Emily Sturges: From coast to coast

Emily Sturges

Hear ye! Hear ye! Art thou in need of a break from the 21st century? Wouldst thou crave some old fashioned tomfoolery? A bit of spectacle, magic, humor or grandeur? Or perhaps ye simply crave a giant turkey leg? All this and more can be found at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. 

Now through Oct. 31st the faire is open on weekends for fun and merriment. You could spend the entire weekend and still not partake of all the faire has to offer. There are shows that run from the silly (Mud pit squad, I’m looking at you) to the regal Queen’s Court. A sampling of the titles — “Whose Jest is it Anyway,” “Consider Thou This,” and “Disasterpiece Theater” — lets you know what you’re in for. There are vendors throughout the shire selling a wide range of goods. In the past I’ve profiled one of the talented jewelers, I also let my nephew buy his first cosplay sword there, and I have a story about my friend and a bow and arrow mishap that still makes me chuckle when I think about it. 

And the faire is super LGBTQ+ friendly. Years ago, I hosted a Gay Day at the Faire and they changed the final number, performed in front of all the patrons, to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” just for our group. The “shire” is full of the talented performers who stay in character throughout the day, whether they are hosting a show or roaming about the grounds. This week I spoke to one of this year’s cast members, the effervescent Emily Sturges.

Hi Suzi! How are you doing? 

I’m doing well, thank you! Okay, let’s jump right into it. Tell me a little about yourself.

I am from San Diego California, born and raised. And now I’m on the other side of the country, so that’s a lot of fun! It’s nice actually experiencing weather. 

Is this your first time on the East coast?

I’ve visited before. I have friends in NY and I’ve visited my sister in Virginia, but never for this long and I’m really enjoying it. When I leave here I’m moving to Chicago but hopefully, I’ll be back next summer because it’s a heck of a lot of fun here and I’ve learned a LOT. 

Well, you’ll get to learn a whole lot about weather in Chicago. But what was it like growing up in San Diego? What did the folks do?

My mom worked in the company that she and some of her colleagues built. So she was the working mom and there was my dad and I. He was like a house dad, so there would be all these soccer moms and me and Craig, my dad. So that was really, really fun getting to hang out with him. I’m the youngest, so I was basically kind of an only [child]. There was a lot of active time, being outside, going to the beach, going to parks, climbing trees, doing anything physical that I could think of. Otherwise I’d get too antsy and would never sleep. When I wasn’t outside, it was me and my dad watching action movies. 

So I’m guessing that you were a tomboy? Sporty kid?

Oh yeah, super, super, super, super, tomboy. All of my friends were male presenting kids. Every day I’d be like, “Hey guys, what’s going on? Are we playing frisbee, are we playing spies, what are we doing today?” We’d play and often they’d say, “Sometimes we kind of forget that you’re a girl” and I’d say, “Holy shit, me too!” Fortunately, my parents are very awesome people, they’re very chill and they didn’t raise me to be one way or another in terms of traditional gender norms. So I got to decide and sometimes it was, oh yeah, I frickin’ love this thing that’s considered girly and sometimes it was, I love this thing that’s supposed to be for boys. And they’d be like, [nonchalantly] “Okay, cool.” There was no gender distinction, it was whatever you wanted. And I was like, “Cool!” 

Wow, you just reminded me of a moment from my childhood! I think I was about 8. It was a super hot day and I told my mother that I didn’t think it was fair that the boys could go topless but that the girls had to wear shirts. She told me that I could go shirtless if I wanted. I was so excited, I tore off my shirt and raced outside only to be immediately teased by the whole neighborhood and my friends shouting, “What are you doing?!?” I ran back inside and yelled something like, “Why didn’t you tell me it was socially unacceptable for girls to be topless!” She just said something like, “Oh please, there is nothing to see.” 

Yeah, I understand that, I would get kids who were always saying, “Wait, your dad stays home and takes care of you while your mom goes to work?” Then I’d see their dads go to work and it was confusing, like “What’s happening? Why is your mom at home?”

Cute! What sports did you participate in and what was one of your best moments?

I actually did a lot of dance, ballet, tap and all of that jazz, and I also was into swimming, but a best sports moment was more recently. Last year I started doing spartan and obstacle course training, and my favorite moment so far was placing 3rd in my age range in a competition back home. I accomplished a lot of goals, I was climbing on stuff, flipping 300lb tires, running up steep hills, it was incredible. It hurt so bad, but it was a heck of a lot of fun.

Spartan competitions look even grittier than Ninja Warrior courses. 

They’re closely related. Spartan training is rough, you’re battling the elements and the obstacles. Because my hands were so soft when I started, I tore the heck out of my hands training, but then callouses started to grow from holding metal bars and now I have a much better grip. People often use chalk on their hands but I prefer dirt. It’s free, and it’s right there and I think it holds better. 

Where did you go to school? 

Webster Conservatory of the Arts; I got my BFA in musical theater.

Favorite song that you performed?

“With the Trees” from an obscure musical, “A Little More Alive.” It’s about being in tune with nature and yourself and finding new paths. My favorite role was playing the fox in “The Little Prince.” We performed it for a lot of kids who had never seen a play before and it was magical. The kids were inspired and it was heartwarming  to be a part of someone’s introduction to the theater. 

Barbara Walters said, “The Little Prince” was her favorite book. It’s a favorite of mine too. 

Yeah, it’s a beautiful book and play.

I read your resume and one of your special skills listed was “High falls.” What does that entail and what’s the craziest stunt you’ve done? 

