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MDRF - In Closing

You can refer to it as the Pandemic Season, the Lost Season, or the Grass-Growing Season, but whatever you call it, we can all agree that the Maryland Renaissance Festival's absence is felt deeply. This would have been the closing weekend for this year's Festival and, while even a typical closing weekend would be bittersweet, with last goodbyes for the year shared in a mix of Halloween and Renaissance garb, it's bittersweet in a different way this year. Robbed of a real Festival, we’ve made do with digital ones and other related projects, and while these projects may continue (and so may the pandemic) only time will tell the full tale. Since we wanted to do something for the community and bring a bit of the living story to our readers, Never Say Dice reached out to a variety of workers, performers and vendors. We hope that you’ve enjoyed our previous interviews Missing MDRF (with Kim Alexander - Author at Page After Page, and Louie of The London Broil Juggling Show) and Missing MD Arrrrrr F (with Goodly Woods and Pyrates Royale). This week, for our closing MDRF post, we bring you Chela Wendt-Weiland from Medieval Moccasins, dancer Samantha Crystler, and Michele Schultz, who plays Columbina and Stupina at the Festival.

Medieval Moccasins

Medieval Moccasins is a small family-owned business located in San Marcos, Texas that has been hand-crafting shoes for over thirty years. The business began in the early 80s, making custom shoes in the French Quarter markets of New Orleans. As their business became more popular, they refined their process and started selling shoes nationwide through the Renaissance Festival circuit. Sadly, the company lost their founder Ingrid in 2013, but her daughter, Chela, has taken the reins of the business along with the help of her father Klaus and the whole “Shoe Crew” family. My wife and I are fortunate enough to own a few pairs of their wonderful footwear. I encourage you all (after you finish this post, of course) to visit their site and purchase your own. I was lucky enough to get in touch with Chela Wendt-Weiland who exchanged a few emails with me.

Andy: Can you describe your affiliation with MDRF, and your journey that led you to working there?

Chela: From my enrollment at Old Mill Middle School near Annapolis to my high school graduation and beyond, I spent nearly half my school life in Maryland, despite our being based in Texas. This Faire was the most important Renfaire for my mother's business, Medieval Moccasins. I grew up living at the MDRF, playing on the grounds during the week and helping however I could on the weekends. Apart from my time at university, I have worked there continuously with Medieval Moccasins, up to the present day. Since my mother died in 2013, I have assumed control of our family business and have continued coming here each year until the present.

Andy: What is your favorite little-known fact about MDRF?

Chela: The Faire was originally conceived by the Fisher family, who still own the land upon which it sits. They realized their dream long ago of hosting a Renfaire with the emphasis on the artisans, which they also were.To this day, they still have multiple booths at the Faire, selling their wares like the rest of us.

Andy: Do you have experience with other Renfaires?

Chela: Scarborough Faire (Texas), TRF (Texas), Oklahoma RF, GRF, New York RF, PA Renfaire, LARF and scores of smaller renfaires and themed events across the country.

Andy: That certainly must keep you busy. In thinking of all of those festivals throughout the country, what do you think makes the Maryland one unique?

Chela: Certainly in our experience it is one of the best, if not THE best-organized fairs in the country. The fees and amenities are, as the Fisher family envisaged, among the fairest in the country, and the Smith family, who run the Faire, are always accessible and open to feedback from the community of artisans and participants that are the backbone of their event. Perhaps most of all, the quality of the public and their interest and appreciation for the uniqueness of the crafts at the Faire is the highest in the country, in our experience. Kudos to Marylanders too!

Andy: What is your favorite part of the Maryland Renaissance Festival?

Chela: Community, community community. Not just the artisans or the organizers or the performers, but the people we have met in the patron and outside community extending hundreds of miles from the site. They are friends who have become family.

Andy: What will you miss most about not being there this year?

Chela: See above! It is the community most of all.

Andy: If you had to pick something else?

Chela: The museums in DC, Trader Joe's, and the Yellowfin Happy Hour.
As I mentioned before, dear readers, please go check out Medieval Moccasins online and consider getting yourself a pair or two. They are very comfortable, and bring a piece of the festival back to you with every step. You can find them on the Virtual Revel Grove site or find their business website and Facebook page here:

Samantha Crystler

You may recognize Samantha from a number of places throughout the Maryland Renaissance Festival. It wouldn’t be a surprise with how many different things she's been involved with there. One thing you might recognize her from is the Maypole Dance. Although not something typically associated with autumn, the Maypole has become a regular tradition in Revel Grove. Samantha was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about her experiences with the Festival.

Andy: Can you describe your affiliation with the Maryland Renaissance Festival?

Samantha: I have been working at MDRF since 2004. I started out selling garlands at Rosie's Posies for a couple of years, then worked at Black Sword Armory for a year, then picked up CD selling for a couple of bands. I also dance with a group that does the Maypole and peasant dancing.

Andy: You’ve covered a lot of the grove. Can you share the journey that led you to working with the Maryland Renaissance Festival?

Samantha: My dad is a huge cinephile, we had hundreds of videos and I really got into movies like The Court Jester with Danny Kay, Disney's Robin Hood, Labyrinth, Princess Bride, and The Three Musketeers with Michael York. I went to MDRF [for] the first time in middle school with my parents and I was kinda hooked. In high school, our choir would have a Madrigal Feast and I made my first costume. My junior year, I had a teacher that used to be on-cast at MDRF that would take me and another teacher to Faire, and by my senior year I was driving myself up to Faire.

Andy: What’s your favorite little-known-fact about the Maryland Renaissance Festival?

