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Let Merriment Abound at the Maryland Renaissance Festival

Sep 29, 2016 04:00PM ● By Nicole Gould

Photo by David Roberts

Picture yourself walking toward what seems like a row of never ending trees and your greeted by a large castle topped with flags swaying back and forth in the wind. The closer you get, the sound of music and laughter starts to rumble through the air. The smell of smoked turkey legs crosses under your nose. You finally make your way through the entrance and your eyes widen as you witness more than 200 professional performers, armored knights, jousters, and village characters filling the grounds at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.

Artistic Director Carolyn Spedden, continues to hold one of the biggest responsibilities at the festival, now in its 40th season, finding the entertainment. Each January, applications for the festival start rolling in. From there, Spedden takes time to audition acts coming from all over the world and decides what will work best for the festival.

Although she finds the entertainment, Spedden also creates it as well, writing storylines and characters for performances that will occur throughout the festival grounds. This takes extensive research, rehearsals, and scheduling. But in the end, the result is nothing short of incredible!

This year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and in commemoration, Spedden has developed a program called Streets Spear. This consists of monologues and songs from 37 of his plays that will be performed throughout the site!

The Maryland Renaissance Festival runs Saturdays and Sundays now through October 23rd, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. for nine weekends of thrills, feasting, handmade crafts, entertainment, and merriment.

 

What originally attracted you to the festival and how long have you been a part of it?


Coming out of college I started auditioning for a bunch of shows because I had a degree in theatre, then I auditioned for the festival. It was interesting to me because I liked English history. It was just a potential summer job after college.

I did it for a year and then kept coming back as an actor for a part time job. Then I became the Royal Court Director and then the Entertainment Director was going to leave the show, so I took over from there.

At what age did you start performing for the Renaissance Festival?


I was 21 when I first started. At that point I was interested in acting only. I was more interested in performance art modern theatre. Performance wise, I was looking more toward moving to New York.

One thing that is pretty unusual about the festival is that it attracts a lot of actors that are talented in different areas and allows them to stretch it. Here, if you like to do choreography, stage combat, or write, there’s a way you can flex other artistic muscles.

It wasn’t even until a few years in that I realized I enjoyed directing and writing as well and the organization aspects on how to put a show together. In some ways that ended up being my strongest suit. I still act, but I also write all the material for Shakespeare Scum.

What was it like transitioning from an actor at the festival to working for the festival? Do you still perform at all?


It was really a career thing. As an actor, unless you’re with a rep company, which is rare now a day, you’re usually going from job to job or audition to audition. One thing that was different and very unusual was to get a steady, and nice paycheck in entertainment. That stability was great too.

Once I got married and had a family, one of the troubles was freelance, which can make you travel. It can be very stressful even though its fascinating. My general manager, Jules Smith, has always been very supportive to allow me to pursue personal projects in the winter time when it’s slower and more reasonable times.

I love the festival but it is set in a specific time period. Having that creative escape to do other projects has been really great for me as well.

What is your favorite part of the festival and why?


That’s difficult, I don’t have one favorite. It’s certainly very satisfying to see the real deep affection that some of the patrons have for the fair and come year after year. For some people it’s a very important part of their lives.

As a performer, as I tell our new actors, one thing that’s very different about this venue is if you’re an actor and your here year after year, you will start to develop a following. People can identify and know that character. Musicians, actors, and patrons all feel that affection. That’s a very different feel than most shows because usually you do the show and move on.

For all our performers this is technically just a seasonal job, but the connection they make with the patrons is really long lasting. It’s a really unique element as a performer to see.

If you could choose to live in Renaissance time or current time, which would you choose and why?


Anyone who says they want to live in the past is actually crazy. One, you’d miss your flushable toilet very much. Renaissance actually isn’t my favorite time period.

My favorite is late Victorian Edwardian era. One thing I love, is each year we choose a different year of Henry VIII and I research and write different scripts. This year is 1526 and this is when he starts falling in love with Anne Boleyn.

One thing that’s easy is you don’t have to make anything up, it’s so rich as a soap opera, with twists and turns. I’m always stunned when I see movies change it and make it up.It’s so unbelievable that you don’t need to change the facts.

What is the most challenging/rewarding part of your job


I’d say the most challenging part is that the parameters of the festival don’t change. We won’t change it to a wild west show next year. The trickiest part is to constantly bring in new entertainment and perspective but still retain much of what people love about it.

Sometimes you need to retire acts and bring new ones in. Keep the show fresh. Trickiest balancing act is to make it entertaining and vibrant for people who have seen it 29 times or are brand new. We try to have enough of the familiar to make it feel like they’re coming home, but also have new things for the new generation to latch on to and come back year after year.

The most rewarding part is that this is probably the most diverse audience I can think of at any event. Usually festivals have a demographic. This festival has a demographic that is all over the map. When we say there’s something for everyone, were not kidding.

 

If you could give one reason why someone should come to the festival, what would it be?


I don’t know if most people know, but if you have never been to the festival before what shocks people most is the scale of it. They have no idea it is so big and has so much to do.

I can give you three pieces of advice.

Come early. Ticket booths open at 9:30 a.m. or you can get them online. If you come early, you’ll beat the crowd. Peak arrival time is between 11 a.m.–1 p.m.

Spend a little time on our website to review all the things to do. There is so much offered and what one person loves another person might not. Some people come and don’t realize we have a dramatic storyline that follows the King and Court. If you take time on the website to plan, it’ll maximize the fun while you’re here because it can be very overwhelming.

It is all outdoors so dress for walking. Some people don’t realize it’s in a wooden park like setting. Dress for the weather.