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.
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.