faire!

In 1968, in the spring of my fourteenth year, my eighth grade Speech teacher Mrs. Topping took me out to a thing called The Renaissance Pleasure Faire to “help out” in her husband’s pewter booth. That was fun but the faire outside the flap of that booth was something I had never seen before and, from that moment on, could never get enough of. I knew even then that I wanted to perform and so I clawed and slept my way into the role of banner carrier for a singing group called “The Godolphins”. The best part of this was that every day at noon, I got to march with them down procession hill as part of the noon parade. Me! Not even 14 and already in the noon parade! It’s really difficult to reach your pinnacle of fame at such an early age. Ask Lindsey Lohan.

In1970 I started high school and immediately fell in with a bad crowd; Billy Barrett, Marque Seibenthal, Jeffrey Gluckson come to mind; and I immediately started talking up this amazing thing called the faire. As it turned out, Marque was already there as part of a ten person mime company led by legendary Jack Albee called “The Pennywhistle Players” and in something he said was called “Comedia”. Billy, Jeffrey and I (along with five real friends and two imagined ones) decided - based on our shared interest and knowledge in comedy and improve - to put together a recorder ensemble. We called ourselves The Oxenhorn Troupee (Oxenhorn in homage to a great, unfortunately named man we once knew and troupee because, well, we were smart asses even then). Only Jeffrey had ever played the recorder before but how hard could it be? We gathered together our instruments and using the “think system” from Music Man, put together a set consisting of three authentic period pieces and the Bozo theme song (because we all knew it). And because even then we carried within us the seed of unappreciated comedic brilliance, we choreographed an elaborate dance routine worthy of any Elizabethan Half Time Show and - unfortunately - only truly appreciated viewed from above. We played our modest set on the hill inside the opening gate over and over and over again. It was heaven.

 

And it was in the early afternoon on that spring day of 1970 that Ron Patterson stopped to watch our “show” We knew who he was. Of course we did. Performers like Robert Shields, Billy Scudder, Carl Arena, Judy Cory, Kenny Milligan, J.Paul Moore, Dundee, Julie Meredith, Tony DeFonte, Will Wood, and groups like The Golden Toad and Oak, Ash and Thorn, these were the rock stars we got to walk among. But Ron and Phyllis Patterson? They were the Gods (I later found out that one was a Happy God and one was an Angry God but we didn’t know any of that then). He stood on the road looking up at our show better viewed from above and we played our little period hearts out for him. After our big closing number (Bozo probably) he gathered us around him and…spoke:

 

“You are too good to play on this hill. You should be playing on one of our stages.”

- Ron Patterson to The Oxenhorn Troupee, May, 1970

 

I will never forget that it was Ron Patterson who encouraged us, a group of eager young kids who would one day become Cock and Feathers, to perform on stage. And I'm pretty sure Phyllis never forgot that either.

We were going to try and get our amazing recorder show on the main stage but then our mime friend Marque shared with us an amazing secret; if we put on white face, we could stay over night at the faire! Even without night passes or sleeping bags, or tooth brushes, or even clean underwear! Now those who might think that the formation of Cock and Feathers was by some divine providence are right - in a way - for the three of us who believed him, who put on the white face and sat in an empty booth that night huddled together in a fallen banner and feeling like we got away with murder were Billy, Jeffrey and I … at one point in the evening, the man many considered to be too mean and scary to be in the Hells Angels, terror of small children, killer of small animals as well as head of the faire security force, Richard Smith himself, shined his light on us and growled, "what are you three doing in there?!" Being "mimes" all we could do was wave and look frightened. He stared at us for what seemed like forever, mumbled something to his partner and left. We were obviously too pathetic to kill.

And just when we thought we were living the mime dream, Phyllis returned from her yearly trip to that place in Europe where they continued to revise the rules of Elizabethan England and announced that mime was French and from the 19th century and no 

longer allowed at the faire. No mime?! Was she kidding? We spent hours on our show! What were we to do now? But then we had an epiphany – what if we kept our show just as it was and added a lot of words to it? It would be like.....mime with talking!!! I suggested we run the acts together so we don't let the audience applaud until the end when - in theory - they'll want to clap a lot! Mime with a lot of talk and don't let the audience clap until the end…Cock and Feathers was born.

