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Forsooth! Characters of old address new needs

Cause Celeb interviews actors Lionel Ruland and Seth Bridges of the New York Renaissance Faire about efforts to promote reading programs in over 100 libraries and support the efforts of local blood banks.
Giacinta Pace / NBC News
/ Source: NBC News

Question: I understand The New York Renaissance Faire supports a number of charities. Can you briefly describe these programs and their main goals and missions?

Answer, by Lionel Ruland (Pirate Crossbones McCoy): The library program is tied in with the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut libraries summer reading programs, so we provide ticket incentives for each of the libraries and for each child that completes whatever the library sets up as their reading program, we give them tickets. Additionally, we give them suggested reading lists that include everything from classical renaissance literature -- Chaucer, Shakespeare -- all the way to Harry Potter, just the fantasy, because the New York Renaissance Faire is where fantasy rules, and so we like to bridge fantasy and living history, and so Tolkien is in there. …We try to break it [the booklists] up into age groups and then the libraries are always feeding us additional good books that come out and so we keep a nice ongoing list, and we’re able to provide, an ongoing list of about 50 books.

Q: And the blood service?

Answer, by Seth Bridges (Robin Hood):

It’s kind of a similar program, with the Community Blood Services in Paramus, N.J. You need to make an appointment before you can give blood there, so what we do is, we donate tickets so that anyone who comes and donates blood gets two free tickets to the faire to kind of encourage blood donation, because the summer months are when the least amount of blood is donated. So they’re trying to get people in for the summer and the faire is helping do that.

Q: How long has the Renaissance Faire been involved with these charities?

Ruland: I think this is the third or forth year for the library program. I think we’re on the second or third year with this blood bank. We’ve done other variations with other blood banks in the past.

Q: And what role do the actors of the Renaissance Faire play in these charities?

Ruland: Well, we got to send Seth as Robin Hood out to the blood bank last week, to do a photo shoot with them so they could use it for their publicity. So you’ve got Robin Hood going to the blood bank and Robin Hood sitting getting his blood taken.

Bridges: It was a terrifying photo, ‘cause I faint when I give blood, so they staged it, but I still freaked out. They took me in the back; there are pictures of me where they store all the blood, all the coolers and the shelves were empty. It was kind of terrifying to be like, “Wow, there’s no blood in this blood bank” and God forbid you need a transfusion because there’s nothing to help you.

Q: Why is there so little blood in the summer?

Ruland: I think it’s probably because people are going away for vacation. I know from coming from corporate life, they used to set up a lot of in-office kind of things during the winter months and during the summer months, no one stays in the building.

Q: Have there been any particularly moving or interesting experiences that you’ve encountered while working with these charities?

Bridges: Visiting … the blood bank was kind of jarring for me. Like I said earlier, to see the lack of supply was just kind of startling. I used to give blood all the time when I was in high school and in college. I’d always get the literature saying, “We need blood, we need blood, we need blood.”  I was like, “How much can I give you? Come on, really?” I didn’t really buy into that. I thought it was just a marketing ploy. And then being there and seeing just how little was there was kind of a terrifying feeling. And I’ve definitely been encouraging my friends to give. And once I have an opening in my schedule to go down, I’ll give.

Ruland: With the library, it’s a little harder to judge. We get so many kids at the faire anyway, but it’s nice when we see the kids come out and (they) can relate to some of the books. If they come in and they know Robin Hood then they’re doing a little reading. Some of the kids come in and they’ve dressed as characters from some of their favorite books. We also do some horse charities. This year we’re working with The Polo Pony Retirement Foundation. It’s like the athlete retirement home for horses. They need food and shelter and care and so some of these ponies come and end up being our joust horses, but we also do fundraisers for taking care of these horses.

Q: What do you hope the Renaissance Faire will accomplish in the future with these charities?

Ruland: I think it’s important that the faire be a community outreach. While it’s sad that we’re only in operation eight weeks out of the year, we want to try to really be part of our community and that community spreads out through our whole audience base in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. As a corporation, it’s really good for us to be good corporate citizens and give money to the people who need it, and our way of being able to do that is by giving tickets to the organizations that can then use those as incentives to get people to participate in their programs. So we always look for partners looking to do those kinds of things. 

Q: Have any individuals who benefit from the charities taken part in the faire later on?

Ruland: I can’t say for sure that they have. Obviously our [joust] horses have seen the benefit; we’ve seen some skinny horses become big fat horses so we know that they’re eating properly now.

Q: What do you think stands out about the particular charities that you guys at the Renaissance Faire are involved with and why and how do you choose to support the ones that you do?

Ruland: For the library, the New York Renaissance Faire is known as a family-friendly faire so we really try to do things for kids, and we really try to get kids to the faire and encourage families to come out to the faire, and I think the reading program is a great way to not only touch kids, but to touch kids that are utilizing the library programs. It’s still important to realize that libraries are a viable form of education, even though you can read almost anything on the Internet, or just go on and get it for two dollars delivered to your house. But the libraries are still a place where kids can go and have programs and learning in the summer. And blood? We all just need it! So hopefully, not only is the Paramus Blood Center is going to get something from this… but blood centers all over the country. Everybody whose reading this is going to realize that summertime is a time that blood’s needed.

Q: Why do you feel it is important to participate in charities in general?

Ruland: I think it’s part of being a good citizen. I think it’s important that we give back to the communities and give back to the people that support us; it’s sort of cyclical.

Q: Are there any connections between the charity work you do and the characters you play and does one inspire the other?

Bridges: Yes, absolutely. It was very weird playing a famous thief walking into a blood bank because I couldn’t stop making jokes about it. “I was there to rob it.” But playing a character who’s famous for just helping the underdog and to right wrongs and disperse the wealth and help pick people up and help people pick themselves up by their bootstraps, I think it directly correlates to charity work and the work we do at the faire. It’s cool for me getting to play that part and I’m only 23 so I haven’t had much opportunity to go and do any sort of charity work or have the means with which to donate to charities.

Ruland: I think that the people who come to the faire are very generous and very giving. ... I just hope that we get other people involved. And certainly anybody else who’s interested in getting involved should contact the faire and we’ll point them in the right directions!

Interviewed by Jessica Pologruto, NBC News