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I am very excited right now.

This is because on Tuesday, Travis, Random and I will be heading to Scarborough Renaissance Festival in Waxahachie, Texas.

That was the first Renaissance faire I ever went to, and it’s where I met and fell in love with my knight in shining armor. And now I’ll be working there!

As a little kid, fantasy and magic ruled my world. I spent hours in my room drawing scenes from Robin Hood, fair maidens dancing around maypoles, feasts in great halls and wild mythical beasts. When I discovered The Lord of the Rings, orc ambushes lay around every corner and a neighborhood alley could lead you into the ethereal wood of Lorien. My CD collection consisted of Riverdance soundtracks and Enya albums, and I played “fairies” with my friends well into middle school. But when high school started, I decided that social adequacy was more important than fantasy, so I put aside my games and drawings and started buying rock CDs and wearing black nail polish. I remember being 17 years old and having the opinion that life was just one long string of calculus classes and anticlimactic breakups and that Chuck Palahniuk novels and Nirvana albums were really inspiring pieces of art.

Then one April day, my best friend Jackie invited me to Scarborough, where her choir had performed the week before. Suddenly my world exploded in a cacophony of brightly colored ribbons, fiddle music, smells of herbs and spices and roasted meat, clattering windchimes and glittering jewelry. I stood in amazement watching the parade of adults who were getting paid to dress up like fairies, knights, and gypsies and gallivant about the fairegrounds. I watched a man play Irish folk songs on a set of goblets filled with water, and another man use a whip to cut a pencil in half as his partner fearlessly pursed the pencil between his lips. Something turned over in my head that day: do some people really make a living out of playing?

I spent the rest of the year anxiously awaiting the opening of Scarborough. That fall, I took a semester of Shakespeare class, and we had a whole unit in Spanish about the gitanos (gypsies). All of the imagery and ideas filling my school curriculum made me pine for the freedom and wonder of the faire. When spring arrived, I bought season passes and cleared my weekend schedule, but I was not prepared for what I would find there.

My first faire day that year was sunny and glorious as expected. On our way out the gate that evening, Jackie and I walked past a tall, suntanned and strikingly handsome young man who locked eyes with us briefly as we passed. I’m still not sure why I did it, but I grabbed Jackie’s hand and insisted we turn around and talk to him. He asked us if we had seen the joust (we hadn’t) and then introduced himself as one of the knights. We promised to return the following weekend to see him joust, and then we walked out the gate. We paused in the parking lot, only to see the knight following us with a rose in each hand and a dazzling smile on his face. He asked us to forgive his manners as he should have given us the roses the moment he saw us, kissed our hands, and turned back into the faire.

On the one hand, I knew that it was all an act and part of his job. On the other hand, no boy had ever treated me that way before! I spent the rest of the week positively swooning.

The following weekend, we watched the joust and caught up with our knight afterward. His name was Travis, and he introduced us to his squire, who charmed Jackie instantly. The two escorted us around the faire, and we talked about books, music, traveling… and so began my spring romance with the man who would become my husband.

I wasn’t terribly interested in starting a relationship. I was about to go off to college for the first time, and besides, he lived in California and jousted for a living, for goodness’ sake! But he took me out dancing under the stars on a balmy May night, so I said, “What the hell!” and kissed him. And suddenly we found ourselves swept up in the kind of affair that made the whole world sparkle.

Then began the long-distance romance, the heartsick phone calls, and several moves back and forth between the two states until we both wound up in California and got married. Now we’re in the happily-ever-after part of the story, and six years later, we’ll be returning to Scarborough Faire. He’ll be jousting again, and I’ll be making and selling knight costumes. (Come check them out if you’re in town!) I can’t even express how thrilled I am to be going back, and this time I’ll get to create part of the magic. I hope Scarborough brings as much joy and wonder this year to others as it did to me.

If you’re in the North Texas area, you really do need to see this faire, and you can buy tickets here. My knight costumes will be for sale in the joust merchandise booth next to the tilt yard, so come send me some love!

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King Arthur of Spamalot

This week’s entry is an interview with my friend Arthur Rowan, who performs with and is one of the directors of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. He plays the character Rory Fang (a rogue fairy hunter), is in the musical group The Rakish Rogues, and directs several shows including the Human Chess Match, the Boar’s Head Brawl, and the Finale in Song. Among the cast of the faire, Arthur is greatly loved and respected for his talent, kindness, and positivity.

HKA: Tell me about the character you play at the faire.

AR: The character I have played this year and last year is a completely non-historical one, a fairy hunter called Rory Fang. I created him because I’m fascinated with the superstitions of the Renaissance. Nowadays we think of fairies and sprites and things all lumped in as one generic set of creatures, but five hundred years ago, people believed in hundreds of different kinds of fairies. None of them were cute, they were all out to get you, and people lived in a continual state of superstitious caution, which I found fascinating. In previous years I have played historical characters such as Robert Dudley, the Queen’s supposed paramour, or Thomas Howard, who led a rebellion against the crown, and I’ve also performed in the joust.

How long have you been acting?

I have been acting since high school. I went to college for theatre at William & Mary and worked as an actor in the Washington, D.C. area before coming to this faire five years ago.

What would you say to someone who said that the work you do isn’t important or doesn’t make a difference in the world?

