This has all come together quickly, but I’m going to be doing a fun project that brings together several things that I love. I’m so pleased to be a part of this! This is the announcement they’ve sent to their list.

SUNDAY, MAY 17 at 3pm
Community Hall at the Dell Jewish Community Campus
7300 Hart Lane | Map

Get out your Quidditch robes, grab your latest purchase from Ollivander’s, and come to The Sorcerer Preview Musicale on Sunday afternoon, May 17, at the Jewish Community Center.

There is magic in the air and so the cast from this summer’s upcoming production will sing songs from The Sorcerer, but with a twist: they have all been changed into your favorite Harry Potter characters. This is the time to wear your Harry Potter costumes if you have ’em. Those not in costume will also be welcome as Muggles. But Magician or Muggle, it matters not! Come and hear the witty lyrics and beautiful music of Gilbert & Sullivan as a preview of this summer’s grand production of The Sorcerer.

Special Guest Performer

cMw_wizardThis performance will be even more magical with a special appearance by Austin wizard, Chris Walden. Chris, also known as “Professor Marvel” and “Doctor Saul Ravencraft,” will perform this Sunday afternoon donning his wizard robes worn in the Merlin the Wise show at the Sherwood Forest Faire. He will be integrating themed magic throughout the musical performances for a truly interactive experience.

Admission: Free

Please bring munchies to enjoy after the musicale! However, please do not bring meat or seafood treats, in observance of the JCC’s dietary restrictions.

A mysterious package


How would you open this box? eagerly or carefully?

Today I am delivering mysterious packages. The box show in this picture is being left for specially selected individuals as part of promotion of the show I am producing at the Scottish Rite Theater, Magic at the Capitol. I cannot reveal the contents of this box to you yet. I can tell you that it contains some very special artifacts that will lead to an interesting experience if the recipient dares to call me. It’s all in good fun and a little adventure.

I wanted to share this as an example of what is possible when you combine storytelling, illusion and theatre to deliver a message. In this case we are literally delivering these mysterious packages, with a surprise for everyone who follows up. Each need is different and requires a unique solution. This is truly my favorite kind of project, creating a special experience for someone that brings the message to life!

Later, I can reveal something of the contents of this box. In the mean time, there are still a few tickets left for Magic at the Capitol. This show sold out last year and we expect it to do so again. Get your tickets now to enjoy a program of family-friendly comedy and magic in one of the most beautiful and historic theatres in Austin.

If you want to follow along with my quest, I’ll be experimenting with Twitter to day: @CMWaldenATX #MATCQuest

The third shoe drops

by Chris Walden

They say that some events, like meaningful deaths in one’s life, happen in threes. This has been one of those months. Three voices who greatly affected me in my life have been silenced.

Photo of Ed Solomon in his later yearsThe first was my dear friend, Ed Solomon. He was the last one I encountered, and the first to leave, January 4th. Ed was a music teacher, father, grandfather, storyteller, entertainer, and so many, many other things. I met him over the phone, connected by our mutual interests in magic, theatre and stories. We talked on the phone and corresponded for years. During the last couple of months before he suffered the final, debilitating stroke that ultimately took him from us, I spent several days with him, sharing things about technology, life, art and everything. Ed’s memorial service was last Sunday. There I met many other people who had been affected by having Ed in their lives. They were from all walks of life and all of them expressed admiration of what he accomplished and how he had gently and profoundly transformed them. I wish I had met Mr. Solomon earlier. I could have used him during some of my early years of fumbling. I’m very fortunate, however, that I did meet him, and through him all the others who are now a part of my life.

