Archive for Thursday, September 7, 2006

Renaissance Festival celebrates 30 years of Medieval fantasies

September 7, 2006

— It's that time of year again. Time to go back in time, at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival.

The 30th annual festival starts Saturday and will run every weekend through Oct. 15 on the grounds of the Agricultural Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs. The event will offer several attractions for either the first time or the first time in years, including misters to cool off festival-goers, a pirate show and the return of Queen Elizabeth after a seven-year absence.

In celebration of the 30th year, this year's festival will not have one overriding theme, but rather a different theme from years past each weekend.

Carrie Shoptaw, general manager of the festival, said the festival has "definitely grown a lot over the years."

It now draws 180,000 visitors a season, she said. The first Kansas City Renaissance Festival ran for two weeks, on a 16-acre lot, staffed entirely by volunteers. Now, the festival has its own 3,000-acre lot and employs 12 full-time, year-round employees.

Another new act for this year will be the "Washer Well Wenches," a comedy team of three women and one man around the village well.

There also will be a performer who sings in a language spoken by elves in the "Lord of the Rings" books and movies. Heather Downing, performing under the name Rehtheah, decked out in handcrafted costume and pointy ears, will perform songs she wrote.

Downing said her music is "often very wistful," and some of the songs are based on J.R.R. Tolkien's writing.

"I fell in love with the language," she said, after watching the "Lord of the Rings" movies and reading the books upon which they were based.

Queen Elizabeth, who ruled England from 1558-1603, will grace the festival, in the person of Lisa Grosser-Dodds, after a seven-year absence.

Grosser-Dodds has been a performer at the festival for about 12 years, she said, as a duchess, a pirate's wife and a nun.

Grosser-Dodds said it was an honor to play Elizabeth.

"I think she was one of the most powerful women," Grosser-Dodds said. "She moved the arts and music and poetry forward. It's not called the Elizabethan era for nothing."

As did other performers, Grosser-Dodds had to audition for the role.

"I did considerable research on Elizabeth's life," including reading six or seven books and watching "every movie I could get my hands on," to prepare herself.

Festival-goers will have the opportunity to see the queen when she opens the front gate, when she presides over a jousting tournament, and at a feast -- provided they buy tickets to it -- where she'll be the guest of honor.

Grosser-Dodds said her favorite part of the festival was interacting with patrons in "the lane," the festival's thoroughfare.

"There's so many reasons for people to come: characters, entertainment, food," she said. "It's fun, educational, and there's great shopping."

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