The Fare at the PA Ren Faire
Welcome to over thirty-six acres of 16th Century England! Completely reenacted, of course, and better landscaped the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire is not only one of the greatest attractions of Lancaster County (although its fame carried far enough for us to make the trip from NYC) it also boasts one of the largest joust arenas in the U.S., their own vinyard, and Theater as well as theater company. In fact, although you will probably find many other Faires that enjoy that olde “e” you won’t find another joust like this one, nor would you find such a variety of acts staffed by incredibly well trained actors, volunteers and traveling performers.
The grounds are abundant with armories, blacksmiths and clothing stores sporting the latest in medieval fashions and defense. If you feel hungry, never fear, as you can easily fatten up in one of many food stands, sporting such morsels as soup in a bread bowl, amongst other things (never fear, oh vegetarian, you will not be stuck with French fries while all your friends devour substantive meals).
One of the above mentioned blacksmiths in the process of making something sharp. Photo by Beelzy.
At every Faire he adds another piece to his armour. And he doesn’t miss too many Faires. Photo by ETL.
All sorts come to these Faires. Folks who like to dress up in costumes with various levels of attention to detail as well as those who would gawk at them. Beelzy says “Of course, if you’re a dork like me, you’ll prefer to go in costume. Having been accompanied by a buccaneer and a lovely wench, I felt a little out of place in my blue jeans, black t-shirt with witty quote, and trademark green canvas backpack, but only momentarily, as the large assortment of scantily clad pirate babes, buxom rogues, and vixens were enough to keep me distracted from my apparel.”
(The Faire jumped right on the bandwagon of the pirate craze, lemme tell ya. Photo of a pirate vixen by ETL.)
We arrived on the last weekend in September, also known as the Octoberfest weekend at the Ren (each weekend is differently themed). Although not particularly October-festy, ale was not wanting (5 pounds/dollars a cup) and we partook (and partook) of it at one of the various pubs scattered about as the sun began its course downward. As we all know, no one gets to keep the alcohol they buy and so I am happy to report that the privies were in excellent condition, with dried herbs, strategically placed windows, and well-hidden scented candles.
All through the day acts are performed in various buildings and open air stages. With so much to see, we only sampled without really sticking around for whole acts. Although everyone is versed in Shakespeare as well as his brand of English, the primary purpose of each performance was to get the audience in stitches with laughter and to keep them there. Ditto “Romeo and Juliet in the Mud.” Oh the uniboobed Matilda! You surely made a splash.
(Photo by ETL, despite an angry audience)
Many of the employees get into the act, speaking in rough Scottish, or English accents. A few actually pull it off quite well. Regardless, it’s nice to know that the employees are enthusiastic, and you can tell they really enjoy their jobs, especially when they commission the creation of custom-made daggers that fit perfectly into their bosoms.
Toldja. They got pirates DOWN. Auctioning off swords and such, great deals for 16th century fanatics. Photo by Beelzy
Don and Miguel make their living on the fair circuit and are one of the independent acts hired for the season although not employed consistently by the Faire. With their fancy footwork, continuous pop culture references, puns, and homosexual asides they couldn’t keep from bursting out with laughter themselves during the performance.
Amongst other attractions is the Kissing Bridge where jaded couples could be shown up by those still in love. There is a well-hydrated, if bored, elephant who over the years supplanted the camels who used to preside in his pen. And a greyhound charity, where you can donate money to or adopt a greyhound. Also on the grounds is a torture chamber with ancient instruments of pain on the walls and a few scenes set up in the style of haunted houses. There the sweet smell of pine permeates and mothers tell their children the best lies (“Mommy, is that a wishing well?” The child already has a penny in his hand. “No honey, it’s a cursed well and anyone who throws in a coin will be cursed forever.” The child puts the penny in his pocket and scurries away).
The Well Tower. Photo by Beelzy.
The last two acts of the day are the Joust, and the Finale. The joust is a full-blown play/stunt show with impressive stage props (such as a two-tiered castle) and pyrotechnics startling and livening up the audience. The whole thing is very high drama with music and shouting and actors within the audience stirring up enthusiasm with yells of “Hurrah” or, in some cases, “Huzzah!”Sir Lukas, the Bull of England, rode his fine steed through fire in defense of his Queen. From then on breakaway wooden lance pieces flew through the air and fake blood flowed in rivers (a little hyperbole there). In about an hour we would have the pleasure of the Bull’s company, as well as that of Lord Connor, Prince of Stockwell.
This castle comes under firepower and a man launches himself out of the second floor. Photo by Beelzy.
As the story went, you had four knights, each with his own agenda—two good, two evil. The fearsome knights dueled it out, knocking each other to the ground with unnerving accuracy. When the hero was seriously injured, a fight to the death on foot was sanctioned. An all-out brawl commenced with the evil knights’ forces trying to kill the Queen, while the two good nights and the Queen’s forces tried to protect her. Explosions, screams, violence, and death resulted from the madness of the battle. When the smoke cleared, the jousting arena was strewn with bodies, and only the Queen and a few of her servants were still standing. It ended with the evil knight being slain, and the mastermind behind the uprising being carted off in chains.
The Finale is a feel-good performance where all the actors are present and songs are sang (the words can be found in the Elizabethan Times available at the gates) and silly dances are danced.
Note the rescued Queen dying of laughter in the background
Through the day, one of the most entertaining and fun things to do was to interact with the actors. Karen Stefaniak, (Marketing/PR) told us more about the actors on the grounds, and the process of becoming one, while an uproarious bidding for hand-made fluffy dragon puppets, which could be rigged to turn their heads and wiggle their tails at passersby, went on in the background.
If ever you ever felt like an anachronism and wished to lead the life of a 16th century squire, wench, knight, barkeep… or would simply like weeks and weeks of free training in the art of improvisation, dialect, character history and stage combat, then stay tuned for the next installment.
~All photos by Beelzy and ETL
The last Faire is held on the 28th of October although the Professional Acting Company which runs the Faire will put on Theater In the Mansion through November and December. For more information on the PA Ren Faire browse their home page (which is currently being renovated towards becoming more user friendly).