All's faire at Hoggetowne

Published: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 9:52 p.m.



Hoggetowne Medieval Faire WHAT: 20th annual Renaissance festival featuring rides, jousting, artisans, street performers, minstrels, marketplace, food and Living Chessboard
WHEN: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday & Feb. 4-5; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Feb. 3
WHERE: Alachua County Fairgrounds, 2900 NE 39th Ave.
TICKETS: $10 for adults, $5 for ages 5-17; Feb. 3 admission is half price. Tickets can be purchased in advance at Omni Bookstore or Gator Domino's Pizza. (334-5064)

Gather near, ye wenches and knaves. Let he who hath a parched gullet partake of the mead, which is well wrought and of good wool and doth ferret out thy thirst. Forsooth! Forsooth! The Hoggetowne Medieval Faire is come.
The knights charge, the maidens blush, the cowards flee, tails betwixt their leggings. Alert the Vicar! Verily, let the peasants engage in Rabelaisian ribaldry...
And so it goes, as Gainesville's Hoggetowne Medieval Faire proves there was more to medieval times than just putting gratuitous "e's" at the end of words.
Presented by the City of Gainesville, the 20th annual festival kicks off Saturday at the Alachua County Fairgrounds, hawking its medieval fare - from bobbles to big ole honkin' turkey legs - for two consecutive weekends. There also are rides and jousting and medieval people in medieval costumes doing various medieval things.
But the heart of the drama is, indeed, the drama of the Living Chessboard, this year pitting more baddies against Robin Hood's merry posse. Yet before these warriors in tights tussle for certified, ticket-buying festival folks, they must practice their carefully choreographed fights in the year's most surreal dress rehearsals.
Take last Sunday. On this unseasonably hot afternoon, the performers gear up for practice. Fifty or more of them - men in deerskin boots, green tights and swords sheathed in scabbards, women in flowing gowns and bejeweled ornaments - huddle under a white tent, preparing for the test run.
"Does anyone have sun block?" a man asks. Another sits on the grass in full medieval regalia dining on what appears to be a Sonic foot-long chilidog.
"Places, let's run the first scene," yells a woman holding a large wooden staff with a metal spear at its end.
This year's Living Chessboard chronicles "The Adventures of Robin Hood."
Like a plate of 13th century brutality with a generous helping of Monte Python-esque wit, the human chess game unfolds, complete with full-on battles between the pieces and the promise of a coveted kiss from Maid Marian for the victor.
"Pawn to Rook four," shouts the Sheriff of Nottingham, and the combat begins. Two grown men, armed with swords and shields, run, swing, punch, kick, trip, jump and fall with precision. All the while, the other players chime in with Harrumphs and Huzzahs.
"Turn him into Haggis!" "Cut him in twain!" This is the proverbial bread and butter of the Thieves Guild, a diverse group affiliated with the Gainesville Community Playhouse - actors, producers and others generally interested in all things medieval.
It is truly a labor of love; cast members start training six months before the first ticket is sold, though they won't see any of the money. And while some perform at other events around the state, many in the cast spend half a year preparing for just two weekends of work.
Andy Smith, who plays Robin Hood, explains that in addition to learning the fight sequences and the script - written by the producer, Tim Neelands - many of the actors do a good deal of character work.
"You must have presence," he says. "I studied a bit of Errol Flynn."
Smith is happy to start preparing in August.
"I came to the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire for the first time on a field trip in the fifth-grade. Back then, I still believed everything that happened was real," he says. "We hope to do the same thing for kids now, so when they come in, it's like entering a whole different world."
"Our mission is to provide quality arts and entertainment for our community," says Linda Piper, the events coordinator for the City of Gainesville who organizes Hoggetowne.
Piper says the two-weekend faire now attracts more than 50,000.
"This show has exceeded expectations every year," Piper says. "People come from as far away as Louisiana and Alabama to see it. We have one of the best reputations in the South, and this year's faire will be bigger than ever."

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