Oh my gosh, I’m learning so much and I’m having a great time here at the [sings] Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire! We’ve been learning high falls which is so much fun! And very scary at first. 

Uh, yeah, I would think so!

I’ve been jumpin’ onto fall pads doing layouts and headers at 17 1/2 feet. I mean as a kid I used to jump off of piers and stuff which was way more dangerous but this is thrilling. I love learning technique here. I’m hoping to go higher as I keep training. 

What’s a header?

It’s when you fall straight forward, almost like diving. You look for your spot and just before you hit the ground you tuck and flip over so you land flat. A layout is where I kick my leg in the air as I’m jumping and then shoot my hips forward and go flying through the air and fall flat on my back. And that is much scarier because I’m just staring at the sky and falling like, “Oh my God, I’m not looking at my spot, I’m just falling through the air and landing on my back.” But it’s a big adrenaline rush. We do it safely and with a lot of training. Our fight directors here are fricking incredible. 

Tell me about the role you’re playing?

I’m playing Maggie Cutters. She’s the shire butcher and she secretly works for the Earl of Sussex. What’s great is that we have a base for these characters and then we get to create their personalities and relationships. So I’m kind of like a bad guy’s sidekick. Think Kronk from “The Emperor’s New Groove.” She’s got that “himbo” energy and she just wants the Earl to be her friend. I get to start the day covered in blood, because… I can. I do a lot of the fight shows, I do brawl, I do wrestling, tournament of arms, and it’s a grand old time. 

Is this your first big gig since graduating?

Yes, I was lined up to do this in 2020, but the global pepperoni had other plans, so I had to go smaller and local and stayed near home, working, waiting and training. Thank God for my Spartan training because, dear Lord, this is the most physically demanding job ever! I love doing it, but we have 13 hours days Saturday and Sunday and during the week we’re rehearsing or learning awesome new stuff that’s also very physically demanding, but exciting. So yeah, this is my first major gig out of school, and what a gig to have.  

Where do you want this to lead?

I definitely want to come back next year. I’ve learned so much from the other fighters here because yes, they’re all about producing a show, but they also ask, “Hey, what do you want to learn? What things are you trying to do and how can we help?” Eventually, as far as my career? I’m a very movement based actor; I love this stunt/fight work, it’s where I feel the most joy. My background as a dancer really helps because it’s all about choreography. [Laughing] I hate real violence, but fake violence is soooo much fun!  And you meet a lot of great people. I’d also want to continue with musical theater but mostly I want to create more opportunities for women, female identifying, trans and non-binary people in theater. I don’t think we see enough of it. I want to see more love stories with people like me. Like us. I want more bisexual representation, more demigirl, more non-binary and trans representation and I want to help create and support that. We need this, we need more of it! Okay, that was long winded. 

[Laughing] No worries. What was your coming out experience?

Oh, buddy… Well, I realized it when I was talking to my friends one night — freshman year of college — about having a female friend in high school and how we would kiss sometimes and how I thought about marrying her, but everyone thinks that right? Riiiiight? Anyone? No? Okay. Just me? [silence from my friends] Wait just a minute? Oh my God, I think I’m bisexual. And that’s how I figured it out. Telling my family was really casual. I got off the plane on a visit home and my dad asked, “What’s new?” and I said, “I’m glad you asked, I’m bisexual.” and he said, “Okay, cool. I’m gonna get your bags, go tell your mom.” I told her and she was like, “Okay, what do you want for dinner?” And that was pretty much it. I’m very lucky they were so chill. And I’m dating someone now and she’s amazing. She’s from Texas, we met at school and we’ll be moving to Chicago together. 

Nice. What was an early sign that you were queer?

So many signs, not that it means you’re necessarily queer, but I wore very masculine clothes a kid, polo shirts, etc. Not a sign but I remember a girl in math class when I was 12. She was super cool and she told me she was bisexual, I didn’t even know the term but I was like, “wait, I need to know more…” and she explained it to me and I think I just took in the information and was like, “Hmmm, okay, got it” and filed it away. I didn’t even think of it when I had this conversation with my best friend. I said “what if we got married one day?” and she replied, “that’s a great idea!” Then I said “here’s a Pinterest board,” and she said “let’s make out!” Sure, that’s normal straight behavior. 

What’s your craziest moment on stage?

Day two at the Renaissance Faire, my pants ripped right open. My ass was right out there for everyone in the shire to see in the middle of a quarter staff fight. I was wearing bright orange underwear too and just thought, okay, here we are, first weekend, my cakes spilled out. This is feeling great. 

At least you were wearing underwear!

I know, I learned real quick to start wearing spandex under the costume. 

Any phobias or fears?

I don’t mess with ghosts man. They can do their thing, but I’m not the one to go into a house that’s haunted, I’m not the one. It’s terrifying. 

Wow, I found one area where I’m braver than you! What was a favorite toy?

I was obsessed with dragons and I had a toy dragon that I got from the ‘Boys’ section of the toy store. I walked in and was like, “I want that please.” The movie “How To Train Your Dragon” has a big place in my heart. And Legos were huge, I even worked at Legoland for a while. I’m still obsessed with them. 

If you were reincarnated, what animal would you be?

Some sort of predatory bird so that no one would mess with me and I could fly freely in the sky. 

Favorite quote?

It’s anonymous, we don’t know where it’s from, but it’s “She wasn’t waiting for a knight, she was waiting for a sword.” [Blows a kiss] Mwah! I love that!