“The God of love, a benedicite! How myghty and how greet a lord is he! Ayeyns his myght ther gayneth none obstacles, He may be cleped a god for his myracles, For he kan maken at his owene gyse Of everich herte as that hym list divyse.”- Chaucer, “The Knight’s Tale”
Chaucer’s Knight weaves a tale of love – both caritas and amor – that puts a different spin on the precepts of courtly love, and the strength of the bond of friendship. Those of us who love renaissance festivals also have our own takes on love, both romantic and platonic. If in spring a young person’s thoughts turn to love, our festivals can be seen as embodying an eternal spring, where romance is part of the air we breathe, and bonds stronger than biological family are forged.
Obviously, there are many who find romance at the faire. Your humble author cherishes her long-ago beau of the Festival, and continues a 30 plus year friendship which grew out of the brief romance of our youth. Justin Johnson met Alexandria Pendergrass, the love of his life, at the Carolina Renaissance Festival. They met, and were friends, but the military took him away, while she pursued college. In 2012, both reconnected, and this time, the spark became a flame. A year later, they wed, and now continue doing their beloved faire together, with Justin serving as commander of the Royal Guard and herald to the Queen. The Carolina Festival was also home to a romance which sprang between a patron and a cabriolet worker. The initial flirtation of William Sullivan, originally unnoticed by Judith Johnson, led to her joining the cast the following year. In 2000, the Guard arrested her from her stage, and marched her to the Queen’s Pavilion, where she was charged with the theft of his heart. Rather than have her imprisoned, the Scotsman went down on one knee and proposed. Their first born was born into the cast, working for 3 years before the family took a break. Now the family can be seen on 2 stages, a lane act, the tilt yard, and still working a cabriolet.
Photos, clockwise: JACK (Jamie, Angela, Christine, Kim), Justin and Alexandria, Drew and Alicia , Judith and William, Phil and Rhonni
A less conventional story is that of Rhonni DuBose and Phil Perry. 31 years ago at the Colorado Renaissance Festival, a young Rhonni was helping her manager hunt for her cats, when they came across those building a stable for the Hanlon Lees. One thing lead to another, and when Rhonni came back from a horseback ride, there was Phil, offering icy cold water with a “Hey, lady, can I buy you a drink?” Helped by his friends, Phil came a-courting, borrowing a costume to come see Rhonni at the moccasin booth at which she worked. When the season ended, Phil continued his carpentry work on the festival circuit, while Rhonni retired to her cabin above Aspen. While he was working at the New York Renaissance Festival they kept in contact, with Phil eventually coming to get her, and take her to the Texas Renaissance Festival for the first time. Finally, love could be denied no longer, and the two have since built and run businesses at multiple faires, from Georgia, to New York, to Texas. After 19 years of marriage, they are contemplating slowing down a bit, semi-retiring but still enjoying their time at festivals.
And now, gentle reader, I’ve saved my personal story for last. It’s not a tale of amor, but one of caritas. Those on the cast at the Texas Renaissance Festival know JACK. Not the one you are thinking of – Jamie Quiroga, Angela Staha, Christine Barr, and Kim Graham. The four of us lined up for a photo in 2014, and noticed that our first initials spelled JACK.
It is a friendship born of misfortune, having its start when Kim, TRF’s fairy godmother, broke her shoulder in 2011. She had to have an elaborate sling, and if you have ever dealt with a Tudor dress with two healthy arms, you can appreciate the bind (sorry, I had to!) she found herself in that season. Jamie, playing Senora Dolorosa in the Spanish Court, came to her rescue, both the day of the accident, by driving her truck home, and throughout the season, by helping with dressing and, um, toileting. Angela, a talented artist, actress, and the current head of costuming at TRF, cemented her place in the collective with her inspiration to one and all, and her dedicated help to Kim when her husband had a triple bypass.
I joined the crew in 2014, coming back to the faire after having taken a 30 year break from my initial stint as the village virgin. I auditioned after having met Jamie at an awards ceremony where we both received teaching awards from our college. Jamie always said Kim and I were the same person, which we laughed about until we saw a picture of morning proclamation, where we were both holding our hands in the same pretty pretty Tudor princess style, with the same arch look on our faces. For the past seven seasons, we sisters have seen each other through all the ups and downs of life, and especially life at a Festival, can throw at us. When 3 of the 4 lost their fathers within a 6 month period, it was having each other that saw us through our grief. As Kim has said, we are “. . . kindred spirits in history, books, musicals, china, being Pearls of Southern Womanhood . . and discussing the most effective way to drop the F-bomb in Certain Situations.” On the last night of a very 2020 difficult season, I knew I couldn’t get through singing the song at Champagne Toast, so I played a piece from the musical “Sister Act” – “I’ve got my sisters by myside. I’ve got my sisters’ love and pride. And in my sisters’ eyesI recognize the star I want to be.” Truly, JACK and all of us who have found love, whether platonic or romantic, are part of one terrific act.
CHRISTINE BARR is an educator, and portrays Queen Catherine of Aragon at the Texas Renaissance Festival. She is the mother of VIctoria, Madeleine, Jackson, and Liam, and is owned by her cats, Jiji and Calcifer.
Cover photo by Stanford Moore, models Trevor and Mandy Hall met and fell in love while working in the cast of the Texas Renaissance Festival, they’ll celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary this summer.
Looking for music for falling in love? Our playlist, Ladyfaire: A Preserving Sweet, is available on iTunes!
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