 

That fall we debut our new show at the Northern Faire on the Red Barrel Stage and after our bow, Phyllis was there the greet us. I'll always remember what she said, "you three have been silent for so long, the first words that came out of your mouth were golden!" Golden! We've had countless conversations through the year, she and I, and none of them nearly as complimentary as that first one was. In fact, years later, I reminded her of this comment during one of our not so nearly as warm post show meetings. I said, "Phyllis? Remember when we first did our show and you said that we were silent so long that the first words that come out of our mouths were golden?"

 

"Yes, I remember. They were golden."

 

"So what happened?"

 

"You kept talking."

 

That pretty much summed up our relationship. Cock and Feathers was to Phyllis what The Marx Brothers were to Margret Dumont. She couldn't seem to understand why we were as popular as we were because, to be honest, I don't think she thought we were very funny. Especially after we added a "plot". About wizards.

OK, so this is the story of the day both Ron and Phyllis came to see our show.

 

It was during that brief period when we were as popular as the queen (I'm not saying we were better than the queen or more important, whatever…John Lennon joke). It was our 2:00 wizard show on the Maybower Stage and there had to be close to a thousand people in the audience. And among that throng were both of the Gods, Ron; sitting half way up in the audience on the left side; and Phyllis, in her usual place down stage right, legal pad in her lap, ready to be filled with my latest anachronistic faux pas. Now it is true that I have been known, on very rare occasions, to veer slightly from the script and adlib something hopefully funny which would fit in perfectly and move forward the plot. Or not. Well, on this day, the show is going great, the crowd loved us, and even the juggling worked! And then I said something which totally bombed. I knew this because after I said it the crowd became silent. Not just quieter. Silent, as if, en masse, they all chose to hold their collective breaths rather than make a sound I might misinterpret as a laugh or giggle. Even the steak on a steak guy stopped yelling and you could almost hear him thinking, "Steak-On-A … what the hell is that stink coming from the main stage?!" I looked down at Phyllis and of course she was writing furiously on her pad. I wanted to reach out to her and hold her and say, "Don't worry, dear Phyllis, there's no way in hell I'm ever going to say that horrible, offensive joke again. It bombed!" I looked over at Billy. He was giving me that Double Virgo, eyebrow raised, 'I told you you weren't funny" look I've come to expect from him and then I hear it. Coming from half way up the audience on the left side; a helpless, joyful giggle sounding like it was coming from a little girl. I looked out and saw him. Now I don't know if it was because of the silence or Billy's look or Phyllis writing or maybe he thought my joke was actually funny (probably not), but for whatever reason, Ron was hysterical. And I realized something right then; if Phyllis represented the structure and authenticity of the faire; its knowledge, its history, its rules; then Ron represented its spirit; its celebration, its music, its joy; and even though I might never win the heart of Phyllis, on that day at least, I made Ron laugh until he cried. OK, back to the show. I smiled over at the Happy God, who was bent over and crying, and I pointed him out to the audience as if to say, "See? Ron got it!" And the crowd went wild. It was a perfect day.

Yeah yeah, ok,  I drank some white gasoline during a Cock and Feathers night show once. Someone put it in a beer cup on the edge of the stage - I thought they were offering it to me and I took a sip. It made me really sick but didn't kill me so a good laugh was had by all. But as bad as that was, it didn't come close to being the most frightening thing that ever happened to us during a Wizard Show. That happened in Agoura, during the day and on the main stage...

It was the one year back in the 80's when Billy couldn't play good wizard Belvanore and our friend Mitchell Evans was filling in. We just started our 1:00 show on the Maybower to a full and already appreciative house of about 800. Belvy and I had just finished our audience argument and had made it back up onto the stage when suddenly a man in a monk outfit stood up and faced us in the third row. Now maybe if I had just said my next line and ignored this guy none of this would have happened but, back then, I was known to - occasionally - reach "outside" the limitations of our humble script and, distracted as I was by this mysterious monk, that's exactly what I did.
 

