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September 2011

In Our Own Backyard

Fair Thee Well

From the Historical to the Fanciful, Renaissance Festival Has Something for Everyone

By Jeanette Der Bedrosian

Dost ye little lasses and lads crave an adventure from centuries ago?

An hour away, but also a world away, the Maryland Renaissance Festival is one of the few places your family can bite into a turkey leg — or perhaps steak on a stake — while shouting “Huzzah!” for your favorite jouster or cringing in amazement as a sword swallower evades injury.

The 2011 festival season is upon us, loyal subjects, and organizers promise this year’s event will be as eye-catchingly authentic and chock-full-of-fun as ever.

“I hear patrons say all the time, ‘I really feel like I’m in a different world,’” says Artistic Director Carolyn Spedden. “... I think everyone needs a little escape, and that’s what this can be for people.”

This year’s festival story line delves into the “The Rough Wooing” of Scotland, when King Henry VIII of England tries to marry his son, Prince Edward, to the infant Mary Queen of Scots. Henry’s scheme hits a snag when Marie de Guise, Mary’s mother and the widow of Scotland’s James V, opposes the marriage. This story, which is fundamentally true but stretched to fit into the setting, will be linked to several performances throughout the festival, including a joust.

As families make their way through the lush woods setting in Annapolis, they’ll meet dancers dangling from treetops and the acrobatic Duke of Danger. They’ll be entertained by storytellers, swordsmiths and even a squire on a tightrope wire.

“It’s just such a beautiful setting,” says Ginny Strumpf, longtime festival attendee and mom to a 15-year-old fellow fair enthusiast. “We usually wait until the fall weather sets in a little bit. … and we like to go around to the little shops to find the crafts that people had done that are linked in to the history.”

Strumpf and her daughter, Katie, dress for the occasion most years, she says. With her red hair, Katie resembles Princess Elizabeth, and people will often stop to curtsy and say, “G’day, princess,” Strumpf says. The mom-and-daughter duo look forward to the crafts, shows and fair food.

This year’s festival is even more ambitious than in previous years, Spedden says.

For example, performers are taking on Hamlet in a two-act, 100-minute performance, the most complex Shakespeare tragedy ever done at the festival.

According to Spedden, “Hamlet is just so famous that if you’re going to do it, you better have everything in place. We’ve got an especially strong cast this year and an audience who enjoys Shakespeare. It just felt as though if there was ever a time to tackle probably the most famous of the tragedies, this was the time to do it.”

The festival also welcomes newcomers contortionist acrobats Barely Balanced (performing September 24 and 25, October 1 and 2), juggling knife throwers The Danger Committee (performing October 8, 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23) and one-man science variety show Doktor Kaboom! (August 27 and 28), among others.

Kids will enjoy maypole dancing and juggling lessons — when they don’t have their hands full of apple dumplings, fried macaroni and other festival treats.

Spedden says the festival is not primarily a historical event, but they do aim for accuracy in certain areas, like Hengrave Hall, where families can see how weapons were made and butter was churned in the 16th century. Many families don their finest renaissance threads for the affair, too, she says.

No matter whether families make their way to Annapolis for a lesson in history or a one-day escape, it’s quality family time, Spedden says. “It’s highly interactive,” she says. “You can bring your child to the movies, but you’re kind of passively watching it. The same goes with television or video games. But here, there’s so much offered, that literally every member of the family, no matter what their tastes, can enjoy it.”

The Maryland Renaissance Festival is open August 27 and 28; September 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 17, 18, 24 and 25; and October 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23. The festival is located at 1821 Crownsville Road. Tickets are $19 for adults, $16 for seniors ages 62 and up and $9 for children 7-15. Children six and younger are free. The first weekend (August 27 and 28), children 11 and younger are free. Call 1-800-296-7304 for more information.