Scarborough Renaissance Festival has been Matthew Duvall’s 16th century home away from 21st century home for 24 years
It’s a word that Matthew Duvall uses a lot when he talks about Scarborough Renaissance Festival, the place that has been his 16th century home away from 21st century home two months of every year for 24 years now. The festival — known to aficionados as “the faire” — has injected that sense of magic into Duvall’s life, and he takes great joy in passing the magic along.
Duvall was a “very shy, inwardly-focused” 17-year-old who still hadn’t acknowledged, even to himself, the truth of his sexual orientation, in 1991 when he first joined the cast at Scarborough, the annual Renaissance festival staged each April and May on 35 acres just southwest of Waxahachie.
A friend had auditioned for the cast and convinced Duvall to audition, too. “I actually auditioned late, and I was absolutely terrified,” Duvall recalled.
“But I made it. I made the cast, and I haven’t missed a season since.”
Over the years, Duvall said, the faire and its people have become much more than just a part-time job. “This place is where I grew up in many ways.
This is where I learned to come out of my shell. These people are my family,” he said.
It’s also where he grew to understand and accept the fact that he is gay.
“Now, looking back, I should have known much earlier” that he was gay, Duvall said, noting that it wasn’t until the late 1990s that he truly began to come out as a gay man. And it was his home, his family, at Scarborough that helped him do that.
“Over time, being here with these people, I began to realize that I can be who I am. I was scared, but the people here made it easier. The people here at Scarborough were the first people I came out to, and it didn’t make a difference to them. They love me for who I am.”
Duvall said his Scarborough family has also opened its arms to his husband, John Nathan. The two have been a couple for 10 years, and legally married since 2013 when they were wed in San Francisco City Hall, with the statue of Harvey Milk looking on.
“We had a virtual wedding. A lot of our family and friends couldn’t be there in person, but by having a virtual wedding, we were able to have hundreds of people from all over the world share in our wedding with us. It was very, very nice,” Duvall said.
“I had always been afraid that if I came out, if people found out I was gay, I would lose my family or my friends because I was different,” he continued.
“But here at Scarborough, acceptance and difference are very important things. This is a very accepting place all the way around. Now, I am out everywhere, to everyone. It’s very liberating.”
For Duvall, that is part of the magic. “The people here let you be yourself, whoever that is,” he said. That magic lets cast members live inside characters from centuries ago for eight weekends out of the year, and it lets visitors step back in time and live out their own renaissance fantasies, at least for a day.
But sometimes, magic takes a lot of hard work. Members of the Scarborough cast spend eight weekends in class and rehearsal, learning just how to maintain the illusion of a 16th century village and getting the skits and shows they perform down to a T.
Part of maintaining the illusion means learning to dress, to speak and to behave the way the character they portray would have dressed, spoken and behaved — whether that be reigning monarch King Henry VIII himself — portrayed for 20 years by Richard Patterson — or the lowliest scullery maid.
And director of the staff’s History, Customs and Manners Committee, Duvall plays a huge role in teaching the actors what they need to know.
He said it is a task that meshes nicely with his real-world job as a corporate trainer.
Duvall also gets to spread that knowledge to visitors to the faire through his role as Old Johnny Dhu, bard and storyteller. At 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. each day of the faire, at the Taylor Lane stage in Pecan Grove, Old Johnny Dhu and his colleagues present the “History, Customs and Manners” show.
Each weekend, Duvall explained, the show will focus on a different aspect of history, customs and manners of the 16th century, often based on the theme of the faire that weekend.
“The audience always enjoys it. It gives them a chance to learn something that will help them participate and feel more a part of everything going on around them,” Duvall said of the show — although even some visitors who come in costume don’t blend into the 16th century theme.
“You never know who you might see out here,” Duvall laughed. “One year we had a group of KISS impersonators here. ‘Paul Stanley’ really took a liking to me that year. We’ve had Roman centurions, ninjas, a lot of fantasy characters, even drag queens. This is a great place for those who like to cosplay. The people coming here want to have a good time. And we are here to help them have a good time. We’re a very playful bunch and we love interacting with the audience.”
Duvall continued, “You know, this place really can change lives. I know of people who live very solitary lives. They are lonely people, but they can come here and find friends, find a place to be themselves. There’s something for everyone here. They come here to forget their cares, if just for a day. And that’s what we excel at.
“It’s magical. It really is.”
DETAILS ON VISITING
Scarborough Renaissance Festival, located southwest of Waxahachie on FM 66 off I-35E, continues each Saturday and Sunday through May 30, and Monday, May 25. Opening ceremony begins at 9:45 a.m., and gates open at 10 a.m. Closing ceremony begins at 6:45 p.m., and gates close with last cannon at 7 p.m.
Tickets at the gate are $25 for adults, $10 for children ages 4-12. Children 4 and under admitted free. Discount tickets are available at Kroger stores, and discount coupons are available at Waxahachie Autoplex. A military discount is available at the gate, and parking is free.
For more information on performers and artisans and for maps of the site, visit SRFestival.com.
April 18-19: Celtic Weekend
April 25-26: Artisan’s Showcase Weekend
May 2-3: Live the Fantasy Weekend/DeafAwareness Day
May 9-10: Mother’s Day Weekeend (with all new Mother’s Day Brunchboth days)/Renaissance Romance Weekend
May 16-17: Legends of the Seas Weekend
May 23-25: Final Knights/Veterans tribute
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 17, 2015.