09 September 2012

The Last Apple: In Memory of Gaffer Applewright

When I first started faire, the first thing I read wasn't a history or costuming book. It was a 'Meet & Greet' primer written by someone who called himself Gaffer Applewright.

He had six basic premises that have been my guiding light in the years since:
1. Notice the Patrons.
2. Be Helpful.
3. Be Friendly.
4. Be Your Character.
5. Speak the Speech.
6. The attitude sells it.

It would be six years before I had a chance to meet the man and let him know how much he'd helped me without ever meeting me. He was kind and humble, and told me that if I had found something in his words, then it was in me to begin with.

A more generous actor I cannot imagine working with.

Roger Russell, known far and wide as Gaffer Applewright, died this weekend.  I only knew him through the faire. His trademark 'apple trick' (a story he tells as he cuts an apple in a way that makes it come apart like a puzzle) was the perfect, irresistible bit to break down the barrier between the actor and the patron. Like many others, I have long sought to emulate the effortless way that he interacted, the completeness of his characterization.

He was everything I expected from reading his meet & greet paper, a fascinating man with a wise and gimlet eye, a quick wit and a penetrating mind. So it was that I felt greatly honored and somewhat taken aback when one of my companions pointed to him the day I met him and said "that's going to be you in thirty-odd years!"

I can only hope so.

After his speech we had some time to discuss the politics and oddities of renaissance culture, from the search for a cure for scurvy to the nuance of Elizabeth's reign. It was the pinnacle of my time at faire that year and one of the great highlights of my years of doing this thing we call ren faire.

Rest in peace, Gaffer. You will be missed.


  1. Impressive apple trick, very intriguing. Would have love to met him. Be at peace Gaffer Applewright.

  2. We heard the news as we were packing up our camp at Shrewsbury last night, and laid some flowers under a tree for him before we left. He will definitely be missed.

  3. I am so saddened to hear the news of Gaffer's passing. With his permission, and making sure that I gave him credit, for years, I used his Apple Trick as the closing to my magic show. Everyone loved it, and he was a truly genuine person. I am truly blessed and a better person for have met him.

  4. A lovely tribute. Thank you Gaffer.

  5. Thank you for sharing the love for Roger "Gaffer" Russell. He is such a beloved member of our Faire Community. There are not many educators of his level any longer. I hope those who see this tribute here will remember his legacy and be inspired to leave their own "mark" on the world.

  6. I too was deeply saddened to hear of Gaffer Applewright's passing. I had the pleasure of taking his meet and greet workshop and seeing him perform his 'apple trick' more than a couple times when I was working at RPFS. He was indeed a fine performer and I regret that I never took the opportunity to get to know him. All too often we act as though the people around us will always be there. But it's times like this that remind me that I've been away for over ten years now, and that life moves on whether we pay attention or not. I can only hope that I left a fraction of the impact that he did on those who I worked and played with. You will indeed be sorely missed, Gaffer.