Actor/writer/producer Jamie Denbo spent the early part of her career working at comedy venues. In her 20s, she was offered a job she thought would give her steady work in the summer. By joining a Renaissance fair for multiple seasons in the ’90s touring with jugglers, role players and those who cook massive turkey legs, she also collected material for her Lifetime series, “American Princess,” which premiered last Sunday. (Executive producers include “Weeds” and “Orange Is the New Black” creator Jenji Kohan.)
“I thought I had gotten a job doing Shakespeare in the park,” Denbo said. “We didn’t have Google, and I didn’t know what I was getting into. I wound up driving to way upstate New York, and a whole layer of humanity was revealed.”
The central figure of her series, Amanda Klein (Georgia Flood), ends up as part of a Renaissance fair in a different manner. The Upper East Side socialite runs away after catching her groom in a compromising situation on their wedding day. She stumbles upon the strange new world of a fair and impulsively joins the group.
All this takes place in a fun-filled setting that embraces the time period of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, where history and fantasy often get jumbled together. Klein’s chief introduction comes through David (Lucas Neff), who performs Shakespeare parodies in the mud under the name Pizzle Humpsalot.
The series spotlights the nature of such fairs but never to the point of making fun. Denbo is quick to point out that if anything, the series tends to make fun of those who make judgments before ever experiencing one of the events.
“The most beautiful thing about the Renaissance community is their M.O. of nonjudgment,” she said. “There is a Renaissance festival episode of every television show out there, and it is always a joke on the crazy people with the turkey legs and ‘God save the Queen.’
“That’s not what the world is, so we wanted to do a deep dive.”
Looking at the Renaissance fair world through fresh eyes is easy for Flood. Such events are not held in her native Australia. But she does understand the concept of wanting to be part of a new world full of offbeat people and bizarre activities. She grew up with a poster of the Hollywood sign over her bed and started looking to move to the U.S. for work when she was 15.
Laughing, Flood said she knew about the Renaissance and what a fair is so it was just a matter of putting two and two together.
“I love the Renaissance period,” she said. “I love Shakespeare. I love the literature and plays of that time, so this all really sounded amazing. As a drama nerd, the whole thing appealed to me.”
While Flood has TV series credits including “Tangle,” “Home and Away” and “Wentworth,” this is her first big American project.
Neff had never attended a Renaissance fair until being cast in the new series. Once he had, he found he loved the environment, which he said promotes positivity, creativity and friendliness.
Denbo praised him for having the perfect “laid-back” attitude that is prevalent at the fairs.
“It’s true that the Renaissance fair was born out of the hippie movement,” she said. “Lucas always struck me as the kind of guy who was willing to do about anything. The fairs are places that are safe from judgment.”
Looking for your own Renaissance experience? Minnesota’s RenFest runs Aug. 17 through Sept. 29 in Shakopee.