Being “married to the stage” is one thing when one partner is the actor and the other the bookish dramaturg, as is the case with Johnny and myself. It is quite another when both partners are performers essentially striving for the same thing, that oft-elusive stage role. I was lucky enough to speak about this situation with one of my favorite independent acts from the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire: Rowan and the Rose. This dynamic duo consists of Kelly Morris as “Rose McCann” and Arthur Rowan as “Rowan the Bard.” (You may remember Rowan, who seems naturally suited to bring together the best elements of the past and present, from my review of the Spamalot tour, in which he played King Arthur).
“Rowan and the Rose” is a musical group that began after one of the great “show-mances” (Morris’ own description) of our time- or, at least, of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. The two began dating during the faire’s 2008 season, when they were, rather appropriately, playing Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Robert Dudley, the first Earl of Leicester. Dudley, a favorite of the queen’s, historically pursued her hand for nearly two decades- obviously unsuccessfully- after his first wife conveniently fell to her death in 1558. (In reality, Rowan has no such prior history, fortunately!) They continued their “show-mance” the following year, with Morris again playing a dynamic Queen Elizabeth I. That year, however, Rowan played her nemesis, Sir Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, whom he describes as the “Renaissance Darth Vader. (Morris cites this as one of their professional conflicts of interest. After all, many a girl has loved a “bad boy,” and when that “bad boy” is riding towards you, very much like a knight in shining armor- well, you get the idea. Unfortunately, the historic queen whom she was portraying most definitely did not share her sentiment).
Both were quick to add that this second year, when they played enemies rather than lovers, was also fun. The two, as their characters, had to make up insults to fling at each other. One insult from the 2009 season stands out in their memory. Morris is a Virginia Tech “Hokies” fan. The mascot, a “HokieBird,” has “evolved from a turkey,” according to the “official website for the Virginia Tech Hokies.” Knowing this, during a particularly heated Human Chess match, Rowan shouted, “You fight like a turkey with no sense of defense!” (And yet, Morris still consented to marry him. Oh, well, “the course of true love never did run smooth”).
During their time at the PA Ren Faire, they began a music show entitled “Music with Her Majesty,” where they confirmed their enjoyment of making music together. They began to gather a small but steadily-growing and ever-loyal fan base and began to realize that this could become a viable option. Focusing on the folk tradition of storytelling through song, Rowan and the Rose debuted at the New Jersey Renaissance Faire in 2011.
Thus far, they also performed there this past year and have been steadily performing as an independent act at the aforementioned Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire this season. On November 2 in New York, they will be opening for Blackmore’s Night, with which talented chanteuse Morris toured through Germany this past summer as a harmony/backup vocalist. (She also played multiple instruments for this group, headed by Ritchie Blackmore, including the Irish whistles, a “shawm,” and the French horn, bringing out her “inner band geek”).
Rowan describes their music as one-third traditional Renaissance and Celtic music, one-third original, as is the case with the “Battle Hymn of District 11,” and one-third “geeky/funny re-writes.” (Evidently, writing songs from a “geek” perspective,” has its own official term: “filking”). Perhaps one of the most-loved examples of their work in this latter category includes the song “My Faire-vorite Things,” seen here. Other examples of original writing and music include “Drake’s Drum” and “Traveling Minstrels.”
Their fan base and familiarity has made their courtship a rather “public” engagement of sorts and has entailed signing away part of their private lives in the microcosm of their performance venues. In fact, Rowan, who worked as an actor and director for the PA Ren Faire between 2007 – 2011, proposed to Morris during last year’s faire season during a Rakish Rogues show. (Watch his proposal here. Have tissues ready). Morris, as described above, performed the faire’s most visible role, Queen Elizabeth I, in 2008 and 2009 after her first season there in 2006.
Still, this joint venture is one they credit as a boon since it has allowed them to work and spend time together, something unusual for couples who are – or who plan to become – “married to the stage.” In fact, their wedding has been postponed due to their busy performance schedules. For example, Rowan will begin his second tour with Spamalot in a few months. (The first Spamalot tour led to the longest separation of their relationship: three months). Morris may tour again with Blackmore’s Night.
As they have progressed, their separations have grown longer, from three weeks when they lived in separate cities to the aforementioned three months while Rowan was on tour. This brings up another point of advice and learning that the two brought up during our conversations. As an actor, some jobs may be more important to take than others, and weighing the separation time versus the credit of the job becomes important. For example, Morris turned down a theme park-type offer this summer, since it would have involved even more time apart from Rowan, who had just returned from tour. However, they are both quick to point out that, had that offer been a national tour, as Rowan’s was/is as the lead in Spamalot, or other high-level credit, she would have taken it. Actors are often happiest when working in their craft, performing in a show, but that often means separations from loved ones, causing mixed feelings in both situations. (Morris, as it is, is quite busy working as Creative Manager for a children’s music and movement program for a high-end fitness and wellness center in New York City, as well as working as a telemarketer for an off-Broadway theatre company and as a babysitter).
Still, this must bring with it a certain level of understanding, which both Morris and Rowan acknowledge. When both partners are performers, both must be prepared for the other person to have success first or throughout; one partner could end up “second fiddle” to the other in terms of acting success. Additionally, both partners must be ready for their career to take a hit, a risk that must be willingly undertaken. Knowing this, one must be ready to be happy under these circumstances or avoid the marriage or relationship commitment altogether. Still, Rowan and the Rose allows Morris and Rowan to perform and work together equally, proof that a successful actor need not grace a Broadway stage (though an offer like that is not something any actor I know would turn down!)
Geek or not, I appreciate that this group allows me to fly my “nerd” flag, which I am sure many others appreciate as well. However, in the end, perhaps it is the less concrete elements that make this duo so special. The music and energy exhibited by Rowan and the Rose reinforce the best parts of the wonderful world of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, and for that I am always grateful.
For more information about Rowan and the Rose, check out their Facebook page.
Read other articles in Married to the Stage.