Monday, May 29, 2017

Court Lady down! We have a Court Lady down!!!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was once a member of the Performing Company at Scarborough Renaissance Festival.  For those who aren't familiar with how RenFests work, the performing company is the "atmosphere".  They are the people who dress in the costumes and walk around the festival (known as performing in the lanes), and do improvisational theater with the crowds on a 360-degree stage.  There is a difference between performing company members and those who are called 'playtrons'.  Playtrons also wear costumes, and sometimes even interact with the shorts and t-shirt crowd, but they buy their tickets, do not attend the weeks of workshops where cast members learn about improv / history / customs / manners / dialect / and so on, their costumes are not subject to the costuming standards of the festivals, and they are not held to the character standards that the cast is required to adhere to, such as not using plastic or paper products like paper plates or plastic cups or no smoking in the lanes.

I spent almost a decade as a lane performer at Scarborough. Circumstances required me to leave cast, but once you are a member of SAPA, you're always part of SAPA.  When you get the chance to visit the festival in costume, the current cast members welcome you back with open arms, and treat you as one of their own.  Most former cast members fall right back into the habits ingrained in them and find themselves following the rules for cast, and entertaining the crowds.

I went back to Scarborough once this year, specifically taking Gertrude Courtenay, Marchioness of Exeter as my character because the gentleman playing my character's husband had brought that character back this year and asked me to visit as this particular character because he would love a last chance to perform with his "wife".  Never one to want to disappoint a close friend, I put on the 40+ pounds of costume, got laced into a corset, and did the thing.  It was a great day, overall, and I had a lot of fun playing with friends, interacting with the crowd, and getting compliments on my outfit.

One thing I learned about myself that day, however, was pleasantly surprising.

Picture three Court Ladies taking their time strolling around the faire.  We jokingly called ourselves The Broken Ladies because all three of us have various and assorted physical issues.  One has EDS, one was badly injured in a car crash years ago and still needs a cane to get around, and then there's me...dealing with rheumatoid arthritis and nerve damage in my knees along with weak ankles. But we had fun, taking our time going from patch of shade to patch of shade because, well, Texas in the Spring has temperatures that rival other places in deep Summer.

As a group we decided that our next stop was a shaded picnic table.  Sadly it was one of the tables that had the benches attached to the table, rather than the kind you could move the benches away from and pull them back in.  I wasn't really worried about it at the time.  I've maneuvered my hoop skirts around those types of tables many times.  I forgot that I was out of practice.

I began the complex negotiations between skirts and bench, trying to slide in carefully.  I was almost there, I had JUST about made it, when it happened.  I felt the hoops catch on the end of the bench and I knew, even as I was going over, that I was going to end up on the ground.  My friend, Suzy, said that I did an absolutely perfect shoulder roll as I went over (compliments to my various and assorted stage combat teachers!) and the next thing I know, I'm faceplanting into the grass.

Even as few as five years ago, I would have been angry, mortified, and horrified at the spectacle I had been, and at the spectacle I would be trying to get to my feet.  But this day I found that I had honestly and truly progressed further than I thought on my journey of self-acceptance because all that I could do at that point was roll over into a sitting position....and laugh.  There was no feeling of embarrassment.  I did not want to sink into the ground and disappear. All I wanted to do was laugh because it was such a ridiculous situation.

Eventually we rounded up the Archbishop of Canterbury, one Royal Guard, and three of the Cardinal's Guard to heave me up to my feet.  Me, plus 40+ pounds of costuming, plus a corset that didn't help my movement any, plus the bad knees and ankles doesn't add up to anything resembling a featherweight!  But they got me to my feet, I brushed myself off, thanked them profusely, and we all went back to our day once it was determined that I hadn't injured myself at all in the fall.

I know it doesn't seem like much to people who have never had to deal with society turning everyone who has a body shape that is similar into a joke.  Fat pratfalls are hilarious, right?  They are a cornerstone of TV and movie comedy.  It's hilarious to see the fatty fall on their face and then flail around trying to get up.  But to me, the fact that I could deal with this by just laughing and not thinking about how the people around us saw the fall, well that is amazing.  Forgive my humour, but it is HUGE to me that I've reached the point in my self-acceptance journey that I could not worry about people's impressions of me because I'm fat and I fell, but instead that I could laugh at the graceless circumstances that led to the whole thing.  I wasn't embarrassed that it took five people to get me to my feet, I was just grateful that they were there and chivalrous enough to help.

I have grown into my skin just a bit more.  I am who I am. This makes me happy.