Episode 256: Ren Faire Sword Nerds


Every parent makes questionable choices for their kids in some way, and I think that taking my very young children to the Renaissance Faire in 2002 might have been one of those, but hey, in the grand scheme of things it was probably one of the least harmful. The Ren Faire became a big influence on us in that it gave us so many great ideas for our own productions. We made wonderful friends there and loved the whole time traveling aspect. I have great respect for those actors and I still go sometimes even though it has become big business now. 

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Hello friends. So glad to be back with you guys. I am at my home. At my mom’s home. So I’m back in New York, and I haven’t done a recording since before I came back to Paris – Doris and Mabel. I hope you enjoyed that episode. That was our last episode, and, Ann and I did it together, so I haven’t recorded since then. It’s weird because, you know, I did get in that habit of recording every day for a while there, and then every other day, and so I gotta get back into the groove. Because I miss it. I love it. Yeah, I’m back. 

And I would say I’m home, and I guess that’s true on one level, but not having my own house to return to makes it also feel false on some level. I’m staying at my mom’s like some prodigal college graduate. I didn’t even do that after college. We’ll see how long it lasts, though for now the plan is to spend the winter here. It certainly doesn’t feel like winter. Not that winter starts in October, but it’s practically Halloween – the Christmas decorations are out, for God’s sake – and it was 80 degrees yesterday. That’s nuts! I bought this wonderful green sweater in Ireland that I only wore there so far because Paris and New York were absurdly warm. That only adds to my confusion. 

I did attempt to dive right back into American culture by going to my favorite store here. If you guys have been listening to me, you know what that is. Home Goods! Yep, I know. I’m one of those. Hmm. But I wanted to juuge up my space (as JVN says), so I got a cute quilt top in fall colors and I got some fresh towels. Because the room where I’m staying is a guest room. And guests don’t usually stay for months, unless they are Sheridan Whiteside. Maybe that’s an obscure reference to you? It is from The Man Who Came to Dinner. The only reason I know it is because my brother played that title character in his high school play. So yeah, I always think of that when guests outstay their welcome. Guest rooms don’t usually have too many creature comforts, you know, they have a few, so it makes you feel like good for a couple of days. So it was an easy excuse to indulge my nesting mania. I love to do that. HomeGoods was not a shock, in any case, there are plenty of large department stores in Europe by this point. There didn’t used to be any of those, like 20 years ago. Consumerism has spread like wildfire there. What was an assault on my senses was television. Before I left, my kids and friends and I watched a lot of TV on my 48 inch flat screen like everyone else. That’s even a modest size these days, though it was like opening a movie theater when we bought it. I have been watching movies, though not so often, on my iPad. And that’s, what, like 11 inches long, maybe? So when I went over to my son’s apartment for Indian food and to catch up on the House of the Dragon (because I couldn’t watch HBO overseas), we sat about three feet away from his 58 inch high res flat screen. And my first reaction when the screen came to light was to cringe, literally I shrink back in alarm. Because it’s amazing what we can get used to, you know, but that’s incredible proximity to this huge image. 

Although I’ve been swept along in the tides of progress like everyone else, I have always been someone who, in my heart of hearts, preferred old fashioned things: little country stores instead of malls; cottages instead of large, roomy, modern homes; cotton over polyester; you know, those kinds of things. So back in 2002, as my little family was starting to really fall in love with the very old, that is the Renaissance, we discovered the Renaissance Fair. For me, it was a door opening onto a world of delights. Though I’m told that it was around in the late 70s, when I was a teenager, but somehow I missed it. My friend Liz talks of her days as a teenage wench with a mischievous smile, that hints at all manner of transgressions. I totally would have been a teenage wench, if I had known that that was an option. It’s okay. Better late than never. I can’t remember how we decided to go that summer, perhaps an ad on TV. I think the ad made it sound like just the right place to give us a lot of great ideas for our shows.

So off we went one August Saturday. I’m not sure we even dressed in costumes that first time. We probably didn’t know that patrons did that. Let’s be clear right here, for those of you who do go to Ren Faires now, that in 2002 they had not become the booming family-friendly extravaganza that they are today. In 2002, they were still a fringe enterprise that catered primarily to adults who might possibly have secret fetishes for leather bodices and half exposed breasts, not to mention a few who harbored more colorful fantasies than those. So yes, it was a bit of iffy parenting to take my very young children there. But at least the various shows were marked with ratings at that time, so, if they were not family-friendly, we could make choices there. The patrons themselves were another story, and quite beyond my control as to what my kids would be exposed to, so to speak. I remember one time watching Dakota’s face as a woman walked by leading a man by a leash, who was wearing a leather mask, and leather briefs, and nothing else. The leash was attached to a large silver ring at his waistband. So there was that. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. 

