In March of 2020, we all sequestered in our homes. What’s a creative to do? What’s a collaborator to do? What’s a leader to do? Make something, that’s what. At least for me, having a project to dive into gave respite from the strain of being trapped inside with no major creative project to manage.
I hopped on Facebook and Zoom to gather a team of like-minded, intelligent women. We all work in creative fields, we’re all connected to the crazy world of Renaissance festivals. And thus, LadyFaire Magazine was born, debuting October 1. On April 17, we hit the first big milestone: 10,000 website views.
I am abundantly proud. We have created content ranging from archery to seasonal recipes to ancient fairy tales from around the world. Travel hacks and tea varietals are shared, stunning weddings depicted. It’s really, really lovely.
In what may have been our most ambitious undertaking, we gathered a group of BIPOC from festivals all over the country and held a series of Zoom sessions and Facetime calls that resulted in a two-part informative piece about diversity in the Renaissance festival world. It was eye-opening, and we are grateful to all those who were willing to be interviewed.
Over the next few weeks, I will be posting the individual stories here in my professional blog. But for today, let it be said how grateful I am to be leading such a fantastic team of women creators, writers, and entrepreneurs.
Sometimes, our coworkers and colleagues need for us to be mindful. To check on them. Especially if we are in a supervisory position. It’s not always easy to ask, it feels vulnerable, even as the one soliciting the information, the status.
I decided to practice on a stranger.
Last Monday, I found myself walking in the LAX airport, searching for a soda and trying to get to my 10,000th step before boarding a plane to head home to Houston. It’s a busy airport. Really, really busy.
You know how there are some people who are blissfully unaware of the existence of others as they move through the world? They stop in the middle of paths, their grocery carts block access, they bump into people and don’t say “Excuse me” because they are so clueless?
I am not one of those people.
I am the person who’s constantly ducking out of the way of oblivious elbows and shopping carts and jaywalkers.
So as I walked, I observed the people I shared the vast, echoing space with. There was a young man, clad in orange safety vest, uniform, and work boots, sitting on a low tile wall just near the Lemonade restaurant, head down in his hands. His shoulders were slumped, he seemed so very despondent. I wondered, is he okay?
And I kept walking. Gotta get the steps in.
When I returned, he was still there. Head still down. Shoulders still slumped. I kept walking. Did another full round of the terminal. He’s still sitting. And I start to wonder if maybe he needs something, maybe he’s gotten bad news, maybe he’s lonely. I resolve to stop and ask if he’s still sitting when I finish the lap of the terminal.
When I finish, he is, in fact, still there, and I find myself facing a test. No one but me knew of my resolution. I processed a whole lot of excuses as I stood to the side of the tide of people rushing to their gate:
He’s a stranger.
I’m an introvert.
He might be dangerous.
He might think I am weird.
He might not speak English.
It’s not my business.
I am in a hurry. What if they call my plane to start boarding?
I might be rejected.
That’s the big one, isn’t it? Rejection.
I took a deep breath, I crossed to him, touched his shoulder, and asked, “Are you okay?”
He looked at me with eyes rimmed red, fatigue carved into lines beside his mouth, surprise evident in his expression, and replied, “I’m just so tired.” And he started talking, almost without prompting, as though he really just needed to. Seems he’d worked six straight 16-hour days, and had four more to go before a break. He fills jets with fuel, and it’s hot on the tarmac, he’d come in to just cool off for an hour on his lunch break. We chatted. I held my hand up for a high five that turned into a tight clasp as we looked into each other’s eyes, strangers, and told each other to hang on.
It was just a small moment of connection, nothing earth-shattering, just a couple of moments in which one human talked to another. No screens, no agenda, no products to sell or meetings to schedule, just connection without cost.
I believe connection is the thing each of us needs most. Real, authentic, meaningful connection with another person. Attentive listening accompanied by unguarded eye contact. Stillness that says, “I am here, I am hearing you, I am not rushing away to my next thing. I will plant myself here and wholly attend to what you’re saying.”
