Putting it Together – Renaissance Experience

1379241_10151639161925563_2108089669_nI’ve worked at the Minnesota Renaissance for nearly 30 years now.  It has brought me considerable artistic success and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

Yet the lie I’ve told myself over the years is Renaissance Festival experience is not “real” experience.  I think that I perpetuated that lie to myself because that lie had been out there long before I joined the cast.  Renaissance Festival performing isn’t really acting, I thought, it is more like playing.

In a lot of ways, I think that I spent many years avoiding traditional theatre because I didn’t feel as if I’d earned it.  Sure, I had a theatre degree and sure, I’d been in “legitimate” shows.  But for many years, the Festival was all the theater there was for me.

When I got involved in the Fringe Festival, it was because a couple of vilifiers thought it might be fun to try doing our show outside the festival.  OK, I thought.  I could do something like that.

That was 2007.  In the years since, I’ve gotten more involved in theatrical production beyond simply adapting a festival show to a different stage.

I’ve still felt like I was a pretender, though.  When I talk about theatrical experience, I never say “I’ve got 30 years of Renaissance Festival experience.”  I never say that I’ve won a lot of awards from my peers for my work or that I’ve been one of the many people who taught the next generation of performers.

They don’t feel like “real” credentials.  It doesn’t feel like anyone would take them seriously.

Recently, though, I’ve wanted to change that.  I’ve wanted to figure out a way to let the theater community know that the festival is a legitimate place to learn how to be a better performer.

It is easy to look at the seven weekend commitment and, as an actor, think you can do better.  Sure, community theater doesn’t pay you either but the time commitment is far less.

True.  But where else are you expected to perform for a new audience every ten minutes?  Or less?  Did the thing you just did fail?  Refine it and try again.

Did the thing you did work?  Refine it and try again.

I would honestly challenge any performer to try it.  I don’t think that performing at the festival is going to appeal to everyone but I do think the experience that can be gained on the streets is unlike anything else you will find.

I’ve often had it acknowledged that I know how to work a crowd.  Do you know why I know how to work a crowd?  Because if I didn’t learn how to work a crowd, I couldn’t convince them to give me money at the end of a show.

Why can my band make up songs at the drop of a five dollar bill?  Because we said we would do it and people kept asking.

All performance experience is legitimate.  Being good at performing on the Renaissance stage is no less impressive than being good at performing on the Guthrie stage.  There is no less skill involved.

The skills are different but they are compatible.  Learning how to be a good performer on the streets of a festival will help you become a good performer elsewhere.  Being a good performer on the Guthrie will help you be a better performer on the streets of the festival.

The issue, I think, is the idea that the Renaissance festival is not theater.  Well of course it is theater.  It is simply a kind of theater many of us don’t understand.

I look around the Twin Cities theater scene in which I’ve only recently found myself a contributing member and I see how many people came from the Festival and I think we should be louder about it.  We should be prouder about it.  We should be pushing our fellow performers to give it a try if only for a season.

It won’t make you rich.  It won’t make you famous.

But it will make you better.

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About Petsnakereggie

Geek, movie buff, dad, musician, comedian, atheist, liberal and writer. I also really like Taco flavored Doritos.

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