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Posts Tagged ‘magic’

Immediately after I wrote about how awful the beginning of Scarborough was, things started to get better. The very next day, we got invited to a steak dinner at the home of a swordsmith who works at the faire. We spent the evening making new friends, enjoying an excellent meal, watching fireflies, and taking a tour of the workshop where he forges the swords. That week, I got a little faster and better at making the kids’ knight costumes, and I started feeling a little more like I am where I belong.

But then of course a lot of boring, mundane crap got me down again. I got a bit disillusioned with the faire for several reasons. Last year I thought that everyone who works at the faire is doing what they love, but I’ve since met a lot of people who aren’t inspired by their work; they just feel like they’re trapped in the lifestyle because they don’t know how to do anything else. There’s not as much camaraderie among the folks at Scarborough as there is at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. People keep to themselves a bit more, but rumors spread just as quickly. I hate gossip-mongering, but half of my brainpower is taken up with other folks’ interpersonal drama. And the faire bureaucracy is a bit of a downer, too. It seems like every decision, no matter how small, is a great political issue. Turns out Ren faires aren’t places of freedom, peace and love; they’re just corporations with costumes on.

Luckily, before I got too deep in existential crisis mode, Sunday happened.

On Sunday, I got hugs from two people I had never met before. The first one was from an artist who draws horses. She came to the faire to get some good source photos, and she liked the jousting knights’ costumes and started a conversation with me about costuming. She’s also a seamstress and wanted to know about costuming as a career and what life on the road was like, so I told her about how Travis and I met, my experience in school, and how we ended up back here. We only spoke for a few minutes, and she lives in Mexico, but we felt an affinity and when it was time for her to leave, she hugged me, said “God bless you”, and wished me well with my travels. I was so touched. I hope I’ll run into her again some day.

The second hug made me stop in my tracks and reevaluate everything.

Two boys came up to the booth after the joust to meet the knights. They were cheering for Sir Corwin (Travis), and they had gotten wooden swords and shields earlier that day at the faire. Travis signed the swords for them, and the older boy got a Sir Corwin costume. His mother told me that his birthday was this week, and he always gets to go to the faire and pick out a present for his birthday. I asked the boy, whose name was Brandon, if he went to the king’s knighting ceremony that was held that afternoon. With a stricken face, he looked up at me and said, “No, I missed it,” which may as well have meant, “and now I’ll never get to be a knight!”

Travis, without missing a beat, dashed backstage and grabbed an old broken lance piece, cut it down to size, and painted it is his colors. He returned with the lance and his sword, and asked Brandon and his younger cousin if they would like to be knighted. One by one, the boys knelt down and solemnly vowed to be honest, defend their family, stand up for those who are smaller than them. The ceremony ended with the accolade, a (very gentle) slap on the cheek to remind them that even if though it may be painful, a knight must always try to do what is right. As Travis described it, “I drew my sword and was overwhelmed with memories of seeing my father do this very thing when I was growing up. It is a strange alchemy to make a decision and when you act upon it to see your father’s hands carry it out. Thank you dad, for teaching me how to be a knight. I didn’t truly understand what that meant until today.” The family was so moved by the experience that when the boys rose as knights, Brandon’s mother cried and hugged us both and thanked us for giving her son such a meaningful birthday present.

The men of Noble Cause Productions pride themselves on being knights rather than just jousters. Anyone with enough physical strength, dexterity and a pinch of insanity can learn to fall off horses and fight with swords and shields, but it takes a person of extraordinary character to put aside his ego, pain, frustration, and exhaustion, and take the time to genuinely impact the life of a child. I am so proud and thankful to be married to a true knight.

On the drive home, I realized that all of the frustrations and doubts I had been harboring about the faire, the weather, the slow sales, and the depressing people pale in comparison to the impact we made on Sir Brandon’s family. I’m not in this to make a ton of money right away or to be comfortable all the time. I am slowly but surely building a business that will bring joy and magic to children and will remind adults of the value of play, and I’m learning a lot of important lessons in the meantime. This faire season is kind of like an internship: it’s a lot of work, all of the lessons are learned the hard way, and the pay isn’t great, but the experiences I’m gaining are the most valuable thing of all.

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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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you can hear his jingle bells a mile awayI’ve now been doing the Ren Faire thing for three months. I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned with anyone who might be interested in this lifestyle… and with myself for when I hit the road again after a luxurious, civilized winter living in a house with carpet and hot running water. Therefore: a few tips on how to survive the dirt, the wicked weather conditions, and living with hundreds of strange folks ranging from the extremely talented to the nearly insane.