Our first entrance into that world was magical. All the colors of buildings and costumes, and wares for sale. And then the characters in the village who addressed us as ‘Milady’ and ‘Milord’, and seemed to know just how to speak to bring that whole era to sparkling life right in front of us. It was like time traveling! We stared open-mouthed, and we walked slowly trying to take it all in. It was far less crowded in those days. So you didn’t have to jostle for a good seat anywhere – not the joust, any more than any of the small shows. In those days, they were still doing a full Shakespeare play on the forest stage too. And we went to those every year. Some elements were good, and others were disappointing. But we learned later how much each actor was also doing in the story of the village as a whole. Whether they were being one of the Mud brothers, or whether they were being a wench in the singing groups, or whether they were being Robin Hood, they all had multiple, multiple roles. So it was understandable that they couldn’t give their full concentration to that one role in the Shakespeare play. It was like being an Elizabethan actor and having to carry the lines in your head for four or five plays at a time. 

The fights were always terrific, however. And this was true in the chess game as well. We loved the chess game! Fights were our favorite part overall, as they demanded such a high level of skill. And you could really tell that from watching. We had hired a fight choreographer for Romeo and Juliet, so this season of the Children’s Shakespeare Theatre would be the first time we would have the benefit of that level of professional direction. After a few years of attending the New York Renaissance Faire, we also became friends with one of their fight directors and we invited him to work with us later on. He taught some wonderful classes and the kids loved working with him. His name was Nate. 

In another life, had I known that such a thing was an option. I might have tried to become a fight director. As it was, Dakota and I became students of medieval weaponry, and we started collecting beautiful, unique pieces, which were safe for stage combat and that we could use in our shows. We learned that just because a weapon is pretty doesn’t mean that you can use it on stage because if they get hit hard against each other, lesser quality weapons will splinter off or break and then that’s when they become dangerous. So we bought these beautiful full steel broadswords and daggers and stuff from this wonderful company called Starfire Swords. We had a lot of their weapons and we always beelined for their little stand every time we went to the fair. Yeah, we’re weapon nerds. It’s weird. At least we don’t collect guns, you know? What can I say? Dakota still has many of those, but less of them that he actually hangs on the walls in his bedroom as, you know, potential lady friends might get some weird ideas about who he is from that sort of decor. Yeah. We’ve gotten beyond that.

Another thing we loved about the renaissance fairs was the music. We loved hearing anything from like a harp player all by themselves – that was just beautiful – to things that were less sublime, let’s say but extremely entertaining. We fell in love with this one group called Three Pints Shy. Their specialty was Irish drinking songs. Again, a bit of questionable parenting, but what can I say? You know, they were the kind of songs that demanded audience participation, which was fun. So you were cool if you knew the answers. You know we knew the responses, right? Let’s see: [sings] “The old black rum’s got a hold on me like a dog wrapped around my leg.” And then our answer was supposed to be “Ruff, ruff!” And that was just goofy, very, very fun. We befriended those guys as well, because we were such  weirdos that we went to all of their shows and sat in the front and yelled, and sang and stuff. And so they’re like, “Hey, we like these people! They’re funny!”

So the Renaissance Fair would end up shaping who I was over the next 10 years or so, because it really embodied and embraced all of the things that I loved about acting, and about being spontaneous and in the moment, and reacting off of people and acting without a fourth wall, and really involving the audience in your performance. I loved that so much, and Renaissance Fair actors are masters of that kind of thing. So there was so much to learn for us in all kinds of places. And I’m going to start telling you more about my development as an actor to which I was coming around very late, and only in a community way. But it was such a fulfillment of something that I had longed to do for a very long time. I look forward to taking that journey with you. And I’ll see you next time. Thanks for being here.

Published by dianathebard

Podcasting about growing up in the Hudson Valley in the 60s and 70s, falling in love, raising kids, getting divorced and being a free and creative world traveler!

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