Hullo, Gentle Readers. Well, as I write this, it’s two days before the Silver Kingdom Renaissance Festival. If you have the bandwidth this Father’s Day weekend, and you’ve ever wondered what I, your GGG, sounds like when he sings, come check it out in Charlton, MA. You can find details here. End of obligatory plug. If you’re looking for me, you can see what I look like in the picture attached to this article. I’m the fat, loud one in the blue muffin hat with the bedraggled blue plume.
I thought some of you might wonder about the goings-on behind the scenes of such an endeavor, and I thought that I would be the perfect person to elucidate. Here then are some of my stories of the ups and downs that go into making such a production happen.
Weather Tis Nobler in the Mind…
The first enemy of any outdoor endeavor is weather. Our Faire happens in June, so we tend to have one of two things: blisteringly hot sunshine or monsoons.
I’m not joking. The first Silver Kingdom Festival was so heavily rained on that several vendor tents were virtually washed away! And since then, it’s been a tradition to hope for sun…but not too much sun. We’ve lost a few patrons to heat prostration.
Knock on wood, this weekend is supposed to be sunny, but cool. I’m not holding my breath, because it would be a first if we had perfect weather.
The Vagaries of Real Life
When I sing, my name is Will deCanta, and my partner in musical crime is Rowan deKatherine (a.k.a. my buddy Rourkie). Being blessed with a very understanding husband (who is now, actually, part of the show himself), I’m generally able to attend the Faire with no difficulties. Sadly, Rowan’s family just doesn’t seem to get the idea that he has a life here in Massachusetts (they’re in Connecticut), so they frequently make large, sweeping plans for him…without telling him until a week or two in advance.
This has resulted in a number of times when my act has gone solo, or where I’ve paired up with other bards instead. Whether it’s Father’s Day, a family graduation party, or any other event ever, Rowan finds himself co-opted with alarming frequency.
This year, Rowan’s schedule is wide-open…so of course, everyone’s else’s went haywire. We’d initially planned the story around a double royal wedding, as the two princesses, Penelope and Katherine, would marry the two gentles they were betrothed to at last faire…after all manner of obstacles, of course. True love would win out. Love conquers all!
Except Real Life, that is.
Princess Penelope got scheduled to work that weekend, and Princess Katherine moved to California a couple of weeks ago, so, while she intends to attend in the future, she can’t be there this time.
No problem! We wrote a new storyline…except now, two days before the Faire, we’ve found out that one of the principals of the new storyline may not be able to make it, because of a family emergency.
Ah well. That’s theater.
Never Work with Children or Animals
W. C. Fields coined the famous phrase above, and my performances have been blissfully free of animal encounters. I have, however, had to work with children…as well as people who were acting childishly.
One of my favorite things to do at the Faire is to sing some pretty lewd songs that we’ve come to enjoy singing. None of them have any words stronger than “whore” (*gasp!*), but they can allude to some pretty racy stuff. As a result, Rowan and I try to save the bawdy stuff for when there are no kids in evidence. Sadly, that’s not always possible, and, actually, most parents seem to think it’s pretty funny. No one’s complained to us yet, at least.
I remember one time, we looked around and there were no kids anywhere nearby, so we went into a saucy little ditty called “The Chandler’s Wife”. If you don’t know this song, it alludes to a man who discovers that the wife of the local candle-maker is a cuckold, and who invites him to participate as well. However, to avoid any offense, any reference to the actual act of…cuckoldry…is omitted, and, instead, we clap three times to denote it. For example, we sing, “And as I was about to leave, I turned around instead, for I heard the sound of a right above me head.” The audience gets the joke pretty quickly, and we have a good time.
So, about thirty seconds after we launched into it, a lad of about nine came up and sat in the audience. I figured there was no great harm, so we proceeded through the song. I wondered what he made of it, but I didn’t have to wonder long. As soon as we were through, he grinned at us and said, “You were singing about something dirty.”
I laughed. “And how do you figure that?”
He smirked. “Because you wouldn’t say what was going on.”
What could I say? He had me.
A lot of people enjoy the Will and Rowan routine, and they tell us that we’re more fun to watch than a lot of Faire acts. Surprisingly, there’s one big reason for that…with a handful of exceptions, and very much unlike most Faire acts, we have no set patter or routine. Each and every show is pretty much improvised from beginning to end.
We can get away with this because Rowan and I have been performing together for ten years, and we have pretty good stage chemistry. Our general routine is that I’m the Master Bard, and Rowan is my Junior Bard, and a lot of humor comes out of me teasing him, or him showing me up on something. For example, we sing the traditional song “Wild Rover.” At almost the very end, we both hit a note, and we hold it…for as long as we can. It’s become a competition between us (and has spread out to others who sing with us) to see who can sustain the note the longest. I’m proud to say that it’s usually me. Whoever wins, we engage in some quick teasing, and it seems like we’ve just stopped the song, but then, watching each other’s body language, we launch back into the song simultaneously and finish it. It’s a big hit, and people love to see who’s going to win this time.
Another favorite piece is when we sing “A Drop of Nelson’s Blood”. I have a long, rambling introduction, then we hop into the song. If you don’t know the song, the basic formula is to sing, “A drop of Nelson’s blood wouldn’t do us any harm. No a drop of Nelson’s blood wouldn’t do us any harm. A drop of Nelson’s blood wouldn’t do us any harm. And we’ll all hang on behind.” And then the chorus. What we do now is to go to the audience after the first two verses and ask for suggestions on other things that won’t do us any harm. We then try to fit what they suggest into the song’s meter, and I create a new verse to replace, “And we’ll all hang on behind.” I pride myself on being quick-witted enough to come up with something in that short time I have that’ll make people laugh. We must be pretty good…people ask for it often, and I’ve been told, “Oh, we found Nelson’s Blood on a CD. I was so disappointed! Your version is so funny!” The trouble is, every Nelson’s Blood is unique, so, short of doing a live CD, it’d be hard for us to capture what we have on that song.
Performing at, and now writing and running, a Renaissance Faire is something I dreamed about as a kid. Yes, it’s a headache, and yes, the weather hates us, and yes, everything falls apart, but, somehow, I always end up loving the actual doing of it, and, somehow, it all happens. As Geoffrey Rush said in Shakespeare in Love, “It’s a mystery!”
But it’s a mystery I love, and I’m thankful to be able to make everyone’s Faire a little more fun.
So get out there, find a local Faire, and respect that these folks are doing a lot of work to make your life, just for a day, perhaps, a tiny bit more amazing.