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Once a Princess: How Working at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament prepared me for Hollywood.

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Dani Lennon 1Lately I have found myself inspired by the reminiscing on the Medieval Times Alumni FaceBook page and reconnecting with my former colleagues. I decided to write a piece about my time as the Princess and its direct correlation to my experience in Hollywood. Don’t worry this will all make sense as I go along so bear with me.

It was a beautiful Autumn evening as my best friend Leena Huff and I were enjoying gluten free chocolate chip cookies and wine over a marathon of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, when we began to discuss the recent postings and nostalgic photos being placed on the Chicago/Schaumburg chapter site. Our first meeting can be attributed to our positions as Princess Esperanza at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Schaumburg, Illinois. As co-workers in the theatrical department, Leena and I struck up a bond that continued to grow as we both moved to Los Angeles to pursue our acting careers full time. It was in that conversation as we watched ‘Buffy’ that Lee and I examined our time at the Medieval Dinner Theatre; finding several similarities between a life on set and the life back stage.

Although the presence of Hollywood is slowly filtering its way into Chicago at present, before I left for Los Angeles there was a very small creative pool that catered to actors. Local theatre, community theatre, commercials and industrial work and the Renaissance Faire were practically the only options available for those looking for a career as a thespian at that time. So imagine my excitement as a teenage girl to be hired into the Show Department of Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Schaumburg, Illinois. I was being paid to perform on stage – in costume for the Middle Ages no less. I loved it! I worked at this job for a total of five years. Dipping my hands in several other departments due to curiosity and doubling my paycheck that I ended my term at Medieval Times as solely the Princess Esperanza.

I fully enjoyed my time as Princess Esperanza at Medieval Times. What young girl would not absorb the sovereignty of being royalty in a beautiful dress, performing for hundreds of people each evening and winning the heart of the champion knight in a stage production? Hello!! In this real life fantasy come true is where the comparisons between Hollywood and Medieval come into play.

Being on set there are comparable challenges with the drama behind the scenes at a dinner theatre. Between scheduling, salary rates, jealousy, dating your co-star/co-worker (which can lead to drama and or sometimes marriage…in my case…well…we won’t go there) and seniority plays heavily into the stew that is brewed in the creative world. Let’s also not forget egos. On occasion there may be a couple of individuals on set and off stage where the presence of “Delusions of grandeur” (to quote my best friend Leena Huff) may rear their ugly heads. It was in my five years of performing at Medieval times that prepared me for one of the toughest sets I have ever encountered in Los Angeles to date.

My last article for Ms. In the Biz ‘Body Dysmorphic in Hollywood: An Unexpected Path to Recovery’ I mentioned my first Network Pilot as a series regular where I encountered many disheartening challenges that you would only hear about in the gossip tabloids. It was a mostly female cast that had many fragile egos to deal with. Between the underhanded comments, conniving insults, the competitive NOT EATING, jealousy and arguments over pay rates, I was finding any way to get out of this shoot. I was in over my head! Remembering my days at Medieval Times backstage had its share of drama, but it paled in comparison to the height of this conflict on set. However, the fun that was Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament served as a foundation – a tool if you will – to deal with the nonsensical controversy that I would undoubtedly face in the Entertainment Industry on a higher level.

I finished the Pilot. Swearing that if it were in fact picked up I would have to rethink working with these unprofessional amateurs again. My sanity wasn’t worth the catty bullshit. To my relief the pilot was not picked up and I have yet to encounter these former co-stars on any other set. Had I not cultivated the reality of being a paid thespian and the drama that goes along with it at an early age I would have left that Network set and or Hollywood. I have Medieval Times to thank for that. Working at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament gave me the exposure and the courage to audition for commercials and film. In another stage production in Chicago outside of Medieval Times, I performed a role that would change my life. As the curtains closed I was approached by Los Angeles representation that brought me here to Hollywood. I am forever grateful.

Before I close I would love to give a shout out to a few former employees from Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Schaumburg, Illinois. My two past show department heads Elias Taylorson & William Hainsworth the Masters of Ceremony. You two were not only my managers and outstanding actors, but you were also my friends who believed in me; constantly encouraging me at a young age to reach for my dreams. Elias Taylorson you got me out of my shell and took me from a shy tomboy to a lady! Bill Hainsworth you taught me to give it my all as an actor no matter how bad the nerves are or how much turmoil was going on within my own life. Thank you. Larry Rapach, a chameleon who portrayed many roles in the show, you are and will always be a friend to the end. You were my guidance and my shoulder to cry on when I needed it the most. To those who have passed on: Phil Newcomb a great Knight who was very friendly to me and to my dear friend who left us well before his time William Fowler. You were then and will always remain THE KING. ‘Long Live the King!’.

Working at Medieval Times Show Department had its ups and downs, peaks and plateaus. I started out as a quiet little mouse and ended coming into my own. In part, truth be told, I had an absolute blast! When I think of all of the fun times I had with my fellow co-workers, not only in the theatrical department, I can look back at those memories fondly with a little pep in my step and a tear in my eye.

Dani Lennon

About Dani Lennon

A Chicago Native and a classically trained singer, Dani has performed all over the world and the country in exciting places like Carnegie Hall. Singing transitioned to acting as she took part in stage productions all over Chicago where she worked with many talented actors and Steppenwolf directors. After moving to Los Angeles she has been working consistently in television, soaps, film and new media. One of her most notable projects to date is Lionsgate/Machinima’s successful Series ‘Bite Me’. In addition to acting and singing, Dani’s interests and talents are extended behind the camera as a Screenwriter and a Creative Producer. Having been an athlete most of her life, she enjoys performing her own stunts, firearms, boxing and riding horses. As a self proclaimed adventure junkie, Dani loves the outdoors. Hiker, camper, fisherman and equestrian are the few roles she plays in her everyday life.