TimesDaily, Oct. 26, 2008
Faire planners go for authenticity
By Michelle Rupe Eubanks, Staff Writer
Hannah Lebouf and Elizabeth Patterson display their painted faces during the Alabama Renaissance Faire at Wilson Park in Florence on Saturday. The festival continues today. Jim Hannon/TimesDaily
FLORENCE - Walking through Wilson Park in downtown Florence this weekend is like stepping back in time - 500 years to the Middle Ages - an era of wenches and wizards, knights and ladies, magic and minstrels.
For Taylor Rikard, 16, who goes by the name "Grim Reaper" during the festival thanks to his black cloak and purple skull-topped walking stick, it's one of his favorite times of the year.
"I like to dress up and bring my dog, Bain," he said. "Last year, I was Sir Lancelot, so this year I wanted to be something different. Bain is here as a king."
Getting into costume is half the fun of the Alabama Renaissance Faire, which is in its 21st year at the park which is renamed every fourth Saturday and Sunday in October to Fountain-on-the-Green.
At the event, it's not uncommon, for instance, to see blue-faced trolls standing guard at their tent, sword fights break out among knights guarding the honor of their maids or minstrel musicians plucking away at their hand-carved instruments.
In planning the event, festival organizers try to keep it as authentic as possible, from the belly dancers shimmying during a show to the jester clowning around and getting some laughs for loose change and spare bills.
As a result, the Alabama Renaissance Faire has been named one of the Top 20 events in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourist Society in Atlanta since 2003.
Ethan and Christine Rose found out about the event online and decided to book a spot this year to promote their new book, "Rowan of the Wood," the first in a series of young adult books about an ancient wizard who possesses a young boy after 1,000 years of imprisonment in a magic wand.
While the couple collaborated on writing the book, Ethan carves wizards from the story as well as magic wands, and Christine makes handmade woodcuts of the dragons from the story.
"We figured people might not come in just to hear about a book, so we decided to make and sell these other things, too," Ethan Rose said.
Other vendors were also new to the event this year.
Morning Glory, who goes by Brenda Jarvis when she's at home in Nashville, Tenn., brought her hand-crafted fairy wings to sell at this year's event. She drew a crowd of young children to her tent to try on the glittery creations.
"The trick is to use bendable wire that's also strong," she said. "I love to make things and talk to people, so I think I found the right place."
The Renaissance Faire continues from noon to 6 p.m. today in Wilson Park.
TimesDaily, Oct. 23, 2008
Renaissance Faire begins Saturday
By Jennifer Crossley, Staff Writer
Coronation of new royalty at the Renaissance Faire in Wilson Park ; The Rainbow Dancers, performing with swords, surround Queen Ostarra (Holley Taylor, Collinwood, TN, left) and capture her
Renaissance Roundtable members, along with people from all walks of the Shoals community and beyond help Wilson Park create its time warp.
"Our Renaissance Faire is one of those very unique festivals you don't find in other communities so it really sets us apart and shows how culturally diverse our community really is," said Alison Stanfield, assistant director of the Florence-Lauderdale tourism office.
Roundtable members lend their time and input, not in vain.
"Ideas from each Roundtable member are accepted and considered, not summarily dismissed. In other words, it's truly a collaborative effort," said the Roundtable's leader, Billy Warren.
Roundtable members routinely offer their talents to the faire. The Wiporwil and Rainbow dancers will join troupes from Huntsville.
Roundtable member Noelle Smith founded the local troupe, which has been performing at the faire for about 15 years.
"Some of the dancers I met when I moved here were performing at the faire, and it just seemed like the thing to do," she said.
The dancing always draws crowds, though not from whom you might expect. "The men stay (for a short time) and leave; the women sit there for hours," Smith said, laughing.
The time period and Florence's connection to Italy, the first Renaissance city, has kept Roundtable member Donna Miles involved with the faire since its start.
"It's fun .. I love history especially the Renaissance era," said Miles, who organizes entertainment and costume workshops each year. "Our city was named after Florence, Italy, and I've learned so much about it since our beginning."
People from around the globe will join the entertainment schedule this year.
International students from the University of North Alabama will exhibit their cultures through native costumes, artifacts and dance, according Warren.
"We feel like if those students have a part in that event, they'll get their friends to come out, and then tell the world about a great event in Florence, Alabama," Stanfield said.
As for old favorites, Skin and Bones, a dog act, returns to the entertainment schedule, along with Don Hinely, who plays such tunes as Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Faire" on the glass harmonica.
A special event is planned for 3 p.m. Sunday involving the faire's current king, His Majesty Gregory Bowling, who happens to be a pirate.
Whether you have taste for turkey legs or ornate velvet costumes, the faire should satisfy you, Warren said.
"People should come to the faire because there is literally something for everyone who is even remotely interested in the Medieval/Renaissance period, and it's all free. The choice to purchase items from the talented crafts vendors or delicious food from food venders is strictly that - a choice."
Alabamians and visitors from other regions mark their calendars for the faire, Stanfield said.
"We always have a large number of inquiries about the faire, and they range from children looking for something to do over the weekend to the retired traveler," she said.
"Right after the faire, people always call for next year's date."
TimesDaily, Oct. 29, 2006
Fountain of fun - Sword fights, period costumes and funnel cakes make for a fair faire in Florence
By Michelle Rupe Eubanks, Staff Writer
Axe-wielding executioner James Crane at the Renaissance Faire at Wilson Park in Florence.
From the New Balance sneakers that peek out of a Medieval monk's robe to fully made up butterflies that sprout from Buicks, the annual Renaissance Faire is a study in anachronisms.
Period costumes, sword fights and funnel cakes create the atmosphere at Fountain-on-the-Green in downtown, but music, the lilting sounds of dulcimers and lutes, complete the picture.
Jon and Lisa Butts, a couple from Cincinnati, Ohio, who call themselves Menagerie Music, brought their unique blend of Irish and Celtic sounds to the faire.
Setting up shop at the foot of the king and queen's dais, they serenaded the crowd and hoped to sell a few CDs in the bargain.
"We've raised our kids, built a home, had the American dream, basically," Lisa Butts said. "Now, we tour the country full time playing at Renaissance Faires."
When not playing the hammered dulcimer and guitar dressed as minstrels from the Middle Ages, the Butts live in a 30-foot trailer, booking their string of gigs from a wireless Internet connection.
"We're kind of like old hippies," Lisa Butts said. "We try to live on what we make from selling CDs."
From the looks of their tip jar and the applause from passers-by, they'll make it to their next stop in Lady of the Lakes, Fla.
Across the way, Donal Hinely brings a new sound to this year's faire. The singer/songwriter from Springfield, Tenn., plays the glass harmonica.
Like the Butts' and most other musicians who play at the faire, he, peddles CDs as he gives faire-goers a sample of the music he can make by playing glasses of water.
"Last week, I was doing this at a fair where it was 50 degrees outside and the wind was blowing," he tells the crowd gathered to hear him play Pachabel's Canon in D.
Hinely has been playing the glass harmonica for nine years, a talent he picked up from his brother.
Throughout a performance, Hinely will take frequent breaks when his fingers get "pruney."
"Anyone can do this," he tells the crowd, and, to prove it, he has a goblet on his stand expressly for that purpose.
Despite the claim, Hinely has one trick up his sleeve: distilled water.
"It seems to be the most consistent," he said. "Some big cities have just the right amount of pollutants to create good friction, but, in smaller towns, the water is too soft."
Without the musicians like the Butts and Hinely who provide a constant background noise to the faire, the event might lack a degree of authenticity.
Dale Bowling, of Florence, out for the afternoon with his boys, Zeke, 6, and Zane, 4, brought the to Wilson Park to see a bit of something they might not otherwise experience.
"I come each year with the boys to teach them a little culture, show them a little something different," he said.
With that, they were off in the direction of the tents filled with all sorts of fun, from psychic readers and dream interpreters to sword makers, belly dancers and cape fitters.
Michelle Rupe Eubanks can be reached at 740-5745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WANT TO GO?
What: Alabama Renaissance Faire
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Wilson Park, Florence (known as Fountain-on-the-Green during the faire)
Cost: Admission is free.
Faire city - Medieval celebration transforms Florence
By Cathy Wood Myers, Staff Writer
Returning to this year's Renaissance Faire in Florence's Wilson Park is crowd favorite Barbara O'Bryan, who portrays the living statue Naimh A'Danu. TIMESDAILY FILE PHOTOS
It's that time of year when-Wilson Park becomes-the Fountain-on-the-Green, knights wander the land and you might see a troll lurking about.
But if you do see the troll, don't worry -- he's friendly and even will pose for a photo or two.
The annual Alabama Renaissance Faire brings 30,000-40,000 people to Florence from throughout the Southeast to celebrate the spirit of medieval times.
Entertainment, music, dancing, art, crafts, food and costumes fill the park during the faire.
"There are so many things going on at the faire -- free events for all," said Donna Miles, of the Alabama Renaissance Faire Roundtable, the volunteer group that plans the faire.
