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Full-time Fairy

Move over, Tinkerbell. There’s a new fairy in town, and her magic dust is winning over the nation, one renaissance festival at a time.

Full-time Fairy
Photo by Grant Brummett

Growing up in Ely, Minnesota, Kathy Gfeller spent hours scouring the woods for sparkling fairies made real by her imagination. After getting her degree in fiber arts and sculpture at Mankato State University, Gfeller decided it was time to stop searching and start making some magic of her own. Today, the 29-year-old tours the nation year-round as Twig, the colorful, flute-playing fairy. As her fan base grows (she has more than 200,000 followers on Facebook), so, too, does her reach: last year, she published her first children’s book, Twig the Fairy and the Curious Land of Real, and is working on her second. This will be Gfeller’s ninth year enchanting crowds at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, where she first debuted Twig in 2003. Here, she tells us what it takes to be a full-time fairy.

How did you go from being an aspiring sculptor to a full-time actor?
My friends worked at the Renaissance Festival during college, and eventually talked me into auditioning to be on the fairy court. I got a role, and had to wear a hoop skirt, corset, and enough glitter to choke a drag queen: not my idea of a fairy. So I came back the next year and told them I wanted to be the kind of fairy I’d always looked for as a kid. I created Twig.

So who exactly is Twig?
Twig is both shy and gregarious—kind of a woman-child: innocent, mischievous, playful. She plays the double-piped flute and her movements are very dance-like.

Why the name “Twig”?
I knew the character I was creating would be a woodland fairy and very natural. While brainstorming names, a friend told me if she were a fairy, her name would be Fern. And I thought, “Oh, that’s a good name! Dammit.” I kept looking for a name that was just as natural and cute without being super cutesy. Twig just stuck.

Let’s imagine we’re at a fair. What’s the typical interaction you might have with the people around you?
When I see someone looking at me, I play bashful—that makes them more curious. Then I take out a fairy stone, put it in their hand, and sprinkle it with fairy dust. After that I’ll play a song or two, and they’ll usually ask to take a picture with me.

No talking?

Talking takes away a bit of the mystery. If I don’t say anything, the audience has to make up my story; be a little more creative. I love it when kids tell me things they’ve “figured out” about me. By not talking, I’m letting others create their own ideas about fairies.

Have you encountered any awkward situations over the years?

After drinking a bit too much, some people think it’s fun to mess with or hit on the fairy. That used to be really awkward, but now I know how to shut people down.

And you do that by…?

If they’re just trying to heckle me, I tell them off in fairy: play the loudest, most discordant notes on my flute that I can, kick the dirt, and make some fists. But if they’re hitting on me and being creepy? I run.

What surprises have come your way as Twig?

In Minnesota, there’s a family that comes to see me every year; the mother was the first person to write me a thank-you note. I’ve gotten to know them so well over the years that I asked them to be the children in my book. So now, on top of being amazing fans, they’re the dearest of friends. I never thought I’d get such precious lifelong relationships out of being Twig.

Ellen Burkhardt is the assistant editor for Minnesota Monthly.

Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

Old to new | New to old
Jul 24, 2011 06:01 pm
 Posted by  Dancer

Ms. Gfeller shouldn't dis her time with the Faerie Court - not only did they pave the way for her character, but they gave her her first opportunity out there. Not to mention a major portion of her act is blatantly stolen from her castmates in the Faerie Court (especially the tokens and the stylized movement). Show a little gratitude!
It's nice that she is pretty and got herself a good gimmick, but remember that other folks did it first.

Jul 27, 2011 11:44 pm
 Posted by  fairygurl11

I think Twig is a great person. And she does a great job with the kids, but from what I see and understand it is also sad that she doesn't always play well with others of her kind. If you look at all the lovely photos of her, of which there are soooo very many, they are almost always of just her. Or of her and a child or some other guest of the festival. You never see her playing with another "real fairy". It is makes me a little sad because when I see fairies I see them as groups of fairies, playing together, making mischief together, singing and dancing and playing all sorts of fun games together.

Last year at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival I was excited to hear that they had fairy tea time or something like that. I went to see what it was like and I found like 4 of the fantasy creatures all sitting there taking pictures as a group with kids all around, but no Twig to be found. I asked where she was, they simply shrugged and said she never comes to play. They said she was invited with all the fantasy creatures, so it wasn't that they didn't ask her. They were very helpful when I asked where she might be, which was on the other side of the fair... a very long hot walk I might add.

