March 11, 2015
Through an old-looking wooden gate, normally-dressed crowds of normal people enter what seems like a different world, or at least a different era. Between the modern-looking patrons are people of all ages dressed in suits of armor, pirate outfits and all manner of odd medieval costumes. Outdated expressions such as “my lady” and “in sooth” are flung across the grounds between passersby, and merchants try to steal the attention of potential customers to their tents and booths of hand-crafted trinkets and period-style clothing.
Entertainment at the Sherwood Forest Renaissance Faire includes jousting, archery and various comedy shows. A lively crowd cheers as horses carrying iron-clad knights gallop across an arena towards each other, often resulting in wooden lances shattered across the knights’ shields. On a wooden stage reminiscent of Shakespeare-era theatre, Giacomo the Jester and Paolo Garbanzo perform their knife-throwing show; children are fascinated by the danger and impossible prescision as knives slice through the air inches from their human target, while older audience members laugh at the comedy duo’s risqué jokes and dry humor.
The surreal experience of a Renaissance faire raises the question: What even makes people want to dress up in ridiculous costumes and pretend to live in the 12th century?
For the fun of it, most would say.
Mark and Tara Reed, under the aliases “Marquise, Zany from Zanzibar” and “Ima Nutte,” have been performing at Renaissance faires together for 20 years as a comedy show called “Foolhearty.” While both are dressed outrageously in motley outfits and clownish face paint with bells hanging from every spare piece of cloth, the Marquise is dressed completely in black-and-white, while Ima Nutte stands out in colorful rainbow attire.
As the sharp notes of a bagpipe drift across the nearly deserted mid-morning fair grounds, the jester couple explain the theatrical draw of lively, unique events like Renaissance festivals.
“From the point of walking in the front gate, this whole area is a stage,” Mark said. “There’s music playing in the air, songs are sung and dancing happens, there’s jugglers, and it’s all kind of a cacophony of sounds and things happening at the same time.”
According to Angela Smith, who used to travel to Renaissance faires across the Midwest as an assistant swordsmith, the best part about renaissance faires is “the opportunity to break from reality for a little while.
“We don’t often get the chance to ‘make believe’ as adults,” Smith said. “Renaissance faires allow us not only the chance to dress in costume and play ‘pirates’ or ‘knights and maidens,’ but also to explore a romantically-portrayed time past.”
Renaissance festivals like Sherwood Forest are unique from other kinds of similar events because of the one-on-one interactions between actors and patrons, not unlike a participatory theater piece or an elaborate form of performance art.
“It’s the interaction that people have with the different characters,” Mark said, “whether they be a knight or a merchant, or somebody pulling the camel in the camel ride, or ourselves, fools doing a performance.”
“The whole festival is a theatrical experience, from the shopkeepers to the people on stage,” Tara added.
There would be no performance without an audience, however, and the Reeds agree that the best part about being a part of the Renaissance faire experience is the interesting people that they meet along the way.
“For me, really, the people are what makes it the best,” Tara said.