I work for the street cast of a local Renaissance festival that is preparing for our spring show now. And many of us like to keep logs of things we learned over the weekends as they go by, called a W(hat) I L(earned). I’ll often add anecdotes of fun stories or things I’d like to remember when looking back later at the end of mine.
For our dress rehearsal weekend, we do a few different things. We have something we call Wallaby Day, which is a cast-only final rehearsal of our cast-only shows. We also have graduation, where we get badges and t-shirts and the like, plus a costume parade to show everyone our new costumes and give one more rundown of everyone’s names and faces, set to silly music. Plus Character Dinner Saturday night and a preview to some of our patrons.
Character Dinner is a cast-only potluck dinner where we spent several hours after workshops completely in character and welcome the visitors to the village. These are court characters, our sailors, our gyptians, any unaffiliated foreign visitors as well. It’s something that I, as well as many other cast members, think on quite fondly because of the immersive quality of it, and also the magic of being on site in character after dark–not something that happens often.
- Faith is quite different during Character Dinner than the run of the festival. The reason being that this is the formal welcome to those visiting the festival, and she feels responsible for them feeling welcomed. Moreso this year than ever before, and the pressure she feels to do that gave her quite a lot of anxiety when interacting with the visiting nobility.
- Her development into a leader is coming along well. Despite her misgivings, she did do a good job when she was actively doing it, of looking after her villagers and her guests. She was too intimidated to speak to Princess Mary or Queen Margaret, but then circumstances demanded she speak with Her Majesty, and Faith did it without any hesitation. She also so thoroughly bullied Emma Fysher into eating that the poor girl came up later and asked permission to get back to work.
- Her anxiety is interesting to me because it doesn’t feel right even to her. She’s a worrier, but not particularly anxious most of the time. Only when interacting with those she felt particular pressure that they enjoy themselves–the royalty and the visiting nobility by far were in this group–did she turn into a bit of a stammering, stumbling ball of nerves. She was unsure with the English nobility, and a bit off balance around the gyptians because she felt she was supposed to behave a bit differently to them than usual, but not sure how exactly to be different. But once she thought she had done enough to make herself seen as a hostess, she drew back. Everyone was enjoying themselves, and she wouldn’t have to deal with that uncomfortable twisting in her stomach if she stayed back here and watched, so she did.
- During these times, I heavily felt the absence of her close friends, particularly Edith and Penny. Faith wanted someone to run to and relax and almost be a kid for a while with, but also didn’t. It felt unprofessional to her, so she was glad her friends weren’t there because she would’ve done it anyway. I wanted them to be there because I spent a fair chunk of the evening watching others instead of interacting. Because there is no audience, this is the one time of the year I allow my character to do exactly what they want instead of forcing Character of the Moment so that she does something. It helps the character be as solid as possible for the upcoming season, but does occasionally lead to moments like this. She was content, and it was the best thing for the development of her character, but I was antsy sometimes.
- Of the nobility, Faith feels most comfortable with Lord Exeter. That doesn’t mean she feels comfortable with him, though.
Strangely, the most comfortable she feels with someone titled is Captain Fairfield (he’s technically Baron of Susserland, though he doesn’t rely on that title much and rarely calls it to attention, so Faith doesn’t loop him in with other nobles). Faith was pulled aside several times by different characters to get her to open up about why she was being squirrely and distant. She was honest with Drew, a fellow Council member and a family friend, but when the Captain demanded to know why she was so nervous, it all fell out of her mouth in a much more Faith and straightforward way, almost challenging.
- I believe Faith is on the right track. I wasn’t sure of that until this weekend, but I am now.
- Dialect is hard for me during workshops. Jumping in and out of character means the way I speak and the way Faith speaks get blended. Once Character Dinner hit, and Faith could be herself longer than five minutes, her dialect fell right out of her face like it always did.
- Learned last week, but cemented now. I am drawn to “low-percentage choices.” These are choices that take more work to make successful. For example–a white girl like me playing a Japanese character. I want to do it because I think it’s interesting, because I’ve spent so much time with that culture, and because I believe I can do it successfully without resorting to stereotypes and bring a real Japanese person to the lanes. I have all this knowledge and experience, I want to use it in a fun, theatrical arena that lets me play with the parts of Japanese culture that they romanticize as much as we do.
Also, we get Japanese people out at the faire sometimes, and they got a HUGE kick out of seeing a samurai a few years ago. It’s a nod that we see you, we pay attention to you, and we think you’re interesting.
- I’m not at all confident I’ll ever get to play the low-percentage choices that have settled deep in my heart. But I’ve now communicated these desires to some people that are relevant to whether or not it ever happens. It doesn’t mean I’ll get to. But it does mean I’ve made a verbal promise to try, and that’ll anchor me so I don’t talk myself out of even proposing the ideas.
- I do not enjoy having no idea what to expect from something I’m expected to do.
Let me explain. I like surprises–those are fun. They are done to me.
I like left turns–those are fun. They are done to me and in a wider context that guides the possible ways I can respond.