"You can see demonstrations of swordplay by our local dragoon group. Two different belly-dance groups will perform, also. Vendors sell clothing, adornments, weaponry, jewelry, hand-thrown pottery, oils and herbs, children's toys -- the list goes on and on. There's a vendor for almost everything. It's a great family time," she added.
Billy Ray Warren, a mainstay of the Roundtable and curriculum director for Florence schools, agreed.
"Our vendors come from all over the country with items for children, beautiful handmade costumes for sale, items for the Renaissance aficionado, etc. They add the charm to the faire that makes people keep coming back year after year. Their colorful tents help us turn the park into a medieval/Renaissance village for two whole days," he said. Admission to the faire is free, and there is no charge to watch any of the entertainment, Warren added.
Here are some highlights:
Walter Butler's Dragoons, of Arkansas, fight with real swords. Local group Garde-Ecossais Regiment de Hepborn (trained by the Dragoons) also will be at the faire.
Favorite characters from past years, such as the troll (who will bring his own skull-lined "throne") and the ghostly living statues, will be there.
The Beledi Stage for belly dancing, located on the southwest corner of Wilson Park by the conical tent, will open at 11 a.m. Saturday and noon Sunday. "We'll have continuous entertainment," said Noelle Smith, with the Renaissance Roundtable. Local group the Rainbow Dancers will perform, along with guests including the Naughty Nomads of Huntsville. The Beledi Club of Huntsville will perform Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Mahasin Heyama, a new troupe from Huntsville, will perform Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Florence artist Jan Roblin will have a tent by the fountain where she'll sign copies of her new book, "Planet of Dreams." Also at the tent, children can catch bubbles from her life-size sculpture of Bubbles the Dragon and color portraits of the dragon, all for free.
The always crowd-pleasing Menagerie -- the musical duo of Lisa and John Butts -- will perform at the faire on hammered dulcimer, mandolin, guitar and other period instruments. "They tour throughout the eastern part of our country performing at Renaissance faires, weddings, etc." Miles said. "I don't think we could have a faire without them."
Also returning after an absence of a few years are the wooden boats that children steer around the Wilson Park water fountain. "The boats have been completely refurbished and look fantastic. The kids will be thrilled," Warren said. "It thrills me because nothing is more low-tech than pushing boats around the fountain, but the kids love them."
The annual chess tournament will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday in front of the Kennedy-Douglass Art Center. There are two divisions: the playoff for students who won tournaments in their schools and the open division for anyone who wants to play. "For the third year in a row, we will leave two tables set up (three chess boards per table) near the fountain throughout the faire so people can just stop and play as they wish," Warren said. "The past two years, these chess boards were hardly ever idle!"
Don Hinely is bringing his glass harmonica (various-sized goblets filled with varying levels of water) to the faire after a two-year absence. By touching the goblets with his fingers, he plays such tunes as Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," "Greensleeves," "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" and "Scarborough Fair." His wife will have a hair-braiding booth.
Vic Martine, proprietor of Silver, Sword and Stone Company, also is returning after a two-year absence. "Vic is a favorite of our regular faire-goers," Warren said.
Faire Wynds -- Eric Scites, his wife and two children -- juggle, do magic tricks and interact with the delighted crowds watching the performing group.
Other faire festivities include the crowning of the new ruler -- chosen at this past Saturday's annual Renaissance feast.
And if you get hungry at the faire, you're in luck. "Wonderful food also will be available, from funnel cakes to sausages to huge, delicious turkey legs," Warren said.
The faire is a culmination of a month of educational Renaissance and medieval activities, including lectures, dance, music, artists-in--residence and art and sonnet contests for students .
Cathy Wood Myers can be reached at 740-5733 or email@example.com.
WANT TO GO?
What: Alabama Renaissance Faire
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Wilson Park, Florence (known as Fountain-on-the-Green during the faire)
Cost: Admission is free.
TimesDaily, Oct. 16, 2006
By Billy R. Warren, For the TimesDaily
This is the third in an occasional series on how Veterans Park could be developed in relation to the Retirement Systems of Alabama economic development partnership with Shoals communities.
We have appreciated the two recent articles in the TimesDaily addressing the possible uses of Veterans Park within the overall project sponsored by the Retirement Systems of Alabama.
The Roundtable (our name for the planning group) of the Alabama Renaissance Faire proposes that Veterans Park be transformed into a working Medieval/Renaissance village using Williamsburg, Va., as a model.
Our proposal includes the construction of permanent buildings patterned after those of Europe during the Medieval/Renaissance period. These buildings would be furnished in replicas of the period and would house basket makers, leather crafters, tanners, jewelry makers, herbalists, etc.
A bakery would produce hot cross buns and other delicacies based on authentic recipes of the period. (Visit godecookery.com for a glimpse at some of those delicacies.) All of these craftsmen, bakers, kitchen workers, etc., would, of course, be dressed in period garb.
Entertainment would also be based on the kinds of activities enjoyed during the era. Much of it would be interactive in order to engage visitors in a direct way, though some of it would be purely for the enjoyment of seeing and hearing. Once or twice per year there would be actual jousts on horseback; regularly, there would be hand-to-hand combat demonstrations, with performers in full armor.
A schedule would be maintained for staging a full-blown Medieval/Renaissance Faire -- probably several weekends in the spring and/or autumn each year.
Special programs during the year would recreate holidays such as Easter or Christmas as they were celebrated during the period.
Not only would such a working village be a huge draw for school groups and adults alike, it would create temporary jobs during the construction phase and permanent jobs for craftsmen and other staff members once it became operational.
These economic advantages would be enhanced by the fact that no other such year-round village celebrating our Medieval/Renaissance heritage exists in the Southeast -- to our knowledge, not even in the entire country -- and that, like Williamsburg, it would be a permanent tourist draw. (Theme parks, on other hand, require huge outlays of cash every few years to "reinvent" them.)
Why a working Medieval/Renaissance village in Florence, Ala.? Well, as we all know, the Renaissance period cast a long shadow: the so-called Age of Exploration, an outgrowth of the Renaissance, eventually led to the long journey of Europeans to the New World.
More specifically, the Renaissance had its beginnings in Florence, Italy, the same town for which Florence, Ala., is named. And our experience with the annual staging of the Alabama Renaissance Faire (2006 is our 20th year!) tells us that locals and tourists alike will flock to historical re-enactments.
Re-enactments are appealing because they are educational, personally engaging and just plain fun. They give people a chance to slow down from their fast-paced, hi-tech world and enjoy themselves in a stress-free, non-amplified environment for a while.
I could go on and on talking about how Veterans Park would also accommodate the creation of a permanent maze of live shrubs (mazes were extremely popular during the Medieval/Renaissance era) and how the park's situation at water's edge is perfect for the staging of a river-based "invasion" of the working village one or more times each year.
(Did I say that the village we have in mind would fit perfectly amid the stately trees at the park?)
But you get the picture: the possibilities are almost endless.
As a previous writer said in the TimesDaily's Letters to the Editor section, we have a grand opportunity to "get it right" at Veterans Park.
Our group believes that a working Medieval/Renaissance village has the potential to capture the imagination of people far and near, making the park's transformation the missing link in the great RSA project.
Billy R. Warren, of Florence, is chairman of the Alabama Renaissance Faire board.
TimesDaily, Oct. 24, 2005
Viking queen crowned at faire
By Bernie Delinski, Staff Writer
Queen Freya Igraine Greywolf, also known as Anna Iaria, walks around Wilson Park to greet her subjects after her coronation Sunday in Wilson Park. DANIEL GILES/TimesDaily
FLORENCE -- Sunday's chilly, gloomy weather might have served as an omen for the type of year we may be in for under the reign of the Renaissance Faire's new queen.
Queen Freya Igraine Greywolf, portrayed by Ann Iaria, was crowned Sunday, after her pack of Greywolf Vikings kidnapped the former queen's daughter and threatened to kill her if the queen didn't step down.
Queen Salana, of Leighton, Baroness of Colbertshire, Regina of Florenze, chose to step down.
Salana, portrayed by Salana Letsinger, ordered her guards not to fight the Vikings. "Ours is a peaceful kingdom," she stressed.
Instead, she allowed Greywolf to take the crown. Immediately, the new queen and her Vikings spoke of a year of pillaging.
"It'll be very exciting and different," the new queen promised.
It's a tradition at the Florence faire for the reigning king or queen to step down on the faire's final day. The king or queen comes up with a tragic story line to explain the reason for giving up the crown.
The tradition states a curse was cast on the faire years ago that forces the king or queen to lose their crown after a year.
The Vikings kidnapped the princess when one of them, Sir Garrison, was upset that he did not win her hand.
Queen Salana had decided to have a jousting and sonnet competition, with the winner winning the princess's hand.
It was won by Sir Nathaniel White, and Sir Garrison was not pleased, so the Vikings plotted the kidnapping and overthrow.
The faire members played the act out to perfection, concluding with Greywolf and her Viking crew marching through the faire in triumph, threatening "off with their head" to those who refused to bow before her.
Letsinger said her yearlong reign was fun and educational.
"It's been fabulous," she said. "I wanted to get a lot of children involved."
