Friday, September 01, 2017

Pirate Queen Swashbuckles at Maryland Renaissance Festival

Written by  Frankie Kujawa
Mary Ann Jung- menace on the high seas Mary Ann Jung- menace on the high seas

As patrons begin to flock to the Maryland Renaissance Festival over the next few weeks, newcomers may be surprised to find a real-life pirate queen in their midst. Mary Ann Jung, the talented historian and actress who plays the pirate queen Jean Cabot, chatted with Baltimore OUTloud about her involvement with the festival, her character, and her passion for history.

Along with performing at the Renaissance Festival, Jung is an award-winning actress and Smithsonian scholar who presents incredible women spanning from 1530 to the modern day through her “History Alive” workshops and performances. She researches and writes her own scripts, and performs in the authentic costumes, accents, and attitudes for her characters’ eras. Jung has also appeared on CNN, the “Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” and in newspapers around the world as famous women from history. In 2002, the ambassador of France gave her highest praise for her one-of-a-kind portrayal of Queen Catherine de Medici for his guests.

Frankie Kujawa: How did you become involved with the Renaissance Festival?

Mary Ann Jung: In 1980 Mike Moreland, a college friend, asked me to help with his falconry show for this new event he’d been asked to do in Columbia in Symphony Woods. I love history, Shakespeare, and performing and I fell in love with everything about the Renaissance Festival. I wrote the funny audience participation part of our show and he handled all the fascinating falconry information. We made a great team and I proudly bear the scars from working with those gorgeous hawks and falcons. Years later, when he left the show, I auditioned for the Royal Court and got the second female lead as Lady Lettice Knollys, rival to Queen Elizabeth I. Thirty years ago, this month, I met my husband Tom Plott, who played my love interest Lord Robert Dudley – and no acting was needed. We really did fall in love and have been together ever since! He’s our performance director now.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about the character you now play – Jean Cabot, the Pirate Queen?

She’s based on the amazing Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen of Ireland. But since Grace wasn’t born in 1527, and the festival tries to be accurate with history, I made my character the daughter of John Cabot – the explorer who discovered Newfoundland. By the way, I created her and my Pee Wee Pirates show before the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Since I perform year-round in schools and festivals, I wanted to create a show to include young children about sailing and pirates are the perfect hook – pun intended! I literally make the entire audience get up and do actions you’d do on a ship. It’s a fun, interactive way to learn how to sail. Most people have no idea there was a female sea captain who had an entire fleet of ships and commanded hundreds of soldiers and sailors. When I do that show outside the festival it’s Grace O’Malley I portray. Everyone loves pirates! The ideas of treasure and adventure appeal to all ages, so I have versions of the show for adults, too. I love teaching history through performing and being as entertaining as I am informative. The festival gave me the perfect tools on how to do that. I’m one of the veteran performers. This will be my 38th year, and I happily also direct the Royal Court and their historical shows as well as the improv and Shakespearean language rehearsals with my husband. I feel honored to be part of such a fantastic staff and cast all these years.

Describe for our readers your work as a Smithsonian scholar, historian, and performer.

I’m an award-winning actress with ten different shows about amazing women in history, like Clara Barton and Rosie the Riveter. For many years, the Smithsonian flew me around the country to perform for their Teaching American History workshops. They liked my energetic, interactive, authentic style of shows about great women in history and wanted teachers to see how the elements of drama (costumes, props, accents) and humor can be used in the classroom. I also pack lots of surprising information about the woman and her era into only 45 minutes. Various Smithsonian museums also use me for special events. It’s a huge thrill to play Amelia Earhart in front of her plane and Sally Ride in front of the Space Shuttle at the National Air & Space Museum!

In your own words, what makes the Renaissance Festival such a rarity to find in Maryland?

It’s everything anyone will love, no matter how old you are! We are the second largest Renaissance Festival in the country and one of the few all-professional fairs, so it’s quality entertainment and crafts and food. If you love terrific music we have all kinds of top-notch acts from bawdy pub groups to lovely madrigals. We have comedy, sword fighting, jousting – many unique shows you can’t see anywhere else. We have a one-hour version of The Tempest and Shakespeare scenes played out in the pathways. There are lots of activities and shows for children and others in the pubs more for the grown-ups. So, whatever your tastes, we have something for you in the charming setting of a village from the reign of King Henry VIII. And where else can you actually meet and talk to the King and Queen of England and courtiers playing real people from 1527 in gorgeous period clothing? We’re a unique escape from the troubles of the modern world. Many patrons love to dress up and pretend to be part of the show. It’s truly a feast for your eyes and ears, as well as your stomachs!

To see where Mary Ann Jung is performing next, visit her website HistoryAliveShows.com

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