1. Make friends with as many people as you can. You gotta live with these folks for a few months, and if you work the circuit, you might be seeing them all year round. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by being an arrogant jerk to anyone. Introduce yourself to your neighbors. Wave to people when you drive past them. It’s a lot easier to live with people you can get along with. And gossip gets around fast, so if you make an enemy, you’ve probably made enemies with their friends too. Just… try not to do that. Besides, almost everyone here is exceptionally cool and just as eager to make friends. Go to every party, bonfire, D&D game, and jam session you can.

rarely eats the children

2. That said, don’t assume everyone loves you and wants to protect you until they prove it. There’s some grody people out here. There are people who will lie to you about being a Navy SEAL and people who think they can get in your pants even though they are 35 years older and swimming in unmentionable diseases and people who want to start drama because they’re bored or insecure. Don’t give into it. You can exist in a bubble of positivity. Tell yourself this every day.

3. Certain patrons are going to say superbly weird things to you. They’ll try to convince you they know everything about swordfighting ever because they’ve been in the SCA for eight years. They’ll try to use their post-burrito gastrointestinal distress as a pickup line. (“Hey baby, are there any bathrooms around here besides these port-a-potties?”) You don’t want to be the single-handed reason that a well-meaning patron never returns to the faire. But you don’t want to get caught up in their nonsense either. If you give them too much to work with, they’ll start telling you about their divorce and their dying cat. It’s not your job to be their best friend or their therapist. Be nice, but shut them off when they go too far. I learned a neat trick from my dad (though I’m pretty sure he never meant to teach it to me): when you want to cordially discourage a behavior, just give a polite little closed-lipped smile and don’t say anything. It’s a great way to end a conversation without hurting feelings.

the tormented spirits of gauze

4. Figure out where the hospital, vet, and auto repair shop are. Write it down. Bad stuff happens. Don’t get screwed because you have to get directions from somebody stupid.

5. You can’t keep your place clean. That’s okay. There’s just going to be a lot of mud. But don’t let that affect your personal cleanliness and hygiene. If you’re not sure whether you need a shower, you do. If you can find a shower with a flash heater, use that. It heats the water right as it comes out of the shower head, so you won’t be getting alternately scalded and frozen whenever somebody turns a faucet on. But keep an eye on it because sometimes they explode. If you see water droplets starting to boil around the shower head, turn the water off. Or run for your life. Whichever is faster.

6. You live in a community. Take care of your community members and support their work. Go see their shows and buy their wares when you can. There’s an organization called the RESCU Foundation that helps Ren faire performers and craftspeople with their medical bills when they need it, so donate to them if you can afford it. Oh, and don’t smoke in the community showers.

7. Have a mud costume. Machine-wash that baby.

8. Let it go. Make peace with the fact that some of your stuff is going to get destroyed. Your shoes are going to wear out really fast. Something you love is going to get lost or fall in the mud or get crushed by a horse. It’s just stuff. If you can’t live without it, leave it at home.

you do not want it in your face9. Remember that this is theatre and therefore a hierarchy. Never pull the “Don’t-you-know-who-I-AM” card. For one thing, everybody hates that and it makes you look ridiculous. For another, unless you are the god of the faire (you’re not), you’re going to have to make compromises to make the show go on. If somebody above you asks you to do something, do it now unless you are certain they are wrong, and then ask them respectfully if they’re sure that’s what they meant. Being snarky to your superiors is a great way to get a morning star in the face.

10. Be proud of what you do. You quickly figure out that it’s not glamorous work. But like my costume design professor taught us, theatre is about making the world a more magical place. Even if you play a small role in it, the world is happier and more vibrant and more playful because of what you do. You get to shape people’s beliefs and attitudes. A little boy is going to walk away from the faire this week with the courage to stick up to a bully because he saw a knight do that at the joust. A teenage girl is going to feel beautiful because she gets to dress up in a gown instead of squeezing into skinny jeans. A grown man is going to rediscover his sense of wonder watching his daughter run around in fairy wings chasing bubbles. Your work is worthwhile. Don’t forget it.pretty flower garland

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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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Now that I have a clean, peaceful space to live and work in, my perspective on faire living has shifted a bit. I’m not quite as worried about falling through the floor or turning into a giant bug as I was last week, so I’ve had some time to notice the magical things that drew me here in the first place. I have a bit of an obsession with magic, both of the wizard-y variety and the more mundane, small-moments-with-a-big-impact type. That’s why I want to be involved in the Renaissance faire: it’s a place where magic happens. Sure, it’s magic in that it’s an escape (for the participants and the patrons) from an office job, traffic, responsibility, whatnot. And it’s a place where little kids can see the queen and pirates and fairies and strange men on stilts. But it’s also a place where people do whatever it is that makes them come alive: fire swallowing, jousting, costuming… No one’s in this to make a lot of money or to impress their dad. People are here because they want to be, and all of that creative energy charges the environment.