She went to schools throughout the year, teaching about the history, culture, music and art of the Italian Renaissance.
The new king or queen is selected during an annual feast in which a large cake is divided up among those in attendance.
A coin is hidden in the cake, and whomever gets that slice becomes the next emperor.
This year it was Iaria. It's unknown what she and her cohorts have in mind, but it's guaranteed to be a lively reign. "We'll be out all the time," she said.
Bernie Delinski can be reached at 740-5739 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TimesDaily, Oct. 23, 2005
Is a Renaissance village at Veterans Park a possibility?
By Russ Corey, Staff Writer
Adam Roberts (left) and Adam Madden, both of Hot Springs, Ark., engage in sword play during the Alabama Renaissance Faire on Saturday in Florence. DANIEL GILES/TimesDaily
Imagine walking into a world that existed hundreds of years ago and experiencing life during the Renaissance.
Stroll down medieval streets and visit blacksmith shops, tanneries and jewelers.
At the center of the village lies a castle.
There are places in the United States where this can be experienced, but it's normally during weekend Renaissance fairs or multiweekend festivals in larger metropolitan areas.
There are some in the Shoals, however, who say they can take the annual Renaissance celebration in Florence to new heights.
Florence has the distinction of hosting the official Alabama Renaissance Faire, an event that continues today at Wilson Park.
Members of the Renaissance Faire Roundtable have an idea to expand the event and capitalize on the area's commitment to increasing tourism.
The idea, Chairman Billy Warren said, is construction of a permanent Renaissance village at Veterans Park in Florence.
"As far as we know, there's not one anywhere," Warren said.
Warren said festivals such as this weekend's would remain a part of the attraction.
The idea would be similar in nature to Colonial Williamsburg in southern Virginia but would depict a living history of Europe during the Renaissance period rather than Colonial America.
Florence is known as the Renaissance City.
The Public Park Authority of the Shoals is searching for an attraction to bring tourists to the area and complete a tourism project that involves the Retirement Systems of Alabama.
The partnership has already led to the construction of two Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses in Colbert County, a four-star hotel and renovation of the Renaissance Tower and conference center in Florence.
"It seems that the tourism potential for this would be unlimited," Warren said. "To me, the real beauty is it doesn't have to be reinvented every few years."
Florence-Lauderdale Tourism Director Debbie Wilson said such an attraction would be another part of the area's overall tourism package.
"People want to be entertained and want to escape," Wilson said. "That fits into the current escape trend."
Florence resident Leigh Cummings likes the idea of a Renaissance village.
"That would be great," she said.
She was attending the Renaissance Faire on Saturday with her husband, Sean.
Her husband said they have been to larger festivals in Atlanta.
"I think it's a good idea," he said. He hopes a permanent attraction would be more authentic than the Renaissance Faire.
"It's getting too commercial," he said.
Florence resident Mike Byrd said the festival has outgrown Wilson Park.
"We've got a lot of people here for it," Byrd said.
Byrd said something like an outdoor stage for plays could be utilized by the community as well as the Renaissance attraction.
Warren said Saturday there was a good crowd and it appeared that more visitors wore Renaissance-style clothing.
In addition to the usual arts and crafts, most of which had a Renaissance connection, there were belly dancing demonstrations and duels.
While there might not be a permanent year-round Renaissance village in the United States, there are multiweekend festivals in other sections of the country that enjoy large crowds.
Barb Lacek, marketing director of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, said the 12-weekend festival near Philadelphia draws about 200,000 people annually.
A permanent Renaissance village, she said, would require buildings reflecting the architecture of the times. Shop owners would have to be trained in the proper dialect and have correct costumes.
Lacek said the event in her state selects about 30 professional actors from nationwide auditions and hires another 70 local people who train over a four-month period.
Lacek said it would be difficult to do that on a daily basis.
"There's so much energy, you can't do it five days a week," Lacek said. "The energy you expend in a day's time would slay you."
Orvis Melvin, director of sales and marketing for the Scarborough Faire Renaissance Festival in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, said their festival operates for eight weekends in the spring. The event is held at a permanent site.
"You have quite a range of people who go to Renaissance Festivals, but basically, the core group is middle class to upper-middle class," Melvin said. "They're less likely to stay in a four-star Marriott."
That could change, however, he said, "if you take the quality of what you're doing up a couple notches."
Melvin and Lacek said festivals in their communities turn a profit, but would not discuss how much is earned.
Daily adult admission for the festivals ranges from $15 to $24.95.
Matt Osborne, a former Florence resident and past Renaissance Faire Roundtable member, said he likes the idea.
"I would say that it would bring in people, certainly from the region, but it would also bring in people from outside the region," he said. "You put a guy in armor, put him on a horse and have him charge with a lance, everybody wants to come out and see that."
Warren said a Renaissance village would likely operate year-round like Colonial Williamsburg.
He said the village would generate jobs, from construction at the front end to actors, vendors and maintenance crews.
Warren said the Renaissance Faire Roundtable has not put together the costs of creating a village.
Florence's two-day Renaissance Faire attracts about 30,000 people each October, Warren said.
Wilson said about 40 hotel rooms are attributed to the event, some of which are rented by vendors.
Warren agrees with Wilson that a Renaissance village is not the sole answer to attracting more people to the Shoals.
"But I do believe it would be a huge piece of the puzzle," he said.
Russ Corey can be reached at 740-5738 or email@example.com.
TimesDaily, Oct. 14, 2005
The Fairest of them all -Renaissance Faire mixture of old favorites, new characters
By Cathy Wood Myers, Feature Writer
Queen Salena Letsinger and her consort, Sir Thomas (Tommy Letsinger) will reign until this year's coronation at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23. Their successors will be chosen during this weekend's Renaissance Feast. MATT McKEAN/File
Hear ye! Hear ye! - Lords and ladies, boys and girls -- it's time for the annual Alabama Renaissance Faire!
Grab your turkey leg, sharpen your chess skills and remember to watch out for dragons.
Every year during the fourth weekend in October, the city of Florence becomes a fantasy medieval world. Kings and queens rule, fairies scatter magic dust over unsuspecting visitors, trolls challenge the unwary traveler and a sword fight might break out at any moment.
But it's all in the name of education and fun, said Billy Ray Warren, curriculum director for Florence schools and a longtime organizer of the faire.
In fact, the faire culminates a month of Renaissance activities, including sonnet and art contests, a chess tournament, historical lectures, costume-making workshops and the annual Renaissance feast, where a new ruler is chosen and participants dine on authentic Renaissance food.
"The faire is basically a re-enactment," said Warren. "This is a family event, a community event, and education is our No. 1 goal. We want visitors to have a sense of stepping back into a period of history and to learn some things. That way, our educational goal is met. And, of course, we also want people to have a good time."
With Wilson Park in Florence filled with the sights, sounds and smells of medieval days, learning and having fun will be easy.
Vendors will sell everything from beautifully intricate Renaissance costumes to handmade pottery, jewelry, baskets and soaps. Entertainment will include medieval and renaissance music. And everybody's favorite festival food -- from turkey legs to funnel cakes -- will be on hand.
But there's nothing like simply sitting and watching as royalty, monks, priests, wizards, knights and damsels wander through the park.
This year's faire -- the 19th since it began in 1987 -- features many of the favorite characters who have been delighting faire-goers for years and some new faces as well, Warren said.
One of the most popular characters at the faire, Russell Carrier, of Tullahoma, Tenn., who plays the troll, will return. "It takes him three hours to put on his makeup," Warren said. "He takes it off at night and puts it back on Sunday morning. It wouldn't be the faire without him."
Crowd-pleasing The Menagerie will also return. This husband-and-wife musical duo Jon and Lisa Butts, of Cincinnati, play the hammered dulcimer and mandolin and sing. "We couldn't do the faire if they weren't there," Warren said.
Local entertainers include the Shoals Chamber Singers -- "They always add a touch of elegance to the faire," Warren said -- as well as the Poza Dance Group from the University of North Alabama -- "They made such a hit last year and are just spectacular," he added. Eastern dance groups from the Shoals area also will perform.
Laurie Grigorieff, of Nashville, Tenn., a hurdy-gurdy player, will be at the faire. "She's like an old-time organ-grinder and accompanies herself with singing," Warren said. "She hasn't been with us for several years and we're so excited to have her that we don't know what to do."
Walter Butler's Dragoons, of Hot Springs, Ark., will continue with their must-see fencing demonstrations.
Faire Wynds Players, of Hilliard, Ohio, is a four-member family that amazes audiences with a juggling and fire-eating act.
The O'Bryans, of Ypsilanti, Mich., perform as living statues. "They came last year for the first time," Warren said. "This year, they'll be in different personas. Their performances are so incredible, they're almost haunting."
Sailing Around the World -- where children "sail" wooden boats around the fountain at Wilson Park -- is also returning. "This year, we are honoring the memory of Norman LaRoy, who made the boats when he and his wife, Eleanor, lived in the Shoals several years ago," Warren said. "Norm moved back to Seattle when his health got bad and he died recently. He was a gentle, gentle man who loved this area and loved the faire. The boats are always so popular with children, and they're very low-tech. There are no buzzers, lights or whistles on them, yet the children always beg to do them."