Leonard Nimoy at the 2011 Phoenix Comicon in Phoenix, Arizona.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

On February 27, we lost Leonard Nimoy. I first discovered Nimoy portraying Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek series, which I watched eagerly in syndication as a kid. Spock was in tune with his emotions. He still had them, but he governed them, using logic and his intellect. As a young, curious person who didn’t necessarily fit the norms (even in the 1970s) Nimoy’s textured performance of this character resonated with me. If Spock could survive the slings and arrows of Doctor McCoy, surely I could get through what was being thrown at me. Of course, by this time, Nimoy had left Star Trek and was now the host of In Search Of, the weekly program about the strange, the odd and the unusual. I reveled in discovering the world of UFOs, ghosts, psychic phenomena and all manner of weird things that still deeply interest me. These were parts for Nimoy…acting jobs. My real introduction to Nimoy was through his art. He was a writer, a poet, a photographer and a filmmaker. His book, I Am Not Spock, gave me a look behind the scenes about how being so closely associated with a single character affected him. It was illuminating to see how Nimoy could speak so profoundly to me through his acting while suffering his own versions of frustration and insecurity. Of course, later in his life he wrote another book, I Am Spock, where he had come to the other side of much of this and acknowledged how much of his life and success was predicated from his relationship with his Vulcan side. Nimoy was 83, the same age as Ed Solomon, when he passed. This may not be a coincidence.

Photo of Terry Pratchett on Day 2 of the 2012 New York Comic Con

Photo by Luigi Novi

Finally, today, the third shoe dropped. Terry Pratchett, a fantasy and science fiction writer, whose writing has becoming very entangled with my own view of the world. Pratchett’s writing was funny, even silly. It was satirical storytelling that covered everything from bureaucracy to religion, fame, magic, the apocalypse… He was an equal opportunity offender and an incredible word smith who gave me some of my favorite quotes from such memorable characters as Death, Granny Weatherwax, and many others. (Here is just a taste of his wonderful way with words.) In life, Terry was an atheist, which fascinated me, because I found some amazingly spiritual ideas in his writing… ideas that influenced my own spirituality. I’m sure he would have found that amusing, like someone who sees Jesus in a knock-knock joke, but it is a fact. He created a place in my brain where I could appreciate the humanity in many of the things that people take very seriously. Like Ed Solomon, like Leonard Nimoy, Terry Pratchett made me think. It wasn’t the sort of regurgitation that we think of as learning, but a real, open-ended approach to thought where the answer was not predetermined. Terry was suffering from an uncommon form of Alzheimer’s. It finally claimed him on March 12.

So, three voices who echo in my brain, who have actually helped shaped some of those brainwaves, are no longer here. They have moved on. In the case of Ed Solomon, I wrote a brief story (more a scene) describing what I feel waited for Ed as he left us. It flowed so quickly from my mind that I wonder if I was merely taking dictation. I hope that Leonard Nimoy and Terry Pratchett also found something wonderful waiting for them, whether they believed in it or not.

For myself, I will miss their voices. I have a rich history to revisit, and I imagine I will do quite a bit of that, again and again. But I am especially conscious that history is all I will have. There will be no new words or ideas, just new discoveries as I find new understandings in the existing canon. The new ideas, the new words are now up to me. That is always the way. We are guided and shaped by people, but eventually it is up to us.

Ed Solomon, Leonard Nimoy, and Terry Pratchett, thank you for the positive influences you have had on my view of the universe. Your body of work will continue to influence others for who knows how long. Rest in peace.

As I write this from my phone, I am sitting in the shelter of my camp after a weekend of Sherwood Forest Faire in Paige, Texas,filled with gratitude. It was a challenging weekend. The weather was cold and wet, the exact opposite of what one might picture for a weekend of outdoor fun, and a long way from the comfort of performing in a trade show or corporate event. What am I grateful for?

First, I’m grateful for the cast in my show. I’m the puppeteer who brings Archimedes the Owl to life for the Merlin the Wise show. Mark Wilson owns the show and plays Merlin. Laura Brasher plays Morgause, the dark sorceress, before she turns to the dark side. They are a blast to work with, each giving and taking as we all work together to create an entertaining experience.

photo of the Merlin show cast

The cast of the Merlin the Wise showtat Sherwood Forest Faire 2015, left to right: Mark Wilson (Merlin), Chris Walden (puppeteer for Archimedes the Owl), Laura Brasher (Morgause)

Next, I’m grateful for the chances to stretch myself a little, artistically. The demands of a renaissance festival are different from many other performance situations. It requires a great deal of focus and flexibility. Discovering and adapting to each challenge has been interesting. The weather has been a little uncooperative. The schedule and dynamics have all made demands. Having to trust myself and my castmates in each unplanned moment goes against my normal desire for planning and organization. It’s been a continuous lesson in self-reliance and trust.

