Renaissance Festival comes to life during tryouts

By Kay Nguyen

Denise Boum, aka Abigail Elizabeth Codspur, waits to hear her name. Ready to be called in for her unscripted audition, she pulls a card out of a basket draped in red silk.

“Please be a good one, please be a good one!” she said. 

The card reads: “Executioner.” 

“I think I’ll have to play this one with some finesse,”  she said. 

Boum and seven other hopeful candidates auditioned for roles in the Michigan Renaissance Festival Sunday, March 7 in 110 Varner Hall.  

According to its website, the annual Festival is a “time-travel adventure into the 16th century,” where guests roam a 17-acre village filled with shops and performers in wooded Holly.

The group judging the auditions was made up of 11 Renaissance Festival production staff and performers, a handful of whom are Oakland Alumni. 

“The main thing we focus on at the Festival is guest interaction,” said production and improvisation director Lisamarie Gabriele. “Which means as resident cast members your main duty is to interact with as many people as you can.”  

The performers selected at these tryouts will become part of the Festival’s general cast of characters, but only after completing a two-month training academy.

Shawn Amidon, cast member and panel judge, said his experience at the academy was invaluable. 

“You get to be mentored by some of the finest entertainers in Michigan,” said Amidon. “Just in this room we probably have 175 years of combined performing experience.” 

The cast tryouts were divided between group and individual auditions. 

“This is probably like no other audition you’ve ever had,” said Brian Spurling, director of the festival’s acting academy.  

Each applicant filled out a form that included a checklist for skills like juggling, mime, whistling, stage combat, storytelling, magic and even calligraphy. 

Gabriele led the groups through two improvisational exercises: one called “What are you doing?” where the players exchange miming actions, and another called “Human Orchestra,” where Gabriele leads the group through an impromptu storytelling. 

The first improvisational scenario was “Washing a Giraffe on Sunday.” 

The actors were then asked to wait in the hallway where they picked a random role out of a basket.   

Playing their selected character in a scene with the Queen (played by Gabriele), they had to ask the Queen for a special boon, or request.

Fairfax, the Queen’s page (played by Spurling), introduced each auditioner before their individual auditions by procaliming: “Your Highness, your next audience is ready!”  

He and the rest of the panel interacted with the performers during their tryouts, shouting out quips and suggestions, all in character as the Queen’s advisors. 

During his audition, aspiring performer Kevin Buchman played the King of Spain, begging the Queen to help him find the man who killed his father. 

“There has recently been a tragedy in my kingdom,” said Buchman as the lispy Castilian. “A six-fingered man has killed my father and I want to … buy him a drink.” 

“I’ve been going to the festival on and off for 10 years,” said Buchman before his audition.  “I’ll take any role they want me to play.” 

Although the actors most likely would not be playing these roles if they became a cast member, the auditions gave the judges a feel for their personalities as well as their improv skills. 

“They were pretty easy going folks,” said Shane Fekete after his audition as a Troll who can’t get any sleep. “I thought it went pretty well and they said they’d be in touch.” 

There was a 6-year-old boy signed up to audition, but he got nervous and left with his mother. 

There will be a second set of auditions on April 18 from noon-3 p.m. in 110 Varner Hall.  

Those interested in finding out more can contact Lisamarie Gabriele at [email protected].