Austin-based Ren Faire sitcom is just as funny as it sounds like it should be
There's nothing like the daily grind to really bring people together for a few rounds at the bar or laughs at the boss. But what happens when you trade the beers for mead and the corporate fat cat for a disgruntled guy in a Peter Pan hat?
If you're thinking The Office: Men in Tights, you're not far off.
A team of Austinites came up with the idea for taking the success of a workplace sitcom and transplanting it to ye olde Renaissance faire, blending modern humor with all the situational hilarity inherent to knights' jousts, bastardized Middle English, and freaky fairies. The finished result is the pilot episode for a series called Disenchanted, and it's a sometimes dorky, sometimes awkward, always funny look behind the scenes at a Renaissance festival not unlike the ones Central Texans know and love.
The episode has been selected to screen as part of the New York Television Festival, so the Chronicle caught up with co-creator Mark Spacek this week by email to get the inside scoop on the project and its merry men.
Austin Chronicle: How'd you settle on the idea of a workplace sitcom at a Renaissance festival? Did you work at one in the past?
Mark Spacek: Both my co-creators, Justin Neufeld and Galen Church, had a similar idea at the same time, independently. ... Then we secured Sherwood Forest as the shooting location, and it just took off.
A Renaissance faire is a great backdrop to hang stories on. You have a mix of people from different backgrounds all coming together to geek out. Then you add the element of it being someone's job, and you can start with sitcom storylines and take off into real goofy, funny places. ... We're all big fans of The Office, both versions. Party Down was a huge influence, Robert Altman's M*A*S*H ...
AC: Do you consider it an honest portrayal of what goes on at a typical fest, or is it more of a caricature of Rennie stereotypes?
MS: When we wrote the pilot, none of us had much experience at the Ren Faire, so it was our perception of it. There are characters that are more real, but we definitely tweaked some to be larger than life. As we shot, we worked with real Ren lifers, which informed our work and added to the storylines we are planning for future episodes. Strangely, many have told us it's very accurate. They all see someone they know.
AC: Tell me a little about the cast and crew you've assembled for the project.
MS: This was a labor of love and a bit of a family affair. Justin Neufeld and I moved to Austin in '95 and have written together since junior high. Galen Church and I met on a film I produced back in '98. ... We brought in Bill Wise [who also plays Lance Romance] to help punch up the script.
Many of the cast members are old friends and familiar Austin faces, like Michael Dalmon as Tomothy the Jester or Damian Fannin as Theodwyne. ... It's really a cross-section of Austin talent, from old-school indie players to newer theatre actors like Jacob Trussell and Eva Claycomb, our other two young leads.
The crew was very small. ... We had very little money so we called in favors and brought in some talented newcomers. ... The jousting troupe the Knights of Mayhem did our stunts and Charlie Andrews, the captain of the team, played our Black Knight. Then Minor Mishap Marching Band and the rapper Manateemann contributed music and songs, which give so much to the show's unique style and identity.
AC: When and where did you shoot the pilot?
MS: We shot the pilot at Sherwood Forest Faire in McDade during the 2012 season. The location made a huge difference in the quality of the show. George Appling, the owner out there, opened his doors to us, and we shot during their season so we could have the shops open and dressed. We employed and cast real vendors and artisans to be in the show as well as act as advisers. I can't say enough about the people at Sherwood. The best.
AC: You're heading to the New York TV Festival this month. What next?
MS: We're incredibly excited about that. We're one of just 47 pilots, and the only one from Texas, asked to screen at the NYTV Fest. ... Our goal is to be "picked up" in some capacity and be able to make more episodes of Disenchanted. ... We have the crew and cast to do it, and Austin is the best city to shoot in, in my opinion. The show is totally independent at this point, so who knows where it will go, but I feel strongly that there is more to come.
Disenchanted screens Saturday, Oct. 19, at 11pm at the Cult Film Film Cult Halloween Super-Bash at I Luv Video (2915 Guadalupe), and twice during the NYTV Festival: Monday, Oct. 21, 6:15pm, and Thursday, Oct. 24, 10pm, both at Tribeca Cinemas in New York. Follow Disenchanted updates at www.disenchantedtv.com.