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An iconic figure at one of Las Cruces’ most popular annual events won’t be there this year – or likely ever again.
Artist/actor Bob Diven has permanently retired The Ratcatcher Robert Show, named after the character he created for Renaissance ArtsFaire in 1996. After more than two decades of storytelling and rat launching at RenFaire, Diven has stored away the costume he made himself and gave “a proper Viking funeral” to the rat-launching catapult, which Diven labeled a ratapult, that he built in 1997 and which he said was showing its age.
Diven said he feels bad about stopping the Ratcatcher Robert show and will miss being a part of the “incredible weekend” that is RenFaire and will especially miss leading the costume parade. But, he said, doing about 30 performances during the weekend had become physically taxing.
“I feel like we had a really good run,” Diven said. “It’s very satisfying.”
Diven said he came up with the Ratcatcher character after being the “king” at the RenFaire in the mid-1990s. “I didn’t enjoy being royalty,” Diven said. “And though I’d tried lots of different costumes over the years, something ‘clicked’ with the Ratcatcher character. It made people smile, and that made it so enjoyable to me,” he said.
“I created the Ratcatcher Robert costume based on the clothing of a European peasant in the 1450s,” Diven said. “I patterned and sewed and dyed the outfit myself, including making my own soft-leather shoes. The only part I didn’t make were the ‘tusks’ I wore for many years. These had been created for me by a local dentist when I played the Beast in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at Las Cruces Community Theatre in 1995. After some years the tusks finally broke. And once the ratapult became a trebuchet (a catapult with a swinging arm), I stopped wearing the original eyepatch because I had to keep an eye on the brass ring at the end of the sling when it whipped around after every launch.”
Diven said the “ratapult” was originally a true catapult: “a large sack of heavy leather that held a bunch of rocks for the counterweight, and a wicker basket on the end of the throwing arm, where the ‘rats’ would go. They didn’t go very far. That’s why I chose the location on top of a hill. Throwing downhill made the rats go farther.”
Diven said the ratapult was built using viga timbers a friend of his had left over after building his house.
As part of his determination to make the ratapult authentic, the original Ratapult was held together with rope, Diven.
But I learned that the thing would shake itself apart a couple of times during the weekend of performances. After a couple of years, I rebuilt the machine to make it into a trebuchet, adding a hinged basket to hold the counterweight (chunks of steel and rocks), and a long sling with a pouch to hold the rats. Leroy Simmons, a local blacksmith, forged the trigger mechanism for me.”
Diven said he “sewed many beanbag rats over the years, though there were a couple of years when I had helpers making rats for the show.” Some years, he also had show assistants, “even including a kid in a rat costume.”
“I originally would toss a rat and any fruit or vegetable I could get my hands on,” Diven said. “Often, these were cast-offs from the local grocery store, though one year I bought a sack of potatoes. I’ve launched apples, oranges, grapefruit, cantaloupe, honeydew melons, potatoes and heads of lettuce. For the last several years, Anna Lyles of the Lyles Family Farm would let me come glean small ‘cannonball’ pumpkins from her fields. After many years we set up the trash dumpster as my target for the pumpkins.”
Part of the reason he decided to retire the Ratcatcher was because of the potential liability of launching vegetable projectiles. “I came close to taking out people a few times,” Diven said. “I just didn’t want to take the chance.”
Mike Cook may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.