Minstrels rejoice: Medieval Faire in swing
Published: Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 9:04 p.m.
Rat catcher isn't the kind of job typically found in the help wanted ads. But it's the work Jim Greene stumbled into when he was unemployed 25 years ago.
FAIRE: Participation by audience is a must
Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, performances, artisans, games, rides, food, and the ever-popular Living Chessboard.
Greene doesn't really capture vermin. He portrays a rat-catching character at renaissance fairs, including the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire being held at the Alachua County Fairgrounds.
"My home is the house that rats built," the New York resident said Saturday after performing an act that includes stuffed rats, a dancing dead weasel and loads of Scottish jokes.
The festival, now in its 20th year, attracts about 50,000 people over the course of two weekends, according to organizers. The event includes local thespians portraying knights and other medieval characters as well as professional regulars of the festival circuit.
Fort White resident Jim Lillquist was also out of work, just having lost a job as a salesman, when he started on the path that would lead him to performing at fairs. Lillquist became a self-employed woodcrafter and eventually built a hammered dulcimer, which is an ancient trapezoidal music instrument with several courses of strings.
"Turns out, I can play it," he said.
After having his hand at open-mic nights, he received a recommendation to try renaissance fairs. He now performs with his wife, Joyce, as the Gypsy Guerrilla Band.
Fairs have provided steady employment, he said, but lately work has been harder to find.
"The fair world is in flux, but the whole world is in flux," he said.
Corporate gigs pay the bills for Scott Andre, but fairs are his passion. The Tampa resident has been working the circuit for nearly three decades, currently performing a medieval comedy act with partner Roberta Koutney.
"This is our come out and play time," he said.
This year's act involved recruiting unsuspecting participants from the crowd to portray characters from the Robin Hood story. The act's biggest laughs depend on the weird whims of the participants and the audience, Andre said.
"It's the audience that takes it where it wants to go," he said.
Greene's rat act also depends on audience participation, which can take the performance in unforeseen directions. One of his shows Saturday included a young boy in knight attire screaming oddly during any break in the action and a beer-swilling guy hooting loudly at Greene's jokes.
Any festival that serves beer can get out of hand at times, Greene said. As an example, he said, a woman participant from an audience a few years back whacked him so hard in the head with a stick that he started bleeding.
The incident ended the show, he said, but did wonders for the tips he received.
"Everyone felt so bad I got clobbered," he said.
Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 352-338-3176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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