By Dave Paone
Princesses and wenches. Knights and knaves. Damsels and jesters. It’s the time of the year they all descend upon Tuxedo Park in New York. It’s the Renaissance Faire.
While it may not be as nerdy as Comic-Con or a Star Trek convention, the Renaissance Faire attracts its own category of geeks, some of whom are full-time college students.
One such student is 26 year-old Caroline Lenz, an art history major at Borough of Manhattan Community College. Caroline is one of the hundreds of actors employed at the Faire each season, who perform in costume and take on personas.
Caroline plays Viscountess Lætitia Hereford, in service to Her Majesty The Queen. She’s also The Queen’s cousin and Lady of the Privy chamber.
This is Caroline’s third summer working the Faire, and she has no reservations accepting both its and her own nerdiness.
“My parents were scientists, so I have always had a streak of nerd within me,” she said. “I grew up watching ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’ and when I was a teenager my father introduced me to ‘Doctor Who.’ And I’ve always loved history, so this was a clear beacon of light for me. I suppose nerdiness has always been in my blood. I never shunned it.”
In addition to the Faire, Caroline has gone to Comic-Con every year for the past five years, with her two regular costumes being Black Canary and a “Star Trek” science officer’s tunic.
Now here’s the shocker: Caroline was a cheerleader in high school.
Yes, this Renaissance Faire-working, Comic-Con-cosplaying nerd was at the top of the social pyramid in high school.
However, she maintains she wasn’t as cool as one might think. “I was never what you would call popular,” she said, and participated in cheer “mostly for the athleticism.”
For her, the Renaissance Faire is where she belongs.
“In describing the camaraderie to my stepmother my first year, she said, ‘Oh, you found your tribe!’ and I realized, yes, that is exactly what I have done… I have found a family.”
Let’s call it a blended family.
Caroline met the fellow cast member who would soon become her fiancé at the first rehearsal on the first day of work three years ago. “We fell in love very shortly afterwards,” she said.
Joe Di Donato has a similar story. Joe is a sophomore at Ramapo College in New Jersey and is working his second year at the Faire in the hospitality department. He wears a peasant costume but also carries a walkie-talkie.
Joe cosplays at conventions throughout the year, with the New York Comic-Con as his favorite. He foam-fabricates his own superhero costumes, including Batman and Ironman.
Another shocker: Joe played football in high school. And track.
Another Renaissance Faire-working, Comic-Con-cosplaying nerd was a wide receiver and a defensive cornerback as well as a varsity relay anchor.
That means Joe ran with two crowds in high school: the popular jocks and the unpopular nerds.
“I don’t look at it as one’s on top of the other; I just look at if as they’re two different kinds of people. They’re both equal but I’m definitely a mix,” said Joe.
Even the general public is encouraged to attend in costume. (Not that nerds need an incentive to cosplay.) If you just don’t have the time to design and tailor your own Renaissance costume, the Faire has some you can rent for the day.
At age 17, Brooke Simone was dragged to her first Renaissance Faire. She went with her boyfriend, 17 year-old Sam Copeland, along with his parents and two older sisters.
Sam’s parents had run the Kansas City Renaissance Faire for many years and Sam and his sisters had been attending them all their lives. His parents forced Brooke into attending in full costume or they weren’t going to take her. She went kicking and screaming.
“I felt really ridiculous,” she said, “but 10 minutes after being here I was having the best time of my life.” A year later she was getting paid to be at the Faire in costume and has worked each season since.
Brooke, a 21 year-old student at Suffolk County Community College, plays Rosemary Thyme, the Shire Herbalist and Sam, a 22 year-old student at Nassau Community College, plays Auric Deslagge, the Alchemist.
Both reside on Long Island so the Orange County fairgrounds are a long way off. They spend Friday and Saturday nights in on-sight tents, camping with the rest of the cast who don’t live locally.
The couple’s association with Renaissance Faires won’t end in a few years, as it will for others. They’re considering making the national Renaissance Faire circuit their full-time professions.
The New York Faire is celebrating its 40th season this year, so one might argue that the Renaissance Faire is the original home for cosplay.
“It’s definitely dressing up and it’s definitely pretending to be someone you’re not, someone from a different time,” said Joseph, but he maintains it’s different from cosplay, which has to do more with characters from movies, comics and TV shows.
Skyler Wulfson, a sophomore at the University of Hartford, found a way to parlay his time at the Faire to his academic and financial advantage.
Skyler interned with Deborah Grosmark, the Faire’s staff photographer, for his junior and senior years in high school.
During that time he built a portfolio of photographs, most of which were shot at the Faire, which enabled him to pursue photography as his major in college. Additionally, he received an $84,000 merit-based scholarship because of that portfolio.
The common thread that runs through the tapestry of Renaissance Faire lovers is that at some point they’ve all embraced their nerdiness and have found the Faire the perfect venue in which to revel in that nerdiness.
“This is my core group of friends,” said Caroline. “One of my dearest friends in the world actually is The Queen, and I stay in touch with her all year.”
“This is probably the least judgmental place in the world,” said Joe. “It’s my favorite place to be. It’s just a fantastic place to escape and to get away.”
“I make no secret of who I am,” said Caroline.
It’s no secret. She’s a nerd.
If you go…
If you’d like to get your geek on, the Renaissance Faire runs weekends through October 1. Visit www.renfair.com/ny for tickets.