So I wish she could set a good example by playing with others, as with 200,000 fans I think she could show kids that there is more than one kind of fairy and that we can all get along even though we are different. Kids carry these things over from fairies to people. I think that is why disney took Tinkerbell from the mean spirited fairy who hated Wendy to the tinker fairy surrounded by a group of all different kinds of fairies.

Just my two cents though.

Aug 4, 2011 09:52 am
 Posted by  dontbestupid

twig is probably too classy to respond to the two idiots who left the previous comments, so i'll do it. #1, she said nothing to "dis" her previous experience with the fairy court, she simply said it wasn't what she was looking for. how is that "dis"-ing them? #2, so she doesn't join in with the other fairy activities, so what? she's clearly a solo act, so to expect her to join the fairy gang for all their activities is completely stupid. and as for wishing she'd SET a good example...oh my god... she is SUCH a GREAT character, and so MANY people love her...that is the DEFINITION of setting a good example. people are so stupid...twig is a great character and only people who are complete ***** could possibly find anything bad to say about her. but there are always going to be those few who bitch, aren't there? no matter how good something is, there will always be those few who aren't happy.

Aug 4, 2011 05:27 pm
 Posted by  Wenchoftheday

Kathy Gfeller is only a year older than me and yet I feel like I've known Twig my entire life. Kathy's ability to become Twig and bring magic to everyone around her is nothing short of a miracle. The love and joy she radiates and willingly shares with others brings tears to my eyes. I greatly respect and appreciate the work that Kathy does, but even more so, I dearly love Twig. I'd be one of the first people to give Kathy a lashing if she ever tarnished Twig in anyway. That being said, stop being brats. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

Aug 4, 2011 10:58 pm
 Posted by  will oatman

If you've ever seen Twig and how the kids eyes and hearts light up when they see and visit with her then you would know that she is a VERY VERY GOOD example for kids. I know in fact just from reading comments on her Facebook page that seeing her is the most important to many of the kids at the Renaissance Festivals she attends.They come back year after year just to see her so she must be doing something right. Also not only does she enchant the children but many of the grown ups as well. So I say You go Twig!!! and I say Thank You Kathy Gfeller for creating such an amazing character for everyone to enjoy you are truly talented.

P.S. A note to Fairygurl the reason they changed Tinkerbell is so they could make more stuff with her on it and sell it to make money not to set any kind of example.

Aug 6, 2011 09:51 am
 Posted by  celticmom

Kathy/Twig is an amazing example of kindness and generousity. In 2006 my Father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was an avid patron of the Rens Fest every year. In 2008 he was no longer able to attend because of the progression of his cancer and his greatess dissappointment was not being able to go. (He had been going for almost 36 years). I contacted the people at the festival and told them of my Fathers situation and asked if there was something we could do to bring the festival to him. On Sept. 25 , 2008 over 50 performers arrived at my fathers house to suprise him, it turned into a neighborhood blockparty that lasted into the night. The most memeral part of the event is when Twig snuck up behind my Father in our lilac bush and teased him behind his back until he realized she was there. He was overjoyed that so many people showed up, some driving several hours just to be there for him. On the day before he passed in April of 2010, my Dad and I talked about that day and with a grin from ear to ear he simply said to me, "I have my own personnal Fairy friend and her name is Twig" Thank you for bringing such amazing memories to our family. We look forward to continueing our Fathers frindship with Twig and each and every performer at the festival, you are family to us.

Aug 10, 2011 05:47 pm
 Posted by  Introvert

It's hard for me to believe there's really a "Twig vs. Other Fantasy Creatures" story here. She asked the Ren Fest organizers if she could be a *different* type of fairy. They said yes. I'm glad she marches to the beat of a different drum (or flutters to the tune of a different flute). In modern American society, it seems that if you're introverted or if you enjoy spending time alone, people assume there's something wrong with you. I can't help thinking Twig's relative solitude will touch kids in such situations, telling them it's okay to be by yourself sometimes, and doing so does not necessarily make you a mean person.

Aside from this, I wonder if Twig was busy interacting with other fairgoers - as often happens - at the time of this particular Tea, and preferred not to flutter off? If she were playing a tune for your child, wouldn't you be happy she didn't?

Aug 19, 2011 06:06 pm
 Posted by  Russ

I think it's sad that this inspirational piece turned into negativity in the comments. Twig has inspired others, and we've not only taken pictures with her, but gone on and attempted to pass on some of the joy she has presented to children, ourselves.
we've gone from here:
to here:

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