Adding Atmosphere: Kerrville Renaissance Festival

Vikings
Reenactors from the Great Viking Army will be on hand demonstrating life in a Viking village for the Kerrville Renaissance Festival, include mock battles with steel weapons. Credit Laura Kimberly

Jan 23, 2018–Over the next couple of weekends, legions of adventurous spirits will arrive in the Hill Country to interact as knights, jesters, maidens, and other denizens of Middle Age European villages at the Kerrville Renaissance Festival.

What makes our neighbors in conventional careers change into dashing denizens of the Dark Ages? I asked my cousin Doug Jacobs, who for decades has ruled as Lord High Mayor and Baron of Scarborough Renaissance Festival in Dallas.

From his ersatz throne, the reluctant Lord Mayor has observed several levels of involvement. They range from official cast members who perform for the duration of the event, to “playtrons” who return each weekend as role players, to patrons who attend just to enjoy the experience, whether wearing knee-high leather boots or flip-flops.

“There are actors who will do research and find a specific historic character in this period, and try to play it as historically correct as they can,” said Jacobs. “Then there are those who pick up a character with no historical basis, but with a general sense of the period. These might be the village breadmaker, a seamstress, innkeeper, or barmaid.”

Or a musketeer protecting King Edwin (Graham Warwick) as a member of his royal guard. The Texas Musketeers are a loosely organized group of about 30 residents of the Metroplex. They work in a variety of careers, but still find time to travel across the country, “adding atmosphere.” They appear in costumes which can run up to $5000 and look “quite impressive.”

Musketeers
Musketeers will guard King Edwin (Graham Warwick) at the Kerrville Renaissance Festival during upcoming weekends. Photo by Phil Houseal

“It’s like watching a bunch of peacocks,” said Jacque Joechim de St-Denis, the pseudonym of J.D. Idaho. “We are just playing, laughing, and amusing ourselves. The guests get pulled in automatically.”

Even more immersive are members of the Great Viking Army. They are enthusiasts who go to great lengths to recreate the daily life of the Viking Age, specifically from AD 793 to 1066. Members will arrive from around the country to set up camp for the two weekends at the River Star Arts and Event Park. They erect lodging, cook meals, demonstrate weaponry, and try to represent the daily life in a Viking village as accurately as possible.

The crowds, especially kids, will most enjoy the battle reenactments, which feature unchoreographed combat using steel weapons.

“This is live, steel combat that is unscripted, full contact, and uses steel swords, spears, and axes,” said Thomas Hansard of the Vinland South Shield Wolves under the Jomsborg Army. “We strive for historical accuracy, down to wearing clothing made using the means and materials they had available.”

The horde will perform two shows daily, and in between will welcome people into their camp, to interact with fighters, craftsman, storytellers, and historians.

“We don’t role play,” said Hansard, a Ingram resident. “We show up as ourselves, as modern man living in that age, stepping back in time as ourselves. There is no modern technology; we get away from our phones. It helps quiet down a lot of the stress of daily life. It is most rewarding to sit back and experience life in a way to slow down.”

The second weekend brings out the Time Travelers. These role players are harder to pin down. Literally. They are not anchored to any specific epoch in history. Future and past merge in costumes that might recall Jules Verne in the 22nd century. Don’t even try to analyze it.

It all makes great fun. As I’ve noted in previous columns about being Elvis, the Grinch, or Waldo, assuming any alter ego forces you to expand the way you experience interactions with others, and changes the way you experience yourself.

“Performers can sense who wants to play the moment they enter the gate,” our Baron of Scarborough said. “If you let yourself be open to playing, they will play with you. Ask them about their weapons, why they are dressed this way, or how a glassblower works his craft. Their job is to entertain you!”

And what could be greater entertainment than traveling a thousand years without leaving town?

Details:

The Kerrville Renaissance Festival takes place Jan 25, 26, 27, and Feb 2, 3, 2019, at the River Star Arts and Events Park in Kerrville, Texas. Hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. each day.

There will be more than 70 vendors, food booths, and seven stages of actors, magicians, and entertainers. More information at www.KerrvilleRenFest.com, kerrvillerenfest@gmail.com, 214-632-5766.