The Renaissance Faire: a festive day of recorder music, phony British accents, apothecary and flower shops stocked with mini potions and flower garlands, and, of course, “huzzahs!”
It’s a rite of passage for every seventh grader at Country Day.
But this year marks the end of an era for this euphoric European-inspired day, as it is both organizer Patricia Kelly and King Chris Kuipers’s last year participating in the tradition.
Kelly is retiring, and Kuipers is trading his seventh-grade world history class for AP European History next year.
Kelly said she’s been “everything from parent organizer, script editor, lunch-and-break performance coach, setup and cleanup go-to person (to supply-orderer)” for the past 11 years.
Kuipers, who has been part of the Faire for seven years, praised Kelly for her role.
“I’m always sort of in awe that it comes together so well,” Kuipers said.
“There are so many different moving pieces, and there are always scheduling issues. Hats off to Ms. Kelly!”
Among the activities Kelly schedules are the Maypole Dance, a reenactment of traditional Middle Age dances complete with multicolored ribbons and recorder music; the seventh graders’ parade through the school on the way to the Renaissance Faire play in the MP room; the guilds (apothecary, games, food and merchant) that sell Renaissance and Middle Age-themed goods; and the assembly and dismantling of the castle.
When Kelly was first asked by Quincey Grieve, former head of middle school, to take on this assignment, she accepted immediately.
“She asked if I would be interested in coming up with ideas for a Renaissance Faire,” Kelly said.
“I am (the) type of person who has not learned to say ‘no,’ and taking on these types of things has expanded who I am as a person and teacher.”
According to Kelly and Kuipers, the Faire has always been “over the top.”
“The scope of the preparation is really impressive,” Kuipers said.
“What I thought was particularly impressive (about Kelly’s role) was that she doesn’t see all of these kids; she’s not a core-class middle-school teacher, yet she takes this on and facilitates what goes on.”
That’s not to say her job is easy.
Starting in January, Kelly begins spending her lunchtimes assisting the seventh graders with their roles in the Renaissance Faire play, which include the Lord, Lady, Jester, Town Crier, Boar Hunter and Beggar.
As the Faire draws closer, all her breaks and lunches are used for Faire preparation: teaching the guild members their respective duties.
For instance, Kelly helps the students in the apothecary guild create their potions, cloved oranges and other items that will be sold for the price of a song, dance or joke at the Faire.
“It has taken a toll on me,” Kelly said.
“My feet ache; my body aches every day (of) the week before (the Faire).”
It’s for her extreme devotion to the Faire that Kuipers described Kelly as someone “certainly dedicated, creative (and) adaptable (with a) good sense of humor but who still runs a tight ship.”
Over the years, Kelly has made running the Faire more efficient.
“I have worked to streamline the amount of work by making things more organized for myself, but this has taken a lot of time,” Kelly said.
“I have lists of supplies to order, boxes with supplies for each guild, inventory, storage, etc.”
Plastic stretch-wrap for cleanup, replacement ribbons for the Maypole, four bags of candy (i.e., Dum Dums, Smarties), gold coins, Hacky Sacks, wooden squares, wooden rounds, string, leather (25 pounds!), bear claws, skull beads, 40 miniature potion bottles, soap-making supplies (glycerin, molds, spoons, fragrances), small charms, fabric, dried herbs, dried flowers, wristbands, drawstring bags, flower wreaths, peacock feathers, hair clips, copper wire, nylon and clay are just some of the materials on her long list.
Kelly also writes the bulk of the script for the play, with the majority of her inspiration coming from research and the book “Good Masters, Sweet Ladies,” which she found one day in the SCDS library.
“I never thought I could actually write a script, but it was rather fun,” Kelly said.
“I did a lot of research, and ‘Good Masters, Sweet Ladies’ helped to build other ideas around it. I also would see things in old movies I thought would be funny to add.”
In his role as king, Kuipers adds comical elements ranging from raps, sonnets and odes to iPad games.
This year Kuipers added an impromptu sonnet to Kelly that moved her to tears.
Certainly, each year has had its own nuances.
“The heart of what we do is still the same,” Kuipers said.
“It’s not a process of evolution, but each year it’s its own variety, a variation on a theme, so to speak.
“The core of the script remains the same, but (each year) we can play off the students’ particular talents.”
For example, this year the MP room skit included a skilled juggler and stick-maker, seventh-grader Aran Clayton.
Yet in the coming years, Kuipers expects the Faire to change.
“I do think over the next few years we’ll see it evolve into something different,” Kuipers said.
“It will take on its own personality and flavor.”
That’s because next year’s seventh-grade history teacher William Crabb and incoming art teacher Alexis Grinbold will step in and fill Kuipers’s and Kelly’s spots.
“There’s (also) talk about whether or not we should blend it, keep it or make it part of World Cultures Day,” Kuipers said.
Nonetheless, one thing is certain: Kuipers and Kelly will never forget their experiences in the Renaissance Faire.
“I will always treasure and carry this with me to other places, maybe my grandkids’ classrooms,” Kelly said.
“Working with the students and watching their joy as they perform, make potions in the apothecary, barter with sixth graders for a ceramic pendant in the merchant guild, (are) taken to the pillory, use the marshmallow crossbow in games guild, enjoy handmade jelly on a piece of bread from the Tavern, interact with lower schoolers and students in costume and the king (Kuipers) – I’ll never forget that.”
Kuipers spoke of similar sentiments.
“I’ll miss performing,” Kuipers said.
“I enjoy the lower-school kids coming by, interacting with them and watching the seventh graders interact with them.”
As Kelly said, it’s a day for students to, for once in their lives, play at school.
And it’s a day that no one ever forgets.
—By Chardonnay Needler