Tag Archives: renaissance faire

Swords, Flash, and Glamour

Many of y’all know I’m a performer at the New York Renaissance Faire. In addition to directing, singing, dancing, and acting as part of the Robin Hood scenario, I’m also a stage combatant.

tisme

*photo credit: Richard Jones*

Straight up: it’s beyond cool. Tiny Kelly grew up on fantasy novels, stories where swords were wielded in the name of justice/moving the plot along. Tiny Kelly dreamt* of learning to swing steel, all the while realizing that chances of actually learning to do so were very, VERY slim**. Then Ren Faire came into my life, and I met people who were exceedingly adept in stage combat, and I lucked into the chance to actually live my childhood dreams. The full story is rather more nuanced than that, but we’ll save that for another day.

Fast forward to now, my fifteenth (non-consecutive) year of performing. In addition to performing, I’m now a director and head of our Fighters Guild. I work with incredibly gifted and driven Fight Choreographers and Captains. Their hard work, along with that of our combatants, makes what we do look easy.

It’s not. It’s a slog. It’s frustrating. This is a stunt show. This is physical storytelling. Safety is paramount, but there are injuries. Story is supremely important, but there are blocks. Our stages are swathes of lawn or sand, without shelter or shade. Rain or shine, we are there, doing our damnedest. We put in extra rehearsal weekends: 8+ hours of full fight days. We show up among the earliest to the costume shop to change, grab weapons, run fights. We are the last to leave after a full performance day: weapons have to be transported back from the grounds, and then sanded, oiled, stowed away.

rapiers

But damn if our folks don’t make it look amazing, even on those hot and humid and soul-sapping days. Damn if they don’t inspire others to want to be a part of it. And exhausting though it may be, I am honored beyond all measure that I get to be a part of it myself.

Tiny Kelly would expect no less.

*literally: I had recurring dreams of entering a sword dancer’s circle (ta, Jennifer Roberson!), and of riding my magical white horse while brandishing a gorgeous blade (credit: Mercedes Lackey)

**tiny Wisconsin town, followed by tiny Connecticut town, offered zero opportunity

 

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Ren Faire rehearsals make for long days. I was on site at the extra-early hour of 8am (aborted ukulele lesson; I used the time to practice my own music and stretch) and didn’t leave until 6pm*. Spent the day in fight choreography, blocking, running scenes, running fights. Because my role is active, and because I need to be mindful of footwear, my pre-‘fully costumed attire’ is as practical as I can make it: workout leggings, boots, long tank top.

I mention all of this because, well…

Stopped at the store on my way home**.  A cashier commented on my ensemble. “Love the boots. Cool look!” And then… and then… “Ugly wallet, though. Totally ruins the entire look.”

First of all, it’s my Loungefly R2D2 wallet.

stwa0018_front

Look at that prettiness! LOOK!

Secondly, what?

“It’s so nerdy.”

I smiled, but only because I wasn’t sure what else to do. It’s my default. I am not a badass. “You know why I’m dressed this way? Because I just spent ten hours at the Renaissance Faire. I swing swords and pretend to be part of the Robin Hood Band.” Pause. “There is nothing about me that is not nerdy.”

“Oh,” the cashier said after a moment. “I thought you were a biker.”

And nothing against bikers, because I’m certain you’re lovely/imposing/whatever it is that makes you feel amazing, but really? I’m perfectly happy to be with my tribe of improvisational beasts, of singers, of dancers, of acrobats, of archers, of crafters and poets and Shakespearean scholars and swordsmen.

Yeah, we’re nerdy. And we make it look damned good.

barbariantribe

*hours for performance days are even longer. super glamorous, y’all!
**my actors work hard; they deserve cookies, and I most certainly wasn’t going to have time to bake tonight.

Sobbing through the smile, smiling through the sobs

I’m a crier. On a good day*, any number of things will bring me to tears: the adorableness of my kitties, a story on NPR, the sight of a little girl with her mom, a particular song, any old song, the Moth podcast, a lost bracelet, rain, wind, sunshine, autumn leaves, ice cream. Tears of sorrow, tears of joy, tears of frustration: crying is my go-to method of expression.

autumnleaves

This weekend is a rough one; going forth I expect it always will be. Joy and sorrow are to be found in equal measure. Nine years ago tomorrow, September 26th, my dad passed away. It was not unexpected; he’d been ill and in decline for some time. Being prepared made it no easier. The date also marked my parents’ wedding anniversary. This year would’ve been their 53rd.

