She's A Lady
For 17 performance dates in the winter, Tess Nesser transforms herself into Lady Tess, the fashion adviser to the nobility who reign over the Arizona Renaissance Festival.
Donning her 16th-century gown, she covers her face with white greasepaint, puts on a wig and offers what is essentially a history lesson to the throngs out enjoying what has become one of the Valley’s biggest festivals. Tess sits under a large shade tree where she invites attendees to listen to her lessons on fashion from the Renaissance period.
“I like to present it as if you are a foreign visitor in the 16th century. So if you get an invitation to dine with the queen, you'll know how to properly dress.”
Nesser is one of 2,000 performers who, for nearly two months every year, puts on costumes and entertains. Some participate as volunteers while others, like Nesser, are paid a nominal fee.
A retiree from the Pinal County Attorney’s Office, Nesser began performing at the Renaissance Festival 14 years ago.
“It was an absolute ball,” she says. “It was like 16th-century Disneyland. It was just so much fun.”
She and her brother were repeat visitors for the following two years, and by the third year, Nesser had a costume specially designed, though it turned out to be from the wrong period.
“It was the totally wrong period of time,” Nesser explains with a hearty laugh. “Most people don’t know there’s a difference between Medieval and Renaissance. There’s a several hundred years span of time — like Civil War and the 1960s. By about the fourth year, I had a better costume made, and we were going every weekend."
That’s when Nesser decided to become a street performer at the event. “Finally, we said, ‘These people are having too much fun. We have to find out how to get involved.’”
The rest is history.
The Renaissance Festival takes place every weekend through April 1.