Getting into Character: Behind the Scenes at the Renaissance Fest

Kat Lavely always enjoyed theater, and had a fascination with the Renaissance era, so when a friend called her to see if she would help work in her booth selling puppets at the Ohio Renaissance Festival, she decided to give it a try. She was instantly hooked.

Kat working in the Argent Rose booth

Her first day was exhausting. During the week, she works third shift as a retail stocker, 10pm to 7am. She got off work, drove an hour and a half to the Festival, and got tied into a corset. She was also not much of a crowd person, so it took a little getting used to, as well as some support and encouragement from her friend.

Besides period dress, she had to act the part. “It takes a little practice to do an Old English accent, but after a while it starts to feel natural,” Kat recalled. She enjoyed the language; some of the old insults can be kind of funny. She doesn’t get to use many of those, though, since she’s trying to flatter customers and encourage “Lords and Ladies” to “stop and smell the roses.” She tries to throw in some Old English where she can.

Throughout her first year, Kat met a lot of wonderful people who helped teach her things they learned from their experiences at the fairs. “They offer a lot of input on what I can do to be better,” she said. Besides teaching her, they’ve come to be friends. The community is very good about sharing and teaching each other.

Kat and the others who work at the Ohio Renaissance Festival provide their own costumes. There are shops at fairs that sell the different clothing, and Kat purchased some of hers there. She also met a couple seamstresses who have helped with alterations and commissioned pieces. “I try to change things up pretty often, and have all sorts of colors I can wear,” she said.

Since that first season, Kat has also worked in a costume shop, a hair wrap booth, and now sells steel roses.

Kat made connections through working at the fair each year, and was hired to work in other booths for future festivals. She got her current job through a friend who travelled around working fairs but was unable to make it to the Ohio Renaissance Festival a few years ago. This friend contacted the people she was supposed to work for, said she knew someone who would absolutely love to work for them, and provided Kat’s name and number. Kat got a call out of the blue: “You’ve been recommended for this position, are you interested?” She said, “Sure thing!” and has been working in this booth for three seasons now, and it is her favorite Renaissance Festival job yet.

Her boss welds and paints steel roses, which “will never die!” They also scent them to smell like roses.

Curry_RenFest_photo02

Photo from Tracey Maisel Studios

Kat arrives at the Argent Rose booth about an hour to an hour and a half before the gates open to help pull out new stock for the day. They sell 18 different colors of roses, in two different sizes. Throughout the day, they go through a variety of busy times and down times. “It’s nice to have the down time, because it can be really hectic at other times. We take it one customer at a time, because it’s all we can really do,” Kat commented.

During breaks she walks around, visiting friends in other shops or taking in shows. She loves to see her friends on stage performing feats from comedy to sword swallowing. Her favorite show is a musical group with bagpipes and drums who “can throw down a pretty good beat!”

She usually leaves about an hour after close, and works 8 weekends in a row Labor Day weekend through the end of October.

Working at an outdoor festival in the fall can have its gloomy days. The cold and rainy days tend to make Festival staff and patrons grumpy, and so she has to work harder to be cheerful, which can be exhausting.

The unpredictable fall weather was Kat’s only complaint. She explained, “There’s a lot that’s awesome about the fair. My favorite part I would have to say is the people… I’ve met some of the most generous and kind people through the fair than anywhere else.” She loves seeing everyone out and about, all trying to make the people around them happy.

Kat emphasized, “The atmosphere is different – the people are amazing.” There are so many people of different backgrounds, all coming together to play roles and give their patrons the best experience possible. They are very supportive of each other, performers, artists, and booth workers alike.

They also know how to have fun. She shared, “Sometimes during the weeks, people will gather around the fire, people will bring out guitars and drums, and we’ll sit around enjoying a drink and the music.”

Kat would love for Festival patrons to understand how much effort everyone was putting in to giving them the best experience possible: “The Festival performers are a family, and patrons are their guests. They won’t complain to patrons, but sometimes a little ‘thank you’ goes a long way.”

She also encourages you patrons to come out and have a good time, and, “If you have a chance, to dress up, do it! You’ll get a better experience.”

A beautiful morning at the Festival!

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