The slogan for this year’s Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire is: “A Queen Will Rise!”
This week, we talk to Alex Stompoly, a queen himself — a drag queen that is — who will perform at this year’s faire. Also an actor and singer, Stompoly is full of talent.
If you haven’t been, the Faire is a land where fairy tales come to life only a little over an hour away from Center City.
The grounds feature over 20 royal kitchens and scores of artisan merchants offering handcrafted ware, with 90 shows performed daily. Though a relative newcomer to the shire, Stompoly was nominated for Best Comedy Performer in the 14th Annual Renaissance Faire Awards and came in fifth in the nation.
PGN: Where does your artistic nature come from?
AS: I get it from both sides — my father is a wonderful artist. It wasn’t his passion or occupation, but it was definitely a big hobby for him. Both of my parents were very keen on me being, let’s say, a very expressive child. It’s interesting because neither of them are in particularly artistic careers. My mother is a physical therapist, and my father practices insurance law.
PGN: What was young master Stompoly like?
AS: I’m originally from Kansas City, Missouri. I played a lot of sports when I was young. Then about the time I was entering high school, I found a love of choir and theater and had a very drastic shift in priorities.
PGN: What sports did you play?
AS: Primarily baseball and basketball. I was a pitcher and third baseman in baseball, and in basketball, I would just place myself under the net. I’m 6’3” and that’s where the tall kids live.
PGN: Best and worst sports moments?
AS: They kind of go hand in hand. I was a pitcher, but I was deathly afraid of going up to bat and getting hit with a pitch. One day the pitch was coming at me and instead of turning out of the way, I turned in a way that opened me up, and I got hit right in the cup zone. Thankfully I was wearing one, but there was a really loud unfortunate thud that everyone heard. But, I got a base out of it, so in the end, it was a win.
PGN: What was your role in choir?
AS: I was a tenor. I started choir and band in middle school, and when I got to high school, I started taking theater classes.
PGN: What was the first show you remember?
AS: The first musical I did was in high school, “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” I was one of two or three freshmen who were in the show. I was part of the ensemble so I floated around from scene to scene. I’d done some acting before. When I was 13, I performed in a murder mystery dinner theater in the Kansas City, Kansas area. I’d signed with a small boutique agency, and they got me hired with the Fort Leavenworth Players Group. It was fun. We got $50 per show plus tips, because this place was so small that on top of acting during the show, I was also the server.
PGN: When did you leave Kansas City, or should I say, when weren’t you in Kansas anymore?
AS: [Laughing] I left Kansas City after I graduated high school. I went to Missouri State University for my bachelor’s in fine arts and acting. I graduated from there in the spring of 2016 and moved back home until my 23rd birthday that fall. Four days after I turned 23, I packed two suitcases and a carry-on and moved to New York.
PGN: How did you manage that?
AS: I was very fortunate; I’d originally planned to go to Florida. During college I worked for The Walt Disney Company in Orlando and thought I’d go back there to work. Three days before I was scheduled to go, I had a change of heart. I thought, I really don’t want to work at a theme park right now, I need to get out there and see for myself if I can get my dream fulfilled or not. So I put something up on Facebook that I was looking to move to New York, and a former guest faculty member from my college responded. She was like, ‘I have a friend who lives in NY and is constantly taking in students. She has a room available for sublets.’ She put me in contact with her, a wonderful woman named Diane, who became a great friend and mentor. She is a fantastic dancer on Broadway and does national tours, and she welcomed me into her home. She actually got me a job with a company called Creative Goods, so we were coworkers for a while too. It is a Broadway merchandising company so even my survival job was something that I enjoyed. To this day, she still calls and checks up on me. I was very blessed.
PGN: What did you do with Disney?
AS: I worked in the attractions department. I was a flight attendant at the Soarin’ Around the World exhibit at Epcot.
PGN: And what brought you to Pennsylvania?
AS: Well, every February there’s a huge audition conference called Unified Professional Theatre Auditions (UPTA) in Memphis, Tennessee. About 100 different theatrical companies come for three days to see actors audition for stock work. You get about 90 seconds to audition in front of all these casting people. You’re only allowed to go if you’re a graduating senior or beyond. On my second try, I got a call back from the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire to come work with them for a season. And so I did! This is my third year of this lovely relationship we’ve started.
PGN: I’ve been to the Faire many times, and it looks like you all have so much fun together.
AS: Oh, it’s an absolute blast! Growing up, I would go to the Kansas City Renaissance Festival with my parents, and we’d always have a good time. I never realized how much more fun I was going to have on the other side, as an actor.
PGN: Do you feel like you’ve found another family in the other actors?
AS: Yes. It’s incredible because for the month of July we’re only doing rehearsals. There are about 43 of us professional actors, and we live together. We’re rehearsing six days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then we all go home together, so we become very close.
PGN: Tell me about the character you’re playing.
AS: I’m playing Sir Henry Carey, First Baron of Hunsdon and cousin to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. We’re taking some artistic liberties and making him the villain. Historically, he was a pretty cool guy and one of her supporters, but every story needs a good bad guy, so we’ve twisted history a little.
