Any 9-to-5 job comes with its own battles, but when Scott Rodlin goes to work, it’s war.
As a swordsman and jousting performer for 15 years, Rodlin says that any day not spent behind a desk means a job well done. Every weekend, he puts on his 80-pound steel suit to compete with a pack of cutthroat co-workers. He’s lucky if he clocks out alive, but his ride has plenty of horsepower – as long as he feeds him.
It’s not a hobby, it’s a full-time job, Rodlin says on the phone from New York. People try to start up and do this as a business, and realistically, it’s not always practical.
Rodlin is the founder and joust trainer for medieval performance group Paragon Jousting, based in Aurora, N.Y. Performing across the country as a full-armor jousting troupe for 10 years, the performers will return to Angola for the third annual Enchanted Lakes Renaissance Faire.
Kim Bordner, founder of the event, says it gives adults and children a chance to escape reality and create a new persona. The proceeds will support Steuben County Park.
Some people think what we’re doing is weird and that this is not something grown adults take seriously, Bordner says. It covers all ages – you’re dressing up and being someone you’re not. You can be your own ancestor; if you’re from Minnesota, you can be a Viking. You can be whatever you want for a weekend and then go back to your regular life.
Rodlin performs as Sir Devon Farrel of York, a traveling knight who competes on the medieval circuit. Among the cast of characters, Rodlin says Farrel is the one who tries to do the right thing. He says every performer has a character and back story to bring in a dramatic element to the show.
It’s an important part of the performance. Otherwise people are just watching the horses run around, Rodlin says. It’s a more fulfilling experience to get a glimpse into their lives. With the three-story arc, people come back to the next performance to see what happens next. They become more invested.
A self-proclaimed history buff, Rodlin says he didn’t go to his first renaissance festival until his mid-20s; going for just the fun of it. Attending more festivals, Rodlin found an interest in competitive sword-fighting.
I took sword-fighting lessons and someone just happened to offer me a job in a show, Rodlin says. It never occurred to me that I could make a career out of this.
Working part time as a stage combatant, a full-armored fighter and jouster, Rodlin maintained a full-time job at an aerospace company until he claims the industry struggled to regain productivity after the 9/11 attacks. In 2003, Rodlin decided to start his own medieval performance group.
I lost my real job, and I thought, I could look for another job in an industry that wasn’t hiring, or I could start my own company and have fun.
It came with a financial risk. He had to invest in horses, transportation, weapons and insurance – his suit of armor alone cost him $5,000. He says that in the first four years, the company was operating at a loss.
Rodlin says he knows of only 10 other troupes who perform in full armor because of the large investment it takes to get started.
It’s extremely difficult to do, it’s physically challenging and not to mention expensive, he says.
After 10 years, Rodlin now employs 15 performers; each performer goes through six months to a year of training that includes jousting techniques, fight choreography and physical training in a full suit of armor.
The performers use blunted high-carbon steel swords and authentic wooden lances for jousting. Although the performers act out a dramatic story through their three performances, the results of the games are left up to chance.
Rodlin says a performer will never be seen by an audience until he feels confident in their physical abilities.
It’s 70 percent physical. I can teach someone how to act, but either you have the chops to joust or not, Rodlin says. If you do something wrong, someone could be killed.
With more than 30 performances scheduled for the summer and fall, Rodlin says the troupe has built up a steady clientele that hires Paragon every year. Enchanted Lakes Renaissance Faire has used the troupe since its inaugural year.
We roll in from several hundred miles away into a very engaging, friendly community once a year, and they treat us as if they saw you last week, Rodlin says.
Bordner says the idea for a renaissance faire was born out of the need for more yearly events in the area. It began in 2011 at Buck Lake Ranch, and Bordner says she was stunned by the positive response she received after the first year.
We needed a festival that was different, Bordner says. We want to bring people in to show that Steuben County is more than just lakes. We have a beautiful, historic downtown and all these interesting shops.
After the first year, Bordner and other volunteers formed the Enchanted Lakes Community Organization in 2011 as a nonprofit corporation that uses the proceeds from the festival to support the county. In an effort to begin their mission, the faire was moved to Steuben County Park in 2012. Last year, the faire donated $1,000 in new chairs to the park.
We loved Buck Lake, but we needed to expand, Bordner says. We’re hoping to keep growing, and the county commissioners were 100 percent behind us supporting the county.
At the park, which is next to Crooked Lake, Bordner says families can have picnics and return to the festival throughout the day. Also, the park provides additional shelter, which allows for festivities to take place rain or shine.
Bordner says it’s an opportunity for a staycation for families in the area – adults should leave the reservations at home.
We just want people to come out to see what it’s really like, Bordner says. It’s nothing bad. We just want people to come out and have a good time.