By Danny Freedman
Monday, February 13, 2006 5:36 PM
JIM MILLER, 26
JOB: Sir James Gray, knight in the Free Lancers of the Cimmerian Combatives Company
SALARY: Knights in the Tennessee-based Free Lancers are paid $100 to $225 per day for events.
EDUCATION: Associate's degree in arts and sciences from the Community College of Baltimore County
WHAT HE DOES: Miller adds to the 16th-century atmosphere of the Maryland Renaissance Festival by battling fellow knights in jousts and giving demonstrations of combat skills, such as spearing targets while on horseback (at other events, his troupe also performs choreographed sword fighting). For the jousting, which is full-contact and totally unscripted, knights protect themselves with about 100 pounds of stainless-steel armor. Bouts usually involve up to six passes on horseback, with points awarded both for hits and knocking the opponent off his or her horse (the "sweet spot" to hit is near the left armpit, Miller said). "It's a lot to think about" in an instant, he said: Sight is limited to narrow slits in the helmet and you're controlling a charging horse -- which, at best, is still an "improvisational actor," all while trying to aim a 10-foot wooden lance (hitting a horse is a "huge disgrace").
WOULD YOU WANT HIS JOB? Stampeding toward someone with a giant pole not surprisingly ups the chance of workplace injury. On top of the sprains, dislocations, occasional broken bones and "bruised bodies to no end," there's also the chance of catching a lance to the crotch. "They've come very close, but they haven't actually gotten me," Miller said. During festival months, he adds an extra 35 hours to the work week, including 14-hour Saturdays and Sundays, between practices, preparation and the shows.
HOW YOU CAN GET HIS JOB: Knights in the Free Lancers climb the ranks through extensive training that can take years; Miller became a knight after more than six years of work. Newbies, working as squires or even "squires-in-training," help the knights during the show while learning the rudiments of horseback riding and combat. Joining a troupe can be as simple as introducing yourself at an event and offering to volunteer, Miller said.
This article first appeared in the Express on October 24, 2005.