Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"You're Jane the Phoole! We have jokes for you!"

I've performed with the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, WI since 1990, and I've portrayed Jane the Phoole at that show since 1994. I love the crowds at Bristol, and they're extremely kind to me, to the point that I've got something of a healthy following there.

My hordes of adoring fans notwithstanding, there's still a large percentage of the audience there and at other US events who don't "get" jesters or fools, or who don't have any notion of women having been Royal Fools. Some of these people skirt my distant social perimeter during early encounters (whether out of Fear of Clowns or just because, really, the visual impression I give is, frankly, disturbing, especially out of context, vis-a-vis the cleavage and the tea-cozy silhouette), or they challenge me directly, saying, "I've never heard of women being jesters. All women from the Renaissance were wenches, right?" And American kids are not to be approached directly for street theatre encounters -- doesn't work. I let American kids approach me when they've decided I'm harmless, or when their parents have told them, "It's okay, she works here."

I didn't know what to expect from UK families and kids meeting Jane the Phoole for the first time.

I certainly didn't expect the words I heard when I first stepped out of the coachhouse in farthingale, giant bumroll, gown and gigantic hat:

"You're Jane the Phoole! We have jokes for you!"

Three families with kids greeted me the moment I came downstairs, and the kids all had jokes. And I didn't have to say One Word. I didn't have to establish distance, safety, non-threatening physical attitudes, anything. All I had to do was show up.

It felt fantastic. Everywhere I went on the grounds, families Ran Up To Me, asking if it was all right if they could just have a word with me, and could they possibly share just one joke with me? Little girls told me they'd read about me in Elizabeth I's diary from when she was just a Princess. Little boys told me the same knock-knock joke about Doctor Who over and over, and I was delighted. Even tweenage girls, who in the States wouldn't be caught dead talking to a walkaround character, enthused about how great it was to meet a female Fool from Shakespeare's time. I enthused back about how great it was to meet smart, strong young women in trousers from the future.

It felt Too Good. It was so easy. And the rest of the day, I Walked Around Talking To People, and I'll tell you more about that next time.

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