LYNDHURST, NJ – In 11th-century Spain, a nobleman trying to get his hand under the queen’s skirt after a royal party could be subjected to medieval torture methods.

But at the Medieval Times just off Route 3, dealing with this kind of behavior has been accepted as part of the job for far too long, said Monica Garza, one of several actresses who plays the queen at the attraction. dinner and tournament. .

Garza said management made her feel like a “diva” for asking for additional security protocols after pointing out increasingly daring behavior by guests. It was only after an incident in which a rowdy ticket holder approached his throne and attempted to shout into his microphone, Garza said, that management installed a chain to block his access. .

The desire for tight security and other safety measures at the castle – where falling horses may be part of the job description – was one of the reasons why queens, knights, squires and squires of Lyndhurst Castle voted to unionize on Friday.

The organizing effort, first reported by The Huffington Post, prevailed Friday, when employees voted, 26 to 11, to join the American Guild of Variety Artists. Medievalists will join a wide range of performers represented by the guild, including the Radio City Rockettes, select circus performers and character actors who perform at Disneyland – including Mulan and Aladdin, for example – in California.

Employees are also looking for higher pay (Garza gets $20 an hour and squires start at around $14 an hour), and for superiors to treat them more like skilled workers – trained stunt performers who perform fights. complexes with spears, swords and axes, and experienced actors who do more than read lines.

Medieval Times management did not respond to requests for comment. On Friday night, chief executive Perico Montaner sent a memo to employees outside the New Jersey site saying the company plans to negotiate in good faith but won’t agree to anything that isn’t in its best interest.

“Collective bargaining is uncertain,” the memo said. “It can result in more, as much or less. There are no guarantees.”

“A big point of union is just basic respect,” said Garza, 25, a trained actor and self-proclaimed history nerd. “People will always exploit you when it’s something you love, because they know you’ll do it for nothing.”

Many artists end up falling in love with the work, even if they didn’t initially dream of working at the concrete castle, with its vast armory and seemingly endless supply of tomato bisque. The two-hour shows are hosted by a ragtag crew that includes an ex-Marine, a former backup singer for Elton John, a musical theater student turned stuntman, a former zookeeper and an actor known for his voice work on the Grand Theft video game. Self.”

“We’re a bunch of misfits,” laughs Sean Quigley, 33, the backup singer who is also a classically trained actor from London, which means he doesn’t need to fake a British accent. (The show is technically set in Spain, but New Jersey audiences aren’t picky.)

Taking command from their Texas headquarters, Lyndhurst’s shows are designed to follow the same structure each night. Here, visitors put on the same paper crowns and eat the same four-course meal as in Atlanta and Baltimore. Queens are paid to say the same lines as at the company’s other nine castles, where 1.5million guests visited last year.

“Good nobles, welcome to the hall of my ancestry,” Garza says as she rides a white Andalusian through an arena of screaming children wielding glowing swords.

The new story goes something like this: After inheriting the kingdom, the queen holds a tournament in which six knights on horseback compete for a much-vaunted title, but her power is threatened by a sleazy adviser who plots to marry her off. The dialogue is often drowned out by the aforementioned shouting and commotion of “serfs and maidens” (Medieval Times-speak for waiters), who are known to end the evening with, “Cash or card, milady?”

For actors, who may perform the same script multiple times a week, year after year, the lines start to feel tattooed on their brains – so they find ways to entertain themselves.

“I’m going to do a show where I pretend to be secretly in love with the queen; I’m going to do a show where I’m secretly in love with one of the knights,” said Quigley, who plays Lord Marshal, the show’s emcee. “In order to keep it fresh, you can tell a different story in your head.”

Quigley, who auditioned for a job at the Medieval Times after struggling to make a smooth transition from London’s West End to New York’s theatrical scene, also enjoys picking up a variety of accents. He tried a dragging cockney, played the whole show like he was Sean Connery and put on a voice like Jon Snow from ‘Games of Thrones’ – it wasn’t until he tried to do the whole performance with a lisp that the sound department sent a runner to tell him to cut it.

For Christopher Lucas, a video game voice actor who has also appeared on daytime soap operas, his thrill of improvisation comes during a scene where, as the slimy adviser to the Queen, he goes on and on about his adoration. for Valencian oranges in a discourse bordering on unbalanced. For reasons even Lucas doesn’t quite understand, the audience loves it, sometimes breaking into a chant: “Oranges!” Oranges! Oranges!” – and bring her fresh fruit the next time they visit.

“As a performer, those are the types of things you live for,” Lucas said.

Ultimately, the business of Medieval Times, which began in Spain and came to the United States in 1983, revolves around knights, who parade through the arena on horseback before jousting and battling for the queen. .

One of New Jersey’s most veteran knights, Antonio Sanchez, 31, had become disillusioned about a long-term career in the US Marines when he saw on Facebook that Medieval Times was hiring. On a whim in 2014, he drove to Lyndhurst Castle, entered the stables, and soon was cleaning stalls and saddled steeds before show time.

“From the back of the stables you could hear the crowd roaring,” Sanchez said, recalling when he first started dreaming of becoming a knight.

To obtain the position, no experience with horses is required. As apprentice knights, the men undergo hundreds of hours of training, learning to both ride horses and roll through the sand safely when rival knights “run them down”.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been face to face with a horse before,” said Joe Devlin, 28, who started out as a horse rider after returning home from a stint as a touring musician and desperately needed help. a job.

Protecting themselves with foil shields, apprentices learn combat choreographies that will gradually engage muscle memory.

However, accidents happen. The show’s reliance on a stable of about two dozen horses adds an element of constant danger, said Purnell Thompson, a horseman who was hired after losing his job caring for farm animals in a local zoo. In a rowdy party arena, there are many potential triggers for a horse to spook, including if audience members flout the rules and bang their metal plates and bowls on the tables.

Once, while Devlin was training, he broke his ankle while learning to jump off a horse. And two-year-old Knight Jonathan Beckas suffered a knee injury and two head injuries, one of which involved taking a wooden spear to the head. (Full-time workers receive health insurance.)

One of the reasons the Knights are unionizing, said Beckas — a 27-year-old trained stuntman who is paid $21.50 an hour, down from $12 when he started working as a squire — is that they feel extremely underpaid considering the risks they take on the job. “I’m a knight, but I’m also human,” he said.

This is not the first time that a union vote has taken place in this castle. There was a similar effort in 2006, where complaints were largely about lack of job security and fears that squires would become knights too quickly. This vote narrowly went against the formation of a union.

Even before Friday’s vote,” employees said, they were seeing changes. After news of the organizing effort was made public, get support of Governor Phil Murphy, the leadership has installed a more robust barrier to his throne, Garza said.

Now the knights have bargaining power and they plan to use it.

“Being a knight is every little kid’s dream,” Sanchez said. “But I’ve aged, and pleasure doesn’t pay the bills.”