PGN: Is it fun playing the villain?
AS: It’s a fun change of pace. For the past two years I played the Master of Revels, Sir Walter Roderick Kensington. I played a big, overly worried and dramatic party planner. So it’ll be interesting to see how the crowd reacts when I’m the bad guy. To play a character who is so against a woman taking power is something that’s intrinsically against my personal beliefs, but so far the other cast members have loved what I’m doing. They hate me in a good way!
PGN: And you have a feature spot in the commercials and your face on a bottle of wine! Have you gotten drunk on yourself yet?
AS: I have not! Only because I have the only bottle, Carey’s Red Revenge, so I’m saving it. It’s a prototype, but as soon as it’s available in the store I’m going to get as many as I can and happily get drunk with my face.
PGN: I read that you have an extensive background in improv and it shows at the Faire. Tell me about that.
AS: Yes. I’m part of the group that is presenting “Friday Knights at the Improv.” This is my third year doing it, and it’s always a delight. It’s a competitive Whose--Line-is-it-Anyway-style show ending with us doing a fully improvised 30-minute musical.
PGN: I understand that you have an alter ego, tell me a little about her.
AS: Her name is Elizabeth Hardon. She was born out of my love for a short-lived musical, “War Paint.” It’s an homage to Elizabeth Ardon. I love it because I get to blend my masculine and feminine sides and pay tribute to the strong women in my life who have shaped me — especially this year because my Ren Faire character Sir Carey has facial hair, so I get to be a bearded drag queen! I love her. I think she started out as a housewife who dreamed of becoming something more, and now she’s the woman who does whatever she wants, whenever she wants.
PGN: Who were the strong women in your life?
AS: Well, when I was in seventh grade, my parents divorced. My sister lived with my mother, but I would visit on the weekends, and I saw the way she started her life back over. She fought back from bankruptcy, acquired a house and furnished it. She was always there for my sister and I, and we never wanted for anything. She’s amazing. I also inherited a beautiful stepmother who I owe the world to. Cassandra is incredible and another strong woman who came into my life at an important time and has always been nothing but supportive and loving from the start and through my coming out process. My sister Dani is also tough as nails, my grandmother. All of them are forces to be reckoned with, and I love paying tribute to them through drag.
PGN: When did you come out?
AS: I realized it my sophomore year of high school and was out to my friends by my senior year. The summer before I went to college I told my mother in a Bed Bath and Beyond parking lot as we were picking up school supplies. I had a cheeky bumper sticker that read, “I support gay marriage, everyone has a right to be miserable,” and she said, “I love your sticker, it’s so funny and what an interesting way to look at it.” We then sat there in silence for about a minute and finally I said, “Mom, you know that I’m gay right?” and she said, “Yes, yes I do, now can we go shopping?” I worked at Disney the summer after my freshman year. When it was time to come home, my father flew to Orlando to help me drive back. We were going to be in a car for 72 hours, so I figured it would be a good time to tell him. So we got to Pensacola, Florida and after dinner we were catching up, and I told him. He was wonderfully accepting and supportive. He just asked why I felt I needed to take so long to tell him. I said it was because I feared disappointing him, taking away the last hope of a conventional son. He gave me a hug and said, “None of that matters. As a dad you have an idea of what you want, but it’s not fair to impose that on a son or daughter. They need to have their own definition of who they are.” After telling my dad, it’s been a secret to no one!
PGN: So, back to the Fair— what’s the most outrageous thing you’ve seen there?
AS: I’d say some of the things that people wear. We do a costume contest most weekends, and people go all out. It’s incredible. There was a lady last year in a scooter that she had decorated to look like a dragon, and she was wearing an outfit that looked like Olenna Tyrell from “Game of Thrones.” My castmates are also always outrageous. We have something called Disasterpiece Theater where we take a modern film, Elizbethanize it and add a disaster element. The things people come up with on the spot are some of the most brilliant and terrifying things ever.
PGN: That sounds like fun, but what I’m excited about is the Victorian tea.
AS: It’s going to be wonderful. We have the beautiful Mount Hope Estate right outside the fairgrounds, and we’re going to be doing a Downton Abbey-esque little show about the art of tea in the Victorian era. There is a small group of us who play various characters and give you the etiquette lessons and a tour of the first floor of the house, along with tea and goodies.
PGN: What’s your favorite movie line or scene?
AS: It’s the scene from “To Wong Foo…” where all of the women come out at the Strawberry festival and pretend to be drag queens to protect Amanda Schoonover ’s character. It’s such a beautiful moment.
PGN: Speaking of drag, will we ever see Ms. Hardon at the Faire?
AS: Actually, you might! We’re working on a drag show called, “The Taming of the Shoes.” It’ll be like Shakespeare’s Drag Race. We’re hoping to debut it in September, so it won’t be long.
For more information about Pennsylvania’s Renaissance Faire, visit parenfaire.com.