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In Michigan, rats are illegal in public places...
- October, 1999

1999 marked my first extended run at the Michigan Renaissance Festival, and a fine run it was, too. At this point, if you've been reading these Tales from the Road in order, you've probably heard about all you can take about Zoltan's rats (and if you haven't, what are you, some kind of a freak? Good!). When I first got to the festival, I was less-than-politely informed that rats were illegal in public places in Michigan, and that I would not be able to keep them out in the open. I argued back and forth, and finally got my way (as it should be). I was however informed that if the rats did nip anyone, they would have to be destroyed. As if my clever little rats would nip anyone! Consume their dead, decrepid flesh, sure. But nip them?

They stop spitting up after puberty
The Mayor's Players, who shared Zoltan's stage in MI
Anyway, as has become normal, the rats were a hit in MI and instrumental in giving me what I am told are record crowds for the Treetop Stage at MI (it's the one way in the back, by the Jousting area). But it turns out that for the sake of seeing someone cram actual flame into their face, people are willing to make the trek.

This year in MI I had the pleasure of sharing a stage with a troupe of younger acting-type-folk known as the Mayor's Players - they're what's often referred to as a 'fractured Shakespeare' troupe (they perform half-hour versions of Shakespearean plays, with gags and stuff thrown in). This is a pic of them as a huge living fountain - one of their best bits.

Shouldn't have had the chili for lunch...
Kids, don't try this at home...without permission from Mommy or Daddy...
Overall, MI was a great run. Even though I was only there for a three-day weekend in '98, I actually had people who remembered me in '99. Merchants in the area of my stage told me I was one of the better acts to be there in a while, and the crowds were loving and magnificient. I got to spend time with the fine performers there, including Ded Bob, The Zucchini Brothers, Don Juan and Miguel, and Thom Selectomy.

The only downside was the last day - it was a hell day all around. It started off okay - nice clear day, a handful of patrons came back specifically to see me again...couldn't be better. Except that during the first show, I accidentally set my fuel bucket on fire (I dipped in a fire-eating torch that wasn't fully extinguished). This alone wouldn't have been so bad, except that in the ensuing panic I managed to tip the bucket and smear about a litre of liquid, flaming fuel across the stage. Of course, the stages are just planks with gaps between them, so some of the fuel dripped down a ignited the dry twigs and grass underneath... Initially I tried just stamping out the flames, and succeeded only in setting my boots on fire. Finally, after much hysterics and panic from the audience (with good reason, considering the whole damn festival is wood), I remembered that there's a fire-extinguisher backstage (safety first!). And with that, catastrophe was avoided. Looking back, in fact, it was pretty cool (in a, you know, stupid sort of way), and if any of you out there have photos of that show, I would love a copy.

And yet, that wasn't it! After the panic of the first show, I settled down and gave out three more quality performances to end the season. Then, as I was loading my equipment and rats into the car, the cage popped open and Skave escaped. Luckily, the rats're trained to come when I call (really!), so I managed to round him up without too much difficulty.

Then, while driving back to Toronto from Michigan, I got a speeding ticket. Sigh. I suppose it's a good thing they only hold the festival once a year....

     signed, Zoltan the Adequate
(Fire-eating photo by Judy Kovl)

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