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The Central Coast Renaissance Festival crafts an elaborate, impossible fantasy

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THE LADY KNIGHT:  Katrina Saunders, a member of the jousting troupe Knights of the Crimson Rose, will display her mad jousting skills July 20 and 21 at the Central Coast Renaissance Festival. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RICK SMITH
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF RICK SMITH
  • THE LADY KNIGHT: Katrina Saunders, a member of the jousting troupe Knights of the Crimson Rose, will display her mad jousting skills July 20 and 21 at the Central Coast Renaissance Festival.

The Central Coast Renaissance Festival isn’t always historically accurate, and when you think about it, that’s probably a good thing. Foreigners (read: non-Englishmen) aren’t shunned from society. No slaves are traded. No river of sewage flows through the center of Donneybrooke, the fictitious English village that will spring up for two days at Laguna Lake Park.

The festival is less a re-creation and more an elaborate fantasy, a sort of Renaissance heaven where you might catch Leonardo da Vinci drinking mead with William Shakespeare and Sir Francis Drake. To walk into the festival, which takes place July 20 and 21, is to accept a kind of alternate reality: It’s the year 1585, and a brutal winter in Donneybrooke has finally come to a close. The peasants are celebrating the return of fair weather, reuniting with loved ones, and eagerly awaiting a visit from Queen Elizabeth I herself, accompanied by her royal court.

Co-founded by Rick Smith, who still works as media coordinator, the event is now in its 29th year. What began in 1983 as excuse to sell wine (Lawrence Winery was changing its name to Corbett Canyon, and the event was held as a means of getting rid of a surplus of wine bearing the old label, Smith explained) has expanded into an attraction that draws crowds in the thousands and requires the participation of several hundred costumed vendors, performers, and staff.

Vendors sell everything from clothing to leather goods to Renaissance-era weaponry, and there’s also an array of only slightly anachronistic cuisine: meat pies, something called “Dragon Dogs,” and turkey legs are on the menu. (Sure, turkeys are New World fare, but at least you can carry them around, eating meat off the bone like a person from the Olden Days. And anyway, who really wants to eat a leg of mutton?)

- QUEEN THENA :  Actress and steampunk novelist Thena MacArthur (pictured, center) has been playing Queen Elizabeth I at the Central Coast Renaissance Festival for the past 20 years. -  - PHOTO COURTESY OF RICK SMITH
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF RICK SMITH
  • QUEEN THENA : Actress and steampunk novelist Thena MacArthur (pictured, center) has been playing Queen Elizabeth I at the Central Coast Renaissance Festival for the past 20 years.

A “Schedule of Her Majesty’s Amusements” brings plays, music, comedy, magic, and dancing to three stages all day long—not to mention the Queen’s Royal Joust, brought to you by the Knights of the Crimson Rose.

Under the direction of William Hammersky—aka Sir William Skyhammer, aka Sir Guillame de Perche—the Knights of the Crimson Rose largely keep to the rules of the period. The competitions are authentic, with the goal being not to un-horse one’s opponent but to break the 11- or 12-foot lance on his or her armor, helmet, or shield. Most of the Crimson Rose jousters started out with the group as squires, tending the horses and keeping the field clear of shattered lances, and worked their way up to knights, developing a unique alter-ego along the way.

Hammersky and his mighty warhorse Rohan have been jousting for the past decade.

“It started with picking up a real sword at a Renaissance Faire,” Hammersky said of his introduction to European martial arts, “and I got this chill up my spine, and I went uh-oh, I need this.”

His interest in sword-fighting and horseback riding led him to jousting, which he describes as “the extreme sport.”

“To be able to ride on a horse and hit someone with an 11-foot stick and not have the police involved—that’s an awesome sport,” he went on.

- YOUR RAMPALLION! YOU FUSTILARIAN! I TICKLE YOUR CATASTROPHE!:  The Central Coast Renaissance Festival takes place July 20 (from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and July 21 (from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) in Laguna Lake Park. Adult admission costs $17 per day or $35 for a two-day pass. Visit ccrenfaire.com for tickets or more information. -
  • YOUR RAMPALLION! YOU FUSTILARIAN! I TICKLE YOUR CATASTROPHE!: The Central Coast Renaissance Festival takes place July 20 (from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and July 21 (from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) in Laguna Lake Park. Adult admission costs $17 per day or $35 for a two-day pass. Visit ccrenfaire.com for tickets or more information.
The Crimson Rose uses lances tipped with lightweight wood, typically balsa, which splinters spectacularly upon impact (opponents will typically canter toward one another at about 15 miles per hour). The base of the lance, however, can be re-used.

Katrina Saunders, aka Lady Eva, is the only female jouster in the troupe. Though an experienced jouster and rider, Saunders’ first joust for an audience was as recent as last year’s Faire, when she replaced her husband, fellow Knight of the Crimson Rose Jeff Saunders, who was off jousting in Europe at the time.

Though horsemanship is a chief concern to the Knights of the Crimson Rose, Saunders said, creating a period-authentic experience for the audience is also the troupe’s goal. Jousters will also incorporate their adopted Renaissance characters into their performance, adopting the accent and language of their chosen personality. Prior to a joust, the Crimson Rose will frequently consult with the Queen’s court to create a storyline that informs the way they will interact.

Bay Area-based actress and steampunk novelist Thena MacArthur has been playing Queen Elizabeth I at the Central Coast Renaissance Festival for the past two decades. MacArthur’s encyclopedic knowledge of the Renaissance combined with a background in improvisational acting make her the perfect fit to play Elizabeth, a monarch MacArthur describes as diplomatic, scholarly, and tolerant—a queen who treated her subjects with respect.

“I try to make Elizabeth very accessible,” MacArthur said. “She went out and spoke to people and looked them in the eye.”

Festival attendees aren’t required to dress in period attire, though many returning visitors do, and some come fully in character as their chosen Renaissance alter ego. MacArthur has observed a particular tendency among peasants to immediately start groveling in her presence, a habit she says Elizabeth would not have found necessary.

“They’ll say, ’Oh, you’re my queen, I should throw myself in the dirt.’ I’ll say, ‘You’re an Englishman. Stand up!’” MacArthur explained.

For the past four years, Queen Elizabeth I and her “attendants” have put on a popular demonstration showing how the queen gets dressed in the morning, a lengthy and fascinating process involving a corset, hoops, and something MacArthur casually refers to as a “bum roll”—a crescent-shaped pad that helped distribute the weight of the queen’s skirts.

After almost 30 years with the festival, co-founder Smith has become a bit of an expert on Elizabethan costuming, cookery, and traditions, as well as the proper use of “thee” and “thou,” and has gradually turned the festival’s website ccrenfaire.com into a resource for all things Renaissance, complete with helpful links, recommended reading, and a handy gadget called the Shakespearean Insulter. So wherefore waitest thou—thou mammering dismal-dreaming puttock; thou droning swag-bellied foot-licker; thou paunchy ill-nurtured flirt-gill? Let the geekery begin! 

 

Arts Editor Anna Weltner needs her mouth washed out with soape. Contact her at aweltner@newtimesslo.com.

 

 

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