And you know what? I asked that man if he was okay, and I was the one who walked away healed.
I don’t know the name of the man I spoke to at LAX last Monday, I hope he had a good week. I hope he got some rest Friday. I hope he spent some time loving and being loved on his first day off after a busy holiday filled with harried travelers.
When the colleagues in our sphere know that they are seen, that they are valued, that whether they are okay actually matters, they are able to bring their best selves to their work. That’s how connection works. How risk pays off. How resilience grows.
Kim Bryant works as a leader, director, educator, and writer. With twenty years working in the themed outdoor festival world as performer, director, and manager, as well as twenty-five years of teaching experience, she brings a wealth of experience to any organization with which she works. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Education from Lubbock Christian University and her Master’s degree in Theatre from the University of Houston. The 2010 winner of the prestigious Texas Educational Association Lynn Murray Scholarship, Kim has studied at Actor’s Studio of Chicago, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, and at New York’s Lincoln Center. Kim has three grown children, Hilary, Travis, and Libby; two bonus grandchildren, Ally and JJ; and two grandbabies, Hazel and Ezekiel.
School Days is a unique opportunity for students to visit the Renaissance themed New Market Village of the Texas Renaissance Festival. Begun in 2005 as an opportunity for outreach, the event has grown from an attendance under 5,000 in its first year to an attendance of 45,000 in 2020.
As a career educator who was immersed in the Houston educational community, I had begun, in 2012, to hear concerns and frustrations about the lack of organization and declining quality of the event. Many of my teaching colleagues either planned to stop bringing their students, or had reached a point of knowing the programming was not quality, but the day was fun enough for the students to justify continued attendance. I had worked in the Festival’s entertainment company for many years, and so had a finger on the pulse of both the faire and the teachers. I approached the Festival’s General Manager, letting him know that when the Director position became available, I wanted to step in, to see if I could bring my understanding of both the educational world and the festival’s operations to coalesce in a cohesive organizational structure that would regain the confidence of teachers, administrators, and parents.
In 2014, I was given that opportunity.
My first order of business was to communicate with teachers and administrators, to learn what their frustrations had been. I learned that lack of consistent replies to emails and calls had been an issue, as well as programming that did not fit the logistical needs of schools (bus scheduling, lunch availability, school purchasing procedures, as examples). For the first year, I focused on replying to all questions, making email my first priority every day. It took some time, but I did develop a sense of trust with the teachers: they knew that if they had a concern, it would be addressed. I had attended this event with my own students every year since its inception, so I had a good idea of what the day looked like from that perspective. But I had never paid attention to the magnitude of registrations, ticketing, and staffing. I made that a focus in year one of my management. I asked a lot of questions.
Another issue that was clear in the first year was that the fine arts contests, which had been started by the Coordinator in 2007 and had contributed to exponential growth in the popularity of School Days from 2007-2010, had become both unwieldy and low quality. The first major change I implemented was hiring certified adjudicators from the University Interscholastic League’s bank of judges. These men and women were the very same ones who would be judging bands, orchestras, choirs, and theatre groups in the spring each year. I worked with teachers in the music and theatre fields to develop a critique system that allowed for quality feedback from professional adjudicators. Immediately, after just one year with the new judges in place, the prestige of our contest exploded.
I placed limits on the number of groups who would be allowed to register. In the past, there had been little to no structure. Students would perform under trees with whatever warm body could be grabbed to judge. By placing strict limits on the availability of performance slots, the contest leapt forward again in respect and prestige. We have waiting lists now.
Each year, I have worked alongside the TRF department heads: entertainment, traffic management, ticketing, security, food and beverage, and vendors to improve our processes. We have streamlined each and every process so that the event is running smoothly even as attendance grows. We will continue to seek out ways to get better. It’s important to me and to the rest of the TRF management staff, that the School Days event is seen as a quality, family-friendly, educational day for the students who come from all over south and central Texas and western Louisiana. I consider it my legacy.