- Associated Press - Saturday, May 28, 2016

SHAKOPEE, Minn. (AP) - There’s no business like ye olde show business, which is why local actors, musicians and other would-be entertainers recently showed off their talents in the hope of becoming a peasant, mermaid, knight or elf.

The occasion was the annual open audition for the 2016 season of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, which seeks to employ a total of about 500 entertainers including bands, dancers, singers, acrobats, comedians, jugglers, magicians, costumed street characters and stage combatants, the St. Paul Pioneer Press (http://bit.ly/1NMsqtB ) reported.

“No experience is necessary, and no skill is too small,” the audition notice announced.

In other words, think of the festival’s talent search as a sort of “Merrie Olde England’s Got Talent,” or “A Chorus Line, Forsooth.”

Some of the entertainment at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival are out-of-town acts that tour the national medieval/renaissance/pirate fair circuit.

But most of the entertainers are locals, often performers with experience in professional or community theater in the Twin Cities.

And more than a few are avid festival-goers so smitten with the anachronistic experience that they decided to run away and join the circus, at least for the festival’s seven weekends, Aug. 20 to Oct. 2.

“They just love it here. They want to be a street character. They want to be royalty, or a peasant,” said Carr Hagerman, artistic director at the festival, who himself was the Rat Catcher, a longtime festival street character.

Adam Dingman, a 33-year-old cement mason from Maple Grove, said he has gone to the festival in the past as a “playtron,” dressed in his own armor and chain mail outfit.

This year, Dingman, who has a braided beard, decided to audition as an entertainer by being a member of the festival’s Viking encampment.

“I’m not used to getting in front of a big crowd and acting,” said Dingman at his audition. But he said he thought it would be cheaper to attend the festival as an entertainer than buy his usual season ticket.

“I’ve always felt pulled to the medieval era,” he said.

Some festival entertainers have turned their acts into real careers and real followings, with hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans. Magicians Penn and Teller, for example, got their start at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in the late 1970s.

But for many, it’s a labor of love.

Festival entertainer Scott Murray of Crystal started out a peasant, became a grave digger and now is Garrik the Viking. He said he might end the festival season $500 in the red after he factors in costs like fees for a stage fighting certification.

“Costumes are expensive. Weapons are expensive,” he said.

“There’s not a ton of money to be made if you want to be a street character,” Hagerman said.

But performers do gain a wealth of experience in up-close, interactive entertainment.

Hagerman said auditions for the festival used to take place in a Twin Cities theater, but this year the auditions were at the sprawling festival grounds in Shakopee.

He said the goal was to give prospective performers a better idea of the unique challenges entertainers face.

You have to drive out to Shakopee by 8 a.m. every festival day. You might not leave until 8 p.m. In between, you and 400 other performers have to keep the 20,000 people streaming through the gates entertained in all sorts of weather.

“We don’t have green rooms. We have trees,” Hagerman said.

The festival puts new entertainers through an academy with training in voice, movement, costuming, character development and street improvisation.

Hagerman said the street performers gain skills that prove helpful in traditional theater, and they find that their acts are honed with the frequent repetition of their material before the ever-changing crowds streaming by.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” said Micah Mills, a 22-year-old from Excelsior auditioning to be a street performer. “I would do it for free.”

Lauren Kinkead, a 52-year-old software engineer from Eagan, has experience acting in television, stage and commercials in Los Angeles. But she auditioned for the festival because she wants to get into improvisation.

John Goolsby, a 48-year-old lawyer from St. Paul, played the recorder during his audition and sang “Pastime With Good Company,” a song written by Henry VIII.

“It’s a lot different from the day job,” Goolsby said of his goal to be a festival character named John of Fairfax.

Other people who showed up at the audition included a teenage classical singer, a guitar and violin duo, a guy who said he could juggle and imitate a loon and a woman who said she could ride a unicycle.

The festival may be one of the few entertainment venues where someone says at the audition, “A mermaid didn’t show up.”

But in the end, the people trying out were dismissed with a phrase that hopeful actors have probably heard since the days of Shakespeare: “OK, we’ll be in touch.”

___

Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com

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