As anyone who’s ever attended a traveling Renaissance Faire can tell you, there’s nothing like seeing, feeling and experiencing what it must have been like during the Middle Ages. With such events featuring elaborately costumed characters, specially choreographed fight sequences and other key elements of Medieval times, Renaissance Faires bring audiences an up-close and personal view of the era.

Behind the scenes, though, the people who devote their time and talents to recreating the Medieval experience for fans encounter many of the same joys and struggles that they do. As evidenced by the award-winning comedy web series KNIGHTS OF NEW JERSEY, their lives can also be just as interesting, while being incredibly funny at the same time.

Created by Michael Hadley (no relation to this author), KNIGHTS OF NEW JERSEY’s first season is now streaming on its official Youtube page (see additional links below). With two more episodes to come, and a second season of the series being planned, Hadley says that’s just the beginning of the great content awaiting its fans. “We’ve also got a number of special videos we think our fans are really going to dig: bloopers, outtakes and, yes, music videos!”


L-R: Benny Elledge as Squire Tom, and Kurt Benjamin Smith as Sir Robert in the award-winning comedy series KNIGHTS OF NEW JERSEY.

The series revolves around a group of Renaissance Faire performers who try their best to balance the personal and professional responsibilities they face each day, all while hoping to one day reach for a greater level of success on both fronts; one that, for now, remains just as much of a fantasy for them as the characters they portray.

One of the most seasoned members of this troupe is Sir Robert (a.k.a. fledgling landscaping company operator Bob Gundy, played by Kurt Benjamin Smith). While he, and the rest of his fellow performers thrive in front of audiences, Bob battles with inner pressure to be the best person he can be, plus a palpable lack of confidence in himself.

Things become even more interesting when he meets Megan Hill (played by Mackenzie Lansing). Known to Faire audiences as the lovely Mother of Dragons, plus other characters including the ravishing GAME OF THRONES character Daenerys, Hill has lived a life of privilege, given that her parents have made a fortune in the real estate business. While she tries to find her own identity, Megan establishes an undeniable sense of charm in every character she plays; one that also proves to keep her male counterparts on their toes.

The talented and hilarious ensemble cast of KNIGHTS OF NEW JERSEY also includes Benny Elledge as the outspoken yet devoted Squire Tom (or, in real life, I.T. technician Thomas Simmons), Joe Beuerlein as the incredibly theatric Wizard Krakes (a.k.a. podiatrist Ronson Jennings), and Drew Moore as the power-hungry Lord Mayor (a.k.a. real estate agent Jimmy Roberts).


Mackenzie Lansing as the beautiful Mother of Dragons in KNIGHTS OF NEW JERSEY.

In addition, Jason Burford co-stars as Lord Mayor’s constantly harried right hand man, the County Clerk (a.k.a. recently divorced high school science teacher Kevin Fritz), and Len Nash plays the malevolent yet physically deceiving Randy The Executioner (a.k.a. car assembly line worker Randolph McGuirk).

A self-described nerd, as well as a longtime fan of comic books, sci-fi and all things medieval, including the output of George R.R. Martin and feature films like EXCALIBUR, Hadley majored in history during his college years. During that time, he continued to explore the ins and outs of life during Medieval times, as well as how society evolved in that period.

Inspired by all of those sources, plus the popularity of cosplay (people dressing as their favorite comic book and fantasy characters at Comic-Con and similar events), Hadley borrowed heavily from each as he began to establish the creative framework for KNIGHTS OF NEW JERSEY. While he and his family have seen their own share of Renaissance Faires, Hadley sees the series as a chance to live vicariously through the talented performers that make them so entertaining.

“I’ve loved going to Renaissance Faires, although always as a ‘mundane’ and never as a full-on Rennie,” he says. “I have a ton of admiration and respect for people who have the stones to put on a costume and live out their dreams and fantasies, but something always held me back. I guess KNIGHTS is my way of finally taking the plunge.” 

As it turned out, Hadley’s experience at one such faire would end up providing the perfect inspiration for him to fully examine a few burning questions that he’d constantly been asking himself; questions that he sought to answer in humorous and heartfelt fashion in KNIGHTS OF NEW JERSEY.

“The actual ‘inciting incident’ was a trip I took with my kids to Medieval Times, the Renaissance battle/dinner theatre show here in New Jersey—and around the country,” Hadley recalls. “The thought struck me: what would it be like to work here? What’s the daily grind like? That got me working on a script for a feature film.”



Considering the obvious budgetary and logistical problems that often come with doing a full length movie, Hadley decided to retool his approach.

“Over time, it occurred to me that this was something that we could bite off as a web series, and that the Ren Faire setting would be a lot more doable from a production standpoint,” he adds. “Even better, it was much more flexible and would allow us to bring in so many more characters to play with.”

As critical as it was for Hadley to create memorable characters with an equally effective storyline throughout each episode of KNIGHTS OF NEW JERSEY, it was just as important for him to accurately portray and reflect every aspect of Renaissance Faires in the series. To that end, Hadley would rely on the expertise and experience of the series’ creative consultant: longtime Faire actor/writer/director/producer Sandra Spano.

