LYNDHURST, NJ – In 11th-century Spain, a nobleman who tries to put his hand up the queen’s skirt after a royal feast may be subjected to medieval torture methods.
But in the Middle Ages, just off Route 3, dealing with that kind of behavior has been accepted for too long as part of the job, said Monica Garza, one of the many actresses who plays the queen at the dinner-and-a-tournament attraction. .
Garza said management made her feel like a “diva” for requesting additional security protocols after pointing out increasingly brazen behavior from guests. Only after an incident where a rowdy cardholder came close to her throne and tried to scream into her microphone, Garza said, did management install a chain to block access to her.
The desire for reinforced security and other safety measures at the castle — where horse falls may be part of the job description — was one of the reasons queens, knights, squires and grooms at Lyndhurst Castle voted to unite on Friday.
The union effort, first reported by The Huffington Post, prevailed on Friday, as workers voted 26 to 11 to join the American Guild of Variety Artists. The medievalists will join a wide variety of performers represented by the guild, including the Radio City Rockettes, some circus performers, and the character actors who perform at Disneyland—including Mulan and Aladdin, for example—in California.
The workers also want higher wages (Garza receives $20 an hour and squires start at about $14 an hour), and for senior people to treat them more like skilled laborers – trained stuntmen who perform intricate battles with lances, swords and axes , and experienced actors who do more than just read lines. Medieval Times management has not responded to requests for comment.
“A big point of the union is just basic respect,” said Garza, 25, a trained actor and self-described history geek. “People will always exploit you if it’s something you love because they know you’ll do it for free.”
Many artists eventually fall in love with the job, even if they didn’t initially dream of working in the concrete castle, with its huge armory and seemingly endless supply of tomato bisque. The two-hour shows are staffed by a motley crew that includes an ex-Marine, a former backing vocalist for Elton John, a music theater student turned stuntman, a former zookeeper and an actor known for his voice work on the video game “Grand Theft.” Car.”
“We’re a bunch of misfits,” laughs Sean Quigley, 33, the backing singer who is also a classically trained actor from London, saving him from faking a British accent. (The show is technically set in Spain, but New Jersey audiences aren’t picky.)
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The Lyndhurst shows take orders from their Texas headquarters and are designed to follow the same structure every night. Visitors here put on the same paper crowns and eat the same four-course meal as in Atlanta and Baltimore. The queens are paid to say the same rules as at the company’s other nine castles, which were reported to have visited 1.5 million guests last year.
“Good lords, welcome to the hall of my ancestors,” Garza says as she rides atop a white Andalusian into an arena of screaming children with lighted swords.
The queen has not long been in charge of the empire. The show always had a king as the lead, but about five years ago, the company rewrote the script and placed a queen on the throne to accommodate requests for more substantive roles for women.
The new story goes something like this: After the Queen inherits the realm, she organizes a tournament in which six knights on horseback compete for a vaunted title, but her power is threatened by a dowdy adviser who devises a plan to take her out. marriages. The dialogue is often drowned out by the aforementioned cries and bustle of the “serfs and wenches” (Medieval times—speak for waiters), who are known to end the evening with “Cash of card, milady?”
For the actors, who can run the same script several times a week year after year, the lines start to feel like tattooed on their brains – so they find ways to entertain themselves.
“I’m going to do a show where I pretend to be secretly in love with the Queen; I’ll do a show where I’m secretly in love with one of the knights,” said Quigley, who plays Lord Marshal, the show’s emcee. “To keep it fresh, you can tell a different story in your head.”
Quigley, who auditioned for a job at Medieval Times after struggling to make a smooth transition between London’s West End and New York’s theater scene, also amuses himself by adopting different accents. He tried a cockney drammer, played the whole show like he was Sean Connery, and put on a voice like Jon Snow from “Games of Thrones”—it wasn’t until he tried to do the entire performance with a lisp that the sound department sent a runner to telling him to cut it out.
For Christopher Lucas, the video game voice actor who has also appeared in daytime soap operas, his impromptu shiver comes during a scene where, as the Queen’s slimy advisor, he goes on about his adoration for Valencia oranges in an oration bordering on the unbridled. For reasons that even Lucas can’t quite understand, the audience loves it, sometimes it starts singing, ‘Oranges! Oranges! Oranges!” – and bring him fresh fruit on their next visit.
“As an artist, these are the kinds of things you live for,” Lucas said.
Ultimately, Medieval Times’ venture, which began in Spain and came to the United States in 1983, revolves around the knights, who parade through the arena on horseback before jousting and dueling for the Queen.
One of New Jersey’s most experienced knights, Antonio Sanchez, 31, had become disillusioned with the idea of a long career in the US Marines when he saw Medieval Times hiring people on Facebook. In 2014, on a whim, he drove up to Lyndhurst Castle, walked into the horse stables and soon he was mucking out stables and tacking up the horses for showtime.
“You could hear the crowd roaring from behind the stables,” Sanchez said, recalling the moment he dreamed of becoming a knight.
No horse experience is required to get the job. As knights’ apprentices, the men undergo hundreds of hours of training, learning how to ride and how to roll safely into the sand when rival knights “knock” them off.
“I don’t think I’ve ever come face to face with a horse before,” said Joe Devlin, 28, who started out as a squire after returning from a stint as a touring musician and desperately in need of a job.
While protecting themselves with aluminum shields, the students learn fight choreographies that will gradually focus on muscle memory.
Yet accidents do happen. The fact that the show relies on a stable of about two dozen horses adds an element of constant danger, said Purnell Thompson, a groomsman hired after he lost his job as a caretaker of farm animals at a local zoo. In an arena of boisterous revelers, there are many potential triggers for a horse to startle, including when audience members break the rules and smash their metal plates and bowls on the tables.
Once, when Devlin was training, he broke his ankle while learning how to jump off a horse. And Jonathan Beckas, a two-year-old knight, has suffered an injured knee and two head injuries, including one in which a wooden lance was struck on the head. (Full-time workers get health insurance.)
One of the reasons the Knights are unionized, said Beckas — a 27-year-old trained stuntman who gets $21.50 an hour, compared to $12 when he started working as a squire — is that they feel acutely underpaid given the risks they take at work. “I am a knight, but I am also a human being,” he said.
This is not the first time a union vote has been held in this castle. There was a similar effort in 2006, where complaints centered largely on a lack of job security and fears that squires would become knights too quickly. That vote narrowly opposed the formation of a union.
Even before the vote on Friday,” said employees, they saw changes. After news of the union efforts became public, get support of Governor Phil Murphy, management installed a more robust barrier to her throne, Garza said.
Now the knights have bargaining power and they intend to use it.
“Being a knight is every little kid’s dream,” Sanchez said. “But I got older and fun doesn’t pay the bills.”