Hundreds set to get medieval at Hoggetown Faire


Gerard Hale, center, plays "King Ban" at the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire this weekend.

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2005 at 10:16 p.m.

Facts

Hoggetowne Medieval Faire

WHAT: Large medieval festival featuring marketplace, rides, jousting, battles, food and more.
WHEN: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and Feb. 4-6
WHERE: Alachua County Fairgrounds, near to the Gainesville Regional Airport along State Road 222
TICKETS: $10 for adults, $5 for ages 5-17; available at the fairgrounds or at Omni Books in Gainesville

To call Hoggetowne Medieval Faire rehearsals unusual is an understatement.
Take one recent Saturday, for example - a morning so cold, most residents sought refuge indoors. But cast members from the faire's Living Chess Game are gathered in a large, cluttered back yard in southwest Gainesville; the men in tights, the women in long, flowing dresses.
People are being chased with swords, punched repeatedly, slammed into towers and generally "beaten" senseless - all in the name of one of the Southeast's biggest Renaissance festivals. And the Living Chess Game is the faire's centerpiece, a battlefield of actors tossing each other around and reveling in the art of simulated combat.
It boils down to good and evil, and Gainesville's Thieves' Guilde has been rehearsing for six months to make the intense clashes look realistic.
"How's that feel?" a man wearing black tights asked after he repeatedly slammed his fighting partner's head into the stage.
"Feels great," his opponent said casually, as if answering a common question from a co-worker.
Maybe surreal is a better word to describe these rehearsals.
After all, how often do directors engage in physical combat with their actors?
"Your fight partner's ready," one actor informed Chess Game Director Tim Neelands.
"I know," Neelands responded. "I'm getting ready to kick his butt."
Swords come uncomfortably close to people's heads, but Neelands said the actors in the Thieves' Guilde are trained in safety.
"We teach you to use a weapon to make it look like you're going to hurt someone while being safe," Neelands said.
Lauren Brasington, one of two assistant directors, described the fight scenes as "very controlled," noting there are "a lot of safety instructors to make sure that we don't impale someone."
More than 50 actors and actresses make up the Thieves' Guilde, a troupe sponsored by the Gainesville Community Playhouse and formed exclusively for the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire 12 years ago.
But the Living Chess Game is only one part of the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, which opens Saturday at the Alachua County Fairgrounds.
This year's festival is going to be "bigger and better than ever," said Linda Piper, an events coordinator for Gainesville's Department of Cultural Affairs who coordinates the faire.
With 140 artisans and craftsmen on site, patrons can stroll through a medieval marketplace and pick from a variety of Renaissance-era goods, such as hand-blown glassware, leather crafts and pewter jewelry.
There also will be two dozen performers, including Alachua natives Minstrels of Mayhem, who Piper called the best band on the Renaissance festival circuit.
Don't forget to make time to eat a turkey leg, a funnel cake, the King's nuts (honey roasted almonds) and the Queen's buns.
Children will be knighted and given commemorative necklaces.
Piper encourages people to arrive when the gates open at 10 a.m.: Not only will it be easy to find parking, she said, but the entertainers will be at the front gates for a meet-and-greet.
The theme for the 19th annual Faire is "The Adventures of King Arthur," which will trickle its way into all aspects of the faire.
The Living Chess Game battles, for example, will revolve around "The Sword in the Stone," picking up as Arthur pulls the sword from the stone and becomes the King of Britions. However, with people believing Lord Vortigern should be the king, a battle ensues between Arthur's supporters (the white side) and Vortigern's supporters (the black side), with a climactic final battle between Arthur and Vortigern.
The Hoggetowne Medieval Faire has been chosen by the Super Bowl Host Committee as the Official Alachua County Super Bowl Activity. Not only that, it has earned two first-place awards with the Florida Festivals & Events Association - one for Best Event Photograph and another for Best Radio Ad.

FAIRE FACTS
  • Seven stages
  • Two jousters performing four times daily
  • 160 tents for 140 artisans and 20 food venders
  • 300 entertainers, from jugglers to gypsies to Renaissance bands
  • 3 human-powered push rides, 15 olde-world games and three animal rides (elephant, camel and pony)
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