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Friend a Day – Jody Wurl


I’ve known Jody from my earliest days at the Renaissance Festival.  She started – I think – two years after me.

Jody has such a wealth of knowledge about books especially.  I think at least half of the speculative fiction books in my home are here based on her recommendation.  When we were younger, I’d read any book she put in front of me because she always made good suggestions.

She has always struck me as someone who is searching for joy in her life, even when there is sorrow.  She strives to find the best in life and even when she stumbles, she finds a way to return to that place of happiness.

I’ve watched her do so many things well over the years, it is staggering.  She is a great dancer, a great librarian, a great street performer, and now she is working on improv and I’m sure she is going to be great at that.  She probably already is – I just haven’t had a chance to watch her.

Family has always been so important to her.  She is always talking about her sisters and her nieces and always making time for them.  I can tell how much it means to her that her family is part of her life.

When it comes to details, she is so much better than I am.  When I talk about her wealth of knowledge, I can’t even believe how much information she just remembers.  The two of us work in the same department for CONvergence and thank goodness for that because if it was only me, none of the information would be retained.

She’s told me some hard truths over the years.  They weren’t always easy to hear.  I didn’t always react to them well.  But the sign of a good friend is someone who tells you hard truths.  They tell them to you because they care about you and they want to help you grow.

Jody has always been a friend who helped me grow.  I’m lucky that we have remained friends for so long.

Putting it Together – Tipping

I’ve been thinking a lot about tipping as The Dregs have been performing at Siouxland Festival this weekend.

Every act that asks for tips has to figure out a way to convince the audience to dig into their pocket.  Every theater that produces shows has to convince the audience to not only buy a ticket but to hopefully support the theater in other ways because it is almost impossible to meet your budget with ticket sales alone.

Asking for money feels unnatural and it can be difficult but when it comes to tipping a server, most of us do it without even giving it a second thought.

I’ve been a server and I’ve been a performer and here’s what I know: being a performer takes more time and is a lot more difficult.

Serving is a hard job and I completely support tipping a server 15 percent or better.  It is completely fair.  I usually tip 20 percent.

It startles me, though, that people who will almost unconsciously give a server $10 will have difficulty reaching into their pocket to give a musician a dollar.

Contemplate that for a moment.  Think about the amount of work it took someone to learn how to play that instrument.  And then the amount of time it took them to learn to play that song.  In the case of The Dregs, we often wrote the song ourselves.

And someone will watch a musician (or a juggler or a dancer) and find that their effort isn’t worth a dollar.

I don’t resent people who don’t tip performers.  I simply don’t understand them.  I don’t think they get it.

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Friend a Day – Chris Arneson


As I’m currently in South Dakota performing with the Dregs, today seemed like a good day to write about a Dregs super fan.

Chris has been a loyal fan of our band for as long as I can remember.  In one of our earliest incarnations, she came up to us and the end of the year and presented us with a paper bag.  Inside the bag was a beautiful Irish Clauddagh that she had bought for us just because she loved our music.

We hung it in the pub for several years but eventually feared it would be damaged.  At the moment it is in my basement, which is a bad location.

It was the first time anyone gave us a gift just to say “thanks” for entertaining them and it still is a special memory.

Chris comes to most of our shows but she has her priorities.  She misses a few because she is watching her grandchildren.  She misses others because she’s watching the Vikings.  She’s missed a few lately because of health problems.

We always notice when she’s gone because she’s it feels like she’s part of the pub now.

She becomes part of the family for seven weekends a year. She’s one of the people who cries on the last day of the festival because it’s all going away and she isn’t ready.

I think Chris is a naturally cheerful person.  She enjoys coming to the shows because she likes to laugh and she likes to sing along and she feels invited to be a part of the experience.  That’s something that clearly connects with her.

For me, she is a great example of what being an entertainer is all about.  It is making a personal connection with someone you hardly know and making a difference in their lives.