"Is there something I can help you with?" I asked him. He didn't answer me but instead walked to the aisle and right up on to the stage with us, stopping directly in front of me. I watched his procession from the bale and straight to my side with mouth agape. Even though I had no idea what he wanted, the crowd seemed to be really excited about this "new addition". We had a lot of regulars who came to our show back then who seemed to enjoy it when ever we would veer even a little bit from our normal routine...and they seemed to suspect (rightfully so) that this strange monk guy was about to lead us into a major detour. Boy, did he ever!

"Trouble with the church?" I/Murkmouth asked bemused, scratching my pouch casually. He responded by putting his hands around my collared neck and choking me. I mean he really choked me. The crowd thought this was funny but I knew right away that this could be bad. I wanted him off of me without hurting him so - as gently as I could - flipped him over and onto the stage. Unfortunately he didn't let go of my neck so we went down together. "This isn't what I meant to do at all," I said, and I remember being surprised at the time at how difficult speaking was, for this man's strangle hold was getting tighter and my breathing was becoming strained. I laid there on the stage, spooning this aspiring murderer of mine, looking out at the many faces in that audience, all howling hysterically, hoping to find even one out there who I might get to help me. "What a great crowd," I thought. It was then I realized that I was beginning to lose consciousness. And that wouldn't be good either.

I was saying things like "help me" and "this guy's not kidding" but either no one could hear me, or no one believed that I was really in
trouble. It suddenly came to me that I could actually die up here and they'd never know it until it was too late. I looked around, hoping to make eye contact with anyone out there in order to let them know I needed help and - thank God - I found Mark Lewis. He was sitting about ten rows back, dressed as the executioner - axe and all - and when our eyes met he got it. He jumped from his seat and marched up to the stage, all in black, standing over us and in his deepest, most commanding voice, this gentle bear of a man growled, "Get up."

And for what ever reason, the monk listened. He let me go. He stood up and, as quietly as he came, let Mark lead him by the collar off the stage, up the aisle and away for good. "You're in trouble now buddy!" I yelled out after them but my voice came out like a whisper (later I heard that it took six of our "goon squad" to hold my monk down until the sheriffs could arrive and take him even further away...angel dust is such an amazing drug, isn't it?). I stood up slowly, rubbing my neck and looked around. The crowd was obviously delighted by the way things were going and were all sitting forward, anxiously awaiting our next surprise. I looked around me on the stage and both Mitchell and Marque were standing there in shock, looking back at me.

"Where the hell were you?" 

"I thought you were trying something new," said Marque, innocently.

"You thought I added a murdering monk? Without telling you?!"

"Yes?"

"No!!!"

I was furious which made the crowd laugh even harder with many of them gasping and groaning. It sounded like we were playing before an infirmary. I guess a pissed off wizard in Kiss make-up must have looked pretty funny.

"What the hell are you laughing at? That monk tried to kill me!" People were falling off their bales. I looked out at them and I slowly smiled. They were loving the show. We were doing our job. And it was time to give them the rest of it. I gestured to the guys that I could go on and was just about to say my next line when he finally showed up. Superman.

There he was, appearing from out of nowhere in his red cape, his blue tights, his big "S", his shiny red boots, walking right in front of the stage. I stared at him as he passed.

"Well, it's about time you showed up!"

He waved his signature Superman wave and walked away and was soon lost in the crowd. I watched him go as the audience cheered. I looked back at them then and everything that had just happened hit me all at once. I started to laugh and once I began, I could not stop. I giggled through juggling, guffawed through the battle and snorted through the slow motion fight. I was completely useless and when we finally finished what was left of our show, the crowd went wild...

 

Best! Day! Ever!

...comedia, shrew, sheriffs and kings...

(stories to follow)