Friday, October 16, 2009

Remembering the Shrew

It is with the greatest of sadness that we announce the passing of Leslie Engle, the owner and guiding light of Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire, early this morning (Oct 16, 2009). Leslie started the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire nearly 15 years ago with her husband Ken (who died three years ago). Quite simply, Leslie was The Shrew. There will be a memorial service on Saturday, October 24th (2009). Details will be posted on the Shrewsbury website,

Leslie once told me that she was born in an airplane flying in the air during (I believe) the Blitz of London. This made it difficult for officials filling out her birth certificate. Somehow the circumstances of her birth seem appropriate for someone who became the founder of the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire.

The first time I met Leslie was at her home -- the Shrew Box -- before the very first Shrewsbury Faire. I'd been encouraged to play the harp for the Faire, and I was nervously showing her my Society of Creative Anachronism costume. I'd been to a Renaissance Faire in Minneapolis, and I was anxious that I wasn't really up to her theatre standards. Leslie was wreathed in cigarette smoke, grace, and calm -- I've been busking and harping ever since the first Faire.

In the early years of the Faire, Leslie (and Ken) put up with my latex velociraptor puppet side-kick, Vaal -- eventually allowing Vaal to facilitate Shrewsbury business meetings. Leslie appreciated the puppetry involved, and gave me tips for roaming a faire with one (Vaal got some outfits to be more "period.")

Somehow, Leslie decided that Shrewsbury needed an Abbots Bromley Horn Dance. I remember she and Ken taught a bunch of us the dance -- a procession with deer horns on poles -- in a park. That was the only time I've ever seen Leslie relax her Deeply Ingrained English Sense of Privacy to engage in a hippy/mystic/woo-woo moment. She leaned her back against a park redwood in front of a stick of burning cedar incense. Seeing her so as we learned the Bromley struck a chord of illumination within me. It was a magic moment.

Making the magic happen. Leslie always spoke about making the magic happen at Faire, whether it was drawing a guest into a short moment of theatre with a "Good morrow, and how fare you?" as they entered; or drawing them into a simple dance; or (in my case) simply believing strongly enough as I harped that I really was from another time and place and that my harp could return us there -- at least until a cell phone (or a bag pipe) interrupted.

Leslie was a kind of den mother to the Shrewsbury players, and I think she always was where ever she went. She believed in the power of chocolate and tea. I remember sharing a good laugh with her about the time she was helping some poor (probably very drunk twenty-something) waif who had called her, stranded, for a ride. Leslie was reduced to enunciating the following command: "Look. Around. You. What. Do. You. See?" I was in tech support at the time, and the parallels were hilarious.

But sometimes I think she let herself get worn out -- and this was always evident after the Faire. And each year it seemed she got more and more wrung out after the Herculean effort of willing the Faire into existence.

We loved her for allowing us to play in her faire. Slowly, it became our faire, and Leslie became our Elizabeth I, our Virgin Mary, our Lady of the Lake, our patron saint working miracles behind the scenes. And although she was very shy, and it tired her, she would appear on the days of Shrewsbury Faire -- in later days on her electric horse Malaprop -- to be our luck-piece, our rallying point, our example of working the magic. I learned the best thing to do when I saw her during Faire was to keep walking, wave a secret wave, and not try to give her anything.

I loved her humor. I loved her wit. I admired her devotion and perseverance for making her dreams come true. I will miss her mentoring -- she was a wonderful listener with thoughtful and encouraging insights. She helped me deal with being newly gay, thirty-something, and single in Corvallis, and she always made a little time when I would call her and say, "I just had this dream and when I woke up I had a feeling I should tell it to you."

I'd like to think that if Leslie were here right now she'd somehow catch our collective gaze. She'd smile, and then she'd say, "Look around." We'd look at each other and she'd add, "Look at the magic around you. Now go play faire."

I will. But I think I need to re-read O'Shaughnessy's Ode a few more times.

Good-bye, Leslie, and safe journey.

❧   ❧   ❧   ❧   ❧

Delenn: "Strange. The galaxy seems somehow smaller now that all the First Ones are gone forever."

Sheridan: "It feels like the magic's gone now."

Delenn: "No, not gone. Now we make our own magic. Now we create our own legends. Now we build the future."

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