Despite an abundance of the medieval weaponry, fire and sorcery that is often associated with the Janesville Renaissance Faire, this year’s festival has succumbed to an even greater foe: COVID-19.
Though the fair won’t take place this year due to the global pandemic (it was originally scheduled for May 15-16 at Traxler Park), JRF organizer Chris Last said he and his merry band of mirth-makers are taking this opportunity to get a jump-start on the 2021 event, which he hopes to make bigger and better after a year’s hiatus.
Leading a Renaissance fair seems a natural fit for Last. After graduating from Cudahy High School in 1995, he went on to study early modern European history at UW-Madison. He says he has since “spent 25 years learning how wrong I was about things.”
Helping him re-create the past through the JRF is his wife, Heather, who also has a hand in raising the couple’s two children—Sean, 14, and Norelle, 13. The family also includes a leopard gecko aptly named Spot.
To learn more about Last and the Janesville Renaissance Faire, and to keep up to date on plans for next year’s event, search for “JVLFaire” on Facebook or visit JVLRenFaire .com.
1. How did you get into the renaissance fair business? I grew up on the south side of Milwaukee and always attended the Bristol Renaissance Faire as a kid. My friend and I tried out for it one summer, and 25 years later I’m still doing it.
2. In your opinion, what is the greatest misconception about renaissance fairs held by people who don’t go to them? Probably that you have to be in costume. While a lot of fairs encourage costumes, they are not required. What is required is an open mind and a willingness to have fun.
3. The Janesville Renaissance Faire has a scholarship fund that has given out more than $25,000 over the years. Why is that an important aspect of the fair? This really is the heart of the show. Three of the five board members are educators, and the rest us are involved with education in some way. We feel a very strong responsibility to support the community as a whole, and one of the best ways to do that is put our students on a path to success.
4. Do you dress up during the fair? Not during our show. We have too much to do, and the clothing restricts our ability to deal with errands/emergencies. Also, we want a consistent look so our guests and participants can find us with a glance.
5. If you had lived during the Renaissance, what would your “station” have been? Most likely some average craftsperson. I have some skill in a lot of different areas, but nothing that lends itself directly to a trade. Maybe brewing.
6. The Janesville Renaissance Faire pulls in some great acts each year. Has any one become synonymous with the event? Bounding Main, a sea shanty group that has been with us since our first year. Wonderful performers, wonderful people who support our mission of community engagement.
7. Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? Extrovert. I love working with people and feel very comfortable in social situations.
8. Have you picked up any special medieval skills since first getting involved with the fair? I can do a little bit of a lot of things. I can make small items on a forge. I can do a bit of calligraphy. I can do some leatherworking. I’m able to know enough to be familiar with traditional crafts and how they are supposed to be done, even if I can’t do them myself.
9. What is the greatest challenge the renaissance fair faces each year? Hands down, weather. Our event lives and dies by the weather. It’s an outdoor festival, so without the weather to support it, attendance stays lower. The lower the attendance, the less money we have to donate to others.
10. At the grocery store, what item always goes in your cart whether you need it or not? Ice cream. I love ice cream much to the detriment of my waistline.
11. Can you name a popular TV show you either have never seen an episode of or that you don’t understand why it is popular? “Tiger King.” I have no desire to see it. I’m much more of a happy TV person lately. Watching a lot of comedies and other feel-good shows.
12. Share the title of the last good book you read. The “Duck and Cover” series by Benjamin Wallace. It’s a dark comedic series about the end of the world and what happens to the survivors afterwards. They are easy reads and have a lot of humor and absurdity I find fun.
13. If you had to survive on just one food for the rest of your life, what would that food be and why? Pizza, because it’s so varied. I can get all sorts of toppings and options to make it feel new.
14. Do you go to other renaissance fairs to get ideas for Janesville’s? Not really. The Janesville fair came from the years of experience the board already had with performing at shows such as the Bristol Renaissance Faire. We really tried to make a small slice of that kind of entertainment and feel but on a more small-town feel. The biggest concern to us has been the connections with the guests and participants. We want to do right by everyone involved.
15. Explain what LARPing is? LARPing is live action role playing. Think of it like acting but within a set of game rules. The groups we bring into the JRF are ones that have an entire world, like a story, that they play their game through. It’s amazing to see the dedication and commitment they have.
16. What person in history would you most like to meet? John Muir. I am a huge national parks fan and would love to hear his stories of seeing the parks for the first time.
17. Who is your favorite Muppet? Rolf. I couldn’t have a dog as a kid due to my mother’s allergies, and Rolf was always so cool and funny.
18. Do you collect anything? Hobbies. I tend to start random projects and then have them sit. I enjoy brewing, board games and hiking.
19. Name a modern song you would love to see redone by a minstrel. Something completely off-base, like “Sabotage” from the Beastie Boys. The difference in the musical styles would be fun and interesting to hear.
20. Is the Janesville Renaissance Faire more about fun or celebrating history? We like to think we are able to blend both. We have some historical/educational groups that do amazing research and work. We also have groups that sell goods and perform acts that never would have been seen in history but are just fantastic. The show is about having fun in a historical theme and being able to give back to the community at large.
Editor’s note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.