Camels. They are not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of medieval Ireland, but the ninth annual Sarasota Medieval Faire had three of these desert dwelling dromedaries along with an eclectic mix of medieval Irish culture in a 21st Century setting. Though the more one becomes immersed in the faux medieval background the more the camels blend in as the two cultures clash with one another: pointy-eared elves talking on cellphones, little princesses with diapers sticking out of their dresses and the sound of nearby traffic drifting through the trees.
The Faire took place during the weekends of Nov. 10-11 and 17-18 at the Sarasota Fairgrounds. Student ticket prices were $16 with tax and parking was free all day for both weekends. This year’s theme, Irish vs. Irish: The Battle of Glenn Máma, featured new Irish themed events including performances from the Drake School of Irish Dance and Tir Na Nog Academy of Irish Dance and four different styles of jousting tournaments that rotated each day.
According to the Sarasota Medieval Faire website, the setting of the event was “transformed into the county of Wicklow in the year 999 [CE] during the decisive and only engagement of the brief Leinster revolt against the King of Munster, Brian Boru.” The battle was reenacted in the Human Combat Chess tournament, which featured live actors in place of the chess pieces. The players advanced in the style of actual chess but when it came time for one of them to capture the other, the two chessmen battled one another in the center of the field. Though these battles were previously choreographed and rehearsed, the use of real weapons and perhaps a bit of overzealousness did lead to a few minor injuries.
Full-contact jousting, another one of the popular events, was performed by trained professionals in full body armor. Plankengestech was one of the styles of jousting featured and is described on the website as a style “with placards added, passing left shoulder unto left shoulder, crossing the lance over the horse’s neck to strike the other knight’s breastplate in an attempt to unhorse him.” The speed and force with which the knights struck one another with their lances was surprisingly violent though fortunately, all three of the jousters were able to stay on their steeds.
The cast was comprised of nearly sixty members whose tasks ranged from assisting in the jousting tournaments to mingling with the crowd. Cast members and patrons alike were dressed in costumes varying from glittery, scantily dressed fairies to a neon green dragon onesie selling ice cream.
“We’re making history interactive,” said Assistant Cast Coordinator, Brent Feagans in a press release issued on Oct. 29. Extending this idea were events such as the “Limerick Challenge,” and the “The Lucky Clover,” which allowed customers to interact with the cast members and become more immersed into the event. In “The Lucky Clover,” participants had to search for cast members who were wearing clovers on their costumes, and try to track down the one who was wearing the four-leaf clover. Whoever found the four-leaf clover first won a prize.
There were more than 75 performances throughout the day such as “Filthy Fairytales,” Tribal Fusion Bellydancing and Acrobellum which are a few of the featured events. The “Filthy Fairytales” was a comedy show performed on the Mudde Stage and incorporated a new take on traditional fairy tales. Viewers who were not afraid of getting dirty sat in the “splash zone” and were occasionally splashed with mud while others sat in farther rows to keep clean.
The Faire was mostly composed of vendors selling handmade goods such as jewelry, pottery, medieval clothing, and leatherwork, in tents and booths that surrounded the outskirts of the fairgrounds. Some of the artisans and merchants held craft demonstrations and discussions at intervals throughout the day. Events included basket weaving, torched glass beading, leather working and even a discussion on the medieval history of camels.
Also present at the Faire were a variety of medieval themed games such as axe, shuriken and knife throwing for patrons to pay per turn. Archery, water balloon catapulting and Jacob’s Ladder, a precarious rope ladder that one must try and climb without falling off, were also activities customers could participate in. Due to of the family friendly nature of the event, there were many child-friendly activities such as pony and camel rides, a flying carousel and the “Children’s Realm” which put on shows and games specifically for kids.
As with any Renaissance festival, the barbaric and somewhat offensive looking comestible commonly known as the turkey leg seemed to be the favorite treat among many patrons and could be seen extending from the hands of patrons ranging from toddlers to middle aged women in Louis Vuitton tracksuits.
This year’s Faire was predicted to be the most successful in attendance since the event first started and the new features this year encouraged individuals from all age groups to join in to the festivities.