Medieval Times employees vote to organize in New Jersey


Medieval Times employees vote to organize in New Jersey

LYNDHURST, NJ – In 11th-century Spain, a nobleman who attempted to slip his hand under the queen’s skirt after a royal feast was subjected to medieval methods of torture.

But at the Medieval Times just off Route 3, dealing with this type of behavior has been accepted as part of the job for too long, said Monica Garza, one of several actresses playing the queen at the dinner-and-a-tournament attraction.

Garza said management made her feel like a “diva” for requesting additional safety protocols after pointing out increasingly brave behavior from guests. It was only after an incident in which a rowdy ticket holder approached her throne and attempted to shout into her microphone that Garza said management installed a chain to block access to her.

A desire for increased security and other safety measures at the castle – where falling horses can be part of the job description – was one of the reasons queens, knights, squires and stablehands at Lyndhurst Castle voted for union on Friday.

The union effort, first reported by the Huffington Post, won out on Friday when workers voted 26-11 to join the American Guild of Variety Artists. The medievalists will join a wide range of performers represented by the guild, including the Radio City Rockettes, some circus performers and the character actors who perform at Disneyland – including, for example, Mulan and Aladdin – in California.

Staff also strive for higher pay (Garza is paid $20 an hour and squires start at around $14 an hour) and higher positions in order to treat them more like skilled workers — trained stuntmen performing intricate lance combat , swords and axes. and experienced actors who can do more than just read lines. Medieval Times management did not respond to requests for comment.

“A big point of the union is just basic respect,” said Garza, 25, a trained actor and self-proclaimed history nerd. “People will always exploit you if you love it because they know you’re doing it for nothing.”

Many cast members end up falling in love with the job, even if they didn’t initially dream of working in the concrete castle with its vast armory and seemingly endless supply of tomato soup. The two-hour shows are helmed by a ragtag crew that includes an ex-Marine, a former Elton John backup singer, a musical theater student-turned-stuntman, a former zoo keeper, and an actor best known for his voice work in the video game ” Grand Theft” is known to include Auto.”

“We’re a bunch of misfits,” laughs Sean Quigley, 33, the backup singer, who’s also a classically trained actor from London, which gives him no reason to fake a British accent. (The show is technically set in Spain, but New Jersey audiences aren’t picky.)

Lyndhurst shows are ordered from their corporate headquarters in Texas and are designed to follow the same structure each night. Visitors don the same paper crowns and eat the same four-course meal here as they do in Atlanta and Baltimore. The queens are paid to say the same lines as at the company’s other nine chateaux, which were visited by 1.5 million guests last year.

“Good nobles, welcome to the hall of my ancestors,” says Garza as she rides a white Andalusian horse into an arena filled with screaming children wielding glowing swords.

The queen has not ruled the kingdom for long. The show had always cast a king as the lead, but about five years ago the company rewrote the script and put a queen on the throne to accommodate requests for more substantial roles for women.

The new story goes something like this: After inheriting the kingdom, the queen hosts a joust in which six mounted knights compete for a cherished title, but her power is threatened by a sleazy adviser who plans to marry her off. The dialogue is often drowned out by the aforementioned screams and the bustle of the “serfs and whores” (medieval language for waiters), who, as is well known, end the evening with “Cash or card, my lady?”.

For the actors, who get to perform the same script multiple times a week, year after year, the lines feel like a tattoo in their brains — so they find ways to entertain themselves.

“I’m doing a show where I pretend to be secretly in love with the Queen; I’m doing a show where I’m secretly in love with one of the knights,” said Quigley, who plays Lord Marshal, the show’s host. “To keep it fresh, you can tell a different story in your head.”

Quigley, who applied for a job at the Medieval Times after struggling to make a smooth transition between London’s West End and the New York theater scene, also enjoys adopting different accents. He’d tried a cockney drawl, played the whole show like he was Sean Connery, and put on a voice like Jon Snow from “Games of Thrones” – only when he tried to do the entire performance with a lisp did the sound department send one in Runner to tell him to cut it out.

For Christopher Lucas, the video game voice actor who has also appeared on daytime soap operas, his impromptu chills during a scene in which he, as the Queen’s slimy adviser, repeatedly talks about his adoration for Valencia oranges in a speech verges on freaking out. For reasons even Lucas can’t quite understand, the audience loves it, sometimes chanting—”Oranges! Oranges!” oranges! Oranges!” – and bring him fresh fruit next time he visits.

“As an artist, you live for those things,” Lucas said.

Ultimately, the Medieval Times enterprise, which began in Spain and came to the United States in 1983, revolves around the knights parading through the arena on horseback before feuding and dueling for the queen.

One of New Jersey’s most experienced knights, Antonio Sanchez, 31, was disillusioned with the idea of ​​a long-term career in the US Marines when he saw on Facebook that the Medieval Times was closing. On a whim he drove to Lyndhurst Castle in 2014, went into the stables and was soon cleaning out the stables and saddling the horses before the show.

“Behind the stables you could hear the crowd roaring,” Sanchez said, recalling the moment he started dreaming of becoming a knight.

No experience with horses is required to get the job. As apprentice knights, the men undergo hundreds of hours of training, learning how to ride horses and roll safely in the sand when opposing knights “knock them down”.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a horse face to face before,” said Joe Devlin, 28, who started out as a squire after returning home from a stint as a touring musician in dire need of a job.

The apprentices protect themselves with aluminum shields and learn a fight choreography that gradually acquires muscle memory.

Still, accidents happen. The fact that the show depends on a stable of about two dozen horses adds an element of constant danger, said Purnell Thompson, a stable hand who was hired after losing his job tending livestock at a local zoo cared. In an arena full of boisterous revelers, there are many possible triggers for a horse to startle, including spectators breaking the rules and banging their metal plates and bowls on the tables.

Once when Devlin was in training, he broke his ankle while learning how to jump off a horse. And Jonathan Beckas, a two-year-old knight, has been dealing with an injured knee and two head injuries, including one where a wooden spear struck his head. (Full-time employees have health insurance.)

One reason the Knights are unionizing, said Beckas — a 27-year-old trained stuntman who earns $21.50 an hour, up from $12 when he started working as a squire — is that they are concerned about the risks that they enter into at work feel acutely underpaid. “I’m a knight, but I’m also a human,” he said.

This is not the first time a union election has been held in this castle. There was a similar effort in 2006, when complaints focused mainly on a lack of job security and fears that squires were becoming knights too quickly. This vote narrowly went against the formation of a union.

According to the employees, changes can be seen even before the vote on Friday. After news of the union organization broke, gather support Gov. Phil Murphy’s management installed a more robust barrier to her throne, Garza said.

Now the knights have bargaining power and they want to use it.

“Being a knight is every little kid’s dream,” Sanchez said. “But I’ve gotten older, and fun doesn’t pay.”

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