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All the world's a stage

KINGS VALLEY -- A surprising amount of power tools go into building an Elizabethan English village.

Members of the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire's "Revelers Guild" set up the Dancer's Rounde, a stage where faire participants demonstrate Elizabethan dances.

Photo by Jolene Guzman

Members of the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire's "Revelers Guild" set up the Dancer's Rounde, a stage where faire participants demonstrate Elizabethan dances.

September 17, 2013

KINGS VALLEY -- A surprising amount of power tools go into building an Elizabethan English village.

By all appearances, the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire that took place Saturday and Sunday in Kings Valley is a reasonably faithful replication of what life was like around 1575.

Knights and maidens, lords and ladies all play their respective parts in Shrewsbury's "market faire" celebrating the bounty of the summer's harvest.

"People get caught up in it. Wearing the clothes of the time gives you permission to have that kind of fun," said Adrian Hughes, Shrewsbury's director.

More than just costumes, the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire is a play in which the audience participates. That kind of theater -- just like productions on stage -- requires scene-setting.

The days before opening day of the faire are buzzing with the building of a set -- of a kind.

A Friday tour of the faire's "assembly in progress" reveals just how many modern tools -- and safety requirements -- are behind re-creating the Renaissance.

Gerald Whitehurst of Spokane, Wash.-based Epona Equestrian Team fits a jousting lance with a new tip Friday.

Photo by Jolene Guzman

Gerald Whitehurst of Spokane, Wash.-based Epona Equestrian Team fits a jousting lance with a new tip Friday.

Hughes begins his day-before walk-through at the entrance, where on Saturday there would be a castle arch visitors pass under when they enter the Shrewsbury grounds. On Friday it was in pieces on the ground.

"Our repair work on the castle arch ... are we actually going to get this repaired and up?" he asked a faire worker. "Last night there was a lot of `I don't know' and mumbling."

The answer is music to his ears: the arch just needs a little touch-up painting before it can be built.

"Hot dog!" he says, in an expression that most likely won't be in his vocabulary the next day as he takes on his alter ego, Horatio Shavepenny the tax collector, or some similar character.

He picks that type of character because he tends to "walk around and scowl" during the faire, so the part fits his persona for the weekend.

Friday, he wasn't scowling -- at least not yet -- but doing a good job of hiding day-before-faire anxiety. He had plenty of fires to put out, one of them being preventing fires.

The grounds near the blacksmith booths need to be scraped free of grass that wayward sparks could ignite.

Also, the trash cans haven't been delivered yet. Oh, and the faire's five stages need to be built and the jousting arena set up.

The air is loud with the sound of machinery perhaps not even imagined in 1575 -- electric saws and drills building booths and stages, cars loaded with merchandise to be put on display.

Early bird participants -- those who got to the site on Wednesday and Thursday and were already set up -- watch the frenzy with amusement.

Participants say set up is the most stressful part of the faire -- the price to be paid for the fun of the two-day run.

David Getner of Newport places flags on the tent that will house Magic Carpet Henna, his wife Lynn

Photo by Jolene Guzman

David Getner of Newport places flags on the tent that will house Magic Carpet Henna, his wife Lynn's traveling body art booth, for the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire.

"There's a lot of blood, sweat, tears -- a lot of bad words," said a member of the Guild of Gloriana, who preferred to go by her "stage name," Lady Elizabeth Talbot.

What Hughes decried as unsightly chaos, she declared otherwise.

"This is the bones," she said of Friday's setup. "Every good thing has to have good bones."

And strong roots.

Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire was a dream of Hughes' mother, Leslie Engle, who has passed away since the beginning of the 18-year-old event. Hughes said she envisioned creating a small, but historically accurate faire. To make that vision a reality, they took two years to handpick vendors and participants they wanted before opening in 1995.

Some of those early vendors are still making the yearly trek out to Kings Valley.

Carol Waxman can't remember how many years she has been to Shrewsbury selling handmade crafts to visitors alongside her husband, Thomas Medlin.

"I'm a weaver and he's a jewelry maker," Waxman said. "And we actually met here.

"He and I are your fault," Waxman said, teasing Hughes, who also met his wife, Jackie, at Shrewsbury.

Brian Thornton, Corey Stubbs and Alexandria Tull of Epona Equestrian Team polish their armor Friday. Epona travels a circuit of Northwest renaissance fairs each summer.

Photo by Jolene Guzman

Brian Thornton, Corey Stubbs and Alexandria Tull of Epona Equestrian Team polish their armor Friday. Epona travels a circuit of Northwest renaissance fairs each summer.

"It's a great place for romance," Hughes said.

It's no wonder, given some of the roles to be played.

Alexandria Tull, Corey Stubbs and Brian Thornton -- all knights in the jousting troupe Epona Equestrian Team -- took extra care Friday to bring the shine out in their armor.

"We want to look our best," Thornton said.

The jousting show has the most drama of any at the faire -- and the most "special effects." There is a secret to making the lances explode when they make contact with a shield or armor.

Epona member Gerald Whitehurst is an expert at "scoring" the lances -- or slicing the ends to weaken them. The practice has three benefits: first and foremost is to prevent injury to the valiant knights, while still providing audience-pleasing and lance-splintering collisions. But it also prevents having to buy new lances after every show -- just the ends need to be replaced.

So there is a little trickery to the jousting show -- and most other parts of the faire -- but that's no matter so long as the audience is transported to a different time.

That is what Hughes hopes to carry on in his mother's stead -- the spirit of the time re-created, if just briefly.

"Whatever magic there is in being able to come up to and interact with someone -- touch their lives for a moment -- no matter what you do with your shtick, it's very moving," Hughes said.

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