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Come to the feast: Renaissance fairs make for merry members

Courtesy Des Moines Renaissance Faire Festival

Come be thee blithe and merry at a Renaissance faire.

That is the invitation from summer and autumn festivals that celebrate medieval times in humorous and historic fashion. Once bank groups pass the ticket gate, they enter into a village where costumed jugglers and knights on horseback just might interrupt their stroll to entertain and interact.

Stages host magicians, and jousting prevails in Roman theaters. Spinning weavers and glassblowers woo those passing by to come and participate. The forests are full of living encampments of the rogues, wenches, lords and ladies who call the village home.

You’ve left the 21st century: Now, your only option is to join the fun, gnaw on a turkey leg, laugh and learn.

Texas Renaissance Festival
Plantersville, Texas
Every weekend in October and November, an enchanted 53-acre park near Houston offers adventure, merriment, music and romance to visitors.

“Over eight themed weekends, we entertain with 4,000 costumed employees, 250 daily performances and 350 craft shops.” said Jeff Baldwin, producer of the Texas Renaissance Festival.

Modeled after a 16th-century European village, the park changes from weekend to weekend, beginning with Oktoberfest and continuing with themes like Pirate Adventure, All-Hallows Eve, Highland Fling, Barbarian Invasion and a Celtic Christmas celebration. Performers on stages located throughout the festival entertain groups.

Games of skill and human-powered rides are located throughout the landscaped grounds. “We offer a premier jousting group that plays three times a day in a Roman theater that seats 5,000 people,” said Baldwin.

Baldwin described the park’s New Market Village as a shopping paradise. More than 150 artisans from around the world showcase handmade jewelry, clothing, leatherwork, pottery and more “worldly treasures.”

“Food and beverages can be found along every cobblestone lane,” he said. “One can have a kingly feast from countries from around the world: Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy and more.”

(800) 458-3435

Shrewsburg Renaissance Faire
Kings Valley, Oregon
On the second weekend in September, groups travel the scenic Kings Valley Highway, just 15 miles and 500 years away from downtown Corvallis, to a farmer’s field to enjoy an enchanting market day in a re-created Elizabethan English village. The arts, the attractions and the theater of the Shrewsburg Renaissance Faire come from the historic research and imaginations of the Shrew Folke – the name by which the members of the faire proudly call themselves.

“Ours is a little more straight-laced historical event taken from the years between 1558 and 1603. It’s always a learning experience,” said Adrian Hughes, owner.

More than 1,500 participants, including jousting knights, minstrels, troubadours, jugglers and dancers perform in a variety of themed areas like the Tournament Fyld, Friar Tuck’s Forest and the Village Forge. Authentic interpretation is offered at living-history guild displays, and dozens of merchants offer handcrafted wares from candles, clothes and dolls to blacksmith goods.

“Most of our craftspeople are local, and everything is in Renaissance theme,” said Hughes.

(541) 929-4897

Virginia Renaissance Faire
Spotsylvania County, Virginia
Held at the Lake Anna Winery over five weekends from mid-May to mid June, the Virginia Renaissance Faire features more than 150 cast members who interact with group members from the time they buy their tickets.

“To us, there is nothing in the world as important as making someone smile. That magical feat makes our lives better,” said Cornelia Miller Rutherford, president and CEO, who plays Lady Cecil Baroness Burghley.

The faire, a re-created Staffordshire village and marketplace featuring the best of 16th-century Elizabethan wares, specializes in hands-on activities; participants can create dolls, spin wool and pound out leather goods.

Feats of skill, musical acts, archery, jousting and tightrope walking are just a handful of the entertainment options. Rutherford added that a daily Court of Common Pleas is also a highlight. “It’s our No. 1 event, run by true lawyers — different cases are tried throughout,” she said.

(703) 508-5036

Des Moines Renaissance Faire Festival
Des Moines, Iowa
On the first three weekends in September, more than 300 costumed village characters are on hand to entertain bank groups at the 16-acre Sleepy Hollow Sports Park, also known as Renaissance Park, during the Des Moines Renaissance Faire Festival.

“We also are home to one of the largest castles in the Midwest, where visitors enjoy a haunted chamber tour and featured acts on the Draw Bridge Stage,” said Gregory Schmidt, producer and director.

The festival features four realms: the Village, four streets lined with shops, artists, entertainment and food; Sherwood Forest, a living-history encampment and home to the Pirate Ship Stage; the Castle Lawn, where games of skill, open field entertainment and the Highland heavy competitive games occur; and the Children’s Fairy Treehouse, home to lawn games, an art shop and a tree house for all ages.

Schmidt added that one more kingdom, a corn maze, will be completed in 2011.

(641) 357-5177

Southern Connecticut Renaissance Festival
Danbury Connecticut
Starting Memorial Day weekend and continuing for the next two weekends, the Southern Connecticut Renaissance Festival celebrates mirth and merriment in its new home at Ives Concert Park, a 40-acre recreational area.

“The festival is a re-created village, a great escape from the 21st century,” said Rich Evans, president.

The festival features six stages offering entertainment from jousting to magicians to knights in shining armor.

“We also have at least 50 merchants from all over the country. Groups really take interest in our wares that not only include Renaissance regulars like clothing, art and jewelry, but also armor, swords and musical instruments,” said Evans.

(877) 386-4628