New entertainment at the faire includes Matthew Wilson, of North Carolina, who performs 15 different characters as The Great One-Man Commedia Epic, and Random Acts Theater, which performs scenes from various Shakespeare plays.
Wilson is this year's Renaissance Faire artist-in-residence, working with the Florence High School drama department.
Also new this year: Various Florence churches are working together to create re-enactments of two significant religious events: The Last Supper and Martin Luther's nailing his 95 Theses to a church door in 1517.
Visitors to the faire can also buy Renaissance Faire T-shirts and the coin of the realm.
"We started a series of six coins based on the Arthurian legend, with a new one done each year," Warren said.
"This year is Lancelot, and it's the most spectacular of all. Rick Freeman is the designer and he did a grand job."
This year, Warren expects the usual more-than-35,000 to attend the faire, especially since the Southeast Tourism Society named it one of the top 20 events for October-December.
"We've had that a few times in the past and it's quite an honor," Warren said.
The faire is the success it is because of the countless volunteers behind the scenes, he added.
"There are 48 people on the Renaissance Roundtable, the community-based group that plans and organizes the faire," Warren said. "The group is open to anyone, and the members have it down to a fine art.
"They meet the third Thursday, January through August, then twice in September and every week in October. Then they take November and December off and come back in January. Plus, of course, the real work is done between meetings."
Cathy Wood Myers can be reached at 740-5733 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TimesDaily, Oct. 25, 2004
A faire to remember - Renaissance Faire closes with annual coronation
By Bernie Delinski, Staff Writer
A ram's horn is blown after the coronation at the Renaissance Faire on Sunday at Wilson Park in Florence. MATT McKEAN/TimesDaily
Mere minutes into her reign as queen of the Renaissance Faire on Sunday afternoon, Salana Letsinger already had to endure an assassination attempt. -If that wasn't odd enough, the sword-wielding would-be assassin was the former king, who had just relinquished his throne to Letsinger.
But the former king, Orrin Stormreaver, was stopped by the queen's subjects, and Letsinger issued her first order from the throne: "To the stockades with him," she said.
The act was played out to perfection during the annual coronation ceremony at the faire.
Every year, a new king or queen is crowned on the last day of the weekend festival. That goes along with a story line that a spell was cast on the faire years ago. The spell causes the king or queen to lose their crown each year.
Letsinger's royal name is Queen Salana of Florenze. She plans to emphasis the arts during her reign.
"My emphasis will be music, art and drama, with an emphasis on the Christian church," the new queen said. "Hopefully, the kingdom will be filled with peace and tranquility.
"I hope to reign with lots of children's laughter."
She introduced her court, which includes her husband, Prince Consort Tommy Letsinger, as well as Prince Michael, Princess Brittany and Prince Spencer.
The drama that played out Sunday had Stormreaver, portrayed by University of North Alabama student Steven McCrary, give up his crown because he had become demented, because of the curse.
But Stormreaver did not do so willingly and later came after the queen with a sword.
The faire included all types of sights and sounds. In one corner of Wilson Park, belly dancers delighted a crowd.
At another part of the park, an enchanted statue greeted children. Nearby, a magician ate fire. Children used sticks to guide boats around the fountain in the center of the park. Fortune tellers sat under a tent and read from Tarot cards and gazed into a crystal ball.
Billy Ray Warren, one of the organizers of the annual event, was pleased with the large turnout Saturday and Sunday.
"I've concluded that people love this faire," Warren said Sunday. "People didn't let the rain get in the way Saturday. We had a bumper-to-bumper crowd Saturday, and we do again today."
Bernie Delinski can be reached at 740-5739 or bernie.delinski@-timesdaily.com.
TimesDaily, Oct. 24, 2004
Making merriment - Lords and ladies, artisans and fairies among revelers at Renaissance Faire
By Michelle Rupe Eubanks, Staff Writer
Misty Bogue takes a ride in the "cart of shame" after she kidnapped the queen and stole the throne during the Alabama Renaissance Faire at Wilson Park in downtown Florence on Saturday afternoon. DANIEL GILES/TimesDaily
Here, a knight, his dagger clasped to his leather belt, lifts his wooden cup for a refreshing drink. - There, a warrior, dressed all in black, lifts a handcrafted sword from a table laden with weapons in his search for the perfect one.
A pair of fairies, one in vivid pink and the other in bright green, dance among the booths set up in the marketplace.
It's the annual Alabama Renaissance Faire, and Wilson Park, also known as Fountain-on-the-Green during the event, could be a picture right out of a Medieval history book.
In its 18th year, the festival has grown and evolved, said Billy Ray Warren, faire chairman.
"We like the compactness of the park, and we like to think it won't outgrow it, but eventually it will," he said. "We like the idea of an urban faire."
Within one city block, an amalgam of colors and sounds, people and animals come together for the event that some fairegoers said they wished happened more than once a year.
Ashley Brackin and her friend, Allison Smith, made plans to spend the entire weekend at the festival, soaking in the atmosphere and taking in all the sights.
"I like the environment," Brackin said. "It would be boring if you weren't dressed up. It's more fun this way."
Her black gown was dyed especially for the faire, and she helped Smith prepare hers as well.
Neither is new to the faire. Smith, in fact, discovered the event through a high school English assignment.
"It was a requirement that we come, and half of the grade was that we dress up," she said. "It turned out to be a lot of fun, and I've been coming ever since."
That's music to Warren's ears. As the curriculum director for the city school system, Warren sees the educational value in the Renaissance Faire in most disciplines -- from math to science to art and literature.
"We wanted the faire to take place during the school year and have it tie in with all areas of the curriculum," he said. "We believe what we've done has had a direct impact on the classroom."
There are lots of opportunities to learn at the festival. Fire eaters practice their crafts, and artisans sell their wares.
Many vendors dress in costume and address patrons as lords or ladies.
The code of chivalry, a dominant characteristic of the Medieval era, is one that appeals to Lindsay Crews, of Trussville.
"The part I like best about it is the honor and chivalry. I love being treated like a lady," she said. "It just shows that chivalry is not dead today."
The 18-year-old spent much of Saturday beneath a tent creating a helmet of chain mail.
It's slow work, a process that will take Crews almost 20 hours to complete, but it's a task she enjoys.
"It's actually 16-gauge electrical fence wire," she said, holding up a coil of what would become small hoops she'd then weave together. "My uncle buys it and winds it around a pipe, and I cut the pieces. It's all handmade."
Across the park, Ed Goad, from Huntsville, was busy at work whittling walking staffs. He said he finds the wood on treks through forested areas near his home, bringing it back and storing it to dry for up to two years in his barn.
"If you look at it like that, it takes awhile to make one," he said. In actuality, Goad has about 100 staffs in the works at any given time.
"People think I carve them, but nature does all of that," he said. "My job is to enhance the wood's natural beauty."
Goad added that "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy served as his inspiration. Many of the pieces he makes are enhanced with crystals or other stones.
"I've learned how to do different things since I started doing this about four years ago," he said. "The beads are Vaseline marbles that glow under black light."
The Renaissance Faire is often the venue for artists hoping to sell their wares to an eager audience. Sophia Harts, from Florence, is certain the festival-goers will like her handiwork.
Harts makes belts and chokers from soda can tabs and lengths of ribbon. Each belt takes three hours to make, she said, and her tent was full of her items in different sizes.
"This is my first show," she said. "And I'm hoping to do well."
Harts said the heavy gray clouds that hung overhead may have kept some of her business away, but she maintained a positive outlook nonetheless.
"Next year, I hope to have ankle bracelets and bracelets, and I'm working on the earrings."
Michelle Rupe Eubanks can be reached at 740-5745 or email@example.com.
TimesDaily, Oct. 22, 2004
Faire occasion - Renaissance grows into 18th year
By Terry Pace, Entertainment Editor
Dark Faries Victoria Mines (left), of Tullahoma, Tenn, and Alissa McCain, of Lynchburg, Tenn., take a break on a bench during the Rennaisance Faire. DANIEL GILES/File
Billy Warren has spent the past 18 years watching minds open, imaginations broaden and creativity flourish at the Alabama Renaissance Faire.
"We have kids who are now in their teenage years or beyond who say, 'The first time I came to the faire, I was in fourth grade,' " says Warren, chairman of the Renaissance Roundtable, a volunteer group that plans and presents the annual Renaissance festivities.
"They started coming to the faire when they were kids," Warren added, "and now they come every year."
Knights, damsels, jesters, wizards, jugglers, acrobats, swordsmen, minstrels, monks, trolls, fairies and other familiar figures from medieval fact and fantasy are expected to descend on the Fountain-on-the-Green -- the scenic city grounds traditionally called Wilson Park -- for this year's free public faire.
"It really has been amazing," Warren observed. "If you look at studies that have been done on the growth of festivals, the literature tells you it takes six years for one to reach maturity.
"We didn't know that at the time," he continued, "but once we looked back and read that and reflected, we realized that our faire was a perfect textbook example. That's when this faire made the transition -- the six-year mark was when our attendance began to skyrocket."
