Think of Maryland, and what comes to mind? Seafood? Mediocre baseball teams? Bad drivers? How about thousands of people running around in Elizabethan costume?
The Maryland Renaissance Festival is the second-largest fair of its kind in the United States, running every fall season from August to October since its opening in 1977. The festival itself takes place in a recreation of an old English village just northwest of Annapolis in Crownsville, Md.
Upon entering through the looming main gate, visitors are immediately overwhelmed by a wide variety of performances, shops, music, and general Renaissance-themed merriment.
Many visitors choose to wear their own “garb” to the festival, adding to the authentic atmosphere. There are comedy shows, street acts, Shakespeare plays, elephant rides, breathtaking costumes, Celtic bands, a maze, jousting, and anything you could possibly want to eat…on a stick.
Last Saturday, members of UMW’s Renaissance Club embarked upon their annual pilgrimage to this hallowed 16th century village in the wilds of Maryland.
Leaving before dawn and strengthened by a traditional breakfast of bagels and coffee, they piled into various historically inaccurate motor vehicles and headed north.
Once at the festival, they were confronted with the dilemma of planning out the day’s activities. It is tradition for Renaissance fair newcomers to hover just inside the main entrance with their maps and event lists, strategically blocking traffic as they wonder which attraction to explore first.
Our heroes, however, were RennFest veterans and did not engage in such problematic behavior, each heading straight for his or her most prized destination.
Among the most popular events were regular performances by comedic acting troupe Shakespeare’s Skum. This year they amused hundreds of festival goers with “Richard III: Just Misunderstood,” “Henry the ‘V’,” and “Macbeth in 20 Minutes or Less.” Prancing about the stage in ridiculous costumes and even bringing in recent pop culture references, there is little doubt that their histrionic hilarity would leave even Shakespeare giggling in his grave.
Another side-splitting performance was delivered by Hack and Slash, a comedy duo who focus on the winning combination of improvisation and deadly weaponry. “The Bloody Drama” is another such comedy show, with a performance style fairly similar to UMW’s own improv troupe, The Undeniably Adjacent. Further entertainment at Renaissance Festival was provided by The Mediaeval Baebes. Although the name might lead a few hopeful male readers to presume that these are a band of strippers, they are actually a band of singers and musicians.
Singing primarily in Middle English but also dabbling in Latin, French, Italian, Russian, Welsh, Irish Gaelic and Cornish, these seven beautiful Brits are talented and attractive.
There are all sorts of unusual things to discover in the madness and mayhem of this event, from odd costumes to rowdy drunkards. What makes these particular drunkards unique is their proclivity for bursting into period-appropriate song at regular intervals while still maintaining practiced English accents.
During his travels, Renaissance Club officer Chris Goulait spotted a surly Genghis Kahn and several mimes connected by a white cloth. Also present were a gang of rather unconventional highwaymen clothed in road construction orange safety vests and plumed hardhats, wielding stop signs and shovels rather than swords.
Senior Lindsey Thomas had a similarly bizarre experience. “There was a guy dressed up as an elf, covered in black face paint and he dyed his hair and eyebrows silver. My friends said he was a “drow” which is apparently something from Dungeons and Dragons … He hit on my friend and growled in her ear and called her ‘love.’”
While not generally representative of typical behavior at Renaissance Festival, this illustrates the importance of not being seen, an accomplishment that is undermined by the ever-popular cleavage-enhancing bodices. It is widely agreed that these restrictive garments—when worn by the very old or the very nearly naked—are by far the most frightening thing at RennFest, rather than creepy but harmless role-playing game nerds.
After devouring one last round of assorted foods on sticks, the Renaissance Club members sadly departed, or attempted to. The later hours of Renaissance Festival are often characterized by heavy traffic in the parking area.
One group of students, beset by cars on all sides, decided to make the most of their situation. As junior Michelle Labbe explains, “After the first hour and a half or so, we unrolled the windows, cranked up the volume, played the Time Warp, leapt out of the car in full garb and danced. Twice, so we could “do the Time Warp again.” This was met with much admiration from the cars in our vicinity, and we took a few song requests for a while until finally we started moving again.”
Another group of students managed to spice up their commute home by getting lost in D.C.
Generally, people tend to exhibit vast differences in basic desires. For example, Many RennFest attendees are filled with longing when confronted with delicious macaroni and cheese on a stick.
Others are drawn to noisy stage acts and the thrill of jousting tournaments. Still more lust after jewelry, handcrafted leather boots, or . Whatever your obsession, you can find it at a Renaissance fair.