Joy has been restored to that date in great measure, though, as my sister chose it for her wedding. Tomorrow she celebrates her first full year of marriage, and I could not be happier.

kerrydylankelly
We lost mom very suddenly a year ago this March, and while this time of year is not specifically tied to that, it was always important to our family. In addition to my folks’ anniversary, both of their birthdays fell within a week: Dad on the 28th, Mom on October 5th. My own anniversary falls on the 27th. 18 years in, and I’m feeling like we crazy kids just might make it.
kellydon

Then there’s the Renaissance Faire.We’ve been at it every weekend since the end of May, and many of us put in time before that, as well as weekdays throughout. I’ve never had so many crazy stress dreams as I did this season. I fretted over every scene, fight, weapon, cast member, every minute detail. I was exhausted and nervous and full of self-doubt. Fortunately, I was surrounded by an amazing group of performers, combatants, choreographers, and friends. All of the stress** faded away once we opened, and the last eight weekends have been both challenge and delight.

*photo credit: Richard Jones*

*photo credit: Richard Jones*

Two days remain, and here’s where the tears threaten in earnest.

Physically, I’m done. I’m ready for a rest (though none is in sight until the end of October because two weekends at MDRF, travel to Florida, uke gig, work: all good things, but yeesh). Emotionally, I want to keep going. I want to swing swords and be heroic, to sing and laugh and flit through the woods. I want to be someone who’s cooler than I’ll ever be, to make theatre with people who inspire me, make me strive to be better. I’m not ready to let the Greenwood fade into the mist.

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Give me a week or three. I’ll be fine, excited to have time to read, to work out, to hike, to cook, to stack firewood for the coming winter. For now, though, I’m going to cry. Happy, sad, nostalgic, hopeful: every tear will be all of those.

* Full disclosure: the week before ladytimes is the worst. Everything is filtered through a lens of hormones and ridiculousness. I can see it, I acknowledge it, I feel it all the same.
** well, most of it.

Q is for Querencia: Blogging From A to Z


Q
querencia

I am drawn to this notion, this beautiful belief that there is a place where you are most rooted to your true self. The difficulty for me, without serious tear-me-down-to-my-base-elements introspection*, is pinpointing a single location. My strengths are varied, and so are my touchstones.

As a girl in Wisconsin, it was the little patch of woods next to my house. I knew each stone. I knew the sweet scent of the meadow grass, freshly cut and drying in the sun. I knew every tree, and I would talk to them for hours. That was where I lived in imagination, walked in story, pretending to be a sword-wielding princess/adventurer/librarian.

It was, too, Clark’s Farm. There I strode happily and fearlessly (tiny as I was back in the day) amid ramshackle barns, shady workers, and a paddock full of moderately trained horses, and rode with nothing more than a halter and lead line on the trails and snowmobile tracks.

Later, in early adulthood, it was on top of a mountain**, sitting in the sun and looking out over the wooded valley with a snack in my backpack and a notebook and pen in hand. Shortly after, it was on stage in any number of theatres: when I was in that space, I was most me, even as I was working to inhabit someone else. I’ve since found other mountains, other woods, and spending time there remains as vital to me as breathing. A different overlook is my go-to in savasana, though in the real world a ukulele has joined my snack and writing implements. My gym is decidedly a nexus of strength and personal empowerment. There, I am strong. I am knowledgeable. I am encouraging and (she demurred) some small manner of inspirational.

In my late twenties, it was 35 acres in the Hudson Valley: an erstwhile botanical garden turned portal to the another place and time (see my letter G blog post). My connection to the New York Renaissance Faire was forged through a decade of literal blood, sweat and tears. Ten years worth of training in various disciplines: improvisational acting, singing, dancing, sword fighting, jousting. It was there I met my love, there I made incredible friendships, there I got to be a hero. I got to live my stories, not just imagine them.

People and places change, though; the energies ebb and flow. I left NYRF in an abysmal ebb, figuring I was done forever. But here’s the thing about querencia: there’s a much more visceral meaning, borne of the brutality of bullfighting. “It is believed that in the midst of a fight, a bull can find his own area of safety in the arena. There he can reclaim his strength and power. This place and inner state are called his querencia. As long as the bull remains enraged and reactive, the matador is in charge. Yet when he finds querencia, he gathers his strength and loses his fear. From the matador’s perspective, at this point, the bull is truly dangerous, for he has tapped into his power.” ~Tara Brach, Ph.D

You can’t go home again… except for when you can. Seven seasons after I’d left, I came back once more. The moment I began rehearsals in NYC, I sensed things might be all right. The moment I set foot on the grounds, I knew I was home once more. No longer Maid Marian, rather Jenny Wren. Still a hero. Still a fighter. Still a singer, a dancer, a friend. The best me I’ll ever be, in the heart of the truest magic I’ve ever known.

