Tag Archive | Minnesota Renaissance Festival

Friend a Day – Carr Hagerman

Photo by Burn & Brew

Photo by Burn & Brew

I’ve known of Carr far longer than I’ve actually known him.  When I started at the Renaissance Festival thirty years ago, the Ratcatcher was one of the most well-known street characters anywhere.

I didn’t know him as a person then.  I knew him as an icon.  He was what all of us were trying to be, if only just a little bit.

Many years later, Carr was the Artistic Director of the festival and he had created what can be fairly called a lifetime achievement award.  I was the third recipient of the award and he was the person who presented it to me.  It was a surreal moment.  I was recognized for my contributions to the festival by someone who was a legend long before I ever started making them.

A few years after that, I made a push to present that award to Carr.  It seemed wrong to me that he should be excluded from consideration due to the technicality that he created the award.

Carr is a passionate man.  He has so many passions, it is hard to see how he manages to keep track of them all.  He is a speaker, a photographer, a director, a political activist, an actor, and a great deal more.

The festival is a world of challenges and frequently a world of extreme negativity.  Everyone thinks they could do things better.  Most of them are right.

But a focus on the negative can be crippling.  Carr is so relentlessly positive about the experience that he reminds all of us why we are doing this in the first place.  We are doing it for the love of the experience.  At some level, that love of the experience outweighs all of the negative stuff.

His talent is to find a way to keep a huge cast focused on the good things.  He doesn’t pretend the bad things aren’t there.  He simply reminds us that they can’t be the most important thing.  Otherwise, why are we there?

Carr and I don’t always agree. Yet I have the utmost respect for him because he disagrees with me without ever devaluing my opinion.

I know who Carr is as a person now.  That’s better than being an icon.  Icons aren’t real.

Friend a Day – Tish Cassidy


Photo by Sunny Wylde

I got a little bit behind on my Friend a Day posts as CONvergence got into full swing.

Today’s friend is a person I hadn’t expected to write about because I didn’t know her that well.  Her passing over CONvergence weekend reminded me that so many people touch our lives and we ought to take a few moments to show gratitude for those moments.

I first met Tish Cassidy through the Renaissance Festival.  She was one of many fellow performers I didn’t know that well.  She always had a smile on her face, which is an endearing trait in almost anyone.

She dated a roommate for a little while and spent a lot of time in our house.  She was very charming and chatty.  When the relationship ended, we didn’t see much of her for a while.

Later, she began to work with CONvergence and was one of the people tapped to take over the con when a new organizational model was adopted.  That model was a disaster but Tish was a fighter.  She and I had more than one conversation in which I saw her desire to find a way to make the whole thing work.

She loved the convention and while she was frustrated with the direction it was going, she was trying to do everything in her power to fix things.  The ship was flagging a little bit but Tish (and the people she worked with) was working as hard as she could to keep it afloat.

It is perhaps appropriate, then, that her last memories would be of the convention she loved.  From my last few encounters with her, I could see she was ill.  It turns out she was seriously ill.  She collapsed at the convention on Saturday night and expired Sunday morning.

Her sudden loss cast a pall over the weekend, which was unavoidable.  I at least took comfort in the fact that she died doing something she loved surrounded by people she loved and who loved her.

I didn’t know her that well so my sense of loss is not as great as some of my friends.  But I knew her.  Her life touched mine.  We lose friends all the time and for all sorts of reasons.  It’s worth appreciating them while they are around.

Friend a Day – Kae Caston


I’ve known Kae for years because she has been a patron at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.  She’s the patron everyone loves because she loves everyone.

Kae finally got a digital camera a few years ago but before then, she would take hundreds of pictures of cast members every year.  Over the first few weekends of the new season, she would hand out huge bundles of pictures to each of us.  It was one of the most selfless and thoughtful acts that anyone had ever done and she did it because she wanted to give something back.

She attends the Feast of Fantasy several times a year but my schedule is such that I rarely see her there.  When I do, I always say hello.

The thing about Kae is she always has a smile on her face.  She loves watching us perform and she couldn’t hide it even if she wanted to.

When we put in all that time at the festival every year, it is people like Kae who make that time worthwhile.  You look at her smile and you know that you are doing something good.  You change at least that life every year.

The reasons for Kae’s love of the festival are a little sad but what is important is that she has turned that sadness into something that gives happiness to so many, including herself.  I don’t think it is really a new season until I’ve seen Kae.  She is one of the signs of fall.

I’ve got piles of pictures from Kae.  I don’t look at them very often.  I really should because they are a great reminder that for all the years I’ve been doing the festival, I’ve been doing it for people like Kae.  I’ve been doing it for those people who come to our show, rain or shine, and find joy in what we create.

There will always be audience members like Kae and I will always be grateful for them.

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 – 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!

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.

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