Striding across the festival grounds, oar banner in hand, the redheaded pirate grins at the ladies, throws jibes at the gents, and encourages the little ones to run away and join his crew. On stage later with his partner, he puts his wits and cutlass to work charming the audience. The roars of laughter at their escapades create the euphoria that is like nothing else in the world for him. Let me introduce you to Tom “Red” Zadoyko.
Unlike some performers, Tom says he had no thought of being on stage as a teenager. He was a quiet reserved kid in school, known and accepted by all the circles, but a member of none. He did have a bit part in a play during his junior year of high school and was on the stage crew running the light board during his senior year. He chuckled as he told me that the main reason he was involved with the drama club was to miss classes legitimately. After watching him work on the school play, the company that provided stage crew assistance offered him a job running a spotlight part time.
After High School, Tom studied Marine Biology and continued working with the stage crew contractor. In 1992, as he started his senior year, his waning interest in Marine Biology and some difficulty with financial aide caused him to take a hard look at his future. At the same time, the part time job brought him in contact with someone he recognized from the Pennsylvania Renaissance Festival. As a history buff, Tom had attended out of curiosity. When he introduced himself to the man, he was encouraged to attend auditions that weekend for the apprentice program.
The Pennsylvania Renaissance Festival (PaRF) is unique in that their Actors Conservatory professional and apprentice members perform all roles and acts. The only exceptions are specialty performers like fire-eaters. The “Blackfryar” Company company members receive extensive acting lessons in preparation for auditioning to become a member of the professional company, the “Bacchanalians”. Tom considers himself fortunate to have worked with both companies, performing at PaRF and in the Mt Hope Edgar Allen Poe shows. It was during those years (1993-1996) that he got his first taste of performing in front of an audience. “It was like the energy coming back flipped a long dormant switch on a part of my personality and it’s been on ever since,” he told me. He did take one break from performing in 1997 but found that the acting bug was still itching at him so he began to perform in children’s theatre around Philadelphia.
Mark Sullivan of Serious Fun Entertainment approached Tom about performing as part of the mud show. Up for a new challenge, his first mud show was at BARF on the old site at Largo. Coincidentally, it was also his first show on the road and that’s where he’s been ever since, traveling the Eastern faire circuit in his truck and towing a camper. However, mud shows are hard on the body and the mud gets in to everything. As temperatures dipped at Michigan Renaissance Festival in the autumn of 2003, Tom who was getting over yet another ear infection, looked at Joel Newlon, his partner at the time, and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore, want to write a show?” Joel agreed and they started planning the first pirate sword fighting show.
Tom “Red” and Joel “Fred” continued doing the pirate show, eventually titled “The Buccaneer Blades” until 2007 when Joel moved on to other shows (currently playing Prince Arthur at the Florida Renaissance Festival) and Tom Laitinen joined “Red” for the 2008 season. It’s been an easy transition for the new partnership. The Tom’s trained with the Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD) at Mt Hope and have worked together periodically ever since so they are very familiar with the other’s style. In all the years of fighting, sometimes as much as four fights per show, five shows per day like this season, Tom could only recall three instances when there had been blade to partner contact and the circumstances were so bizarre in each case, he couldn’t imagine any of them happening again. He attributes his “luck” to the training received from SAFD. Nevertheless, don’t think prop failures don’t occur. Tom recalled the time Joel’s cutlass blade snapped right at the hilt near the end of one of their fights. Joel realized what was happening and was quick enough to grab the blade over the guard and hold it in place until the fight finished. No one in the audience appeared to notice.
In addition to appearing as Red of The Buccaneer Blades, Tom also produces the mud shows at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival and the Michigan Renaissance Festival. Being the producer of a show is much more stressful than just showing up to perform. Preparation of stages and props, writing of scripts, ensuring employees learn their lines and are safe—each item needs tending to. The mud show cast, both of whom have been with Tom for a number of years, consists of Jason Daniel Malloy and Zeb Burk who perform two scripts, “Hamlet” and “Richard the Third” (also known as Dick III), which were written by Tom.
A fulltime performer, Tom spends weekdays rehearsing, cleaning props, appearing at corporate events, and doing public play readings. Somewhere in there, he finds time to sleep, maintain the mud pit, book new shows, make travel arrangements and spend time with friends. He says he has absolutely the greatest job in the world. Where else could he get to dress up, play make believe, and travel all over the country with people paying him for it. Tom couldn’t name a faire that hadn’t been great to work at, Michigan Renaissance Festival for its size, Tampa Renaissance Festival for the friends and being in Florida in the winter, Tennessee Renaissance Faire for the Southern hospitality, Connecticut Renaissance Faire for the area’s old history.
The Buccaneer Blades’ remaining 2008 schedule includes the Bay Area Renaissance Festival, the Tennessee Renaissance Festival, the Connecticut Renaissance Faire, and the St Pete Pirate Festival. They are still negotiating with Great Lakes Medieval Faire, the Colorado Renaissance Festival, and maybe a few weeks at the Greater St Louis Renaissance Faire. They will miss the 5th and 6th weeks of BARF, having contracted with the Powel Crosley Theatre for their production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” before hearing from BARF. Tom Z will play Demetrius and Tom L Oberon.
As we closed our conversation, Tom underscored how much he loves performing, saying, “As long as there is someone on the benches, I’ll get up there and do something.” His father encouraged him long ago with the words “Do what you love, the rest will follow.” The feedback he gets from people—cheering him on, laughing at his jokes, expressing nervous apprehension because of the horror, or crying at the sad moment—is what keeps him going. Generating that energy is his personal passion and he has followed his Dad’s advice, going for it, not worrying where the money would come from, and it has happened.
Websites of Tom “Red” Zadoyko:
Where Tom trained:
Society of American Fight Directors