Posts Tagged ‘theatre’

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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