Spending day in 1574 one of best parts of summer

A few weeks ago some friends and I decided to pay a visit to the Bristol Renaissance Faire, just south of Kenosha, WI. I hadn’t been there in a few years, and with the summer speeding by I realized that if we didn’t plan the trip soon, we’d run out of time. The faire typically runs from the second weekend in July through Labor Day Weekend every year.

I set up a conversation about it on Facebook and invited a handful of my community theater buddies. We threw around a few dates and finally decided on the first Saturday in August. It just so happened that this particular weekend was Fantasy Costume Weekend at the park. Well, when you take a bunch of theater girls, put them in a renaissance faire environment and add fantasy costumes, you’ve got the makings of what can only be described as an epic adventure.

In no time at all, everyone was very excited and buzzing about what they were going to wear to the park that day. Ideas ranged from animated characters like Snow White, to fur- and bone-clad Viking goddesses, to big screen characters like Furiosa from the latest Mad Max film. Yes, theater girls do things in a big way, so none of us were very surprised.

As the days coming up to the big event passed, we shared all sorts of pictures of ourselves in various attempts at our costumes, getting each other’s opinions on accessories and makeup. Some decided right away on a character, while others were still making up their minds just a few days before we left.

Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I typically save all the past costumes I’ve worn, so I’ve quite an arsenal to choose from when it comes to fantasy characters. For the ladies who were still struggling, I offered whatever I could find in my closet … belly dancer, Greek goddess and flamenco dancer, just to mention a few. Eventually everyone found something they were comfortable with, and we headed out that morning about 6 a.m.

Being a chatty group, the hours passed quickly. We found a truck stop very close to the faire and stopped to change into our costumes. It was an interesting sight as the six of us basically commandeered the ladies’ bathroom for about a half hour, changing into our new personas and applying the appropriate makeup.

It was amusing to see women come into the bathroom and stop short, trying to make sense of the scene before them. Most were in very good humor about it. One lady brought her 10-year-old son in with her for reasons unknown, and he looked very nervous and confused. I felt like explaining to him that women’s bathrooms aren’t typically filled with crazy loud ladies in costumes applying makeup.

But after considering it for a few moments, I felt that speaking directly to him dressed in full tribal gypsy belly dance garb would probably frighten him more than it would help, so I left without saying a word. I would love to hear the story he’ll be telling his friends for the rest of the summer.

We put the final touches on in the parking lot just before going in to the faire, and had a passerby take a group photo of us. We all have a friend who actually works at the faire, and we spent most of the day trying to find her, which was like a renaissance version of ‘Where’s Waldo.’ Three of the ladies in our group had not experienced a renaissance faire before, so we went along slowly at first, so they could take it all in.

If you’ve not experienced it before, it’s pretty neat. All the people who work at the faire play a character from Bristol, an English port set in the year 1574. They walk and talk this way all day, and will not break character no matter what. I found this out when we finally did run into our friend, and she responded to all our questions in her 1574 vernacular. We watched her sing some very bawdy songs with her fellow minstrels, and after a lot of great laughs, she told us where we could find some great things to eat and led us to the best fruit sorbet I’ve ever enjoyed. It’s good to have a friend at the faire.

We spent the day enjoying great food like turkey legs, cheese fritters and iced cappuccino. We enjoyed excellent entertainment, including my favorites – Dirk and Guido, the brave and foolish swordsmen; Moonie, the acrobat who communicates only through whistles; a falconry show – and we also visited the queen herself.

During the parade, which wound through the faire mid-afternoon, I was personally invited by a handsome knight on a very tall horse to come and dance for him after the joust. And yes, they are real jousting events with real lances and authentic armor, and the audience cheers for their particular knight to win.
And then there are the shops. The shops sell everything you’d never think of, like spider jewelry, hand-carved horned walking sticks, leather satchels with eyes, candles that melt into hand lotion, authentic medieval weapons, helmets and costumes, and all sorts of fine adornments, just to mention a few. As we were shopping, we spotted some fairies and tried to take a photo, but it was difficult, as the fairies are very elusive, and typically only acknowledge the children at the faire.

It’s a very magical place, where the real world is forgotten for a day. We spent the day enjoying all the interesting costumes, which ran the gamut from bloody zombies to arcade game characters to satyrs.

Yes, there was actually someone who chose to walk around dressed in furry high heel shoes (sans heels), to look like they had hooves. You really have to admire that level of dedication to the character.

At the end of the day as we made our way back to the gate, we heard the drums begin. Each day ends with a drumming circle, and all are invited to watch and dance if they so desire. I made sure we got very close to the drums, and we all joined in the dance. It was an interesting dance, as we had a wood nymph, a woodland fairy and an enchanted deer in the group, and we were surrounded by many other odd and colorful characters. One woman was literally dancing with Death, and although I think it was really just her boyfriend, I still found the metaphor very amusing.

As we made our way out to the main gate, we happened to run into Dirk Perfect, one of the brave and foolish swordsmen. I’ve had a crush on this man since I first saw him at the faire when I was but a teen, and although I was terribly smitten, I found the words to ask if I could get a picture with him. Wickedly charming as always, his response was, “But of course! It’s included with your price of admission, milady!”

I just about melted.

My friends warned him to be careful, as I might take him up on that, stuff him into my trunk and take him home with me. He graciously posed for several shots while I tried hard to hide the total fan-girl freak-out I was having in my head.

I gave him a hug and thanked him for putting on such a great show and bid him a good evening, beaming all the way out to the car. An epic day, indeed!

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Originally published August 14, 2015

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