It’s great that we have made a difference to her.  The great thing is that she has also made a difference to us.


Friend a Day – Melissa Kaercher

Photo by Amanda Celeste Jaeger

Photo by Amanda Celeste Jaeger

I knew Melissa before I really knew her.  I ran into her at GE, where we both worked at the time and I recognized her from the Renaissance Festival and CONvergence.  I believe I said something to the effect of “is there anywhere you aren’t?”

That’s a good question for Melissa overall because it does seem like she is everywhere and doing everything.  She attends several conventions a year, she is on a bunch of podcasts (one of them with me), and she is part of no small number of other creative endeavors.  The answer to my question, it would seem, is no.

We first bonded over a mutual love of movies.  She’s seen all of them and I have seen many, but considerably less than her.  She proceeded to provide me with title after title that I “needed” to see and she was, of course, always right.

She’s an expert at navigating social situations.  She makes friends easily and often.  If she’s met anyone she didn’t like, she keeps that information to herself.

Instead, she is constantly sharing her home for any number of events – usually associated with movies.  She truly enjoys sharing her passion with others whenever there is a chance to do so.

When is comes to the projects we work on together, she has a tendency to be the one who keeps the rest of us organized and on task.    She has a knack for that sort of thing.  The Smackdown panel would not take place without her constantly goading Christopher Jones and I to do our jobs.

Melissa also has a knack for design and she’s helped me out on several occasions with art for Vilification Tennis or a logo for one of my many projects (the logo for Geeks Without God is one of hers).

The creativity that she shows in putting together things like Judging a Book or Killer B’s is remarkable.  More remarkable, she does it without any expectation of recognition for what she has done.  Instead, she does it because she thinks it is a fun idea.

The energy that she brings to everything she does is amazing.  I’m glad to know Melissa simply because she is an example of someone who is squeezing everything she can out of life.

She blogs over at Tin Lizard Productions.

Friend a Day – Derek Phillips

10329265_10151990345681734_2533495228007777140_nDerek just turned 60, which freaks me out a little bit because he looks younger than me.  I guess dancing can keep a guy in good shape.

I’ve known Derek as a member of the Morris Dancers for years.  He is typically the person who talks to me to let me know when they are doing their final dance before Vilification Tennis.  I love Derek (and all the Morris dancers) because they know that huge crowd isn’t there to watch them dance but they are grateful for the crowd anyway.  It’s one of the reasons I don’t tolerate the Vil audience bad mouthing the Morris dancers.

I’m going to tell a story about Derek that will, I hope, illuminate part of why I respect him so much.

A few years ago, he was going to do a piece of traditional dance at the Festival talent show.  He had a piece of music he needed played but we weren’t able to find a working CD player for him.  He said he’d have to pull out.  Because he’s such a fine dancer we pushed for him to dance anyway.

So he performed the dance without music.  And it was electrifying.  Because he was electrifying.  The crowd was completely silent while he performed.  Anyone who can manage to shut up a crowd of 400 obnoxious festies is truly gifted.

Derek has always struck me as a gentle individual who celebrates life.  He is always smiling and he is always gracious to others.  He treats everyone with the respect in a way that we should all try to emulate.

He gives his all in his dance.  If you ever have a chance to see him do his solo dance with the Morris dancers, just watch him.  Watch how much he throws into the performance.  It’s a great dance by a great dancer.

I’m grateful to have known Derek and to be in a show that follows him so I’m able to watch him dance.  Happy Birthday, Derek!

Friend a Day – Brian Murphy

Photo by Ryan Haro

Photo by Ryan Haro

I’ve known Brian for almost the entire time I’ve been at the Renaissance Festival.  In that time I’ve played three characters.  I played two of them well.

I can’t even count how many characters Brian has played.

Playing a bunch of different characters isn’t an indication of talent in itself but with Brian, I’m simply trying to indicate that he is remarkably versatile.  He changes things around.  He tries new things.  He enjoys something for a while and then decides it is time to try something else.