On the one hand, I can see how at first glance it seems that way. I admit that when lots of people think about the Renaissance Faire, they think about weirdos speaking in funny voices, people who don’t have many social skills. And of course there are a few people who fit that description, but not most of them. In terms of why the work is valuable: some people think that for theatre or art to have value, it needs to make some sort of deep political statement or social commentary, when often the primary purpose of entertainment is to be just that, entertainment. There is intrinsic value to putting on a show where people go and laugh for a couple of hours and then leave feeling slightly better than they did before. It’s the reason why there’s value to Gilbert and Sullivan, or sitcoms. No one watches How I Met Your Mother because they’re expecting to get something out of it that will change their lives. They watch it because it’s funny and because it gives them a shared story that they can talk about with their friends. And at the Renaissance Faire, people come here and get swept away into a different world. People from completely different walks of life all end up laughing at the same jokes and singing the same songs. There is something wonderfully childlike and thrilling about going to the joust, sitting down with 4,000 people you’ve never met before, and suddenly the good guy comes riding out and jousts against the bad guy and you find yourself cheering madly for your knight to win! Many people leave saying they’ve touched on something magical. Even though it’s cliché, it’s very true that sometimes the best storytelling is that which puts a sense of magic and wonder back into the world. I live in New York City and I believe that!

What inspires you on days when you just don’t want to get out of bed at 6:00 AM to sing and dance and act in the rain?

There are days when our fight call is at 6:30 in the morning, and it’s late in the year and it’s dark outside and raining, so I’ll be standing on a muddy joust field, already dripping wet, holding a sword, and, God, it’s miserable out there. But I think, you know what? I’m not going to have to file a single TPS report today! Which is certainly not to knock any other industry. I worked in IT for several years and did really like certain aspects of that business world. But I personally enjoy doing what I do, even on days when it’s hard work. Most days when I wake up early I’m not filled with the magic of the faire, but it’s my job and I take pride in doing it professionally and well. That being said (and again, it’s cliché), the look on a child’s face when you give them a gift of a tiny little gem, that’s huge. On the really good days, it’s fantastic and it’s the easiest job in the world. And on the really difficult days, well, it’s still no more difficult than any other job out there.

rogue fairy hunter

We just finished Children’s Fantasy Weekend, and at the Finale, you gave a lovely speech about fantasy. Could you relate that back to me?

Certainly. In high school I was that kid who played Dungeons & Dragons and hung out with the geeks a lot, and most of the literature I read then and still do read was fantasy and science fiction. And very frequently the argument people use against that kind of literature is that it’s escapist and not applicable to real life. But I think the entire history of literature argues against that. Take Greek mythology, which centers around gods, heroes and deeds that never really happened. But it isn’t about whether it really happened; it’s about the meaning of the story. Terry Pratchett, one of my favorite authors, said that the purpose of fantasy isn’t to teach kids that dragons are real, but that they must be fought. Someone said to C.S. Lewis that fantasy is dangerous because it makes kids believe in lies. In response, he said that deep down, kids know that goblins and dragons aren’t real, but the truly dangerous literature is that which teaches kids that if you just be yourself, everything will work out fine and you will become popular. Anyone who has gone to high school knows that’s not true, but it seems to kids like it could happen. In the times of Oliver Cromwell, the Puritans banned poetry and fiction, saying that the only kind of worthwhile literature was sermons. Sir Phillip Sidney wrote a beautiful essay called “In Defense of Poesy” (or poetry) that said that while sermons teach us the right thing to do, stories and poetry inspire us to do the right thing. Case in point: you can tell a kid to be brave and stick up for their friends, and it might not set in, but if you give them the Harry Potter series, the bravery and loyalty of the characters they love are going to have a much more inspirational effect.

You proposed you your lovely fiancée during a show at the faire. What led you to that decision?

In my relationship with Kelly Morris, we’ve had a lot of big, sweeping romantic gestures. I really wanted to do something special for her for the proposal; I didn’t want to just pop a ring on her finger somewhere. The reason I did it at the Renaissance Faire, although I was totally aware I was becoming that guy, was because we met here. She was playing Queen Elizabeth and I was playing Robert Dudley, the Queen’s paramour, and we fell in love for real. It was a very storybook thing. This faire is the reason I met the woman I’m going to be spending the rest of my life with! It was tremendously moving because of the outpouring of support and even gratitude from fans of the faire. People saw the video of the proposal and said they were having a bad day and the proposal cheered them up. It goes back to the reason I like the Renaissance Faire: we do change lives in small, immeasurable ways. People come to this place because they just feel better afterward.

Now you’re going to be doing some work that has very little to do with the Renaissance Faire: touring with Monty Python’s Spamalot. Tell me about that.

I’ve been cast as King Arthur in the national tour of Spamalot. This faire, unlike most, actually makes use of professional actors. And often in the theatre world, Renaissance Faires are looked down upon, but I am actually very excited to say that I was trained at a Renaissance Faire and now I’m going on to do more “legitimate” theatre! Another graduate of this faire is working at Universal Studios as part of their stunt show, and another one has her own children’s show on the Sprout Network. So this faire gives great training for professional actors who take their work seriously and go on to other theatre work. I am very excited to be touring with Spamalot. We are literally going to be hitting a different town every night! It’s always exciting to try new things. I remember going into the open audition, and there must have been 300 people there, and I looked around and realized that I was one of the older people there, and one of only five men with a beard! So I felt like my Renaissance Faire training really paid off and translates very well into other types of theatre.

rogues assemble!

If you’d like to see Arthur in Spamalot, check here to see if the tour will be stopping in your town. To learn more about Arthur, visit his website or his Facebook page. Everyone here at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire will miss Arthur very much, but we wish him the best of luck with his acting career!

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