Autumn has arrived and with it the return of the annual Carolina Renaissance Festival. For eight consecutive weekends starting September 30 and through November 19, over one thousand Festival participants work as a collective ensemble to bring a big dose of cheer, trumpet fanfare, clashing armor and those giant roasted turkey legs.
Renaissance Festivals are a uniquely American phenomenon that started in Southern California in the early 1960s and expanded across the country to several major cities. Located just north of Charlotte in Huntersville, the Carolina Renaissance Festival first opened its gates in 1994. The Renaissance Festival “circuit”, as it is commonly referred to, provides a living for thousands of talented artists that work in all types and mediums.
Who are these artists and why do they travel the country from city to city for our enjoyment? The answer may surprise you. Join us for our weekly feature as we interview artists you can meet at this year’s Carolina Renaissance Festival.
Rick the Hypnotist!
Attending the Carolina Renaissance Festival can be a mesmerizing experience – literally. The sights! The sounds! And you might get pulled up on stage to be hypnotized. We caught up with Richard Stratton, better known as Rick the Hypnotist, and his wife and performance partner Jan, in hopes of catching a glimpse into the subconscious mind of the traveling performer.
(1) Tell us a little bit about what you do.
Rick: “Hypnotist Rick Stratton” is a comedy hypnosis show. I pull volunteer members of the audience up on stage to be hypnotized. Volunteers have fun with the experience. I take them through a hilarious fishing contest, a rocket ride to the moon to meet moon creatures, and they may even forget their own names! I also incorporate into the show some of the science behind the phenomenon, and end the show with a self-help session that anyone in the audience can participate in. It’s mostly about the comedy, but many past participants have told us that it changed their lives for the better.
Jan: Rick and I also perform a comedy/variety/juggling show entitled “The Trained Pig Show”. We juggle fire, balance on a few precarious objects, and generally goof around with the audience. The star of the show, of course, is our trained pet pig named “Snorkel: The Dancing Stunt Pig”. He is 4-year-old miniature pig who jumps through hoops (metaphorically, don’t we all?), waves hello and dances, among other things. He is a true charmer and can be seen riding around in his little wagon between shows.
(2) Tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to this profession. At what age did you start? At what age did you start taking your profession on the road? How long have you been doing this?
Rick: While in college in upstate NY the late ‘70’s I traveled to Key West, Florida for Spring Break and I saw street performers. I made friends, got a few juggling lessons, and that was that! I hitched a ride to Texas with my new friends and got a job working on the construction crew at the Scarborough Renaissance Festival. While there, I honed my juggling and performing skills and developed my own juggling show. Little by little I booked myself at Renaissance Festivals around the country and ended up touring for about 10 years. I loved performing but in 1986 I decided to return to college in NY to complete my degree in Economics with goal of getting a job in banking. It was then that I met Jan.
Jan: I was obtaining my Biology degree and had a tentative plan to continue onto veterinary school. As we were falling in love, Rick taught me to juggle and we spent our Saturday nights at the local pub juggling and playing music in the street with other like-minded friends. After we both graduated in 1987 and got “real” jobs (Rick with a mortgage bank, me with the US Fish & Wildlife Service on a research boat) we both realized two important things: 1) we didn’t particularly like “the real world” and 2) we DID particularly like each other and wanted to get married!
Rick: So…we wed in 1988 (Almost 30 years ago! How can this be??). And we went to Key West to for the winter to street perform and piece together a show. We eventually got good enough to be hired by the PA Renaissance Festival in 1990 and we haven’t looked back since.
(3) For how many months out of a year do you travel?
Jan: We are on the road for 7-8 months in the spring/summer/fall and usually at home performing in Key West for the winter.
(4) What other cities do you work?
Rick: This year we’ve worked in Key West (home), and renaissance festivals near Ft. Lauderdale FL, Atlanta GA, Cleveland Ohio, and Boston Massachusetts. We’ve also worked in Colorado, California, Pennsylvania, Texas and Canada.
(5) What about the traveling lifestyle appeals to you?
Rick: What’s not to like?? It is never, ever boring. We’ve gotten to see so many cool things around this country and have met so many different types of people. Living out of a small-ish travel trailer with a dog and a pig has its disadvantages, for sure, but the positives outweigh any inconveniences by a long shot. The scenery outside our door changes every 6-8 weeks as we travel from renfaire to renfaire. And we’ve never been camped next to another traveler that we didn’t like. There is a kinship among travelers, an unwritten code that we’re all kind of in this together even if we may only know each other for one night. Especially within the renaissance festival community…we are one big happy family who look out for each other.
(6) How does life on the road play a factor in your relationship(s)?
Jan: Ooof. Loaded question J. Luckily Rick & I naturally get along really well and have very similar likes and dislikes and enjoy doing the same things in our time off (tennis, golf, hiking, kayaking etc). That being said, over the years of living in cramped quarters we’ve learned when to get out of each other’s way. Most of the time we are happy to be together 24/7, working and playing together. But there do come times when each of us (me more than Rick) needs our alone time, and we’re pretty good at giving that to each other. We’ve both learned to not take it personally when the other one says “Ya know, I love you to pieces, but….”
(7) I imagine the road life comes with challenges. What motivates you to continue?
Jan: It’s way more fun than working at a real job! And being self-employed is the only way to go (although sometimes the boss can be a real pain).
(8) Do you perform at venues other than Renaissance Festivals? If so, please describe.
Rick: We have performed at high schools, street festivals, busker festivals (here and in Canada), colleges, and for private & corporate events.
(9) What do you look forward to most about coming to Charlotte? What do you do when not performing on a Festival day?
Jan: Last year was our first year doing this festival and we have to say it is one of favorite faires and places to be. We’ve seen a lot of this country and performed at many festivals, and the people that own and run this faire in Huntersville are some of the best we’ve had the pleasure of working with. Honestly. They have all been nothing but welcoming and fun and professional, from the owner Jeff Siegel and the Marketing & Entertainment Director Matt Siegel all the way to the grounds crew and behind-the-scenes people. Just good, good folks. And the Charlotte area in general…How beautiful it is here! We love the diversity of people, and the landscape and weather couldn’t be better. We’re both originally from upstate NY, so when we get in to that crisp cool air in the fall it feels like home. Snorkel the Pig is more of a Florida boy, but he does like the long walks in the woods around the faire, and he says he’ll take all your left-over pumpkins, thank you very much.
(10) What do you do in the Carolinas when not performing? (Hobbies, additional travel & tourism when in different towns, etc.)
Rick: We both like the outdoors, so we enjoy walking and hiking in the woods. Tennis, golf, biking…the Carolinas are good for all of that. Especially on those cool crisp days.
(11) How might fans follow you on social media?
We have a few websites and social media pages:
- Rick The Hypnotist
- Snorkel The Pig (yes, he has his own Facebook page!)
For detailed Festival information, directions and tickets visit www.Carolina.RenFestInfo.com. Check back next week for our interview with Ded Bob!