Jake Bowman, like most of his fellow performers, loves his job.
But playing the part of a swashbuckling knight at the Medieval Times dinner theater in Buena Park, California, comes with risks. And in his case … $18.50 an hour.
“I fractured my thumb last month,” the 33-year-old Anaheim resident said. “I had a sword in both hands and my opponent’s sword came down right at the joint of my thumb. I couldn’t make a fist for a month.”
That wasn’t the first incident. During his previous tenure at Medieval Times in Dallas, he was kicked in the back by a horse and suffered a hairline fracture to the spine in his lower back. Such are the risks of live performance.
In an effort to address safety concerns and secure higher wages, performers at the Buena Park castle are looking to unionize.
On Friday, the venue’s 50 knights, queens, squires, horsemen and stablehands submitted a petition for a union election to the National Labor Relations Board that calls for a vote on whether to join the American Guild of Variety Artists, or AGVA.
The move comes on the heels of a union victory at Medieval Times’ Lyndhurst, New Jersey, location where the workers’ 26-11 vote secured AGVA membership. The Dallas-based company operates a total of 10 Medieval Times dinner theaters, with additional locations in Dallas, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Orlando, Fla.; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Toronto.
Representatives with Medieval Times management could not be reached for comment.
Employees at Medieval Times just received a $1-an-hour raise, but many are still scraping by, according to Susanne Doris, secretary treasurer at AGVA’s national office.
“We just want them to be paid for the skills they have,” she said. “We’ve had some employees tell us that there’s no way they can afford to live by themselves on the money they’re earning, and others say they can’t afford a car for transportation. This is critical.”
“I also work at Disneyland and I see stunt performers there with no horseback-riding skills who are making $33 to $35 an hour doing stunt shows that are five minutes long,” said Julia McCurdie, who plays a queen at Medieval Times. “Meanwhile, our knights are doing two-hour shows two to three times a day and throwing themselves off of moving horses. It’s alarming.”
McCurdie said new hires, referred to as squires, are making near minimum wage.
“I’ve seen a lot of knights get carried away in an ambulance,” she said. “It’s a fun place to work and we all really love our jobs, but I feel like they’ve been getting away with paying low wages. These people could go work at In-N-Out and make $25 without hurting their bodies.”