The year is 1544. The location is Revel Grove, a small village in the county of Oxfordshire, England. The Royal Court of King Henry VIII is paying a visit to this village as part of its annual summer progress. Attending on His Majesty is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and his partner, the diplomat Sir Ralph Sadler.
Wait a minute! If you don’t remember reading that in a history book, perhaps some clarification is needed. Revel Grove is a fictitious name given to the site at The Maryland Renaissance Festival. And while no history book mentioned a relationship between the Archbishop and Sir Ralph, the actors who portray those characters have been together for 17 years.
Steven Edward Kirkpatrick (Archbishop Cranmer), and Charles Boyington (Sir Ralph), currently live in Hyattsville but make the drive to 16th century England each weekend as part of the acting company of the Maryland Renaissance Festival.
Not surprisingly, theater is what drew the couple together. They met in Memphis, Tenn., while working at the Playhouse on the Square. Charles was directing the play, “Marvin’s Room,” and Steven was supposed to audition but someone had told him there was no role for him in the play.
“It worked out for the best since I would not have been open to dating him if I was also directing him at the time,” says Charles.
“Looking at pictures of those years, we look like mere kids,” muses Steven. “The amazing thing is that it doesn’t seem like that long.”
Both have been performing for more than 20 years but do not often act together.
“More often than not we do our own thing,” says Charles. “We were in a production of Jekyll and Hyde, which was written for us. I was Jekyll and Steven was Hyde.”
“We haven’t performed together in several years,” notes Steven, “so the festival has been fun. Once we did play the same role in the same show. There was a period back in Memphis when Charles somehow ended up being my unofficial understudy for several roles. He took over for me as Sebastian in The Tempest when I had to step in as Prospero. It’s amusing to see photos of us playing the same role and wearing the same costume, but I will say he always played the character very differently from me.”
While both feel a major benefit for a couple performing in the same show is the ability to carpool, is there ever a strain to being in the same production?
“Theater has always been a primary bond between us, so it is far more positive than a negative. If we don’t get a chance to perform regularly we both suffer, so this way we’re both getting an important need met,” says Steven.
“Most of the time it is great fun,” says Charles. “The only issue is I like to arrive early to rehearsals and performances and then stay later than necessary to hang out. Steven wants to arrive later and leave earlier. This is true in just about everything we do though.”
Actors can be sensitive regarding their work. Shelley Winters claimed her husband, Vittorio Gassman, once gave her a black eye when she confessed she preferred Olivier’s Hamlet to his. As a couple, do they ever critique each other’s work?
“As the years have gone by, we have learned how to critique each other without tripping on toes,” laughs Steven.
Steven first performed at the Festival in 2002, and Charles in 2008. Steven was on a hiatus for a few seasons, so this is the first year they have performed together at the venue. As a gay couple, they have they found the Renaissance Festival a positive performing environment.
“It can appear different on the surface since there is an emphasis on machismo by some of the guys in the cast,” says Charles. “But most of that is just trying to play up the time period. Once you get to know these folks, they are perhaps the most accepting people on the face of the earth. They come from all walks of life and have a ‘live and let live’ philosophy.”
Stephen agrees, “Because so many actors love this venue and are given a chance to return, there is definitely a sense of this being like a second family. I’ve always felt that I can truly be me in all of my many aspects and have complete acceptance in this venue. And I don’t always feel that way in certain sectors of the gay community! The cast and vendors are wonderful, so it’s been great.”
Steven and Charles will be performing at The Maryland Renaissance Festival weekends through Oct. 23.