Samantha: A few of the food shops open early for people that work there. There is nothing better than eating breakfast and watching the village slowly wake up.

Andy: Do you have experience with other Renaissance Festivals?

Samantha: Yes I was on cast at both the Ohio Renaissance Faire and the Ohio State Medieval and Renaissance Faire. I was a dunk wench for the Pensacola Renaissance Faire.

Andy: What do you think makes the Maryland Renaissance Festival unique?

Samantha: I love that it is a permanent village, with all the lovely built-in cottages. It really gives the site a lot of character that a tent Faire just would not have. I also feel that it stands out because there is so much entertainment offered that it is impossible to see it all in one day.

Andy: What’s your favorite part of working with the Maryland Renaissance Festival?

Samantha: My favorite part of working there is the people. I have made so many friends there, it has a real community vibe.

Andy: Aside from your own participation, what will you miss most about the Maryland Renaissance Festival this year?

Samantha: I will miss dancing and the people the most. There are many people that the only time I get to see them is at Faire.

Andy: How can your patrons see your work and support you outside of Renaissance Festivals?

Samantha: As a merch seller, I only make a little bit as commission, but I would suggest supporting the music acts that would normally perform at MDRF. They have had their whole livelihood affected by COVID.

Andy: What do you think the future of the Renaissance Festival (and the Arts in general) will look like post-pandemic?

Samantha: I think we are going to see more face covering at Faire, not just on super dusty days. I feel like there will be more hugs because we never know when we will see each other again.

In addition to being a performer and worker at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, Samantha is a pastry chef that has been displaced by the pandemic. If you want to support her, you can find her on Instagram @Angi.tig. If you’re lucky, you might catch the occasional post of one of the tasty things she is cooking up.

Columbina/Stupina - Michele Schultz

It seems fitting to me to close out my Maryland Renaissance Festival interviews with the person that I actually interviewed first. No, really, she was the first person interviewed for the blog, period. Unfortunately, due to technical glitches and difficulties, I was unable to get a recording of our session. Not wanting to take up even more of her valuable time, I’ve decided to forge ahead with the notes I took during our hour and a half conversation. I cannot thank her enough for that time, as it gave me some experience for conducting the rest of the interviews and provided a wealth of knowledge about the Maryland Renaissance Festival. The juxtaposition of working with her first and last feels fitting for a number of reasons, as Michele plays opposites in a number of ways.

Michele has been performing at Renaissance Festivals for over twenty-five years, and this would have been her 23rd season with MDRF. In college, a classmate talked her into her first trip to Revel Grove and to meet some friends at the Purple Unicorn. Michele quickly fell in love with the village and almost immediately began working backstage. It didn’t take long for her to begin bantering with vendors and performers at the Fest, and it's no surprise that she has developed several acts of her own. With these under her belt, she has performed at MDRF as well as Colorado, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Missouri.

Michele really can be found all over, and if you search around you just might find video of her direct people unoccupied privies (or outhouse for those of you uninitiated.) Over the years, she has written, directed, taught, worked backstage, worked onstage, coached, and performed with many different people both onstage and in the lanes of the Grove. You can often find her at the entrance, greeting people in character or seeing them off as they go. However, I think her characters that best show off her juxtapositions (no, that isn’t a dirty word) are Columbina and Stupina.

Columbina and Stupina are fairly fine opposites on the spectrum of innocence. Stupina is more childlike and Columbina is geared toward the adult crowd. If you haven’t seen Columbina perform, please prepare yourself for a show more on the risque side of life. This act, while rated PG-13, contains humorous songs of an adult nature. Stupina, on the other hand, is innocent comedy incarnate... if you can find her. She can most often be found on the paths of Revel Grove, but she also has a stage show once per day called The Girlie Girl Show.

As I mentioned, Michele was our first interview, but we’ve heard her sentiments about the festival echoed in all of the ones we completed. She was able to sum up the production of the festival itself in one word for us: respect. She went on to compliment the owners, noting how hands-on they are, pitching in on a number of different jobs, and how dedicated they are in making sure that everything from performers to vendors are high quality. She, like our other interviewees, also had high praise for the patrons, calling them “one of the smartest audiences around.” With these kinds of sentiments, it's no wonder that she'll be missing the connections to people and sense of family that MDRF brings. Like everyone else, she knows we all miss that connection, as well. She believes people are being starved for art and that connection, and hopes a vaccine will come quickly and bring us all together again soon. Until then, we all need to be creative in finding ways to connect, even among the challenges.
I won’t even begin to try and relate to you the interesting and hilarious stories she was able to share with me, as there's no way I could do them justice. Your best bet is to check her on Youtube and hear them for yourself. There you might learn how Penn and Teller got their performing starts with the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Or perhaps you’ll hear her perfectly timed cannon story. Or the one about the mini-trebuchet. many of the other fantastic stories she has. If you do want to support Michele (Coumblina/Stupina) you can find her in the following places:

Don’t forget that you can often find your favorite performers and artisans online. Supporting their work directly through their websites is important in these times. You can also check Facebook for Virtual Renaissance Faires and other groups supporting other favorite performers and artisans. One such group you might look into is Renaissance Entertainers Services and Crafters United (RESCU). You can also check out our previous interviews: Missing MDRF (with Kim Alexander - Author at Page After Page, and Louie of The London Broil Juggling Show) and Missing MD Arrrrrr F (with Goodly Woods and Pyrates Royale). Until the next Maryland Renaissance Festival season, fare thee well! Please continue returning to the blog to read our adventures in gaming, storytelling and general nerdery every week or follow us on twitter @neversaydice2.


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