Queens have already taken over the Dallas and Chicago castles.
Long may she reign.
Medieval Times has finally moved out of the Dark Ages by crowning a queen to rule its Lyndhurst, N.J. castle for the first time in the themed tournament’s 34-year history.
Erin Zapcic, 34, told Moneyish she started as a lowly “wench” working the tavern and gift shop of the dinner theater show set in Medieval Spain seven years ago, before spending several years playing the princess. But she began her reign as Her Royal Highness, Dona Maria Isabella, a week ago.
“I think it is a very important change, and I’m very excited to part of it,” she said. “I feel like a role model now as the queen in a way that I never felt as the princess. I think we’re going to see a generation of young women who are going to be going after their dreams, and not feeling like they can’t go after those positions of authority that they have felt shut out from before.”
Zapcic has been angling for that crown since her first trip to Medieval Times in 1997 to celebrate her eighth grade graduation. “I very vividly remember going into the dungeon,” she said. “I remember our knight won, and I got a flower, and for a long time I had my paper crown hanging in my bedroom with the flower on it.”
Zapcic is actually one of five women rotating the role of Lyndhurst’s first female liege. Tara Henderson, Lauren Vivo, Jess Schear and Katie McGrath, who have all played the princess in the production, will take turns on the throne. But Zapcic assures it’s a much more peaceful transition of power than the warring queens in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
“We’re all really supportive of each other. We all have each other’s backs,” said Zapcic, who wears the crown three times a week during the winter slow season, which will probably bump up to six times a week in the spring and summer. “It’s never competitive. We all just want to deliver the best show possible.”
Medieval Times has long celebrated male knights jousting and sword-fighting before the king, while female actors played serving girls passing out roasted game hens. Other women worked behind the scenes training the horses in the royal stables or handling the live falcons that fly over the audience. But last fall, Medieval Times usurped the patriarchy – and that’s largely thanks to audiences clamoring for women to have bigger roles.
“We started working on this show at the corporate level 18 months ago, and that was in response to a lot of guest feedback that they wanted to see women more prominently in the show,” said Zapcic. “While certainly the way it’s timed out is very fortuitous [amid conversations about equal pay and sexual assault in the workplace with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements] this is something that we were ahead of the curve on.”
Medieval Times has entertained more than six million guests across the U.S. and Toronto, Canada for over three decades, with adults dropping $62.95 ($36.95 for kids under 12) for the interactive tournament. The “Queen” story arc is now running in three of Medieval Times’ nine castles. The Queen Isabella character was first coronated in Dallas last October, followed by Chicago last December.
She is described as “a firm but kind ruler respected throughout the kingdom who inherited the throne at the passing of her father, the previous king.” The queen is hosting her first tournament to name the new defender of the throne, but Zapcic hints some in the royal court are slow to accept her sovereignty.
“She does occasionally find her authority challenged in the show, but she quickly stands up for herself and asserts herself as the leader … I call them my ‘Daenerys moments’ and the crowd just goes nuts,” she said. “It’s really great, not only from the actor’s perspective to get that immediate feedback from the audience, but everyone sitting in the audience hears how supportive everyone else is of a queen who is fully in charge. I get chills every time.”
She spent three months in royal training, such as learning to ride the Andalusian stallion that she enters on. And then there’s commanding a room that seats more than 1,300 people.
“There are certain moments where you need to ‘take’ the entire arena … and bring that presence so that you don’t get lost in 1,300 people,” she said, noting that she draws inspiration from her mother. “I added a lot of color to my voice to bring that gravitas and that authority and sense of power to the queen. My mom is the strongest leader I know. She has the ability to make decisions quickly, and she’s always fair, and she’s just a really strong woman that I have always looked up to.”
Audiences are also already looking up to the realm’s new ruler. “We have people lining up after the show to take pictures with the Queen,” she said. “I had a woman my mother’s age throw her arm around me after the first performance. And there was a woman my age who looked at me and said, ‘I want to be you when I grow up,’ which was the coolest.”
As for whether Medieval Times pays Her Royal Highness as much as the late king, Zapcic would only coyly respond, “It’s good to be the queen.”
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