By Aunie Edwards
Special to The Toronto Sun
It's unlikely that Robin Dworak's definition of a dream job is typical of most. For him, a standard workday involves excruciating discipline, exhaustive practice and a unique set of skills using tools and equipment straight from the Middle Ages.
At Medieval Times, Robin Dworak and his team turn dinner theatre into a living history of a different time and place.
And yet, as head knight for Medieval Times in Toronto, Dworak's extraordinary career has been providing him with tremendous personal satisfaction and an enviable sense of achievement for the last 10 years.
It all began when a 17-year-old risk taker answered an advertisement. With a love of horses and the physical and mental discipline of a background in karate, Dworak was the perfect applicant. "I guess my lifestyle was pretty good training for the job."
With jousting tournaments, horse acts, ball and chain and sword fights, axe battles and talent events, Dworak and his team turn the Medieval Times into dinner theatre at its most sensational -- a living history of a different time and place.
Dworak's first position at Medieval Times was a squire. "The squires do the grunt work -- taking care of the equipment and making sure the knights have what they need. But if you have what it takes, you can train hard and turn a regular job into a career."
Squires in training to become knights -- better known as "squights" -- are carefully selected and conditioned to ultimately star in the tournaments.
Having risen through the ranks, Dworak is now in charge of all aspects pertaining to his team of knights, including the selection of trainees. "I need to know from the beginning if a guy can take a bit of a beating."
| Robin Dworak
Not surprisingly, most of the turnover at Medieval Times occurs at the squire level. "The squights have already decided that they want to stay, and that's a good thing, because a team that practices together for years is better able to avoid serious injury."
Avoiding injury for the knights and their horses is Dworak's primary objective: "We are stuntmen first, and the reasons are simple -- if we're physically fit, well trained and always prepared, we will put on a great show but more importantly, we'll be safer."
Dworak cannot overstate the emphasis the team places on safety.
"The audience arrives thinking it must be fake -- but the weapons we use and the blows we deliver are the real deal. We are a team, but for the few minutes of a joust, for example, we face each other like mortal enemies. Although every hit and miss is choreographed, we really go at it and the hitting gets pretty hard -- don't forget, this is a tough group and bragging rights are as big a part of our tournaments as they must have been in the Middle Ages." (Apparently, some things never change.)
But no amount of practice can prevent the occasional mishap, and another of Dworak's tasks is to prepare his team for the unexpected.
"If something goes wrong, especially if someone gets hurt, we have to be spontaneous -- the show must go on and any missteps are handled seamlessly so that the audience isn't aware."
There is no question that Dworak's career is as demanding as it is hair-raising. And it's likely that leading a team into fierce medieval competition three times a day is not everyone's idea of a dream job. But Robin Dworak is challenged daily in the areas of his greatest talents -- and that is a universally pursued ambition.
(Aunie Edwards (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a Guelph-based freelance writer.)
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