What Ho!

Hopeful Ren Fest wizards and wenches unite

It’s the second day of general auditions for the 2013 Minnesota Renaissance Festival, and Mary Davis has come to throw her snood in the ring. In the lobby of HUGE Theater in Minneapolis, she clutches a snapshot of herself in a peasant dress in 1997, the last summer she worked at the Festival. “I hate to say I was a village person, because then people think, you know, ‘YMCA,’” she says. “But that’s what I was.”

Davis is surrounded by what very well might be a Dungeons & Dragons convention mingled with a Tinkerbell look-alike contest. In one corner, a teenage girl in a homemade peasant dress pores over an information sheet, relieved to have escaped all the curious glances out on Lyndale Avenue. Across the room, a bearded man with a ponytail who looks like a Game of Thrones cast member practices finger-style guitar. These fairies, minstrels, and pirates all hope to perform in one of the stage or street acts in Ren Fest’s mock 16th-century village, recreated right down to the jousting competitions and gigantic turkey drumsticks.

A recent retiree, Davis is ready to make a triumphant return to the festival. She’s typed up a character name and backstory, and brought along a printout of the costume she’s picked out—dark bodice and skirt with a white chemise—on the Majestic Velvets website. Nearby, one of the youngest potential performers, 15-year-old Lily Jones, sits patiently with her mother, Lu, waiting to be called in to audition. “She loves all this fantasy stuff,” says Lu. “She’s always stealing my chain mail. I need to get her some of her own.”

The waiting area for any audition is fraught with tension, but there’s also a unique sense of camaraderie among the disparate folks drawn together by the pull of a fantasy where they’d all prefer to live. These are not fair-weather fantasy fans, content simply to tune in weekly to see what’s new in Winterfell. These hardy souls are the real pelt-donning, corset-loving deal.  

Penn Bowen, a longtime Ren Fest street performer who is staffing the check-in desk, says he believes all this year’s hopefuls have a good shot at being welcomed inside the magical, dusty, mead-infused village’s gates. “It’s rare that someone wouldn’t be cast, since there’s no pay for the first year,” he explains. “That’s when people either bloom or trickle out. That first season is the real audition.”