No matter what he tries, he does it well.

Brian has always been a poet and many of us have had the opportunity to listen to sonnets and other poems he has written.  His ability to write good poetry is, I think, tied to his love of language.  That also seems to be the reason he’s found so much joy in being a part of the riddle booth these last few years.

Writing a good riddle is all about creative use of language and that is something for which Brian has always had a passion.

When you meet Brian outside of festival, he is typically very quiet and thoughtful.  I would wonder if it surprises people who have met him socially when they see him belting out a speech as Shakespeare on the last day of the festival.  When Brian wants to be heard, he can definitely be heard.

Back when we were both on the production staff for the Festival, I remember that he and I disagreed once or twice.  It was never major but what I remember is how respectful he was when he argued a point.  He argued his point and he never attacked the person.  He always treats others with respect, even when he disagrees with them.

A few years ago, he received the Lee Walker award, which was most deserved.  When I congratulated him later, he admitted that it was an award that he really hoped he would receive.  It was an honest moment that made me very happy that moment had come.

I’m very happy to have known Brian all these years.  I’ve learned a great deal from him and for that I will always be grateful.

Friend a Day – Terry Foy


Photo by Charles Hensley

Terry Foy interviewed me when I tried out for the Renaissance Festival almost thirty years ago.  He taught me how to sing Ramblin’ Rover.  Would I still be at the Renaissance Festival were it not for him?  I doubt it.

With my schedule at the Festival, I only get to see his show once every few years these days.  What impresses me about his work is the way he is subtly updating it every year.  I must have heard the story of Loldigocks and the Bee Threars two dozen times.  There are parts that haven’t change a bit in the time I’ve known him.

And there are other parts that have been altered slightly.

That’s the thing about Terry, he’s never finished with his work.  He recognizes there is always a way he can make his show better.

I got to know him quite well when I was working as his Assistant Artistic Director in Arizona.  It was hard work and I didn’t really know what I was doing at first.  He helped me figure out what I was doing and he smoothed the road for me with people who were already there.

My own life needs meant that was a one year job.  It was a job that taught me a lot and I’ll never forget it.

Terry has been a big supporter of The Dregs and whenever I tell him we are looking for new music, he sends me home with a CD filled with ideas.  We might use one or two of the ideas but I think that has more to do with our work ethic than with his song choices.

I’ve found Terry to be a great role model because he has spent his life as a performer.  He understands how to read an audience and he understands how to refine his show.  If I tell him about a challenge I’m having, he always has a few ideas how to fix it.

Terry is a great performer and an even greater person.  He’s got fantastic gifts as a performer and he’s always willing to share what he knows with others.  I’ll always be grateful for what he’s taught me.

You can like his Zilch the Torysteller page on Facebook and you should!

Friend a Day – George Herman

George had played King Henry for many years before I began working at the Renaissance festival.  I’ve always played lower class characters so our opportunities to interact were limited.

With George, you needed to impress him and that wasn’t easy.  He was a professional and he expected the people sharing the stage with him to be professionals as well.  He raised the bar as far as what you as a performer were expected to do.

Years later, I became Assistant Artistic Director (AAD) at the Arizona Renaissance Festival, where George was also playing the king. He and his court had not had a pleasant relationship with their AAD from the previous year and when they heard another Minnesota person was coming to fill the job, they were concerned.

George, however, stepped in and said to them “don’t worry about it.  I know this guy and he’ll do a good job for us.”

That statement made my job so much easier.

During my time in Arizona, I got to know George a lot better.  When I was trying to take an unscheduled break, I’d drop by his trailer for a Coke.

George loves to tell stories.  He has a lot of them and they are all interesting. When you are sitting in his trailer drinking a Coke, you get the chance to listen to a lot of them.  It really helped me understand him a lot better.  I don’t think I’d really understood him all that well prior to that winter.

