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Minnesota sitcom is like ‘The Office’ – but nerdier

Mary Jo Pehl plays Elisabeth Crönk, the newly hired second assistant general manager of the Renaissance Festival in “RenFest.”

Reprinted from the Saint Paul Pioneer Press

Would the office politics of putting on a Renaissance festival be good fodder for a sitcom?

A group of actors, writers and film and TV veterans based in Minnesota think so.

They’ve started a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $365,000 by June 9 to fund the creation of a half-hour pilot episode of “RenFest” — a TV “nerd comedy” that’s billed as a workplace satire set at a Renaissance festival.

Shawn Otto, a novelist and screenwriter from Marine on St. Croix, said the initial idea was to make a Renaissance festival mockumentary, but the idea then shifted to making a television sitcom in the same vein as “The Office” or “Parks and Recreation.”

Key characters in the show will include festival assistant manager Elisabeth Crönk, “a clueless yet tirelessly optimistic and politically correct historian”; her Somali-American assistant, AK; Lloyd Gunderson, the despotic festival general manager; and the Viking, a sort of cosplay philosopher warrior.

Potential plot points include arguments over the authenticity of mermaids in the Renaissance era, the impact of a strike at the company providing portable toilets and an unfunny juggler.

The creative group, including actors and writers Trace Beaulieu and Mary Jo Pehl of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and actor David Allen of “Freaks and Geeks,” want to film the show in Minnesota, according to Otto, writer and coproducer of the movie “House of Sand and Fog.”

Funding the pilot independently on Kickstarter could help the production group maintain enough creative control of the project to make sure it’s made here, Otto said.

“Hollywood doesn’t know how to make TV comedies about nerds without mocking them. So a bunch of us industry pros that live in Minnesota decided to make a nerd comedy the right way, and to shoot it here, independently, so we can try to rebuild a little industry here,” according to Otto.

The creators already have made a 10-minute mini-pilot shot at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival last fall. That can be viewed online if you contribute to the Kickstarter campaign. Other rewards for contributors include DVDs, T-shirts, and chances for a walk-on role or helping to write an episode.

Otto said the full pilot would be used to sell the show to a cable channel or TV network. Or the show could be shown on an online channel, according to the Kickstarter site.

More about “RenFest” can be found here.

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