Newcomer to be Ohio Renaissance Festival’s crown jewel
By Sara McKinniss
Hear ye, hear ye! Make way for a new monarchy: a new queen will reign soon and no, we’re not talking about the new Duchess of Cambridge. At this year’s Ohio Renaissance Festival, the spotlight will remain on the royal family once again, but this time on the House of Tudor. Queen Elizabeth I will reign once again in Harveysburg where she will: oversee jousting competitions, bestow titles of nobility on her most humble servants and keep watchful eye on all her realm. Though small in comparison to the actual land area of the United Kingdom and all of the British Commonwealth, the festival sits on a 30-acre area which was created as a 16th century village complete with a pub (The Thirsty Wench!) and plenty of tomfoolery for all ages. For the new queen, though, she doesn’t take her tasks lightly.
Connie Pfieffer of Lebanon will assume this year’s title of Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth I. Pfeiffer’s vast knowledge of British history, costuming and lifelong interest in the royal family made her a perfect fit for this year’s role at the festival. Though she is new as Queen, her involvement in the Ohio Renaissance Festival is more like a family affair. Her son assumed a role as peasant in years past, and in 2010, with the encouragement of her son, Pfeiffer played Lady Agnes, a costumed character that often led the festival’s numerous parades and encouraged audience participation at daily jousting contests. In addition to her previous role as Lady Agnes, her background and knowledge of Elizabeth I will prepare her for what many deem one of the most critical roles at the festival. Pfieffer’s personal interest in the festival and in the Queen gives her a unique perspective as to why this role is so important.
“Elizabeth I [embodied] what we would consider to be a modern take on a political leader, especially as a female,” said Pfeiffer. “During her time, the British government was male-dominated, but as both head of state and government, even though she was self-deprecating, Elizabeth did not tolerate insubordination, even if it was from a man. She was a ruler, and I want to use those circumstances to better help festival-goers understand who she was as a ruler and as a person.”
Pfeiffer has spent considerable time researching who Queen Elizabeth I was and what made her so unique. Queen Elizabeth I was the daughter of King Henry VIII of England and Anne Boleyn (Henry’s second wife). The last in line of the Tudor dynasty, Elizabeth I never married and didn’t produce an heir to the throne. Her reign was noted for her emphasis on British achievements in the arts (theatre and literature) and world exploration. Pfieffer has visited several of the key historic sites associated with Queen Elizabeth I’s reign throughout England. In addition, she has read dozens of books and watched countless movies on Elizabeth I. Though some are more historically accurate than others, Pfeiffer acknowledges all portrayals of her are as equally important.
“A lot of people see Elizabeth as an ‘ice queen,’ but she was actually very loving,” said Pfeiffer. “She had over 100 godchildren, so I think some of the latest movies really help people understand she was a woman who was very strong, but she did have weaknesses as well. She was human and had emotions like every other person. I think that helps people see her in a different way besides a monarch.”
Through her own personal research, Pfeiffer has a greater knowledge and understanding of how to act and carry herself as Queen Elizabeth I would have done. In addition to Pfieffer’s historical research, she also uses her professional background in fashion design to help her dress and act as a lady of the 16th century. A graduate of Kent State University, she holds a bachelor’s degree in fashion design. Pfeiffer is a former uniform designer for the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Her experience in this area helped her collaborate with other designers and historians to build her Elizabethan-era costume wardrobe.
“For most of the costumes, [we] did a lot of research using portraits of her,” said Pfeiffer. “We wanted to be accurate, so we went as far as using a magnifying glass to some of the known images of her to identify what type of jewelry she wore or what type of neckline she had and how it was different from that of her father. Of course, there are commonalities among dress silhouettes and lines, but we wanted to find unique aspects that would make her outfits stand out. After all, she was a queen.”
For the duration of the festival, Pffeifer will stand out among the crowd in her costume, which will not go unnoticed, where for seven back-to-back weekends she will enthusiastically take on the role of queen. Her day-to-day responsibilities almost resemble a medieval laundry list and include attending daily jousting tournaments, riding on horseback while waving to her loyal subjects, bestowing titles of nobility on attendees of all ages, overseeing townsfolk to deter unbecoming behavior and congratulating those who win big at the games of skill and chance.
In addition to Queen Elizabeth I’s appearance at the festival, dozens of costumed characters like artisans, dancers, fools, storytellers, jugglers, merchants and peasants will walk the grounds as well, entertaining thousands of attendees. Most every weekend of the festival is themed, including a pirate and Viking weekend. And yes, Queen Elizabeth I will be there for she will not abandon her throne. Though she may be queen, Pfeiffer encourages festival-goers to come and play.
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on at [the festival], but I want to portray [Elizabeth] as accurately as possible,” said Pfeiffer. “I want it to be fun and not too serious … this is a festival!”
The Ohio Renaissance Festival occurs every weekend from September 3 until October 16. The festival is located in Harveysburg, Ohio, which is central to Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati. For additional information, visit www.renfestival.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Sara McKinniss at SaraMcKinniss@DaytonCityPaper.com.