My husband may live in an imaginary village, but we both belong to the category of ‘imaginary friends.’ Recently, I sat down to chat with a kindergartner and his almost-three-year-old sister, who likes to have pretend tea parties with ‘Ms. Natalie’ and ‘Mr. ohn” when we are not actually present. (Evidently, imaginary ‘Mr. John’ never wants to drink his milk at these tea parties). I wanted to find out what children think about the shire and those of us crazy enough to frequent it. This weekend’s theme at the The Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire was ‘Children’s Fantasy Weekend,’ so who better to pal around with then two of my favorite nipperkins already on shire?
As is normal with such young children, the rocks – small ones good for picking up and throwing, big ones good for climbing – were a bit more interesting than answering the constant stream of questions from a demanding adult claiming to be the wife of one of their best-loved people on the chessboard. (When asked if they knew that I was married to ‘Mr. John,’ the boy responded with wide eyes, a head tilted in question, and, finally, a slow, hesitant nod. I know, kid; stranger things have happened).
Clearly, though, the ‘Human Chess Match’ is one of their favorite parts of the day, topped only by the ‘Marshmallow Battle with the Queen’ immediately after. (Both children have well-bedazzled marshmallow shooters that they enjoyed describing and demonstrating for me. Naturally, the toys were handmade by Craig Baratz of Sir-Launch-a-Lot). They had memorized the details of every fight, the actors’ and characters’ names, and which weapons were used when. They were also well aware that this was merely play. As the toddler repeatedly reminded me, this was all, “Just pe-tend. Pe-tend. Fights on the chess board just pe-tend. Ms. Emily, [the Queen’s jester] she’s going to hit her head on that tree soon- see- right… now! But just pe-tend.”
I, the boring adult, usually responded with, “Yes, but on the hill, jumping off this boulder could get you a boo-boo that would not be pe-tend.” (In case there was ever any doubt, folks, that is why Mr. John and his rapier-and-dagger fight- heck, even his rapier and cloak-wielding fight partner, Mr. Brad- are much cooler than safety-minded, question-asking Ms. Natalie. But, hey, at least in my imaginary state, I willingly drink my milk at the toddler’s “pe-tend” tea parties).
Sound effects undoubtedly influenced their perceptions of the show. Both adored the spear fight with, “Mr. Ryan and- um… Well, they dance around one spear, and then Mr. Ryan loses.” As much as he liked Mr. Ryan, the latter’s loss was clearly the best part of the fight. The kindergartner proceeded to demonstrate Mr. Ryan’s loss at least half a dozen times in about as many minutes, throwing himself on his back, waving his legs and arms in the air, and, in the highest-pitched voice the youngster could manage, screaming, “AHHHHHHH!”
They enjoy Mr. John’s fight so much so that the boy insists on sitting on “his side” of the chess board each time, lest his loyalty to his friend be called into question. Around that time, however, the girl became quite adamant about covering her ears. “After Mr. John’s fight, there is a big boom!” she shrieked. “A boom?” I asked. “It’s a gun,” she replied matter-of-factly before burying her head in her father’s chest again. This is true, though not immediately.
After Shakespeare and Marlowe fight, their respective men begin to brawl, ceasing only after Sir Walter Raleigh fires a pistol into the air at Queen Elizabeth’s command. (Raleigh is played by Mr. Lee, whom the toddler sometimes wants to marry when she grows up, since Mr. John is taken. She may have changed her mind after the “big boom” from the gun. When asked what he thought about his little sister’s nuptial plans, the boy, without skipping a beat, replied, “I don’t want to talk about it.” He’s a good big brother).
The girl did want to talk more about the fight in which the Gypsy King (Pete Hedberg) fights the two pirate women, played by Ellen Kahne and Alexandra Schroeder. “The gypsy fights the girls, and they hit him in the belly. Then they win. On their belly. On his belly. They win on his belly.” (Actually, the she-pirates win after one well-placed blow to the Gypsy King’s groin, causing him to fall onto his stomach. They then sit on top of him to mark their victory. So, yes, in essence, the pirates win “on his belly”).
We debated the appearances of some of the actors. For example, the boy and I disagree about exactly which fruit ‘Mr. John’ more resembles in his brightly-colored costume. I think he looks more like a pumpkin; the boy thinks he looks more like an orange.
He also thinks that one of the gypsy men looks more like a pirate because of the bright blue scarf covering his head. We agree that the gypsy-pirate is almost as cool as Mr. Ryan, since both can do flips, though, of the men, Mr. John garners their attention for his chess board dancing, which makes him “just so really funny.”
The boy was a little hesitant in describing the clothing of his favorite Scotsman, though. “We know a man from Scotland!” he suddenly exclaimed. “And he has the same name as Daddy, but his character’s name is Wallace!” “Does Wallace wear a skirt?” I asked, curious as to what the boy thought about the kilt worn by the Scottish Ambassador to Her Majesty. “Um…. Well, he just wears black and red,” the boy skillfully replied. We agreed that Ms. Sarah (‘Mommy’s friend’) looked cool but a little scary in her costume as the witch-hunting Sheriff Jacket.
Before the chess match started, our conversation had been interrupted by the sound of drums and a parade. The boy jumped up, pointing and shouting, “Good news! The Queen’s coming!” Yes, child, in the Shire of Mount Hope, the entrance of such a queen as Elizabeth Regina Gloriana is always good news indeed.
P.S. Mr. John and I don’t have children yet; these things must be well-timed when you are ‘married to the stage,’ but I am grateful to the parents who lent me their wee ones for an hour for this article.
The Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire is located at 2775 Lebanon Road, in Manheim, PA, approximately a two-hour drive from Washington, DC. It runs Saturdays and Sundays through October 28th. Ticket prices and ordering information can be found here. For directions, click here. Information about hotels and other area attractions can be found here. Note that it is an outdoor venue; please take care and dress appropriately. In cases of inclement weather (severe rain or snow) check the Faire’s website or call for information.