Finally, I’ve enjoyed expressing my art differently. As Archimedes the Owl, I get to be a sarcastic wit, looking for the quick joke and the smart remark. The puppet forces me to use a different physicality and to cast everything through the eyes of another species. Fun! As Saul the Taleteller I got to express the pure power of human thought and voice, using no props or settings, telling classic stories. Finally, Ravencraft the Mountebank read minds and performed a few feats of legerdemain. In each case I needed to do something just a bit differently than I had ever done it before, recreating props, language, working with different clothing and in the weather… What a tremendous number of lessons crammed into a compact time!

I hope you get to come experience Sherwood Forest Faire for yourself this season. I’m grateful to have this in my life right now and the support of all the new people I’m meeting along the way.

Who’s minding the guests?

Painting of a mid-19th-century orater addressing a large crowd

George Caleb Bingham, “Stump Speaking, or, the County Canvass,” 1853-54

I recently attended a commercial luncheon event. It was an opportunity to learn more about the company and some of their key technology partners. Overall the event was informative and ran on time, but it didn’t always feel that way because there was no one specifically focused on keeping things on track and keeping the guests engaged. When there was a hiccup in the proceedings it was obvious, and you could see the audience disconnect and have to reconnect once problems were solved.

It didn’t have to be that way. A few things would have made all the difference. Here are a few things you can do to help avoid this for your next commercial event or meeting:

Line up your resources. Have a plan B.

The first issue was that there was no power for the projector. An extension cable was missing, which delayed the presenter’s ability to get his laptop configured in time. I had an extension cord in my truck because I always carry one for this sort of situation. However, there can always be gaps in the proceedings when something unexpected happens. It’s good to have some optional things that you can do while people deal with an issue and make a decision. Maybe you spend some time interacting with the audience, getting more information about them and their goals. Maybe you take this time to pass out some information rather than having it picked up on the table in the back. Perhaps you tell a story about something relevant to the event.

This preparation my never be used, but having it in your pocket means that lulls can be turned into productive time with your audience.

Give the audience a liaison

When it was time to begin a representative from the company thanked us for being there and introduced the first speaker. Then he went to the back of the room and did not say another word until the end. This left the presenter to keep the attention of the audience. When he was struggling with getting his screen to come up on the projector it just left dead time. Ideally, the one who made the opening statements would stay available and step in at any sign of trouble, covering the time with relevant audience interaction.

In this case the presenters were left on their own. They were all pros and it worked OK, but it would have been much more effective if someone was at the ready to keep from having any dead time. The audience wants a single focal point, a host, to be their liaison with everything that happens.

Energy and flow

Something that many people don’t consider in such events is managing the flow of energy. In theatrical presentations there is a flow between high energy points, exciting moments that stick in the mind, and lower energy moments, valleys in the action that give the mind a chance to process the details.

Different presentations may require the audience to be in a different mode to get the most from them. Should the audience be energetic and excited, ready to applaud this amazing demo? Should the they be more contemplative and thinking deeply about their own environment and problems so they can ask relevant questions? The MC for the event can help guide this energy and prepare the audience perfectly for what they are about to experience. Your sign that this is not happening is that stony silence when it’s time for questions. The audience is not really engaged. They are passively witnessing.

Proper management of this energy has people engaged and participating. There should be applause for speakers. There should be engagement with members of the audience to let them know this is not a spectator sport. The results will be a more dynamic audience who responds to the speakers.

Will there be food?

Food is a draw. This event offered a free lunch, which is very enticing! Make sure, though, that the food is part of the plan. Have a streamlined ordering system that makes it easy for participants to order their food. A sheet, numbered with their seat, where they can check off choices can makes this process very easy. Don’t forget to include all the choices. Is there a choice of beans? salad dressings? Have them all on there so that people who don’t have special needs can just check off the sheet and set it aside.