Appeal to all ages
In recent years, the downtown park -- which is transformed one weekend each year into a thriving, colorful medieval village -- has been filled to capacity with crowds of all ages, interests and backgrounds. Attendance typically tops 40,000 over the full faire weekend.
"I can't say it's just kids, and I can't say it's just twentysomethings -- it really does have an appeal to all ages," Warren noted. "And they come for different reasons. Some of the older people come for the crafts or the entertainers, and the kids come because they want to climb a wall or bounce inside a castle. A lot of people are just fascinated with the period."
The state's official Renaissance faire takes place in Florence because of the city's cultural connections to Florence, Italy, its symbolic sister city.
In the late 15th century, the city by the Arno River served as the center for a revival of interest in classical antiquity and the artistic, literary and philosophic works of ancient Greek and Roman cultures. The word "Renaissance" comes from the Latin word "rinascere," meaning "the act of being reborn."
In the tradition of "rebirth," the reign of the Alabama Renaissance Faire "monarch" changes each year. A new king or queen is chosen each year at the Renaissance Feast, a lavish medieval banquet that takes place a week before the faire.
"This is one of the best things Florence does," says Steven McCrary, a 20-year-old University of North Alabama student who rules as King Orrin Stormweaver through Sunday, when a new ruler will be crowned in the park at 3 p.m. "Each year they have to come up with a way to get the king or queen off the throne."
Level of devotion
During the Alabama faire, artists, craftsmen, entertainers and food concessions all reflect customs and traditions associated with the medieval and Renaissance eras. From reproductions of period clothing and weapons to revivals of music and dance dating back five centuries or more, the local faire mixes family fun with a sense of historical fidelity.
"We are told by people who go to some of the larger commercial faires that, on a percentage basis, more people attend our faire in costume than any other faire they go to," Warren explained. "They bring back photos from the larger faires, and most of the people we see attend in street clothes -- but they don't do that here."
Warren attributes that level of audience devotion to the fact that the faire works closely with local school systems, incorporating Renaissance studies and activities into the curriculum.
The Roundtable also sponsors annual art and sonnet-writing contests that draw hundreds of quality entries.
"Teachers have done an outstanding job all over the area," Warren insists. "The work they do is responsible for the way the faire has grown over the years and the quality that has been maintained. That's gratifying, because it means we've done what we hoped to do."
Part of the action
Annual costume-making workshops offer the public a chance to have Renaissance attire made on the spot -- and free of charge. Instead of standing at a distance as mere spectators, Florence's fairegoers become active participants in the lively and colorful occasion.
"That gives them the feeling, 'Hey, this is something I can do and be a part of' -- and it's always fun to dress up and pretend to be somebody else," Warren maintains. "Some people have their costumes tailor-made, or they buy professionally made costumes outright. But even simply made costumes can be very effective."
Organizers expect capacity crowds again this year, raising the issue of how -- and where -- the faire will continue to grow.
"In our dream of dreams, we visualize a working medieval village as a huge tourism draw for the Shoals area, using the Williamsburg, Virginia, model," Warren remarked. "Last year I looked around the park and thought, 'I believe we can get two more people in that corner.' That was it. At some point, it has to make another move."
Terry Pace can be reached at 740-5741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WANT TO GO?
What: 2004 Alabama Renaissance Faire
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Fountain-on-the-Green, Wilson Park, downtown Florence
Saturday events: 12:30 p.m., Opening Ceremonies (Royal Pavilion); 1 p.m., Live Chess Match (On the Knoll); 1:30 p.m., Walter Butler's Dragoons (Seminary Street), Faire Wynds (North Windsor); 2 p.m., Tara Rodi Dancers (South Devon), Beledi Club (North Windsor); 2:30 p.m., Poza Dance Group (South Devon), Opera South (North Windsor); 3 p.m., Butler's Dragoons (Seminary Street), Julie Black (South Devon); 3:30 p.m., Live Chess (On the Knoll), Poza (South Devon); 4 p.m., Beledi Club (South Devon), Faire Wynds (North Windsor); 4:30 p.m., Black (South Devon)
Sunday events: 1 p.m., Live Chess Match (On the Knoll), UNA Chamber Choir (South Devon); 1:30 p.m., Black (South Devon), Faire Wynds (North Windsor); 2 p.m., Butler's Dragoons (Seminary Street); 2:30 p.m., Beledi Club (South Devon), Faire Wynds (North Windsor); 3 p.m., Coronation Ceremony (Royal Pavilion); 3:30 p.m., Black (South Devon), Beledi Club (North Windsor); 4 p.m., Live Chess (On the Knoll); 4:30 p.m., Butler's Dragoons (Seminary Street)
Details: 768-3000 or 760-6379
TimesDaily, Oct. 18, 2004
Students earn titles at faire
By Bernie Delinski
Sure, Steven McCrary may look like your average, mild-mannered college student.
But the University of North Alabama student is much more: He is royalty.
For the past year, McCrary has experienced life as King Orrin Stormreaver -- king of the Renaissance Faire.
But, alas, McCrary's reign is headed toward an end. His crown will be relinquished Sunday, on the last day of the weekend event.
And, in keeping with the tradition of the annual faire, something weird will occur to force him to lose his crown.
We're not sure what will happen, but I do recall last year, when McCrary was crowned, he momentarily was overcome by the spirit of the ancient evil King Vordryd.
McCrary told me this week that his role is that of an illegitimate son of a descendant of an ancient king, who was so evil that a priest cast a spell on him.
"Because of the spell, the crown changes every year," McCrary said. "So, I incorporated it into my plot line.
"I wanted to be a good king, but also wanted to play a bad king and order random deaths and stuff like that."
And hey, let's face it, it's just not a quality Renaissance Faire without some good, old-fashioned random deaths.
McCrary isn't giving away too many surprises about what he has planned during the faire. But he did say the evil king's spirit will try to take over him, so he can use his position as a ruler to take over the land again.
"Considering the fact that I want to be in office some day, I don't think it's too far fetched," he jokes.
McCrary hopes word gets out about the evil king taking over him, so that visitors to the faire will understand what's happening when festival participants start playing out the plot lines.
"We're trying to get the public to know what we're doing this year, so they won't just think it's random," he said.
One of McCrary's biggest decisions as king has been finding a queen.
"I never wanted it to be a point of stress, and at times, it has been through the year," he said. "I dated a couple of girls through the year, and each was like, 'I should be queen, because I'm your girlfriend.' "
But McCrary wanted someone who really was into the faire and Renaissance era. He found her in Sara Swearingen, a nursing student at UNA.
"Sara's really into this period, and I thought she'd enjoy it," he said.
McCrary is excited about the upcoming weekend but has mixed feelings because his year as king will come to a conclusion.
But in the meantime, UNA can boast that the home of the Lions -- king of the jungle -- has an additional form of royalty: king and queen of the Renaissance Faire.
Staff Writer Bernie Delinski writes On Campus, which appears Mondays in the TimesDaily. He can be reached at 740-5739 or bernie.delinski@-timesdaily.com.
TimesDaily, Oct. 27, 2003
Long live King Orrin - Despite evil curse, 17th Renaissance Faire ends with parade of well-wishers in park
By Bernie Delinski
Orrin Stormreaver (Steve McCrary) kneels as he waits to be crowned the new king of the Alabama Renaissance Faire by Brother Dennis Decoey (Lee Freeman) at the end of the 17th annual event Sunday. ALISSA BROWN/TimesDaily.
The Renaissance Faire's queen went to live with the elves, paving the way for Sunday's coronation of Orrin Stormreaver as the new king. The queen announced Sunday she discovered she actually is an elf, and left the faire, explaining that she was headed to elf land to live among her own. That left the throne open, and 19-year-old University of North Alabama student Steven McCrary was crowned, taking the name King Orrin Stormreaver.
Every year, the crown at the faire changes hands, traditionally after the outgoing king or queen comes up with a story line about why they can't continue to reign.
Stormreaver's coronation did not go smoothly, as the spirit of the ancient evil King Vordryd momentarily overtook the new king. But he was able to regain composure after a few moments.
After the ceremony, McCrary explained Vordryd was so evil, the priests placed a curse on him and the household. That is why something happens every year to force a turnover of the crown, he said.
"Now, we'll have to invent how I'll get off the throne next year," he said.
McCrary is a big fan of the Renaissance Faire. "This is one of the best things Florence does," he said.
The two-day faire ended Sunday afternoon, shortly after McCrary was crowned and led a parade of well wishers throughout Wilson Park.
Billy Ray Warren, one of the event's organizers, said a king or queen is selected during the final dessert of a feast that takes place earlier in the month.
A coin is in one of the desserts, and whoever chooses that dessert receives the crown for the year.
"Steven will be a very good king for us," Warren said.
A good crowd braved cool, drizzly weather Sunday, after a large Saturday crowd enjoyed a sunny day.
"Saturday's crowd was over and beyond any number we've ever had," Warren said.
This year, organizers created three places for activities, such as fencing, music, belly dancing and live chess.