I walk the adventure dog every morning and evening in the outlying areas of the fairegrounds. We pass a bunch of trailers and tents on our walk, including one big red trailer in particular that is parked a little farther out than all the others. This week I found out why: it’s an elephant trailer! I got to watch the elephant tromp around in his little pen behind the trailer, doing whatever it is that elephants do when they’re in little pens. And for a moment I was utterly amazed that I get to be a part of this community of artisans and jugglers and dancers and people who own a freaking elephant. That’s MAGIC! I spent a lot of my childhood daydreaming and writing stories about exotic lands and people with unusual powers and bright colors and the scent of spices everywhere. And here I am with a freaking elephant in my backyard! So cool!

Of course, lest I get too excited, I got a healthy dose of the not-magic, too. My job in the booth continued to suck. I made only one sale again this weekend, which meant I worked for four days and made only $100. I also got a little disillusioned talking to some of the vendors and performers at the faire. A lot of folks with bad attitudes think that having a bad attitude makes them smarter than everyone else and therefore qualified to be rude to other people. An actual quote from an anonymous former faire employee: “I loved my job at the faire. I just got to insult patrons in Old English all day and they were all too stupid to even know it!” (The irony here being, if you didn’t already catch it, is that Old English wasn’t spoken during the Renaissance. It wasn’t even spoken in Chaucer’s time. The Shakespearean English that we try to use at the faire is in fact early Modern English. And someone’s just too stupid to know it!)

On the other hand, some of the faire folk are so lovely you can’t help but feel like the universe is a friendly place when they’re around. I watched as a clown named Ima Nutt  bent down to look a four-year-old girl dressed as a fairy princess in the eye and have a very sincere conversation with her about stars and sparkles and magic wands and puppies. And I’m certain that little girl left the faire feeling like the things she cared about really mattered and the world wasn’t just full of boring grown-up stuff. Oooh, magic again!

I got to watch the joust on Saturday. That always feels magic for me because Travis was jousting when I met and fell in love with him. So every time he rides out onto the field all armored and majestic, I get the butterflies in the stomach all over again. Sappy, I know, but it’s a conditioned response and I can’t help it. So I sat in the stands with a favor (that’s a ribbon-y thing you give to the knight you’re cheering for) in his colors, and these three young Marines sitting behind me started giving me a hard time. “What’s that thing? Why are you giving it to that guy?” Well, that’s my husband, and I’m rooting for him to win. “Aw, is he actually gonna get stabbed? Your husband’s gonna die!” And so on, throughout the joust, until at some point the swordfighting and explosions became more interesting for them than teasing the married girl. I got to see the magic take over and suddenly they were all standing on their feet, fists pumping in the air, shouting for Travis, “BAD-ASS! BAD-ASS!” Ah, Renaissance faires. Capturing the imaginations of grown men with buzz cuts.

On Sunday it rained again. The wind blew the rain into the booth from the front so that even if you were standing at the back you got drenched. Patrons/potential customers left the faire in droves. I made up my mind to quit the booth job because if I’m not making any money either way, I may as well be able to stay inside when it’s raining, right? Still, I felt nervous and guilty because I didn’t want anyone to take it personally that I was quitting and I certainly didn’t want to make any enemies at the faire. So once the day was over, I slogged my way back to the barn to change into regular clothes before giving the manager my resignation. I peeled off my soggy boots in the hallway and opened the bedroom door to find soft lights, Simon and Garfunkel music playing, a towel and a set of clean, dry, matching clothes laid out for me. My knight in shining armor spent his day trudging through mud and falling off horses in the rain but still took the time to make my day better. MAGIC!

Feeling much drier and happier, I returned to the booth, quit my job without hurting anyone’s feelings, and got a hot plate of food and a pint of the faire’s craft-brewed amber ale to celebrate.

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