Plan a moment to get the orders in. Let people know exactly when to expect their food. The anticipation of food combined with  uncertainty can be very distracting.  Make food a natural part of the proceedings and not an interruption.

Also, bear in mind that directly after eating the mind can be a little sluggish while the body is engaged in digestion. This is a good time to show a demo or something that is interesting but does not require deep thought or participation. Give them a few minutes to settle before brining the energy and the interaction back up.

Final thoughts

I recognize that doing events like this can be very challenging. I’ve spent years as an entertainer, corporate presenter and trainer. There are always new challenges with different venues, different combinations of presenters and different technology requirements. (There was a time when no one would expect to have Internet access to do their demo.) Here are the steps I use to help insure success:

  1. Have clear goals for your event and make sure that every activity points toward those goals
  2. Know what will happen and arrange things with a solid agenda, considering the different levels of energy and interaction required for each element
  3. Have optional, goal-oriented activities that you can bring up in case of any gaps in the proceedings
  4. Have one person focused on making sure things are on track who is ready to step in and interact with the audience when required

Please feel free to reach out to me with thoughts and questions about making your event more engaging through my contact form.

Early Valentines Day

Last night I celebrated Valentine’s Day early with my wife because I have an event with the Austin Horror Society tonight and am at Sherwood Forest Faire on Saturday and Sunday. While I don’t feel that my work as an entertainer is nearly as important as the heroic work of firefighters, police and others who sacrifice their holidays to make sure we have protection and utilities, I do share the fact that my family has to sometimes adjust around holiday celebrations because I am in demand. The nice thing is that we get to hit the restaurant when it’s quiet, before or after the rush. The nicest thing is that we end up truly focused on the meaning of the celebration as we have to create our own moment. It’s probably not for everyone, but I’m glad that my family understands.

For all of you normal folk, I hope you have as pleasant a celebration with your own sweetheart. If you are on your own I hope you indulge yourself in something that you enjoy. You deserve it! You might come and join me at Sherwood Forest Faire!

SaintCMWby Chris Walden
Chris is a professional entertainer who uses his skill as an actor, magician and presenter to create interactive entertainment. He’s been performing for more than 30 years.

Merlin_the_WiseThis weekend marked the opening of Sherwood Forest Faire in Texas. I’m doing one of my favorite things for this event: collaborating with other talented artists. My friend Mark Wilson, has portrayed Merlin the Wise at the Faire since it opened. I’ve always been a fan of wizardry and fantasy, so I was thrilled when he asked me to be involved with brining this year’s program to life.
morgauseJoining him on stage is Morgause, played by Laura Brasher. (She made that dress herself!) In our show, Morgause is a young lady who is learning from Merlin. It’s a little timey-wimey with the legends, but it’s for entertainment! Laura performs some of the magic as well and is a great addition to the show.

 But where am I? I’m the man behind the curtain in this show, acting as the puppeteer for Archimedes, the cantankerous owl.

archimedes_mockupThis stage photo shows the set when it was first built with Archimedes in the windows. (Click the picture for a larger view.) I designed and painted the wood walls which extend the existing stage.

I’m hoping to get some action photos, and will post them when I do.

saul_the_tale_tellerOf course, I’m not spending all of my time hidden behind the curtain. I’ll be roaming the grounds between shows as Saul, the Taleteller, sharing the art of pure storytelling. This is a selfie I took on opening day as the cast assembled in the morning.

I love the opportunity to step aside from performing magic or mind-reading and to share my passions for acting and stories.

I do hope that you make it out to the Faire this season to see our show. The first weekend we were rated best show on two visitor surveys. With the wide variety of entertainers this was a great way to begin the season (and my mom wasn’t even there). Sherwood Forest Faire runs through March. You can see details and buy advance tickets on their web site.

Chris Walden, will be part of the festivities of Sherwood Forest Faire this year. He’ll be providing behind the scenes support for the Merlin show and be doing traditional storytelling throughout the Faire.

The Faire runs each weekend from February 7th through March 29th with an extra day on March 20th, during Spring Break.