With Low Pay and High Injuries, O.C. Medieval Times Actors Attempt Union

The Buena Park players say dressing Dark Age and getting savaged by horses while dealing with service industry crap deserves a real wage

Veterans of the service industry know it’s one of the most important and little-respected jobs in the U.S. Now, add to its usual humiliations and depravations horses, heavy costumes, and even heavier weapons of brawny steel, and you begin to comprehend the world of the Medieval Times player.

A troupe of Orange County performers, however, is exercising the right to organize as its members continue the beloved American medieval tradition—while demanding that wages and protection for workers advance at least as far as the 19th Century.

“I fractured my thumb last month,” 33-year-old Buena Park Medieval Times cast member Jake Bowman tells the Orange County Register. “I had a sword in both hands and my opponent’s sword came down right at the joint of my thumb. I couldn’t make a fist for a month.”

But it’s nothing new for Bowman. During a pervious stint at Medieval Times in Dallas, he was kicked in the back by a horse and suffered a hairline fracture to the spine.

The Buena Vista players feel they can no longer wait for their bosses at the Dallas-based corp. to offer them the kind of protections afforded their colleagues in other skilled, live performance situations, so they’re taking action.

On Friday, the venue’s 50 knights, queens, squires, horsemen and stablehands submitted a petition for a union election to the National Labor Relations Board that calls for a vote on whether to join the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), the Register reports.

Los Angeles resident Erin Zapcic, 39, who plays a queen at the Buena Park “castle,” told the paper that the employees had gathered signatures with a supermajority in favor of unionizing. The performers notified management of their intention to unionize but received no response, so they filed the petition.

“We do 16 shows a week, so the knights don’t have time to properly rest,” Zapcic said. “And when we’re short on stable hands they don’t have time to do all of the safety checks that are needed, like ensuring that the saddles are tight.”

Zapcic also suffered an equestrian injury last year when she fell from her mount just as she entered the tunnel that brought her onstage.

“I was very lucky because I just bruised my thigh,” she told the Register, “but I had to be off the horse for a couple weeks and was not allowed to ride.”

And of course, there’s the money.

Medieval Times employees just received a $1 raise per hour, and that goes as far as you’d expect, according to Susanne Doris, secretary treasurer at AGVA’s national office.

“We just want them to be paid for the skills they have,” she said. “We’ve had some employees tell us that there’s no way they can afford to live by themselves on the money they’re earning, and others say they can’t afford a car for transportation. This is critical.”

Zapcic earns $21.50 an hour, according to the Register, but pointed out that similar performers at Universal Studios and other Southern California theme parks make $30 to $35 an hour.

The move comes on the heels of a union victory at the Medieval Times location in Lyndhurst, N.J., where the workers’ 26-11 vote secured AGVA membership, the Register reports. Medieval Times operates a total of 10 dinner theaters, with additional locations in Dallas, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Myrtle Beach, Orlando, Scottsdale and Toronto.

(Obviously, it behooves us to include this:)

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