I like improv–that’s fun. There are scenarios and characters and established parameters around which we all play, and which guide me in ways I’m expected to act and respond.
If there are parameters and a scenario, I need to be let in on them before I feel comfortable helping. “It’s improv” is not an explanation. That’s a tool I already knew I’d need.
- Give me a reason that I and others find fun for me to stomp off into a lake and get my feet wet, and I won’t regret said wet feet all day.
It’s still alarming to take my shoe off and see a puddle of water spreading from my sock when I put my foot down. I thought I was kidding when I said I had half a glass of water in that shoe.
- All my expectations for how my cast would respond and how we would move forward after some radical changes occurred between weekends were completely justified.
Princess Mary is my hero.
A few sharp character moments from Character Dinner.
The first came from Emma Fysher, a barmaid. She was going around the tables, offering small mead to the villagers to drink. Someone near me commented that she hadn’t seen Emma eat. So, we asked her, and she said she was busy serving. I stood up and said, “Emma Fysher, if I have to take that bottle from you and serve myself so you will sit down and eat something, I will.” She stared at me for a beat, then hunched down, said, “Yes ma’am,” and scurried off to get food.
Even better: she came back with a bowl and asked for my approval over how much she was eating.
Even even better: she came back later with her half-eaten bowl and an explanation of everything she had put in her face and asked permission to get back to serving.
A comment was made that I channel my mother quite well.
To contrast that moment, and providing an interesting seesaw between the respect of her position and the invisibility of her newness to it came when the nobility began to filter over to our side. Lord Exeter stepped up and asked for “your mayor or someone of authority.” I was standing approximately three feet from him, in full view, with my Council sash in stark contrast to my costume underneath, but was apparently invisible. He looked over my head and around the room. Someone pointed out the mayor, and Exeter went that way. Faith felt very small for a few minutes.
Pushing the seesaw back to what she’ll grow into was another moment later, when Mark Follywoll went running by. He’s the bailiff and also on the Council, so when Faith sees him running, she assumes a problem. I followed him in time to see him pick up his kicking and screaming cousin and carrying her out of a group. They had an argument, then I asked what happened, and this was the story:
Jocelyn had gotten her hands on a turnip that had carved into it “THOU ART NEXT” and was playing catch with it. Harmless if you know her (sweet, enthusiastic girl who would cry if told she’d accidentally squished a fly), but she was playing catch with visiting nobility. There is an implied threat in there if you don’t have the context of her innocence. And Jocelyn had played this game with both Princess Mary and Queen Margaret.
Mark and I both tried to explain the way this could be viewed while making it clear we knew what she meant, but Jocelyn was having none of it. She took off at the first opportunity, and Mark ran off after her. He didn’t seem to be catching her, though, so Faith came up with a different solution.
She went to Queen Margaret and explained the whole thing.
Her Majesty was confused but gracious, and said she’d seen no threat in the actions herself. Faith was grateful, but continued pressing the matter to explain that it wasn’t so much that anyone had taken offense yet, but that someone might, and we wished for her to understand there was no offense meant should someone feel threatened.
My favorite part was when Mark went by, heard he was being talked about, and paused. And when he saw I had it in hand, he tried to leave, but Queen Margaret said calmly, “You have not been dismissed. We are still discussing you.” Then turned back to me and asked me to go on. I think Mark went white.
After that happened, Mark and I stepped aside and caught our breath over the whole thing. Jocelyn could do that all she wished now, and the possible ramifications of death by execution were already handled. He was still freaking out, but extremely grateful for Faith’s solution.
I had an actor-affirming moment at the first rehearsal of our Town Council show. After providing someone to state a complaint, I found myself with nothing to do. One thing we like to do is a jury to decide the problem, and I’d found a single member of the jury already, but ran out of time. So, while they debated, I filtered through the crowd and asked if people had opinions, then named them part of my jury. When the Master Bailiff (aforementioned Mark from the previous story) stated that they were ready for a jury, I stepped up and said, “Jury assemble!” and five people (shoulda been six, but I think one of them went to the bathroom at the wrong time despite agreeing to be a juror, pff) stepped up and formed a clump.
Mark paused, stared at me in open shock, then said, “That was amazing. Do that every time.”
The other great moment of that rehearsal, though mostly just a fun story, came with the final complaint–levied at me for having bread that was too expensive. I laid into her, demanding if she knew how much everything cost, making a full list and everything about what went into making bread, and she just shrugged. Drew stepped up and advised her on the universal defense: start crying. At which point, the two professional mourners we had in the audience rushed on stage to join her, creating a block of crying women.
After milking how bad a person Faith was for making them cry, they demanded if she had a defense. And Faith wailed, “This is my first year doing this job!” in such a pathetic way that not only did the audience “aw,” but the mourners and the original complainer all ran over to her side to join her crying. Faith got pointers on how to pout from the mourners, and the tribunal announced she was to be given leniency for her first year on the job. We hugged it out.
I now have my badge, and at graduation there were voices crying “welcome home” in addition to the cheering we gave everyone for making it through workshops. Ground feels more solid now. Kind of funny considering how much of the Scarborough grounds were water on Sunday.