The events occurred at the same time, giving the crowd plenty of selection, Warren said.
This was the 17th faire, which ties in every year with the curriculum at Florence City Schools, Warren said.
"It really is great fun, and it's historical," he said.
TimesDaily, Oct. 24, 2003
Feast for the eyes - Renaissance Faire draws costumed merrymakers
By Todd Twilley
Dressed as an ogre, Darrell Jones, of Altoona, watches the crowd Saturday during the Renaissance Faire. DANIEL GILES/TimesDaily.
FLORENCE - Sword bearers met in the middle of a chessboard. A troll asked a kid if he would like to pet his dog. The "dog," however, was the skull on the end of his staff.
Midriffs ran rampant as belly dancers took two stages.
It was all part of the transformation Saturday of Wilson Park into the "Fountain-on-the-Green."
Mollie Aldridge and her son, Hunter, have attended the annual faire for the past eight years.
"We like to see the costumes," she said.
"And buy knives," Hunter added.
The faire celebrates the city's link with Florence, Italy, the birthplace of the historical Renaissance. Now in its 17th year, the Renaissance Faire has grown to be one of the largest and most anticipated events in the Shoals.
Barefooted Scot Grover, carrying a double-headed axe and dressed as a Scotsman, said he has attended the faire all three years he has lived in Florence.
The Renaissance Faire continues today noon-5 p.m.
Numerous vendors are on site selling medieval costumes and accessories, including arms and armor.
Whether combat demonstrations are your cup of tea, with the Society of Creative Anachronisms, or musical performances, a variety of entertainment is available.
Grover said this year was the first time he had dressed in period attire for the event.
"It adds something to it," he said. "People and especially kids pointing and wanting a picture. It's nice."
Grover said the faire seemed to have fewer vendors this year than last, but that more people attended.
Grover also performed with the Segue drama troupe for the first time Saturday. Additional performances of Shakespeare scenes will occur today.
"It was a little stressful, but fun," he said.
TimesDaily, Oct. 24, 2003
Time traveling - This weekend, a walk in the park is a walk into the past
By Terry Pace
FLORENCE -- From strolling minstrels and wandering wizards to commanding actors and breathtaking dancers, the Alabama Renaissance Faire revives courtly diversions and commonplace delights from centuries gone by.
The annual free fall gathering - which celebrates the city's link with Florence, Italy, birthplace of the historical Renaissance - observes its 17th year this weekend in the scenic surroundings of Wilson Park.
For two days, the downtown park will be transformed into the magical "Fountain-on-the-Green," a medieval marketplace populated by costumed revelers as well as artists, crafters, performers and other participants donned in colorful period attire.
"We look for diversity in our entertainment," explained Billy Warren, chairman of the Renaissance Roundtable. "We don't want to have all music groups or all drama groups."
This year's faire - which begins at 10 a.m. Saturday and continues through 6 p.m. Sunday - brings together local entertainers and performance groups as well as traveling troupes from outside the area.
"This year we've added a big encampment of the Society for Creative Anachronisms," Warren added. "That's a very interactive group, where they get anybody at the faire involved in hand-to-hand combat and all kinds of hands-on activities."
Perennial attractions include a dramatic live chess match, the Beledi Club of Middle Eastern dancers, period music by With One Voice and the Shoals Chamber Singers, numbers performed by dancers by students from Tara Rodi School of the Dance and exhibitions by medieval-style wrestlers.
The Segue drama troupe rounds out the lineup of local entertainers with performances of classical selections from the works of William Shakespeare - from the romantic comedies "The Taming of the Shrew" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" to the dark, ghostly Scottish tragedy "Macbeth."
"We always try to give fairgoers some idea of what they would have run across if they had actually attended a medieval faire," noted Kyle Weir, president of Segue, which has produced a number of full-length Shakespearean productions over its nine-year history.
"The short pieces we'll be doing are typical of the pieces that would have been performed in the setting of an authentic medieval faire," added Weir, whose actors will perform at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday on the North Windsor stage. "At that time, they might very well have been done by Bill and his crew."
This year's faire also welcomes another interactive group, the Arkansas-based Col. Walter Butler's Dragoons. The touring company will be the first performers featured at the park's North Windsor stage at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
"They re-enact a medieval battle from the late 1500s," Warren continued. "That should be exciting for everybody, particularly the young people."
Other groups tend to use the faire activities to add a Renaissance element to their repertoire. Students at Tara Rodi School of the Dance, for instance, typically perform a combination of tap, jazz, ballet, lyrical and acrobatic numbers. This year's faire will feature up to 50 dancers ranging in age from 3 to 16.
"We've been working on things for a couple of months now," explained Rodi, the school's director and founder. "We'll be taking some other routines, but we always try to keep some of the dances within a Renaissance theme."
In addition to the scheduled performers, a number of individual participants - including longtime faire favorites Torok the Troll and Queen Bee - don distinctive costumes and intermingle with the crowds.
"We love having entertainment that's interactive with the audience," Warren remarked.
"The more interaction we have, the more spontaneity and the more diversity we have, the better we like it."
TimesDaily, Oct. 23, 2003
Let's shop - Faire vendors have something for everyone
By Cathy Wood Myers
Vendors and entertainers of all sorts will set up around the Fountain-on-the-Green (Florence's Wilson Park) during this weekend's Alabama RenaissanceFaire. Among the items for sale are fleur-de-lis pins (inset) from Florence, Italy. The pins will be sold at Aubrey Gaskins' food booth and the faire's official information booth. DANIEL GILES/File.
Looking for the unusual, the whimsical, the one-of-a-kind? Look no further than Fountain-on-the-Green, known the other 363 days of the year as Florence's Wilson Park.
That's where shoppers and browsers alike will find a marketplace like no other Saturday and Sunday during the 17th annual Alabama Renaissance Faire.
"We try to recreate the spirit of a Renaissance-era market square," said Theresa Kanka, director of park layout for the faire. "We have something for everybody and wonderful, unique things from all over the world."
Around 75 vendors, many of whom have come for several years, will be there.
"We pick vendors who have merchandise that could have been worn or sold or used at that time. Naturally, not all of it is purist, but we do the best we can," she said.
"When they had a faire in Renaissance times, it was in the town square around the fountain, and all the people would gather with their wares," she added. "That's what we want to recreate."
Avid fairegoer Ashley Davis, a senior at Muscle Shoals High School, said she looks forward to faire time all year.
"It's fun to see the people all dressed up, and I like to look at the booths selling jewelry and those beautiful Renaissance costumes. It's just like stepping back in time," she said.
Jewelry, costumes, toys, figurines and furniture are just some of the things fairegoers will find this year.
Some of the vendors selling handmade items will even demonstrate their craft.
"This is the perfect time to start your Christmas shopping," Kanka said. "For instance, we have one vendor selling etched glass. His work is beautiful. He has coffee mugs with dragonflies or cats, perfect to give a teacher or a friend, when you don't need a big gift."
* Krishna Dade of Magical Fashions from Dracula, Ga., specializes in beaded scarves. "Everyone can use a special scarf draped over a coat or dress, especially a hard-to-buy-for person," Kanka said. "These scarves will inspire you to use your imagination."
* A first-time vendor is selling Renaissance-style furniture, including a small table and chairs.
* Ed Goad of Brownsboro makes and sells carved wooden walking staffs.
* At the "A Sense of Wonder" booth, you can find a hair ornament patterned on an ancient design that's based on the mathematical formula for pi. "That's a great stocking stuffer for a teenage friend," Kanka said.
* Faire favorites Fred Harris and Deborah Weinischke of North Carolina will be next to the fountain as usual, in full costume with their wooden carts, selling ocarinas and essential oils.
* Mary Bailey of Timeless Fabrics from Hershey, Pa., sells fabric, notions, buttons and patterns to create your own Renaissance clothing.
* And don't forget Shoals crafters, such as John Magazzu, stained glass; Pat Meares, who sells hand-crafted toiletries under Amira's Creations; Myra Soroczak, glass Christmas-tree ornaments; and Diana Tidwell, who sells capes, costumes and headdresses at Anne Boleyn's Head Shoppe. Other local vendors include Jack Powell of Florence, who sells roasted peanuts; Stan Clement of Muscle Shoals, who has a climbing wall; crafter Ed Gray and Iron's Honey Farm.
And as eager as shoppers are for the faire to begin, the vendors say they can't wait, either.
"I've been coming to Florence for at least five years, and it's always a lot of fun," said Judy Moore of Lena, Miss., owner of J's Jewelry and Novelties.
She also goes to American Indian pow-wows, motorcycle rallies and fairs such as the North Alabama State Fair - but Renaissance faires are her favorite.
"Some are fun and some are just work, but the Alabama Renaissance Faire always has a great atmosphere. The people who come are wonderful and the other vendors are so nice," she said. "I see people who I know come back year after year. That's why I always look forward to it."
Moore will sell all kinds of jewelry, beginning with items selling for $3 up to one-of-a-kind handmade crystal and stone creations. She also sells pewter collectibles, dream catchers, tinsel crowns and halos with ribbons.
