Oh…. you are in for a treat today! I have a guest writer today. This is my friend Jasper, and he is going to offer you an entirely different perspective on the Renaissance Festival. You can find the other posts in the series here.
My name is Jasper, and this is a recollection of my time as Ogun, Crown Prince of Nubia for the Kansas City Renaissance Festival. Pertinent background to this story can include the fact that I have grown up Black in America. I am a lifelong resident of the greater Kansas City area, with rare exception. Since the day I was born I have never lived more than a few hours drive from this metropolis. For those unaware, one can find a Kansas City in both Kansas and Missouri, divided by the line between those states. Within these bounds I have lived on both sides of the aforementioned state line. I have a love of stories which immerse their onlookers and feel this is reflected in my writing style and media choices. I see myself as a perpetual student. While I do not have as broad reaching schooling as some, I aim to learn everything I can from the world around me. I count acting as an additional talent and hobby. Lastly, one of my mantras I attribute to Jeet Kun Do as inspired by Bruce Lee: Absorb what is useful, discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own.
I originally came to the local Renaissance Festival in my teens, solely as a casual yet enthused patron. As a student seeing styles, hearing speech, and seeing craft work that hearken back to another age was a joy. From the standpoint of an actor I could appreciate the time it took to craft the characters and costumes, and maintain elaborate personas in the round for several hours. This was a venue that let what I saw in movies and read in books come to life. I reveled in every minute of it.
The only drawback was a personal one, but one that I had dealt with often in my life. The viewpoint, even from my World History classes, was very Eurocentric. I found history to be entertaining. If for no other reason it had something of a conclusive end, culminating in the present day. You can see the advancements of mankind and how the effect telescopes, with life changing improvements coming in ever shortening intervals. But between the times of ancient Egypt and the Atlantic Slave Trade, my schooling was bereft of people that looked like me. I also hold myself at fault. I knew of myths from the world over, but the whole of the African continent was unknown to me.
Thus, when the opportunity to take part in the inaugural year of a Court of Nubia was offered I was interested right away. It was an opportunity for me to explore an African culture to enrich my own being. Plus, in what I think of as enlightened self interest, I was able to be visible other minorities (Black and otherwise). For me it was a small thing, but as is the way of the world it can mean much to others.
I cannot speak to other Festivals around the country, but more than half the year goes into some of the groups that perform. It is also an established entertainment event going back over thirty years. While my work was cut out for me, I had the immediate support of everyone around me. Working with the rest of the Nubian Court and our director regarding our history. Getting help with characterization from entrenched members of the cast. Finding ways to balance out accompanying the English Court while having a flare that was distinctly foreign. I found it daunting as a First-Year performer. But as with many jobs the people that you work with can make a lot of difference. By the time opening day came around I had a wonderful handle on my character. I drew the name Ogun from the Orisha of Yoruban religion, one of the few tidbits I knew of African mythology. He is a god of ironwork, and is also entreated in the making of paths. I felt it fitting to use as a moniker as I opened the way for Courts to come.
My grand ideals aside, the performance itself was worth the effort. Much of our time was spent among the English nobility. We sang and we danced, and we walked in procession with the rest of the Royal Court of England. The Nubian Court even presided over the “Death Joust”. However, my goal of learning all the English traditions was met and exceeded I think, and I maintain an otherworldly air. I managed to add what was uniquely my own. This shown through no more than in two places, the Human Combat Chess Match and Nubian Story time.
I suppose the easiest way to describe the Chess Match is to allude to Harry Potter. I know in one of the stories there is something known as Wizards’ Chess in which the pieces come to life. Ours worked much the same way. In this exhibition I was placed against a Yeoman, one of the Kings’ personal guards. We worked on our choreography, but I added in acrobatics on my end. It made for a remarkable contrast. I was able to float like a butterfly around the Yeoman, eventually gaining the upper hand. I consider myself active and athletic so this was up my alley.
Nubian Story Time granted us half an hour to relay tales of our choosing. Many African stories can be equated to parables. There is always something to learn. While this was a “smaller” venue, the ramifications meant a lot more. It was held in a section of the Festival grounds allotted to the entertainment of children and they made up a bulk of the audience. The Nubian Court members led the storytelling, while we brought the children in to help act out the parts. The parables not only told of daily life, but in gleaning wisdom from them. It was most readily during these times in which children came to speak with me and the parents stopped to thank me for my presence. It was as good for them to see themselves in royalty as it was for their children.
Having returned over the past weekend, once more as a patron, I was able to see the present years’ Nubian Court from the outside. It may be small, but it is still a legacy I helped create. Having lived in a place where I can only trace my bloodlines back a few hundred years at most being able to hearken back and relive the ages of sovereigns and courts, of art and architecture, of story and song from Africa is invaluable. That is the magic of Renaissance Festivals. And now, more than ever, I feel a part of them.
Thank you, Jasper!