A William Paterson University graduate has become the first queen to rule a famed New Jersey castle.
In January, actress Erin Zapcic ’05 was crowned Queen Dona Maria Isabella, the first female lead in the 28-year history of Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament in Lyndhurst. The king – longtime head of the interactive show that attracts scores of families, tourists, class trips, and revelers of all ages – has been written out of the script altogether.
Zapcic spent the previous six and a half years in the supporting role of Princess Catalina at Medieval Times. The switch, she says, has been both personally rewarding and incredibly well received by the audience.
“There are moments in the show where we specifically solicit the crowd’s reaction – ask them to cheer for their knight, for example,” Zapcic says. “But what I find with this show is that people are moved on their own to react in a way that I didn’t experience in six and a half years of doing the show previously.”
There are “great moments” in the script when the queen’s authority is challenged, Zapcic explains. When Dona Maria Isabella remains firm, the audience throws its support behind her.
“From an acting standpoint, when things go awry and the queen needs to assert herself, creatively, it’s very fulfilling,” Zapcic says. “This also gives me the opportunity to step more into a leadership and role model kind of role.”
Though one would expect little girls in the audience to respond especially well to Medieval Times’ first queen, the older generations have been most enthused.
“I’ve had women my own age say, ‘I want to be you when I grow up,’” the 34-year-old alumnus says. “Or women my mother’s age throw their arms around me.”
“It’s time for us,” she adds. “We’re starting to see all of these women taking on more powerful roles in television and movies; these are the things we’ve been waiting for our entire lives.”
The most challenging part of her new role, Zapcic explains, hasn’t been learning to deal with all the extra attention from people, but rather learning to ride and work with horses – the queen’s preferred mode of transportation. She began lessons about three months before the new show debuted, and continues with weekly training to sharpen her skills.
“There were some moments when the horse did what the horse wanted to do, and that takes your confidence a bit; it’s a challenge,” she says. “It’s two steps forward, one step back sometimes.”
Zapcic, who studied theater as part of her communication degree from William Paterson, continues to fill acting and production roles outside of her full-time position at Medieval Times. She credits the University for making her a versatile-enough performer to be able to manage such.
“That’s when I found myself as an actor,” Zapcic says of her time on campus. “Through the Performing Arts Theatre Series, I got the opportunity to play a wide variety of roles and really find out who I am. I would say most of what I know about acting, I learned from Ed Matthews at William Paterson.”
The line of audience members who wait to have their photos taken with the queen after the show is “crazy,” Zapcic says. “Previously, as the princess, you got a wave from people, maybe, on their way out the door.”
Regardless of how crazy it may be, whenever camera-toting parents instruct their young daughters to “Go stand with the princess,” and the girls respond, “No, that’s the queen,” Zapcic’s smile grows larger. “That’s really cool.”
--Gather with William Paterson University alumni and friends to see Erin in action at Medieval Times. A group is attending the show on Sunday, April 22, 2018 at 2 p.m. Sign up and purchase tickets here: https://bit.ly/2DPo2Wn.
William Paterson University
300 Pompton Road
Wayne, New Jersey 07470