Penn Lester of Sugar Valley, Ga., is another crafter looking forward to his visit to Florence. He's been a faire vendor several times and enjoys coming to town early to enjoy some free time in the Shoals, he said.
"Everybody is so welcoming and friendly and glad that we're there," he added. "That's different from a lot of events I do. I like the size of the faire and the fact that it hasn't gotten huge but is still bustling and busy."
Lester sells wooden toy swords, shields, crossbows, axes and daggers in different sizes for different ages. As his customers grow, they can trade up to a bigger size and pay only the difference between the two.
It's that kind of personal attention that makes the Alabama Renaissance Faire such a crowd-pleaser, Kanka said.
"We try to transform Wilson Park into a time machine for the faire. The food - turkey legs, curly fries, fried onions and funnel cakes - isn't authentic, but would you really want it to be?" she said, laughing. "For one weekend, forget about your diet and fat intake and just enjoy yourself."
Flor-Ala, Oct. 31, 2002
New king takes throne at Renaissance Faire
By Anna Pickens
The 16th Annual Renaissance Faire took place last weekend at Wilson Park in downtown Florence. The Round Table, headed by Billy Warren, prepares year-round for and helps coordinate the yearly festivities.
Every year, the weekend before the faire, a feast is held. For the past two years, authentic medieval food has been catered for that event.
At the feast, the positions for the following year's king and queen are offered. Those who are deemed worthy of the positions are given cakes, one containing a small king and another containing a queen.
The lucky recipients of the cakes containing royal figures are then chosen as representatives for king and queen. The rulers must be at least 18 years of age and be very involved in the preparations of the faire and the educating of the public about the events.
The king for this year was Randy Pettus. The role of his character has a slightly tragic twist. This year's faire was centered around finding out who the culprits were who had poisoned the king.
Many unusual sights greet the visitor's eye at the faire. Swordsmen, a human chess game, belly dancers, and the king's court are just a few. Arthur's Field is the children's activity center with arts and crafts as well as an inflatable castle. Stained glass, embroidery, jewelry, pottery, and medieval attire are available for sell, as well as leather accessories, incense, and local art. Henna art and face painting are also offered.
The Florence Renaissance Faire is non-profit and strictly volunteer based. This helps to ensure there is no admission fee. This non-profit faire is one of the last remaining in the nation that does not charge for admission. Educational values are stressed while preparing the faire. It is hoped that those people attending the Renaissance Faire are able to learn something at the same time as have fun. The faire truly offers something for everyone. Some onlookers come dressed in medieval guise, and others wear common clothes, but all are sure to enjoy the experience.
TimesDaily, Oct. 25, 2002
A faire with flair At heart, event is 'just plain fun'
By Terry Pace
Spencer Laws (left) of Decatur learns the fine art of swordfighting with his cousin, Peyton Hopkins of Athens, Ga., during Alabama Renaissance Faire festivities at Florence's Fountain-on-the-Green. Photograph by DANIEL GILES.
Billy Warren has watched Florence's annual Renaissance celebration evolve from a lofty local vision into a glorious statewide tradition.
"This is literally an event for people of all ages," Warren believes. "It's a family affair, and of course it links our town to Florence, Italy -- the birthplace of the historical Renaissance.
"But most of all," the Florence educator adds, "it's just plain fun."
The 16th annual Alabama Renaissance Faire takes place during the daylight hours Saturday and Sunday at Wilson Park. For two merry, eye-filling days, the tranquil downtown plaza will be transformed into a bustling medieval marketplace known as the mystical Fountain-on-the-Green.
"It's the perfect setting for us," explained Jayne Jackson, vice president of the local community-theater company, Segue. "We'll be doing selected scenes from Shakespeare's plays – and the faire provides the ideal period setting. We're providing the costumes, the actors and Shakespeare."
For the two days of the faire, the public park will be packed with arts, crafts, music, drama, dance and culinary delicacies reflecting the Renaissance style. The featured performers, artisans and crafters – along with the majority of the audience – attend the faire in their finest authentic Renaissance attire.
"Many of our traditional favorites will be back with us," Warren noted. "We have arts-and-crafts vendors from as far away as Ithaca, New York, Kissimmee, Florida, and Onalaska, Texas. We only have room for 100 arts, crafts and food vendors – that's our limit. We have to turn people away every year."
Throughout the weekend, main-stage entertainment will be provided by the musical duo Menagerie, the theatrical troupe Skin and Bones, a team of medieval wrestlers, the Beledi Club Dancers, the University of North Alabama Chamber Choir, vocalist Owain Phyfe, the Shoals Chamber Singers, With One Voice and drama students from Coffee High School.
"We're doing the one-act play 'Gammer Gurton's Needle,' which is a comedy that dates back to the Renaissance era," noted Elise Gilchrist, Coffee's drama director. "Through doing this, we've come to the conclusion that things that were funny in the 1500s are still funny today. It's a show that's fun for all ages."
Other theatrical features of the weekend include a thrilling, dramatic live chess game – an event that's back by popular demand – and the momentous coronation of the next ruler of the Renaissance Faire. The monarch is selected during the Renaissance Feast, a lavish medieval banquet that takes place a week before each faire.
"At both the feast and the faire, a high percentage of our audience attends in costume," Warren remarked. "That's certainly not required, but it is encouraged -- and it does add to the flavor of the event."
Wandering through the park, it's not uncommon to encounter wandering minstrels, chivalrous knights, lovely damsels, pious monks and -- on a far more fantastical note – dazzling wizards, spellbinding witches, devilish demons and mischievous sprites, fairies, ogres and trolls.
"Almost anyone likes to have at least a momentary escape from everyday life," Warren maintains. "This is a chance to put on a costume and be somebody else for a few hours. I think that speaks to us as human beings."
The area's Renaissance faire began in 1987 as a celebration of Florence's cultural connection with its historic Italian sister city. The free, two-day faire marks the culmination of Renaissance Month, an annual observance of Renaissance-related themes and subjects by libraries, museums, theaters, music groups, art galleries and schools across the area.
"Our original intent was to have a festival during the school year, and to tie as many areas of the school curriculum into that festival as we possibly could," recalled Warren, who is the director of instruction for Florence City Schools. "The Renaissance fills both of those bills."
Gilchrist and other teachers across the Shoals tie Renaissance studies into English, history, art, drama, math, science and other disciplines. Art and sonnet contests, along with class projects and live performances presented at the faire, underscore the event's intrinsic educational value.
"It occurred me to do a one-act – a period piece for Renaissance Month -- that we could take to area schools and then present in the park during the faire," Gilchrist explained. "It's a good way to introduce students to the worlds of theater and literature from that era."
Coffee's production of "Gammer Gurton's Needle" will be presented in the park Saturday at 2 p.m. A final performance will be presented at 2 Sunday in the Coffee auditorium.
"We tend to think of people during this time as knights and lords and ladies," Gilchrist noted. "This gives us a chance to depict some average, everyday people who are very much like the people we are today. Plus it's a farce and very exaggerated – it's fun for all ages."
The Segue theater group will share booth space in the park with the musical troupe OperaSouth and University of North Alabama drama students, who are preparing a production of Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor." The Rainbow Dancers, a local bellydance troupe, will entertain throughout the weekend.
"It's a great way for performance groups to interact with the public," Jackson remarked. "Since people are constantly coming and going in the park, Segue will be performing its Shakespeare scenes at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturday, and then again at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sunday."
The Alabama Renaissance Faire is sponsored by Downtown Florence Unlimited and the Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts (where works by the Shoals Artists Guild will be displayed throughout the weekend). The festival is organized and coordinated by the Renaissance Roundtable, a group of more than 30 area volunteers.
"It's just a wonderful cross-section of this community – and it's intergenerational," concluded Warren, who chairs the Roundtable. "The only requirement is interest and a commitment to be involved. You don't have to have blue eyes or write with your left hand or have three children or four college degrees. If you're interested and are willing to participate, we say, 'You're on.' "
TimesDaily, Oct. 24, 2002
Attention, lords and ladies! Faire starts Saturday
It's a murder mystery, Renaissance Faire-style. During the annual Alabama Renaissance Faire in Florence this weekend, visitors will watch as the "investigation" into King Randall's "poisoning" unfolds and the "murderer" is found.
Every year – this is the 16th faire – costumed characters take on roles at the faire, adding a sense of Renaissance authenticity to the popular two-day festival.
As part of each year's Renaissance Month activities, a new monarch is chosen at the annual royal feast and crowned a week later in the closing hours of the faire. That monarch then reigns all year, until the next feast and faire.
This year's drama began when the current ruler, King Randall (Randy Pettus of Florence pictured above with Carol Lyles), complained of stomach pains and collapsed on the floor at the feast, which took place this past Saturday. Suspects abound.
Could it be Lady Arianna (Debbie Martin, Iron City, Tenn.), a medieval doctor and mixer of potions, who was seen whispering with various people at the feast?
Could it be Lord William of Lincolnshire (William Freeman, Florence), the town crier who was by the king's side during the feast?
Could it be the royal wine tester (University of North Alabama student Steve McCrary), who tasted the wine and declared it safe – just before the king drank it?
