Diving into mud: Clean fun for crowd 'Bedlam Beggars' enjoy their work

A TUESDAY INTERVIEW-Q&A

September 29, 1992|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Rush Pearson is an earthy guy with one of the dirtiest, grittiest jobs in the Baltimore area each fall.

The pony-tailed actor plays Old Beggar Joe -- one of three "Bedlam Beggars" at the Renaissance Festival playing weekends through mid-October in Crownsville.

The act: joking around and carrying on, but what people $H remember most is his plunging into a vat of mud, raking his face through it -- and even chomping on the yuk-stuff.

He and his two "partners in grime," Mark McKenna, as Gonzo DiMedici, and Dave Stilberger, as Wacka-Ding-Hoy, do five performances a day. The actors' bawdy show builds on competition between segments of the audience.

In truth, the beggars spend a lot more time out of the mud than in it, operating, no doubt, on the theory that a little of that stuff goes a long way. But Mr. Pearson, an Evanston, Ill., resident who's been at it the longest, says the definitely unusual act is "very close to vaudeville."

He seems to love what he does; he founded the act while still a student at Northwestern University. It's not necessarily the mud he likes best, but the theatrics, the dynamics -- and definitely the roar of the crowd.

He figures he's dived into mud 2,000 times over the last 14 years.

Between recent shows, the slightly dusty threesome talked about "the greatest show in earth."

QUESTION: Why do you do this?

MR. PEARSON: Everybody eats dirt metaphorically. We eat it literally, and we keep our karma clean. There's more freedom in what we do [here] than in anything else we do. We don't rehearse. Oh, we talk about it, but the show depends on the crowd.

MR. McKENNA: I've been directing [in New York] for the last 10 years. This is the last little bit of performance that I do to keep my feet in it.

Q: What does it feel like to fall into mud?

MR. PEARSON: I don't feel it too much.

MR. McKENNA: Yeah, your adrenalin's pumpin' and the crowd's cheering.

MR. STILBERGER: It's like falling off a bike. It always hurts.

Q: What does the mud taste like?

MR. PEARSON: We flip the parts around because none of us wants to eat mud all day.

MR. STILBERGER: I don't even think about it.

Q: What's the appeal of a mud show?

MR. PEARSON: It's not for everybody.

MR. McKENNA: But we fill a need.

MR. PEARSON: Yeah, we're rude and dirty. But it's the only show I've done where I've seen a 4-year-old, a grandmother and a biker all laughing -- all on different levels.

Mud is a porthole to the underworld, to death. We all think about it. It's also a sign of fertility. The mud pit draws attention; people gather around and we have fun.

Q: Historically, is there any relation between the Renaissance and mud shows?

MR. STILBERGER: If there were some highly inventive beggar types, there might have been mud shows.

MR. PEARSON: Basically, it's a geek show.

MR. McKENNA: And those have been around since the caves.

Q: How in the world did you get started doing a mud show?

MR. PEARSON: I and three friends were hired to be beggars at a Wisconsin fair. The mud was there, and we sort of fell into it.

Q: What kind of reaction do you get to the show?

MR. PEARSON: The ratings are in the hat. [The three pass the hat as part of the performance to supplement a payment from the festival management.]

MR. McKENNA: It's very simple. If they like us, they give us a dollar. If thdy don't, they don't.

Q: Who does your wardrobe?

MR. PEARSON: We have a couple of bags of rags we pick through.

MR. McKENNA: I have to wear something purple. I'm royalty -- Gonzo DiMedici.

MR. PEARSON: I like earth tones, and Dave goes toward polyester.

Q: Do you make your own mud?

Mr. McKENNA: Absolutely. Hechinger's topsoil. It gets nice and squishy.

Q: How deep is the mud?

MR. McKENNA: Oh, about knee deep. You don't want to sink down too far.

Q.: After the first show each day, do you leave the mud on for the next shows?

MR. PEARSON: Actually, we clean it off. Once you are dirty, there's not a lot of effect.

L MR. McKENNA: We like to have a clean pallette for each show.

Q.: Do you play only Renaissance fairs?

MR. STILBERGER: Yes. No rodeo shows; no big tractor shows.

MR. McKENNA: We're scheduled to be on Reading Rainbow (PBS television children's show) in a couple of weeks. They're doing a show on mud.

Q.: What's the future of the mud show?

MR. STILBERGER: It's hard to say.

C7 Mr. McKENNA: We're kind of day-to-day kind of guys.

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