Custom-Designed Home-Made Ring Mat!
It’s the Monday after Thanksgiving 2014 and we’ve been working hard putting our set together for the upcoming Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!), and this is just the dog portion of the show.
Our director claims he has several other sets we’re gonna cycle through so I’m looking forward to seeing what he gets together for the show. Usually I’m leary of even relatively simple costume changes, but here we go with some more chaos-as if six dogs weren’t going to cause enough of a headache.
I’ve been torturing myself over what the right ring mat design is for my show, only to finally realize that practically anything that isn’t cloth would be a vitally, even life-saving improvement over the striped fabric that I’ve loved up to this point. What I finally realized is that anything that doesn’t sterilize easily while laying flat is simply unacceptable for this circus act.
I was in an improv class when a classmate came in reporting on how she’d just seen the Jimmy Kimmel show– that I’d done a pre-taped bit for (thank you very much) when they were in Austin for SXSW. Anyway she went on and on about how during every off camera moment a guy would come out and sweep the floor of the set, and she kept saying stuff to the effect of, “How much dirt do they think is getting on the set in five minutes?” Well, I’d started making these dog videos around that time and one thing I can tell you is that a lot of dirt shows up. Anyway, they weren’t doing it because it hadn’t caused a problem in the past. Maybe just accept what the pros are doing, ok?
And another thing is that when you have zero dirt on a pristine looking set, anything that shows up is an infinite percentage increase; that one dirty dish in the sink? That’s the only thing I’ll notice now that I’m so old that I care about the kitchen being clean. Seriously, once I started looking at my set nothing looked good. Any stain on the floor covering and I’d have to wash it. And when trying to film training sessions for six dogs dirt getting ground into cloth is inevitable-unless you don’t have cloth!
That’s when I started thinking about the idea of being able to clean the floor with a cloth and some Odorban, my preferred disinfectant. Well, I went to a LOT of trouble making a circle out of plywood, then cutting it up and putting hinges on it so that I could fold it and transport it easily. OMG! It looked GREAT!!! It had six layers of high gloss exterior paint in vibrant colors that were super washable….It was easy to set up, though a bit heavy, and it made unicycling and some of my other human skills like the rola bola much easier….the thing was that the dogs hated it. They would actually stop wanting to take their turn during shows! I don’t care what anybody says about how good the show looked, if the dogs don’t do their tricks it’s a net loss on show quality.
And one other thing-I wasn’t in love with the design I’d come up with. I looked online at other circus mats but nothing really looked that great. So, once again, I figured anything I came up with would be an improvement on what I had. I have always been of the school of thought that you need to have a complete plan before starting work, but I’m now finding that that is simply too much pressure for me. Once I realize how hard something is going to be or contemplate that I can’t know exactly what “the BEST” way is to do something it leads to a lot of not starting-but we all know that you can’t walk a thousand miles without taking the first step. “Right,” I’d say, “But I’m not walking a thousand miles, I’m making a Ring Mat.”
Anyway, I was talking with friend who was like, “You’re an ex-math teacher….” “Geometry….” BLAH BLAH BLAH…. and I grabbed a pencil, string for a compass, and a straight edge and made the design that has made it onto the ring mat.
The weekend before Thanksgiving I made a circular door for a dog agility tunnel-I’d always thought that a door would be good to turn the tunnel into a dog-containment object that would fold down into a small space-the tunnel is like a compression spring with fabric covering the openings-it compresses down and is only about six inches thick, yet expands to about eight feet of length to contain dogs.
The reason I bring up that tunnel is that making that circular door was a good excuse for painting my design in those very bright colors that I love for the show in order to have a prototype of the mat design to determine if I really liked it. Then if the design didn’t work out for my purposes, I’d still have a nice-looking door. I spent quite a bit of time cutting out the door and getting the hinges on and then painting it-and I’m no painter….I hate the precision needed, all the prep work of finding the right color, just getting the right brush size-I always just want to get the most paint on so I don’t have to do a second layer. I could go on, believe me.
But I’ll tell you, somehow having a design I liked made all of that a fun, satisfying experience. I cut the lines in way better than I’d ever done before, and made sure that there wasn’t too thick of a layer of paint so as to lessen the brutish brush marks I normally wouldn’t care about.
The door came out looking great and is a really nice accent to the show set, while also being a very useful tool in controlling the dogs and keeping them safe, while making transitions from dog to dog not only smooth but actually an entertaining trick for the dogs to do during the show.
Ok, so the design was good. How to make it onto the floor? I’d bought some vinyl remnants that were a fairly good color of red for $5 a square yard while the typical price was $35 for the perfect pieces. A good start. I got the white while I was at it and any artist will immediately note that mine is a four color design….I say that because over and over as I showed the design to someone with any experience working with real-life artistic materials, they immediately commented with, “That’s a four color design.” It had always been a positive comment until I showed it to my mother who was going to be doing the sewing. When she said, “That’s a four color design,” her tone made it obvious that this is a complicated pattern.
She also immediately, as her very second sentence in her contemplation of the project, said that she couldn’t sew a circle, a problem I was totally sympathetic to since I’ve had continual problems with getting a smooth “perfect” circle as I’ve been pursuing the goal of having an actual Circus Ring.
But then she made the mistake of showing me a quilt block that she’d been working on….that had a circle in it. Ha! Your own pitard, mom!
Anyway, over Thanksgiving week we made some patterns of the individual pieces of my design, which I’d luckily thought to do in it’s full six foot diameter on a new tarp. I buy these tarps in bulk to protect the living room floors of families kind enough to invite my show into their homes. I go through quite a number of them, often preferring to buy a new one instead of cleaning the old one before that weekend’s show docket. It’s good to keep them looking sharp anyway-just because.
My mom got the outer red and white blocks done by Sunday all on her own but then that yellow in the middle-that was what we didn’t know how we were going to do. It seems so simple, yet the devil is in the details-the joy as well. Weird how that works. We went through lots of theoreticals and every way to do it was problematic so I finally got down on my hands and knees and started cutting that yellow into a circle that would fit the hole in the middle. There is nothing like not knowing what I’m doing to allow me to get started.
After I’d gotten about a sixth of the way around I realized that the outer circle that was already sewn together wasn’t totally flat, which made the inside hole a little smaller than it should be. So what we did was sew just that section of the interior yellow on the outer blocks, and then I cut the section 180 degrees, across the circle from the sewn part, and then we could be sure that the inner circle would reach across. We continued in this manner until we got all the way around and had a completed bona fide circus ring that would fit perfectly into even a small living room, perfect for the shows we love best-birthday parties and libraries. Having such an amazing “State Fair Quality Show” (a kudo ejaculated by a traveling circus performer who happened to see my show in a living room of one of his family members he was visiting for his nieces birthday party) show up in such unlikely places just makes me giggle when I think about the joke. It’s like having Van Halen show up for a backyard BBQ, is the philosophy I am working for.
The result is really great looking and best of all, the dogs already love just being on it-it must feel really good on their feet and with the foam mat I put underneath they love rolling around on it and their feet seem to get a good grip so they don’t even slip-something I’d kind of worried about.
This video is Coyote’s very first experience with the mat and you can see that he doesn’t even think about it as a problem.
See You Down the Road!