He’s been retired for a while now and I don’t see him all that often.  When I do, there’s always a smile and a handshake that reminds me I managed to impress him.  That means something to me because he was never an easy man to impress.

One thing a lot of people don’t know about George is that he is a great painter as well as an actor.  His portrait work is remarkable.

I think most people only knew George as the king and certainly that was a personality he cultivated.  George is more than just King Henry, though, and I’m glad I got to know a little bit of the man beneath the crown.

Friend a Day – Matt Allex


In the old days, we didn’t have amateur shows to try out new performers.  I put them on stage at the festival and waited to see if they would succeed or fail.  Most of the time, it took more than one show to figure out how well they would do.

That’s how Matt Allex joined the vilification tennis cast and unlike many of his fellow performers, he was impressive the first time he set foot on stage and he’s been impressive almost every time since.

What amazes me is knowing that Matt is terrified of stepping on stage and he does it anyway.  The more an idea scares him, the more willing he seems to be.  His ability to rise above his own fear and consistently be one of the best people on stage is an inspiration.

Matt has a remarkable intellect that, I fear, goes unrecognized behind all the dick and fat mom jokes.  He is blunt with an opinion when the direct opinion is required.  He is unflinching in his ability to laugh at himself.

He’s also one of the most emotional people you will meet.  You want to find a guy who cries at the end of movies?  Matt is your guy.  Make fun of him all you want but how many people do you know who are that open with their emotions?

When I was in college, one of my professors talked to me about the “um” meter.  Simply put, if you are speaking in public, pay attention to how many times you say “um.”  Most people say it more than once a minute.

When Matt starts speaking, he hardly says “um” at all.  He can engage in stream of consciousness talking for minutes at a time and he will remain interesting the whole time.  It’s a skill that few people possess and because I always have the “um” meter running on myself, I always notice how frequently he beats me.

Matt will do whatever it takes to make something work.  If he only gives 99% to something, he will view his participation as a failure.

I’m glad Matt walked on to the Vilification Tennis stage that day so many years ago.  My life would be a great deal less interesting if he hadn’t.

Matt has a couple of podcasts you should follow.  He’s co-host of Apropos of Nothing and Horrorshow Hot Dog.  Check them out!

Friend a Day – D’Lis Schmidt

Image from MRF Friends

D’lis isn’t on line at all so there is a decent chance that she will never see this post.  She is not interested in the tools of modern society because she is perfectly content with the tools she already possesses.

I think D’Lis is the only person who calls me “Timothy.”  She calls everyone by their full names whether that is how they prefer to be addressed or not.  I think she views it as a sign of respect.

My birthday falls right in the middle of the Renaissance Festival season.  When I turned 25, it was on a Saturday and as usual, I expected no fanfare because I never expect my birthday to be a big deal when it is on a show day.  Halfway through the day, D’Lis came up to me in character (because when she is on stage she is always in character) and “accidentally” dropped something into my lap.

It was an astrolabe necklace.  I still wear it as part of my costume.

Many years later, D’Lis had been given the Lee Walker Award, which is the highest honor you can receive as an MRF performer, and  I was talking with Mark Lazarchic about her later that evening.  He said she had given the best advice he’d ever gotten as a performer – do something that scares you every day.

These stores about D’Lis are probably the best way to explain how much respect and admiration I have for her.  She is kind and thoughtful but also one of the most devoted performers I’ve ever known.  When she was on stage at the festival, she was on stage.

She was always interacting with the audience.  She was always interacting with other performers as their characters.  She understood what it was to be a street performer in a way that few others really did.

D’Lis also taught me a valuable lesson about standing up and demanding what you feel you are worth.  She was not the sort of person to look at a contract for performance and say it was “good enough.”

She has been off the street for the last few years, working in a shop.  I try to stop by and visit her there but let me tell you this: that is not where she belongs.

She belongs on the street because she brings an amazing game there.

I’m fortunate to have learned from D’Lis.  She’s a great teacher.