Shining ardor

The Middle Ages were rife with disease and death, war and poverty.

But the Mountain Renaissance Adventure Faire, notes its co-director, Jan Love, offers escape to the storybook side of that troubled epoch. The local event, now in its third year, allows people to indulge in ideals that have remained attractive for almost five centuries: chivalry and romance, and the fight between good and evil (“Where good always wins out,” notes Love).

At last year’s Faire, newlyweds Tania Howey and Chris Battista stepped through a vine arch, symbolically entering a realm where love conquers all.

They and 150 friends then cavorted down a hill and through the “fairy forest” and into the Village of Lower Tidmarsh — a land of lords and ladies, damsels and knights, castles and dragons, rogues and Robin Hood, Mary Queen of Scots and Merlin the Magician, jesters and pipers (and even Middle Eastern belly dancers!).

Alas, since exchanging vows last spring, the Battistas have had to settle in a more distant village — Hendersonville’s Laurel Park. But they’ll soon revisit Tidmarsh — set in 1543 (the end of the Middle Ages), the kingdom will flower once more at this year’s Faire on the campus of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.

The event celebrates 11-17th-century culture (the late-Middle Ages and the Renaissance) on five stages. There’s pageantry, Celtic music, comedy, interactive storytelling, art, jousting, swordplay, acrobatics, juggling, fire eating, magic and a human chess match, plus courtship tips from yesteryear.

In 2003, cupid’s arrow will again pierce Faire air: Jan Love and fellow Co-Director Robert Akers are to be married two weeks after the event.

The couple met three years ago — when he was staging Robin Hood at Haywood Arts Repertory Theatre, and as Love was beginning to plan Asheville’s first Renaissance Faire (after founding one in Raleigh).

Medieval heroism inspires them both.

Love is fascinated with tales of King Arthur and “those glorious knights of the Round Table.

“Chivalric values focus on the best people have to offer, to each other and to themselves,” she explains.

“It’s a simpler and more romantic age,” Akers adds.

In fact, among Renaissance Faire devotees, romance is more infectious than the Plague. Andi Freeman and Brian Allen, stage-combat partners at last year’s event, are currently planning a wedding. Brett Satz and Buffy Weathington met at a Sarasota, Fla., Faire 13 years ago; today they’re married and living in Fairview.

This year, Satz will portray Tidmarsh’s mayor, Skyler Andrews, as well as playing a king piece on a 40-by-40-foot living chessboard. This self-professed “computer geek” has meticulously choreographed combat between human chess pieces.

Weathington, a psychotherapist, is cast director — and another fan of old-style chivalry. For her and Satz, it never went out of style in the first place.

“Brett will say, ‘Let me get that for you,'” Weathington reveals. “It’s nice that he caters to me.” (The night after they met, her future husband sent her roses.)

“Flattery works,” proclaims Satz. “I love doing it. … I don’t do enough, but I try to remind her of all the reasons I married her.”

Akers, too, has earned retro points from his love. He is “honest and kind,” says his fiancee, “and puts service to others at the top of his priorities.

“He’s a modern-day knight emblazoned with chivalry, honor and virtue,” Love continues. “He walks the talk. Not only that, he is a true Renaissance man in that he juggles being a successful real-estate broker, musician, playwright, poet, songwriter and director of the Faire.”

Akers singles out his intended’s optimism, ideals and “effervescent smile and young attitude.

“A fairy-tale romance can be a reality,” he muses. “There is magic in every moment, for those who believe and look for it.”

Quick Faire facts

This year, the Mountain Renaissance Adventure Faire, allotted a third more space on the A-B Tech campus, will feature an expanded fairy realm, a fifth stage and a new woodland marketplace path with blacksmithing, plus cheese-making and goat-petting exhibits.

Festival attendance last was up 30 percent from the initial 4,000 or so in 2001, (and should grow even more this year, speculates Faire Co-Director Robert Akers); festival crews increased from 11 workers to 100. (In true Robin Hood spirit, a portion of gate receipts benefit Eliada Home for Children and Presbyterian Home.)

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