thing
4 Mom Stories*
10pm - 10:45pm:
Las Vegas

*Note on the 4 Mom stories: #1 (flying through the air at Orange Hills restaurant) is part of "10 Weirdest Meals" post, linked here through "British Meals". #2 and #3 (Thanksgiving gravy and the Harlem Globetrotters) are one post: The '4 Mom stories' link above will take you there. #4 (Judy and the Renault) can be found HERE.

Admiral Karen introduces me.
I am a bit amazed that my voice held out through all of that. I even sneaked in a costume change before the 9pm chapter. I had a wonderful time reading all of these before a crowd again. It was like introducing old friends to new friends.

Breakdown was fairly straightforward; all of the altars just got swept into their own bins and the kitchen crew had only minimal clean up after the ongoing potluck. The museum of my life disappeared almost instantaneously, which was a bit unsettling.

Karen and I.
Special thank yous to Rox for overseeing the set-up, party, kitchen and tear-down crews. And Admiral Karen, of course, for being a steady rudder through this new adventure.

Did I have fun at my 50th birthday party? Well, of course! It was an epic exercise all dedicated to me! EXTREME HUBRIS!!

But I also had a blast creating all of the pieces of the evening. Depending on my mood any particular day I would be working on the pictures of one of the '6's, adding songs to the 12 hour playlist, designing the lego sculpture, sorting through artifacts for one of the altars, or taking one of the stories out for a training run.

The DVD of the performance came out very good. All of the stories above are included (over 2 1/2 hours!) and it can be YOURS for $20.00 - postage included.

And now, on to working on some new adventures - gotta have fresh product for my 100th birthday performance party, don'tchaknow.

Angus McMahan

1 comment:

  1. I photographed a fundraising conference here recently. What a wonderful place for photos. I almost always hate being anywhere at 6am, but this breakfast event proved an exception. The manger and his staff from venues in Los Angeles were extremely professional.