Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Long Live the Queen

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Long Live the Queen

Article excerpt

It's good to be the queen.

It's especially good when you're a first queen. Elizabeth I, for instance. Or Mary I. Or even Queen Doña Maria Isabella — the first female monarch in the 34-year history of Medieval Times, who will be taking the throne on Thursday.

"I'm very, very excited to be playing her. She's a really rich character," says Jessica Schear-Tolles of Rutherford, one of six actors who have been tapped to to play the character at the 28-year-old Lyndhurst venue.

A damsel, yes, but never a damsel in distress, Schear-Tolles says.

"When she's challenged, she lays down her authority," says Schear-Tolles, who spends most of the two-hour show sitting majestically on the throne, watching costumed knights on horseback thwack, crack and bludgeon each other.

"She's written to be a very fair queen, but she has authority behind her," says Schear-Tolles.

For 34 years, the master of ceremonies at all the Medieval Times "dinner & tournament" venues, which bring jousting, broadsword fighting and other dark-age amusements to a modern audience (there are nine Medieval Times locations in North America), has been a king.

This week's introduction of a queen in all nine venues, for the sixth and latest reboot of the show, was not prompted by the current cultural moment — the reckoning about male privilege and female empowerment that has led to the #MeToo hashtag and the firings of executives and entertainment figures. This new story line, called "Sovereign," was in the works long before then, says Leigh Cordner, the show's writer and director.

"People have accused us of following a trend, but actually we were working on this show for 18 months before we launched it," Cordner says.

Just the same, the timing may be providential.

"I feel it was meant to be, because it's falling in such a very interesting time period in the world now," Schear-Tolles says. "It's just been declared the Year of the Woman, and here we are making history with a queen in the castle."

It was important, says Jaci Hernandez, a Medieval Times spokeswoman, that this queen not be a mere figurehead who curtsies and nods and looks fabulous in a 14th-century gown. "In parts of the script, the queen has to assert herself," she says. ""She doesn't need a husband or brother to prove herself in charge of the realm."

There have been women in past Medieval Times storylines, Schear-Tolles says.

She has played a princess in the past — just another gig in an acting career that has spanned stage, television and independent film.

But to play a queen, in this faux-Gothic world, is to break the stained-glass ceiling.

"We have the little girls who come in and look at you with these huge eyes, and they see a princess — and now, of course, she's going to be a queen," says Schear-Tolles, an Emerson native. "And they look at you, and they believe. …

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