Every Sunday at 1 pm, Jolie Bourgeois-Pearson and her husband, Will Pearson, take their 3-year-old son Alex to the Railyard Park. The way she tells it, Bourgeois-Pearson sounds like a soccer mom: “I’m kind of like the mother of the field,” she says. “I take care of everybody, I make sure everybody is hydrated and I usually bring snacks.”
Only this isn’t soccer. Far from it: This is
, an intricate role-play game for which Bourgeois-Pearson and her family don specially made “garb” (think Renaissance fair) and assume their Amtgard identities—Riffraff (his) and Kyrie (hers; no religious connotation).
When battleplay commences, Kyrie will roam Santa Fe’s Railyard Park, casting healing spells and generally keeping order. Riffraff, meanwhile, will wield a foam-covered sword. In the battle, the last man or woman standing is the victor—but Bourgeois-Pearson takes pains to point out that not everyone in Amtgard is required to fight. There’s even a “color” class—for people who “sit on the sidelines, getting a tan.”
Bourgeois-Pearson originally joined Amtgard 17 years ago in
. She is now the leader of Santa Fe’s Amtgard contingent. (Her official titles are Guildmaster of the Reeves and Sheriff of the Shire of Lost Souls). The battle itself is a whirlwind of fanciful activity, with teams of wizards fighting barbarians and “monsters” that include “everything from basic unicorns and vampires to some really exotic Japanese and Chinese monsters,” she says.
There’s only one problem: The Mundanes—what people who play Amtgard call people who don’t—require a permit for groups of more than 20 to use the Railyard Park, and Amtgard doesn’t have one.
Bourgeois-Pearson says Amtgard has been staging battleplay in the Railyard Park for 18 months. But when
first called Sandra Brice, the events and marketing director for the Santa Fe Railyard Community Corporation, even she wasn’t sure who the people running around the park with foam-covered swords were.
Brice says she’s concerned about the Amtgard players’ lack of a permit.
“We’re managing the Railyard on behalf of the city, which owns the public spaces, so our responsibility to them [is] to make sure there’s liability coverage for every event down to the individual food vendor,” Brice says. What’s more, she says, “We’re expected to charge fees based on any group of 20 or more.”
Bourgeois-Pearson says the Amtgard players usually number between 20 and 25. If that’s accurate, Brice calculates they should be paying $70 to the city for their use of the park every Sunday.
“We’ve got the paperwork underway, and that will be completed probably within this month,” Bourgeois-Pearson says.
But Brice says she’s never heard from them.
The nonprofit Amtgard began in 1983 as an
-based spin-off from the
Society for Creative Anachronism
(SCA), another role-play group dedicated, according to its website, to “researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe.”
While SCA prides itself on faithfully recreating Medieval Europe, Bourgeois-Pearson says Amtgard focuses more on limitless creativity.
“Someone can play an elf or a fox spirit or a cat person—all those are appropriate,” Bourgeois-Pearson says. “They can be anything they want.”
That’s not to say there isn’t a rulebook for battle, along with the obligatory referees, called “Reeves,” to enforce it. (As Guildmaster of the Reeves, Bourgeois-Pearson is something akin to the head ref in a football game.)
The Santa Fe Amtgard chapter started in 2007, Bourgeois-Pearson says, when she and her family tired of driving to Albuquerque every week for battlegames. Since then, she says, it’s expanded steadily, from five members to approximately 45. Bourgeois-Pearson and her husband originally met at an Amtgard event in
. Both say Amtgard can do wonders for self-esteem.
“After you realize that no harm can come to you, you learn confidence,” Pearson says. “It’s kind of like martial arts, but without the chance of really injuring yourself.”
Gotta love those foam-covered swords.