The Medieval Knights of Rutherford
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photo credits: Sotirios Limitsios and Jonathan Beckas
Rutherford is home to two “knights” who spend their days and evenings entertaining audiences at Medieval Times in Lyndhurst. As heroic knights, Sotirios Limitsios and Jonathan Beckas compete in a number of jousts and other events. During each show, one knight, who has proven himself, is honored as “Champion” and “Defender of the Realm”. The Champion chooses a lady from the audience to be the “Queen of Love and Beauty.” This is Rutherford spoke with Sotirios and Jonathan about living in Rutherford, their unique, yet similar backgrounds, and their experiences as knights at Medieval Times.
TIR: Where did you grow up?
SL: I lived in three different states: New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts but Rutherford, NJ was where I spent most of my childhood.
JB: I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
TIR: Tell us about your high school experience.
SL: I went to Rutherford High School. I was involved in theater, concert band, choir, and creative writing. I am not gonna lie, I also tried hard in Phys. Ed class with the jocks.
JB: I was home-schooled throughout high school. I was mainly involved with musical theater around Pittsburgh, both in community theater and professional. Musical theater would take up most of my time while I studied acting, singing, and dancing.
TIR: What do you enjoy about living in Rutherford? How long have you lived here?
SL: Rutherford is a peaceful place. I like entering the town and seeing all the trees. It's kind of like living in an enchanted forest. I have lived here for 12 years now.
JB: I love Rutherford! I have only lived here for a little over a year but what I enjoy most is Park Ave. There are so many restaurants with great food and there isn't a lack of choices either. There's everything from breakfast to dinner to Greek food to Asian food. Whatever you're feeling like eating. The Williams Center movie theater, which my siblings and I have visited, is great too. It’s so convenient and awesome when you don't want to go to an overly crowded and busy theater near a mall.
TIR: How did you become interested in becoming a knight at Medieval Times?
SL: I want to act, write, and direct. I also want to do a lot of historical fiction and fantasy-based stories, so I wanted to horseback riding to my resumé, as well as the stunt work and stage combat.
JB: Well I never had even heard of Medieval Times before I applied. After college, I was looking for new auditions and opportunities and found it on a job site. Soon my family and I made a trip to New York City and I made them stop at the castle in Lyndhurst so I could put in an application. Funny enough as I was leaving, the grand opening was happening and I got my first little taste of what would soon be my future job.
TIR: What kind of skills did you already have that enabled you to take on this role?
SL: I already developed my acting style which helped me land a lot of the speaking roles in the show. I always kept myself physically fit so jumping into the stunts came easy.
JB: Everything you see us do in the show is taught to us in the castle. Before I joined the castle, however, I studied theatrical stage combat for 7 years working with weaponry of all types. I arrived with a good understanding of choreography and acting.
TIR: How did you train for your role as a knight? Is the training difficult?
SL: I keep up with my workouts and don't eat too much junk. I also watch a lot of videos on YouTube of other shows and performers to mentally prepare myself for what I was getting into. The training at the castle can be very difficult, particularly the horseback work. It's always a humbling experience when riding a horse.
JB: Training starts with familiarizing yourself with the horses and being comfortable around them. After you become a Squire and learn the show and the basics of the fighting form, you move up to Knight Apprentice. This is where you start to learn horseback riding, jousting, sword fights, etc. It usually takes 6 to 8 months for someone to make it into the show at this point. Some parts of the training are harder than others. Teaching someone the fights in the show is easier than riding a horse and it tends to take a couple of months before a Knight Apprentice is able to ride without a knight present.
TIR: How did you learn how to handle weapons while riding a horse?
SL: All the training at the castle teaches you to ride and then ride weaponry and then ride and fight with the weaponry. It's a long process but fulfilling when you start mastering it.
JB: Practice, a lot of practice. As of right now in my training, I only use the lance on a horse. Once you show you are able to ride a horse with one hand on your reigns, you are then taught how to safely hold the lance. After that, it’s just practice and repetition because it's a lot of multitasking. You're literally telling a horse what to do with your legs while holding and directing your weapon all while paying attention to your fight partner and the space around you.
TIR: Do you always ride the same horse? Are you responsible for training your horse?
SL: On average I probably ride 3-4 different horses every show. When it comes to training the horses you kind of have to work your way up to that. When the managers see someone is ready, they start to put him on more challenging horses. Then it is our job to help the horses get better at doing the show or even putting them in newer spots in the show. Right now I'm helping my managers with our horse Rebel. He's earned his name (laughs).
JB: No, we usually switch the horses we ride every show. There are a few Knights that get specific horses they ride every show but that's not the case for all Knights. Usually, senior Knights or horse trainers will train horses, but sometimes a Knight is used to help train them, whether it be riding the horse or getting the horse used to loud noises or jousting during the show.
TIR: What do you enjoy most about being part of the cast at Medieval Times?
SL: The show is the most enjoyable thing about the job. Going out there and bringing the characters to life and putting 110% in every show is mentally stimulating for me. It's also great to see the crowd after the show and they come up and tell you how amazed and dumbfounded they are by everything.
JB: I love the horseback riding. It doesn't matter how bad my day is when I walk into the castle. When I see and get on the horse nothing could make me feel better.
TIR: What do you find to be most challenging?
SL: Training a horse is the hardest thing about the job. I've never experienced anything more challenging or difficult in my life. That's why I said it's always a humbling experience to ride because when you ride, you train. You make sure they don't pick up bad habits and always try to make them comfortable and calm when performing in front of the crowd and doing the stunts.
JB: The most challenging thing I think is throwing the flowers to the guests. You think I’m joking but trying to throw a fragile flower past the 4th row without it breaking or zipping real fast to a completely different person is way harder than you think. I accidentally threw a flower into a pitcher of pop that a serf was using to refill drinks. Needless to say, I was nowhere close to my intended target and the serf had to get a new pitcher (laughs).
TIR: The two of you are friends in real life and “competitors” in the castle. Tell us more about your friendship.
SL: Jonathan and I became friends because we both found out we were Greek. Soon we realized we had similar goals and plans for our lives so it was only natural to become friends after all that. Working together is fun and includes a lot of hazing and busting each other's chops. Performing together is a privilege because our chemistry as performers works well when we pass through the curtain too.
JB: Sotirios and I realized we had a lot in common. Two things we bonded over the most were theater and the fact we are both Greek. Working with Sot is like working with a brother. We are always talking about how to improve our performances.
TIR: Do you have any mentors who helped prepare you for this journey?
SL: Mr. Brian Ersalesi was my acting mentor throughout high school. His advice and the talks we had helped me develop my philosophies as an actor. Mr. Iván Lopez was my mentor with my horsemanship. He used to be a knight before he became a horse trainer so a lot of his wisdom of being a knight was handed down to me. I got to watch videos of his old performance, which helped me develop the different knight characters I play. Mr. Andrew Thomas and Kyle Watkins were mentors to me in the stunts and fighting aspects. I used a combination of their two's fighting styles with Iván's flare before I started razzling and dazzling my own things (laughs).
JB: I have a lot of people that got me to this point. I don't think I'd be where I am without them. Mainly my mentors are fight choreographers from Pittsburgh and I still seek help and advice from them today. I don't think I can thank them enough for what they have done for me or taught me.