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A Ren Fair Magical History Tour

Julia Barton

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The Don Juan and Miguel Show
(Julia Barton)
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Memorial Day Weekend is a time when you may get to play, or you may have to work, or you get to do some combination of the two if you're a performer at a Renaissance Faire. Those weekend reenactments of old Europe have sprung up around the country in the last few decades. One of them, the Scarborough Renaissance Festival south of Dallas, wraps up on Monday.

Years ago, Weekend America's Julia Barton used to come to Scarborough Faire every weekend in the spring. Her parents played there in a music group, called Earthly Pleasures. They're no longer performing, but some of the same national acts are still at the festival, and she went back to see if much had changed.


A little before 10 on Saturday morning, Doug Konziolkza starts his work day, walking towards the front gates of Scarborough Faire.

"We've been inside, but now I will have to talk very differently when I get out. I will have to talk like... thees" he says, assuming his persona. "And there will be people waiting to say hello to us. And we'll say 'hi' to the king and queen."

Doug will spend the weekend as Miguel Rodrigo Jesus Alfredo Esteban de Zaragosa, a 16th-century Spanish servant and campy buffoon.

"Hola! Buenos dias!" he says in a high-pitched voice to people outside. "You going to come see us? Excellent. 11 o'clock first show, I think at 3:30 I'm gonna become a woman, I'm not sure yet." People laugh -- they already know who Miguel is.

Scarborough Faire is set in 1533, during the reign of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. The king and queen stand between some turrets above the customers, called patrons, who've paid $20 apiece to enter the fair today.

"Throw open the gates and let Scarborough Faire begin!" proclaims the queen as a cannon booms.

I remember Doug from 24 years ago, when he and his partner first started doing their sword-fighting, whip-trick and comedy shtick here. Don Juan and Miguel are still freakishly the same, still chopping up pasta with a whip.

Not that I ever hung out with the likes of Don Juan and Miguel -- I was intimidated by the national acts. As a teenager, I thought Ren faires were all about knowing when to say "in sooth" and "anon," calling balloons "bladders" and cameras "Flemish painters."

Don Juan and Miguel could care less. Their act is more Comedy Central than Shakespeare.

At their last show of the day, called "The Weird Show," Doug bursts into song:

Don't cry for me, Renaissance Faire!
The truth is I'm not really Spanish!
I'm just a Pollack who comes from Chicago.
And like Janet Jackson, here is my nipple!

It just goes on from there. The audience roars with laughter.

And they love other bawdy acts, like Zilch the Tory Steller, purveyor of crude spoonerisms, as in his recitation of "Jomeo and Ruliet."

"This left ransom Homeo freally rustrated. Yeah, so he didn't hog out, no, he spent the best of the right wanging out by her hindow!"

Terrence Foy (aka Zilch) has been working the Ren faire circuit even longer than Don Juan and Miguel, starting in Minnesota so long ago that "I'll walk out on stage and there's an audience already assembled, and they'll go 'Wow, you've gained weight!' 'Oh thank you! 'Boy you've got gray!' 'I know, you have too...'"

Terry has seen Renaissance faires go from one-weekend deals with card tables in a parking lot to multi-million-dollar entertainment empires. Life backstage has changed, too.

I hardly recognize the performers' campground. It's no longer the flood-prone, poison ivy-infested backwoods that I remember. Not only is there a real bar, they have a greenhouse and a playground. And row after row of campers.

Terry gives me a tour of his. "As far as I'm concerned, this is a $30,000 bathroom, because you get tired -- you know this from your experience -- you get tired of the little plastic houses all of the time. And having a shower all to yourself, what a fabulous thing!"

It took Terry Foy three decades to acquire luxuries like an RV. He just turned 50, and so far he has no plans to ease up. Nobody here does, including Jose Granados, the whip-cracking swordsman half of Don Juan and Miguel. He's 53, has a bad knee, a sewn-up lip and several small scars on his hands from years of doing his show.

"I believe that I can just keep doing what I'm doing forever. The sword fights will probably get a little slower. But we can compensate hopefully with more humor or more precision, as opposed to just wildness and jumping around the stage," he says.

Don Juan and Miguel have slowed down, but no one seems to notice -- and in truth, they don't look much older than when I saw them as a teenager. It's both weird and weirdly reassuring to know that every weekend morning in spring, after Scarborough Faire begins, Miguel Rodrigo Jesus Alfredo Esteban de Zaragosa can be found inside the gates blowing up a balloon.

"People are coming in now. I'm gonna go play my Bladivarius," he explains as he joins a group of musicians under a tree near the entrance. As they play their hammer dulcimers, recorders, lutes and guitars, Doug gets a percussive sound by licking his fingers and rubbing the balloon.

Timelessness is of course what we want in a Ren fair. In Scarborough Faire's version of 1533, Anne Boleyn has never died. The wonder and cruelty of the New World are still far off, and so are the burdens of democracy and modern technology. The music sounds the same as when my parents played it here. Doug Kondziolka can always make a living wearing red and black velvet, being silly and rubbing a bladder. The future will take care of itself.

Comments

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  • By Sheryl Gray

    From Cleburne, TX, 06/11/2008

    Thanks so much for the wonderful broadcast about "Scarby". I have been a regular faire goer since the days of the tents. I don't believe that I've missed a season. I've watched many performers come and go and watched some of the mainstays as they have "matured" and only become better with age.

    By Stacie Nitcholas

    From Dallas, TX, 06/02/2008

    I am a cast member at Scarborough Faire. I was so glad to read your vision of what we work so hard to create. My friends and family are often confounded at the time money and effort I spend working so hard for no pay. I am sending them your story. You put eloquently put into words things I find difficult to share with them.

    Gramercy,
    Lady Margaret MacLeod

    By Robert (Dobby) Mank

    From Dallas, TX, 05/29/2008

    I have been going avidly to Scarborough Faire, as a "playtron" since 2005. To me the Faires are Home, where I get to return each seasin and feel rejuvenated.
    Great article indeed.
    Huzzah!!

    By Fergus MacKessock

    From Irving, TX, 05/29/2008

    Fantastic story. It is so very amazing how far Scarby has come since it's little days of tents in a field. It is home to many of us...........

    By Serenity Soce

    From Portland, OR, 05/27/2008

    My dad has worked there for about 18 or so years!!!
    Wow thats so cool you guys did this report thank you I am happy to haer
    this!!!

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