I started performing at the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire as a young teenager in 1979. I had already been involved in theatre even at that young age, but tagging along with my older brother to portray a member of Elizabeth I's court in an immersive, interactive environment was a revelation to me.
The group, which later became known as The Guild of St. George, was dedicated to a faithful representation of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and sought through its performance to educate the public about the fascinating world and people of the court.
Our cast members met twice a week in Berkeley for a few months prior to the event. Those meetings would consist of educational lectures about aspects of life in the period, and intensive theatrical training sessions wherein we discussed and explored the backgrounds of our characters and their relationships to one another, and how the complexities of politics, precedence, and patronage figured into them. We'd be trained and drilled thoroughly in the the techniques of improvisation and interactive theatre, and how to bring our knowledge and research into our interactions with one another and our guests.
I was utterly hooked. I was already equipped with many of the skills required, as I didn't see it as much different from playing "make-believe" with my siblings on a summer afternoon, when we'd adopt characters, define our environment, and improvise our adventures. This merely took it a step farther to having an audience. Not one passively seated "out there" beyond the light and proscenium, but up-close and personal. It was a real challenge, especially as you never knew how they'd react, and their reactions determined yours.
Then there was the pleasure of creating the magic that was the Queen's progress. Each day, Her Majesty was brought forth to greet her people in a parade, with great pomp and circumstance, and in a scripted stage performance wherein the local people greeted and entertained her. She'd meet Francis Drake, a perturbed Spanish Ambassador, witness morris dancing and a rustic masque, a courtly dance, and top it all off with a message of love for her people. It was the climax of the day for much of our audience, and being part of binding them with the spell was truly exhilarating (if bloody strenuous in the California sun). This would be followed by a few small appearances where she'd witness some country pastimes, and spend some time with her courtiers.
I then joined the cast of the Great Dickens Christmas Fair and Pickwick Comic Annual in San Francisco (again, tagging along). It was more of the same dynamic, immersive environment, with the added twist of creating a sort of exaggerated view of Dickens London at holiday time. It was the same challenge, but somehow more intense, as the atmosphere was much closer and busier. WIthin a couple of years I was portraying Nicholas Nickleby.
I began to perform at the Southern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire as well, and or a very long time, much of my life revolved around the performing in the South in the Spring and in the North in the Fall. After my apprenticeship playing servant characters, I was offered a role as Lord Burghley's son, Robert, which I portrayed for over a decade, until I went onto a hiatus in the late 90's due to a kind of burnout, and a feeling that I was being callously exploited by the new owners of the faire.
|As a gentleman to the Earl of Derby|
Left to right: Maggie Secara, Rydell Downward, Unnamed, Bruce Roberts, Gail Calicott, Dante Field