I spent one memorable season as the Assistant Entertainment Director for the Michigan Renaissance Festival, hereinafter referred to as the MRF. Here’s how that came to pass:
Two actor friends of mine, Dana and Maggie, were long-time staff members at the MRF in various capacities. After a few people left the staff, Dana finally attained the position of Entertainment Director, and he found himself in need of an assistant. Knowing that I had spent years as the herald and emcee for a medieval feast catering company, Dana and Maggie decided to approach me with an offer. They treated me to lunch at Pasquale’s, a nice Italian restaurant on Woodward Avenue in Birmingham, Michigan, and they described the basic parameters of the job.
At some point, though, the discussion took an odd turn. The two of them began relating to me horror story after horror story about being overworked, underpaid, presumed upon at all hours of the day and night, being verbally abused and publicly humiliated by patrons, entertainers, craftspeople, and their own managers . . . the list went on and on.
After a while, I stopped them. A couple of obvious and vital questions were staring me in the face. “First of all, what kind of recruiting pitch is this? Secondly, if you’re so miserable, why do you keep coming back year after year?”
Maggie took the lead on this one. “We want you to know what you’re getting yourself into. We figure if you still want the job after everything we’re telling you, then you must be the right guy for the job.”
This was my reply: “The fact that you two keep coming back even though you know all of this speaks more loudly than anything else you’ve told me.” I accepted the position, and the odyssey began.
It was an exceptionally difficult and exciting year to be a part of the MRF. It was their first year at their new site in Holly, Michigan, so everything had to be built from Ground Zero. Actually, the term should be Swamp Zero. Untold thousands of dollars were spent over several months there just on improving drainage and insect control. If you go there today, you’d scarcely suspect what that land once looked like. Let me just say this – the first time I visited the site, when building had just commenced, I sank into the mud so deeply that two people had to pull my legs out – and then they had to pull my boots out! I turned at that moment to the Executive Director of the festival, who owned similar festivals all over the country, and asked him if he was crazy. He responded by giggling and doing a little jig, confirming my suspicions.
I still feel a certain sense of pride when I visit the MRF. It has continued to grow and now takes place over about twice the acreage that it did when I was part of it. Many of the structures and pathways are located where they are, and are named what they are, because of the recommendations that Dana and I developed while we were tramping around in the mud.
As for what being Assistant Entertainment Director consisted of, well, there were two main parts to it. I had to help Dana audition and hire dozens and dozens of entertainers, sign them all to contracts, and create performance schedules. There were also a thousand other little tasks that I can’t even begin to detail. After the festival opened, my job was mainly to keep moving around the site all day making sure everything ran smoothly and if it didn’t, my job was to make it run smoothly. And on every Sunday evening at the end of the day, my job was to sit on one of the performing stages and collect the cash from all of our game vendors and take it to the office trailer just outside the public area. I always felt a little nervous about that job, because I would typically have a few thousand dollars, all in cash, on me as I made my way to the office. Another job I had was to write a weekly column for the participant newsletter. I may dig up some of those at a later date and see whether they have withstood the test of time.
Now, I have to inventory my costumes and see whether I can improve upon the lame-ass outfit I wore last year!
One More Thing
My character at the Festibo, and at many of the feasts I worked over the years, was named Charles of Camden. Sometimes he was Sir Charles of Camden, depending on the costume and the event.