LOCAL WOMEN ARE RENAISSANCE PERFORMERS (link to article)
BY ASHLEY COULOMBE
Want to see people literally play with fire?
How about some action-packed, historically accurate, sword fighting?
Or maybe you'd prefer to watch a theatrical performance while munching on a turkey leg?
If any of the above spikes your interest then you might want to check out the Metrowest group Phoenix Swords at one of their shows and prepare to enjoy yourself.
Four years ago, Frank and Holly Hunt formed Phoenix Swords. It started with members from all over Massachusetts, two of whom reside in Jefferson. Carol Mantz and Rachel Malkoski spend their weekends performing elaborate sword-fighting matches for large groups of people all over the East Coast. The shows can also incorporate minidramas and some trickery with fire.
"Phoenix Swords was started with the intent to produce historically based theatrical performances in the medieval to Renaissance theme," said Malkoski.
Malkoski and Mantz got involved with Phoenix Swords and other sword-fighting groups through their love for theatrical performance. Now they're constantly training and learning new techniques to prepare themselves for all kinds of shows.
"We perform at weddings, birthdays, full Renaissance fairs. I'm trying to find someone to get us to fire somebody. Would you rather have someone give you a pink slip or have someone come walking into your office dressed as an executioner?" said Malkoski.
Phoenix Swords is made up of a core group of 10, but has a few members all over the country should they need to call them in to help with a show.
Along with sword-fighting, Phoenix Swords performs their own versions of what they like to call "fractional fairy tales" like Don Quixote and bible stories like David and Goliath, all of which they write as a collaborative effort.
"Holly sits down at her computer, especially when she's having a sleepless night, and writes a whole story," said Mantz. "Then that gets presented to the group the next day and we start making changes immediately. The story always changes depending on the venue and the different audiences."
Both Mantz and Malkoski explained that these stories are written on different levels where some jokes can be understood by only adults, but the show itself can be enjoyed by kids of all ages.
"It's family entertainment. There's no cussing and swearing, there's no nudity, it's no worse then anything you'd see on 'Spongebob'. It's better then anything you'd see on 'Spongebob'," said Malkoski.
Malkoski's favorite part of being a member of Phoenix Swords is the interaction with children.
"Little kids are great because they believe that you really are that knight or pirate. Little kids come in and say, 'Mommy, look, the pirate works in the supermarket!' I love having a little kid stand there going 'You're a real pirate?' and I can say, 'Yes. Yes I am,'" said Malkoski, who works at Price Chopper during the week when she's not traveling to fairs.
Besides showing kids a good time and educating them in the historical nature of sword-fighting, the troupe gives five-minute lessons to kids at Renaissance fairs. They also wants to show women that sword-fighting isn't just a sport for males.
"We run into a lot of groups at fairs that use swords and most of the people in the group are not women. Our group is half women, which tends to blow them away. We fight with steel swords, unarmored," said Mantz.
The sword-fighting techniques the group uses in their performances are taken straight from centuries-old manuals that have been translated by experts at Higgins Armory. Some of the manuals actually depict women using these methods.
"It's proof that you don't need to let your older brother say you can't pick up a sword and learn how. Do it and then kick his butt," said Malkoski.
Through these manuals Phoenix Swords has been able to put together an act with various fencing practices from all over Europe.
"The Germans used long swords that are 5 feet tall. We have to leave those up to the 6'4" guys because we look silly holding them," said Malkoski.
To add to the performances, all of the members dress in historically accurate costumes, many of them sewn by Mantz, and stay in character even when they are finished performing. Often they end up going out in public while still in costume.
"When we go places in costume, some people look away because they think that they've gone crazy or because they think that we're crazy. Then there are the little kids whose parents don't believe them when they tell them there's a bunch of pirates sitting around Table 3 in the restaurant," said Mantz.
Mantz and Malkoski have become accustomed to all sorts of unforeseen occurrences while performing with Phoenix Swords, some involving the weather.
"We tend to get rained on a lot. We perform in everything but thunderstorms because we're basically carrying around a bunch of lightning rods. We've performed in snow, rain, two hurricanes, and hail," said Mantz.
Phoenix Swords continues to perform in the area, and even has a few shows already booked for next year - testament to its increasing popularity. The group has even been asked to perform in special event for the History Channel.
To find out more about Phoenix Swords, visit www. phoenixswords.com.