There are new challenges in the performance season to come, but it’s all good. I will gather my strength. I will lose my fear. I will tap into my power, dammit. This is my querencia, where I am most me. I will be myself, I will be happy, I will be focused and mighty and I will be with people who are every bit as amazing.

rawr!

* not ready for that. not yet. someday, perhaps.

** rolling hill to anyone outside of Connecticut; don’t deny us our excitement

P is for Pirate: Blogging from A to Z

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I’m exhausted, you guys. It was a long day of singing, playing, drinking beer, and eating guacamole: the life of a pirate. A singing pirate. A Crimson Pirate.

The band grew out of a stunt show at the New York Renaissance Faire back in ’96. There have been different lineups over the years, but the current incarnation is a group of six. We’ve got unconventional but solid instrumentation (concertina, mandolin, ukulele, lots of percussion, cowbell) and tight arrangements with nicely layered harmonies. Our repertoire includes sea shanties, traditional Irish music, folk songs, and several original pieces. Yes…

CPcdcover… we do have CDs for sale. Seven of them, in fact. The most recent features my ukulele recording debut. I was terrified. It went just fine.

The group was born of Ren Faire, and it is at Faires we feel most at home. We’ve done shows in Texas, California, Wisconsin, Florida, and perform every autumn at the beautiful Maryland Renaissance Festival.

cpMDRF
Oyster shooters: they keep a pirate singing, y’all.

Parties, bar gigs, weddings, even a barge: we’ll gladly sing anywhere.

CPweddinggigWhy? Because it’s fun. None of us are doing this to get rich (though, reminder: our music is available for purchase. Makes a great Mother’s Day gift!). We’re doing it because we enjoy each others company. This is fun. And, if we rehearse at SnowWhiteLand**, there’s always guacamole, which is second only to oyster shooters in keeping a pirate singing.

I’m not an accomplished instrumentalist. I’m not a particularly gifted singer. I am, however, delighted to have the chance to make a bit of music in the company of excellent, much more talented folk. I mean, scalawags. Aarrrgh***!

photo credit:

photo credit: Frank Tirrell

*also available for digital download on iTunes and Amazon.

**my humble abode. more on that on Day S.

*** that’s Pirate Speak for ‘like us on Facebook!’

G is for Greenwood: Blogging from A to Z

G

There is a magical land nestled in the rolling hills of the Hudson Valley. It’s a land set apart from time, from history, from narrative convention. It’s a land where Queen Elizabeth progresses through the summer countryside, where Robin Hood and his Merry Band fight against the injustices of the diabolical Sheriff and his brutish Guards. It’s a land where you can buy turkey legs, swords, bodices, incense, henna adornments, mead, camel rides, and pewter goblets. Its village is peopled with eccentric, amazing, ridiculous, charming characters. You’ll find acrobats, mystics, knife throwers, and musicians. Surrounding this enchanted land is an enveloping cloak of forest, a protective barrier of root and branch and vine that has kept this place safe from the ravages of the ages, the dearth of imagination. This is the Greenwood. This is my other home. This is the New York Renaissance Faire.

I first visited when I was in my early twenties, fresh out of college and certain that love and chivalry and fantasy were absolutely attainable.

firstvisitI recently found my diary entry for that day. That’s a story for another blog post.

My true journey through the Greenwood, however, began in ’96. I auditioned and was cast as part of the improv company. My role: Willamina Swampwallow, ragpicker.

That's me on the right, pictured with my sister and my Dad. It would be the only time he saw me perform in this show.

That’s me on the right, pictured with my sister and my Dad. It would be the only time he saw me perform in this show.

Next season I was a Farmer. After that, Caitlin Copperpot, Tinker.

Saucy lasses with a tambourines.

Saucy lasses with tambourines.

After that, a heroine: Maid Marian.

shadowjoustNOTACOPY

Later still, a singing pirate.

ukepirate
An outlaw on the side of justice.

A fighter.

photo credit: Sarah Walsh

photo credit: Sarah Walsh

Part of something greater.

Part of a story. Of legend.

Through every character, through every moment, the land itself shaped my story.
swordandshield
It’s shaped every story that has come before, and those yet to be told.
swords
There is magic in this land.
rainyshire
The Greenwood abides.