“Sandra was so helpful in getting this off the ground and in introducing us to the local New York/New Jersey Ren Faire community,” Hadley says. “She definitely helped us sharpen the script in terms of the right lingo (“Rennies,” “Playtrons,” “Mundanes,”) and in the behind-the-scenes organization of an actual Ren Faire.”

Working alongside Hadley, series producer Mike Scully and casting director Destiny Lilly, Spano recruited an impressive and versatile cast to be part of KNIGHTS OF NEW JERSEY, including two actors who possessed the formidable stage presence and theatricality earned through their time performing in past Renaissance Faires.

“She (Spano) also held casting sessions with us, because we really wanted actors from the Ren Faire world to be a part of our team. That’s how we found Jason Burford (County Clerk) and G.J. Marko (First Lieutenant), who are both terrific in the series,” remembers Hadley, who adds that Burford and Spano also contributed their talents to another key aspect of the production. “Jason and Sandra worked to source many of the fantastic costumes and props we used—believe me, these are authentic Ren Faire costumes.”

Version 2Knowing that he faced that challenge as the pre-production phase began, Hadley had cause for concern when it came to winning over potential creative partners.

“I think the thing we were most concerned about was getting the buy-in from the Ren Faire community,” he responds. “Obviously, we wanted them to like it and enjoy it, and on a practical level, we needed their talent and resources to bring KNIGHTS to life. Fortunately, their embrace was swift, warm and welcoming.”

Before filming began, Hadley and his team realized how massive an undertaking their production would be. Thanks to a stroke of good fortune, that task would be made easier. “We shot the first four episodes in late October 2016—well past the prime late summer Renaissance Faire season,” he says. “So, we were focused on finding locations that could substitute for a backstage Ren Faire environment. As fate would have it, there are, in fact, two castles within a five mile radius of my home in Montclair, N.J. What are the chances, right?”

With the series’ first few episodes shot in only 2 days, Hadley was also fortunate to work alongside an experienced and dedicated production crew, led by its executive producer Deborah Villarreal, who brought 20+ years of production experience to the project – she and Hadley are also married – to assist him and his cast through a very tight filming schedule. Combining an extensive amount of background actors, plus establishing footage shot at several other Faires, making each episode look visually accurate was of key importance for Hadley.

“The key to making it work was in selecting the right angles, and having a constant flow of extras moving through the frame,” he explains. “In addition, we shot some terrific B-roll footage at the New York Renaissance Faire, and the Wrightstown Village Faire in Pennsylvania. In the edit room, we tried to create a seamless flow between the B-roll and our scripted footage, and I think it worked out very well.”

Hadley credits the work of his cinematographer Peter Trilling for the series polished production values. Peter was all-in on the project and had a great sense of how we should approach the shoot visually, especially given the significant challenges we were facing in terms of time and budget,” Hadley notes. “In addition to his skills as a D.P. (director of photography), Peter called in favors for much of the crew, and (he) really earned his co-producer credit, too.”

As filming continued at this past year’s New Jersey Renaissance Faire, the presence of KNIGHTS OF NEW JERSEY’s cast and crew made quite an impression on the event’s organizers. “The team that runs the N.J. Ren Faire had seen the early episodes and loved them, and one of our actors, G.J. Marko, was performing in it, so they graciously gave us the green light to shoot during the Faire,” adds Hadley. “Another benefit was that we could offer Turkey legs to the crew at the craft service table.”

knights-of-new-jerseyLike many of us who strive every day to realize our own hopes and dreams, KNIGHTS OF NEW JERSEY’s characters face much of the same in their journeys through life. No matter who you are, or what your experience and interests may be, Hadley believes that his series will certainly hit home with all those who seek to make their reality just as great as their fantasy.

“While there’s an obvious fit (for) the Rennies, cosplayers, LARPers, and genre and fantasy fans, I really think the audience is broad. We’ve tried to create characters that are funny, flawed and human—in other words, just like you and me,” he says. “While the context is unique, the fact that they are trying to build a community, have fun, find romance, achieve and succeed—these are the things all of us dealing with in our own lives.”

Having made a series that viewers can laugh at and relate to, even if they’re not into Renaissance Faires or geek culture, Hadley and his talented team are proud of the work they’ve done on KNIGHTS OF NEW JERSEY. The impressive results of that hard work are on full display throughout each episode, and Hadley hopes for the show’s viewers to enjoy watching them as much as his cast and crew enjoyed making them.

“On the most basic level, we want folks to enjoy the characters and the experience we’re taking them on. Just like our Rennie heroes, the team behind KNIGHTS OF NEW JERSEY is putting on a show, and we want people to come and have a great time, first and foremost,” responds Hadley, who encourages the series’ viewers to actively chase their dreams – just as the protagonists of KNIGHTS OF NEW JERSEY do fervently in every episode.

“On a deeper level—and this is something that really only occurred to me in post-production—the theme of Knights is: find your dream, find your passion, and then grab a couple of friends and try to make it happen. Now, that might be a Renaissance Faire, a PTA group, a blog, a web series—whatever that gets you excited and your juices flowing. That’s the journey all of us are on, and that’s what KNIGHTS both skewers and celebrates.”

(Note: Regarding closed-captioning/subtitling of KNIGHTS OF NEW JERSEY, Hadley says: “We definitely plan to close-caption and subtitle the show in the near future—our goal is reach out to everyone who might enjoy it.”)