Dost thou be troubled by mysterious rapping upon thine cottage door? Do feelings of dread or curious cold spots haunt thine home? Hast thou or thine kin laid eyes upon foul specters or spirits from the realms beyond? Aye? Then make haste, and send a raven to the Hunters of the Unruly Dead!
Each morning at the Maryland Renaissance Festival (which runs through October 22), local performers Steven Kirkpatrick and Charles Boyington don their scholarly robes and offer spiritual guidance to the festival’s patrons in the show Tudor Ghosts. Kirkpatrick portrays an excitable version of the real-life occultist Dr. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa; Boyington plays an original character, Thomas Bodley, a bespectacled newcomer to the world of the arcane.
Wielding leather-bound tomes, the duo cite examples of ghastly apparitions in history books, plays, and scripture alike. They explain how to tell friendly spirits from fiendish ones, then bring an audience member onstage for a ghoulish demonstration. Their dreadful 16th-century tales of headless queens and cooks boiled alive are punctuated with jests relevant to both the historic and modern worlds.
An education specialist for the Department of Defense with a BA in history, Kirkpatrick was always drawn to the Elizabethan era. When not working in education, he’s acting—so the festival combines both passions. Kirkpatrick says working the festival is demanding as an actor: “You’re in a short version of a Shakespeare play, you’re doing three or four different performances daily, and you’re also a street performer.”
By “street performer,” Kirkpatrick refers to how the actors stay in character all day, which can lead to some interesting interactions. “If one of our audience members sees us on the street [of the festival] later in the day,” Boyington says, “they will often grab us and pull us aside and start explaining what they’ve experienced in their lives.” Boyington, a massage therapist when not in costume, also leads ghost tours through the renaissance village, where he shares lore specific to the village in which the festival takes place.
Both men are trained actors and can be found performing Do or Die Murder Mysteries in the Baltimore area. And though their characters squabble on stage about the nuances of phantom theology in the Catholic and Protestant traditions, Kirkpatrick and Boyington get along perfectly well outside of the show—in fact they’ve been married for over ten years.
While their characters may have clear opinions on poltergeists, what do the actual performers think? Boyington says that “there are more unseen things than seen things, so anything is possible.” Kirkpatrick shares an interpretation of the unexplained he’s come across in his research: “there was a belief that it was kind of like the process of making a [vinyl] record, that if an event happened that was so emotionally charged, it was almost like leaving an imprint in a recording, which is why things might happen at the same time every year.”
“Tudor Ghosts” can be seen at 11 AM every day of the Maryland Renaissance Festival. The festival is open weekends, with the last day on October 22.