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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Profile: Matthew Mansour, jouster

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Matthew Mansour is a jouster at the Georgia Renaissance Fair and similar events in Illinois and North Carolina. The 42-year old from LaGrange also makes leather costumes for horses.

How did you become interested in jousting?

I was, as a little kid, always interested in knights. And one day I met a fellow who actually jousted. He was an actor, and he jousted. I begged him and pleaded for years and years to go with him and he said no because I was 12.

When I turned 18, I went on the road and squired for him, and learned the performance trade from the ground up.

How historically accurate is the performance?

This [jousting performance at the Renaissance Fair] is quasi-historically accurate. We put a lot more theatrics into it. A full tournament could not be done in a half-hour show.

Do you have a performance name?

Sir Matthew, the Duke of Windsor. It used to be the Prince of Windsor but that was too hoity-toity so we changed it to Duke.

What are some differences and similarities between you and Sir Matthew?

Sir Matthew is much, much more impressive. Regular Matthew is just a kind of a laid-back guy. When I walk around here as Sir Matthew, there’s a lot of bravado and your chest is swelled, you’re swaggering around. You’re a knight, a fairly important person. And I’m not like that at all.

What is the most difficult jousting technique you’ve learned?

Falling correctly is pretty important because you don’t want to get hurt. You gotta do it three or four times a day.

How much of it is performance? Is it actually dangerous at all?

In this particular show, all the games of skill are true competitions. So when we do rings, we try to get as many rings as possible and when we do a race, we have this race of obstacles that you have to knock over a lot of heads with your sword and stab things and throw the spear, all faster than your opponent.

When it comes to the joust, we do double hits but we know at a certain point, somebody’s going to win and somebody’s going to lose. So that’s choreographed. Its still a horse running 20 miles per hour and another horse running 20 miles per hour. Two inches of wood is the contact point and it can do some damage. But you take a hit on the shield. The armor’s real, it protects you.

Does your character ever cross over to your life as a husband and father of three kids?

No, my wife would be furious. It’s very easy to separate. As soon as you come through that gate, I become Sir Matthew. It’s just a character and it’s really just an animated caricature of me. It’s not a really big acting stretch – I’m a ridiculously good guy to the point of kind of being a little dumb sometimes. As soon as I go backstage, there’s not a shred of it because your friends get real annoyed real fast if you’re going backstage in character.

How would you compare the jousting culture to a contemporary sporting event?

It’s a cross between football, professional wrestling – as far as theatrics and you still have to be an athlete and they have to be characters, same thing we do – and it’s almost like figure skating because you have to do some incredible things wearing some crazy costumes. Football, because we wear an extreme amount of equipment.

The Georgia Renaissance Fair goes on for about two months. What do you do during the other ten months?

I do a couple different shows: nine weeks in the Chicago area and another seven weeks in North Carolina. Some of the guys go non-stop. I used to, but I quasi-retired and started my own leather business. I do leather costuming for horses and a lot of Mardi Gras stuff.

What occupation would you want if you lived during the Renaissance?

King. You might as well be at the top of the heap.

How heavy is the armor and does it get hot in the summer?

It’s brutally hot. You can wear anywhere from 60 to 90 pounds of equipment.

Do you wear a codpiece?

No. You gotta sit on your horse. You can’t wear a codpiece on a horse.

What’s your horse’s name?

Kilvarough.

Who named it?

This little old lady did, at another fair. I got him as a colt and he didn’t even have a name yet.

She said, you should name him Kilvarough. I’m like, what is that? “It’s some mythical monster who ate a village.”

I’ve never been able to find anything about that, but apparently she came up with that and that’s how it was spelled and I said, alright, lets stick with it.

What did you think of the movie A Knight’s Tale?

Thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a blast. They didn’t make any pretense of being a historically accurate film. They had Queen for the soundtrack. It was a blast, I loved it. It was a lot of fun.

(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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