What about former monarch Duchess Donna of Firenze (Donna Miles, Florence), who is rumored to want her throne back?
And then there's the town idiot, Barbarossa Goliard (Randall Ugrovics, Leoma, Tenn.). Is he King Randall's only blood heir, as Queen Elinor of Aquitaine (Theresa Kanka, Florence) seems to think? And what, exactly, is the relationship between those two?
All will be revealed at the faire, organizers promise.
Here's a schedule of this weekend's events:
Friday through Nov. 22: "Works on Paper," an exhibit by artist William Long, art gallery, University of North Alabama, Florence. Free.
Saturday: "Brits at the Renaissance" car show, SunTrust parking lot, Court Street, Florence. Registration 8-10 a.m. Free.
Saturday and Sunday: Alabama Renaissance Faire, Fountain-on-the-Green (Wilson Park), Florence. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; noon-6 p.m. Sunday. Free.
TimesDaily, Oct 19, 2001
Playing faire--Event undergoes transformation
By Terry Pace
There’s a mysterious air of medieval alchemy brewing at the Alabama Renaissance Faire.
"It’s been transformed in the past two years - it’s stretching out in every way imaginable," according to Billy Warren, chairman of the Renaissance Roundtable that coordinates the state’s official celebration of the Renaissance era and its customs.
"In two years, several of the other faires in the region - bigger faires than ours - have all closed," Warren added. "So guess what? We are being inundated by calls and requests from people across the country who would like to be vendors or performers at our faire. They’re asking, ’Do you have vendor space?’ or ’How do I get to Florence? ’ It’s amazing."
Now in its 15th year, the Florence-based faire reconstructs the downtown center of Wilson Park into a crowded, bustling medieval town square, the Fountain-on-the-Green. The statewide faire takes place in Florence because of the city’s Italian namesake - the birthplace of the historical Renaissance.
For two consecutive days - in this year’s case, Saturday, Oct. 27, and Sunday, Oct. 28 -knights and damsels mingle with peasants, paupers, fire-eaters and sword-swallowers for a joyous, colorful, high-spirited revival of an ancient era and a bygone way of life.
"Last year we estimated that 33,000 people attended the faire over the two days," Warren noted. "Frankly, it outgrew the park a long time ago, but we just haven’t worried about it. We’ve looked at the possibility of moving it to Deibert Park or McFarland. But we still like the idea of an urban faire, so we’re hanging on to the downtown site as long as we possibly can."
The fall faire always takes place in the Shoals the fourth weekend of October, taking advantage of mild temperatures and the park’s lush fall foliage. Unlike most family festivals in the Shoals, the faire takes place during the school year and offers a wide range of opportunities for teachers to integrate living history into their classes.
"Education has been part of our mission from the beginning, and schools throughout our area always participate," Warren explained. "Now we even have school groups coming in from Huntsville and from Birmingham. That’s another change we’ve noted. Teachers from outside this area are using the faire as an educational tool for their students."
Crowds of Florence fairegoers also tend to include a broader range of adults year after year. Mostly dressed in elaborate, handmade period attire, participants are united by their common interest in the art, music, drama, literature, food, family life, science and religious practices and the exhilarating search for knowledge and adventure that marked the late-medieval and Renaissance eras.
"More people are coming to this area from even greater distances every year," Warren observed. "We have people attend our faire from Nashville, Memphis, Montgomery, Birmingham and so on. We’ve also noticed that these are people who do have a serious interest in the period. They’re more interested in the authenticity of the faire -- they’re not just the idly curious."
The faire’s shift toward a heightened sense of fidelity and reverence can be detected in aspects of the festivities ranging from the diversity of the food and arts-and-crafts vendors to the nature and texture of the live entertainment.
"The standard has definitely been raised," Warren remarked. "That will be apparent this year in what people see in our pavilions, our entertainment and the wares that are offered for sale."
Many of these vendors have never attended a community-driven, grass-roots faire.
"One thing these merchants and entertainers like about our faire is its laidback quality," Warren explained. "They’re accustomed to appearing or performing at the bigger, more commercial faires - where you have to pay $10 or $12 before you can go in and do anything."
Sponsored by the Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts and Downtown Florence Unlimited, the Alabama Renaissance Faire remains a free and community-oriented endeavor.
"Our Roundtable now has 51 volunteers from across the area who come from all walks of life," Warren noted. "No one is paid. It’s all volunteer labor. The people who make it happen do it because they love it and they have an interest in the faire. We’ve tried very hard to maintain that spirit over the years."
The faire marks the culmination of Renaissance Month, a broader celebration of arts and culture in the Shoals. Activities throughout October have included concerts, lectures, an art exhibit by the Shoals Artists Guild, a Renaissance costume-making workshop and Saturday night’s annual Renaissance Feast. The dazzling, spectacular event - which recreates the flavor of a lavish feast in a baronial hall -- begins at 7 p.m. at the Florence-Lauderdale Coliseum.
"The new king or queen of the faire will be chosen that night," Warren added. "The new monarch is chosen at random by a coin-of-the-realm hidden in the dessert at the end of the evening. The coronation ceremony takes place at 2:30 on the final day of the faire. Then the new king or queen will reign until next year’s faire."
Hours for the faire are from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday and from noon until 5 p.m. Sunday.
For more information on Alabama Renaissance Faire activities, call Kennedy-Douglass at 760-6379 or the Florence City Schools at 766-3234.
TimesDaily, Oct. 26, 2001
Theater in motion--Crowd gets in on the act at Renaissance Faire
By Terry Pace
Merriment at the 2001 Alabama Renaissance Faire promises everything from dazzling acrobatics and medieval derring-do to thrilling displays of dance and drama and the timeless music of roving minstrels.
"The faire is going to be filled with wonderful entertainers this year," according to Billy Warren, chairman of the Renaissance Roundtable, a volunteer committee that plans the spectacular celebration.
"In fact, now we have so many people who want to entertain at the faire every year that we have to limit it," Warren continued. "We don’t have enough time or enough room to accommodate all of the entertainers who want to perform."
The free, family-friendly festivities take place Saturday and Sunday at downtown Florence’s Wilson Park. The scenic civic park serves as the faire’s centralized Fountain-on-the-Green, hosting a fun-filled, educational celebration of the city’s symbolic link to Florence, Italy - home of the historical Renaissance.
"We have new people this year as well as some out-of-town people, but we also have a number of returnees and some fine entertainers from this area," Warren explained. "We have everything from musicians, fire-eaters and sword-swallowers to members of the Society for Creative Anachronisms chapter in Birmingham They will be here to attend the faire and interact with the crowd."
Throughout the faire, the public park is set up as a bustling medieval marketplace populated by characters common to the medieval and Renaissance eras. Some performances occur spontaneously on the green, while others are presented at specified staging areas near the park entrances.
"Segue will be inviting visitors to the faire to become actors," according to Jayne Jackson, vice president of the local theater group. "We’ll have some selected scenes at our table, and we’ll be encouraging people to stop and enact some scenes from Shakespeare with some of our actors."
Other locally based performers include the Shoals Chamber Singers, With One Voice and the Camellia Consort, plus the popular Rainbow Dancers, who will be performing the ancient art of bellydancing at the faire’s yearly gypsy-dance encampment.
"It’s a way of moving your body in a way most people don’t see," noted Shoals bellydance teacher Noelle Smith, who presents an annual bellydance workshop and showcase during the October observance of Renaissance Month. "To me, it’s using your body in a way it was meant to be used."
Other perennial faire favorites include the mounted knight Joe DeGruchy and his 30-year-old steed, Stormy. This year’s faire features the opening of Arthur’s Field, where the Sword Thrust group from Jacksonville State University will allow children to pull from a stone the magical sword Excalibur.
"We have some outstanding arts-and-crafts vendors this year," Warren noted. "Costumes will be offered for sale from the period, ranging from costumes from the lowly peasant to the clothing for the very regal. We’ll also have everything from chainmail and armor to handmade jewelry. As always, they range from the highly affordable to the upper end."
In addition to the 15th annual faire, this year’s Renaissance Month festivities have featured art and sonnet-writing contests for area children, chess tournaments in local schools (with the winners to be engaged in a playoff at the faire), exhibits of artwork in local galleries and libraries, a Sunday-afternoon lecture series at the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, concerts by Tibia and the Shoals Symphony Orchestra, a free Renaissance costume-making workshop and an authentic medieval/Renaissance feast.
Posters for this year’s Alabama Renaissance Faire were created by Florence artist Marie Bove, who has also designed artwork for the area’s W.C. Handy Music Festival.
"We also have a new coin-of-the-realm this year, designed by Rick Freemon," Warren noted. "Those will be on sale in the park during the faire."
Hours for the faire are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday.
"Our official opening ceremonies are at 1:30 Saturday,"’ Warren explained. "We’ll have our annual coronation ceremony Sunday afternoon at 3. The ruler for next year was selected at this year’s Renaissance Feast."
The Alabama Renaissance Faire is co-sponsored by Downtown Florence Unlimited and the Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts. For more information, call 760-6379 or 766-3234.
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