Spring break often signifies a break from the hard work of exams and long papers, with a chance to kick back and relax midway through a tough semester. Spring break for USF this year meant the beginning of the Bay Area Renaissance Festival, which opened its gates for the season on March 6 and is located adjacent to the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI), across Fowler Avenue from the university.
Though the site is different, many things remain the same. King Oliver, played by the royal Michael Marzella, returns to reprieve his role in the festival. His daughter, The Princess (he can never seem to get her name right) joins him at his left side as he attempts many times to find suitors for her. More than 500 people suit up for their roles as jester, alchemist, nutty beautician, retiring strumpet, dung dealer, knightly hero and others, as well as food services and vendors. Every weekend for seven weeks the park beside MOSI springs to life with the activities of these actors, bringing centuries-old entertainment to Tampa.
MOSI officials have known about the venue chance since last season, when a 10-year contract was signed allowing Festivals Inc., the company that puts on the fair, to relocate the annual event to Tampa. Largo city commissioners terminated the company’s lease last year for a variety of reasons, ranging from yearly complaints from local residents about noise and traffic to intentions to build a new library on adjacent grounds. MOSI hopes the event will bring crowds larger than the approximate 90,000 annual visitors to the Largo site, and more traffic to MOSI as well. Festival planners have allowed for overflow from the fair’s own adjacent parking to MOSI parking lots and Sun Dome parking if necessary.
Staples of the celebration are the live-action jousts and human-chess matches. This year’s festival will not be underdone, boasting three armored jousts a day. And,despite the fact that the chessboard had not yet been painted on the grass as of opening, a well-sequenced rumble halfway through the chess match can make you forget there are no spaces from which or to which to move. The choreography is skillfully arranged as always, and though the allowance of guns leaves a ringing in your ears and a little to be desired in the way of actual fighting, it does not get in the way of punches thrown and weapons plied. Eight stages also provide ample space for talented jugglers, belly dancers, fire-eaters, period comedians and magicians to showcase their talents. Regulars to the Festival are the washing wenches and the mud show, which incorporate audience members into their comedic acts.
The entertainment isn’t the only reason one would enjoy the festival. Both local and national crafters make their ways to Tampa to set up shop at the renaissance festival. There is something for everyone, with jewelry artisans, glaziers, metal sculptors, painters and clothing makers among many others gathering to peddle their wares to the crowds of festival goers. Face painters and henna experts, as well as one young maiden who paints eyes on the stumps of trees, paint the town, and you, too, multi-colored. For those with their eyes on the past or future, an aura reader has her eyes on you.
Festival food is an attraction of its own. Turkey drumsticks the size of one’s forearm, bread bowls, mammoth pickles and smoothies that are more like Italian ice (read: Grab a spoon) populate two rows of the fest, with a beer and wine tent in the center.
Every weekend enjoys a theme, like the Irish Heritage festival Saturday and Sunday, where you can “immerse yourself in traditional Irish music and dance and participate in time honored Irish Matchmaking contests.” March 27 and 28 is the wine gala, complete with free wine tasting and cheese sampling, and a free beer tasting is offered during the Royal Ale Festival on April 3 and 4. There is plenty for children to do for every theme, as well as rides, games (which are definitely not solely for kids) and the Children’s Realm, which welcomes children with activities like sand sculptures and wax hands.
If you truly embrace the lifestyle of the English Renaissance, you may even want to get married at the Festival. For a nominal fee you can be married by a costumed officiate under a lattice archway. You can have either a traditional wedding or a Renaissance themed wedding, hire traditional musicians and even participate in the Festival’s daily parade. Take care, though, because rice and confetti are not allowed so be sure to grab the birdseed.
The Web site of the Bay Area Renaissance Festival (www.renaissancefest.com/bay-area.htm) pegs this year’s festival as “an enchanted realm of wizards and warriors amongst gourmet treats and unforgettable entertainment.” Tickets are $12.95 in advance for adults and $4.95 for children. At the gate, tickets are $14.95 for adults, $6.95 for children ages five and up and $11.95 for seniors. Running every weekend until April 18 and two Fridays (April 9 and 16), everyone should have their chance at the magic.