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Renaissance 'faire' begins 23rd season

Saturday, August 09, 2003

By Martha Raffaele, The Associated Press

CORNWALL, Pa. -- Under a sweltering summer sun, two young girls wearing T-shirts advertising a dance studio caught the attention of Queen Elizabeth I, who asked for a brief lesson, and got one.

 
 

Faire facts

About the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire in Cornwall, Lancaster County.

Address: The fair is located on the grounds of the Mount Hope Estate and Winery on Route 72, about one mile south of Pennsylvania Turnpike Exit 266.
Hours: Open 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, plus Labor Day, Aug. 16 to Oct. 19. Open 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Oct. 25 and 26.
Admission: $21.95 for adults; $8.95 for children 5-11; season passes are $65 for adults and $35 for children. Discounted rates available for groups of 25 people or more and for individuals who order tickets through the fair's Web site.
Parking: Free.
For more information: Call 717-665-7021.
On the Web: www.parenfaire.com

   
 

Her regal bearing never wilted underneath roughly 40 pounds of clothing -- including bloomers, a hoop skirt, and a gown adorned with pearls and 200 pieces of gold filigree -- as she copied a move that required her to rise onto her tip-toes.

"Oh! That is most excellent for our calves!" she exclaimed as members of her royal court looked on.

Welcome to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, where the queen -- portrayed by 26-year-old actress Meg Wozniak -- is not only amused, but willing to be the object of amusement as she circulates among festivities ranging from jesting to jousting in the "Shire" of Mount Hope.

The interactive production, staged weekends from mid-August through the end of October, is entering its 23rd season on the grounds of the Mount Hope Estate and Winery in northern Lancaster County, just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

On a recent weekday, an abbreviated version of the fair was open at a discount to children attending summer camps and day camps. The "summer camp day" also gave the cast of more than 100 members a chance to perform before the event's official opening Aug. 16.

The 35 acres of "faire" grounds behind the Victorian mansion provide the backdrop for 13 stages, a jousting arena, and a Tudor-style village where concessions and souvenirs are sold.

It all began modestly in 1981 with a one-day festival in the parking lot, one in a series of events designed to promote the winery.

Over the years, other Renaissance-style events and permanent buildings were added -- a dungeon museum housed in a four-story wood-frame castle is new this year. The fair now attracts about 180,000 visitors annually, said Chuck Romito, president and producer of Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire Productions.

"It had a life of its own ... It was our most popular event out of all of our activities," Romito said. "What was once 150 tents is now 150 Tudor structures and a handful of tents."

Each season, a different script frames the action among a blend of historical and fictional characters. This season's plot -- set in 1562, four years into Queen Elizabeth's reign -- involves a love triangle in which Sir William Howard, Viscount Fairfax, and the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo di Medici, vie for the affections of Caterina della Strozzi, one of the queen's court maidens.

Amid the scripted events, such as a human chess match and a final joust that ultimately determines Caterina's fate each day, the actors must be ready to react to and interact with visitors while staying in character.

To prepare, the 35 full-time actors who play key roles in the $1.5 million production spend five weeks in rehearsal, learning the script and Elizabethan dialect, among other things.

"It doth to be very different," said Wozniak of the Renaissance way of speaking. "We practice every day, every single week we rehearse, and even after rehearsal. We'll sit as actors at dinner and speak in dialect."

A separate troupe, Impact Productions of Wilkes-Barre, handles the jousting scenes. Rehearsals require the "knights" to spend five to six hours a day working with their horses, plus a rigorous regimen of weight training and exercise, company founders Eric Michael and John Lukas said.

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