Culture clash

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there lived an aged and benevolent king who had twin sons, both of whom happened to be fools.

One day, the king decided it was time to step down from the throne.

“I’m ready to retire and kick back,” remarked King Edmund (a.k.a. Rod Bowling), speaking via magical device from a distant city-by-the-sea, where he was attending an important kingly event called a “convention.”

Unfortunately, no one (not even the king) could say for certain which son was firstborn — and therefore who would inherit the kingdom.

Thus a series of contests was proposed to decide the matter …

Such tomfoolery forms the loose premise of the second Mountain Renaissance Adventure Faire, which unfolds May 11-12 on the not-so-far-away campus of A-B Tech, the event’s new location.

The nonprofit, community-oriented Faire is set in a Renaissance/medieval village populated by assorted historical and legendary characters including knights, sword fighters, fire-eaters, fairies, warrior maidens, jesters and even Mary Queen of Scots. And last year’s favorite village idiot, the Hey Man (portrayed by Randall Thompson) will return, clutching his clumps of hay to amuse Fairegoers.

“We call him the Hey Man because all he did was say ‘hey’ all day long,” reports Robert Akers, the Faire’s executive director. “It’s amazing that someone who said one word all day long could become that big of a hit. That’s a great actor for you.”

Music, dance, swordplay and storytelling will add to the merriment, spread across five stages throughout the village. Bagpipers, a hammered-dulcimer player, a Celtic harp/violin duo, a four-piece recorder group and assorted singers number among the musical performers. A troll, fairies, a Renaissance clown and Andrew, a monk, will stroll through the crowds. Scottish dancers, three belly-dancing troupes, fire-eaters and fire-dancers, sword fighters, jugglers and a kung-fu troupe round out the varied entertainment offerings.

“We try to embrace as many different cultures as we can,” notes Akers.

Spinning and blacksmithing demonstrations and even a petting zoo will complement the festivities, along with about 40 vendors hawking Renaissance- and medieval-style arts and crafts. Ten food vendors will dish out a variety of goodies, from mutton chops and turkey legs to crepes and hummus plates (and, for those hungry for a taste of today, hot dogs and pizza). Nonprofit organizations will host various game booths.

Interactive realms will include the Faerie Forest, where woodland inhabitants promise to create joyous havoc with Fairegoers. Quibbles can be taken before The Court of Mediation, which will settle audience members’ disputes (with the help of actors, of course).

Members of the younger set also have parts to play. A group of Isaac Dickson Elementary School students will stage a puppet show, and the commedia dell’arte troupe from Asheville High School’s drama department will perform “very silly” ancient Italian theater, says Akers.

Against that backdrop, the dullard princes, Nigel and Godwin, will make their bid for King Edmund’s throne by competing in tests of courage, wit and strategy.

“Both these guys are kind of nincompoops, so it’s hysterical,” reveals Akers.

The contest culminates in The Human Chess Board, in which playing pieces battle one another on a life-size board.

Faire organizers hope to once again attract families to the alcohol-free event and build on the success of last year’s event, held at The Asheville School. (The Faire was moved to A-B Tech to accommodate such modern-day concerns as access and parking.)

Fancy that

The boundaries of fantasy and reality are likely to blur at the Faire, helped along by frolicking Fairegoers who will come dressed in costume. At last year’s event, Akers estimates that 200 to 300 folks came bedecked in Renaissance- or medieval-style finery.

“I thought it was amazing,” concurs Bowling. “You couldn’t tell who was the customer and who was part of the Faire. … It makes it fun for all. It’s kind of like a big costume party. It certainly helps with the ambience.”

Among the costumed revelers this year will be the guests of a real wedding, which will happen on a hilltop overlooking the Faire. Wearing a Renaissance-style wedding gown, Tania Howey, a local performer/teacher, plans to wed fiance Chris Battista in a private ceremony on Saturday afternoon. Afterward, the couple will lead a wedding procession through the Faire, where guests will mingle until a private reception later that evening.

Howey (who performed at last year’s Faire) even plans to perform the following day at the Faire, and possibly on her wedding day as well.

“I’m into all festivals,” declares the bride-to-be. “I especially love the Renaissance festival because of the costumes and the fairies and Gypsies and the folklore. … Celebrating life, being happy, singing dancing — it all turns me on.”

Presumably well-removed from the courtly wedding participants, Viking raids will showcase another side of the Faire, one that leaves elves and fairies behind and sticks more closely to elements of history.

The local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism will fight the good fight in the realm of the Harvest of the Golden Moon, says SCA member Anna Miller. In the scenario, a group of raiders attempts to make off with a herd of livestock. Miller (whose SCA persona is Adeliza of Bristol) explains that group members wear period-style clothing and armor and fight with genuine-looking (but nonlethal) fakes.

She stresses that the group doesn’t simply re-enact historic events — instead, they aim to bring the Middle Ages to life.

Though Miller relishes the chance to expose new people to the local branch of the SCA, she admits that some festivalgoers may view group members as “freaks on parade.” That’s why she prefers weekend camping expeditions where members can relax while taking part in feasts and other medieval revelry.

“You walk around with nothing but the Middle Ages around you,” says Miller, her voice relaxing. “It’s a deeply touching thing. I find a lot of peace and a lot of grounding out there.”

It’s a welcome break from the rude elements of the workaday world.

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