Customers demanded more women at Medieval Times. They got more than they bargained for.

Brave knights. Fair maidens. A damsel in distress. That is sooo 476 AD. At least, we'd like to think it is.

Let's face it: The Middle Ages is one of our favorite periods of history to relive. And what is it often chockfull of? Dudes with swords who kick butt and helpless princesses who need saving.

Out of date, right?


Unfortunately, the truth is that men in the "lead" and women in "supporting roles" is as present now as it's ever been. Many of us are still bafflingly uncomfortable with the idea of a female president, but totally fine with a president who belittles and objectifies women on a near-daily basis!

That presents a special challenge for modern day re-enactments like Medieval Times, an elaborate theme restaurant in the United States and Canada that entertains diners with a live-joust and other medieval performances.

Though its show is set in the Middle Ages, Medieval Times' audience lives in the year 2018. And, lately, the restaurant's owners were getting more and more feedback about their 30-some-year-old performance: It needed more women.

Early this year, Medieval Times decided to make a big change to some of its shows: They would now feature a queen in charge, instead of a king.

Who rules a kingdom? A king, of course!

Well, not so fast.

All photos by Medieval Times used with permission.

Sure, the Middle Ages were the heyday of the patriarchy in a lot of ways, but queens were powerful, too, and played important roles. They were often key strategic advisors to the king behind closed doors. (Catherine de Medici, one of the late queens of France, was known for being particularly conniving and ruthless, for example.)

So, yeah. Queens did more than just sit around and look pretty.

Yet, since Medieval Times first opened its doors in 1983, the company's restaurants typically feature a live scene starring a "king" hosting a jousting tournament for the viewing pleasure of himself and the audience while they down their supper.

Clearly, rewriting this script wouldn't exactly be a stretch of history.

Actress Erin Zapcic prepares for battle.

Fortunately, starting at the Lyndhurst, New Jersey location on Jan. 11 — and soon rolling out to all nine Medieval Times restaurants — "Queen Dona Maria Isabella" is taking over.

“Where previously our female characters played in more supportive roles, we are now showing a woman fully in charge, a woman whose authority is sometimes challenged, but she quickly rises to the occasion as a strong leader, squelching opposition,” says Ingrid Hunt, senior general manager at Medieval Times, in a press release.

The update might seem like a small tweak, but it's a big win for better representation.

Some data suggests that while roles for women (in Hollywood, for example) are on the rise, they still only make up about 32% of speaking parts. Female leads are even more rare.

Shows on broadway have a similar problem.

So a major rewrite to a decades-long show like Medieval Times — that brings in over 2.5 million audience members every year — is actually pretty awesome.

And the Chicago Times reports that the show's director, Leigh Cordner, took the gender-flip extremely seriously, spending well over a year rewriting the performance script to accommodate a matriarch in a powerful way.

We only hope that more and more shows follow suit and start to think outside the box about how women and people of color can be better represented in their performances.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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This article originally appeared on 08.30.14


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