The Maryland Renaissance Festival will open at Revel Grove at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, and be open each weekend, including Labor Day Monday, over the following eight weeks.
Just across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from Delmarva lies a land frozen in time: the village of Revel Grove, a 25-acre slice of the 16th century located near the modern city of Crownsville, Md.
But unlike Brigadoon, the fabled Scottish village that appears only once each century, Revel Grove comes to life in August, September and October, giving everyone a chance to celebrate the entertainments, ribaldry and art of medieval Europe.
The Maryland Renaissance Festival will open at Revel Grove at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, and be open each weekend, including Labor Day Monday, over the following eight weeks. On the average, it attracts 285,000 people each year.
Leading off the event will be its perennial host, King Henry VIII and the ladies of his court, and throughout the festival people will get to hobnob with knaves, jugglers, musicians, magicians, wenches, armored knights on horseback, minstrels, comedians, a sword-swallower and Shakespearean performers.
Festival Vice President Jules Smith took some time to let those of us in the 21st century know what to expect from this trip to a place where it’s always A.D. 1543.
1. Not only do the residents of Revel Grove appear in medieval costume, many festival goers do as well. Many people come dressed as witches or wizards. Why do people seem to enjoy dressing up?
There are many reasons, Smith said.
“It lets you be the kind of person you might want to be. About 15% of the crowd come in costume, and people also can rent costumes. It’s their chance to be a lord or a lady, or a wench, a scoundrel or a pirate. It’s a bit of escapism.
“There’s also the fantasy element,” he said. “We don’t have to advertise to people interested in Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings. They come that way.”
2. Revel Grove is a permanent place, built to look like a medieval town. Why is that setting so important?
People get the chance to be in a type of experience that’s more than just a movie or play, Smith said.
“They’re immersed in the village, in its sights and in its tastes. These are not the sights and sounds of people’s everyday experiences.”
The festival can’t compete with Hollywood, Smith added, but they try to give an experience that completely engrosses people in the environment they’re walking through. It’s high-touch entertainment, not high-tech entertainment, he said.
3. King Henry VIII always has been a mainstay of the festival. Why is he, and royalty in general, such an attraction?
Fred Nelson is in his 10th season of playing King Henry, Smith said, adding it’s like having a Robert Goulet or a Richard Harris playing the king.
“The way he gives himself over to the role is just terrific,” he said.
One of the great things is how little girls who meet the festival’s queens and princesses react to them, Smith said.
“They look at them and think they can be them. It gives them something to shoot for. It’s an image and position they can aspire to without really necessarily being the Queen of England.”
4. The festival is known for its fun-loving atmosphere, including actors who put on parodies of Shakespearean plays and other acts. Given the variety of its attractions, the festival is very family-friendly.
“Some of our shows could be rated PG, but when you have a variety of people, from kids to seniors, you have to have a different variety of things to see and do,” Smith said.
“Here, everyone can have a different experience. You can shop, you can go to shows, it all depends on your nature and the experience you’re looking to have. We offer such a variety of things that you can make it any kind of experience you’d like.”
5. How did the festival get started and what’s it like behind the scenes?
The festival began in 1977 and for the first eight years was in Columbia, Md. They started the development of the permanent village, Revel Grove, in 1985.
“We’re a year-round operation with seven employees, but during the festival we have about 1,300 people working here, including those working for our vendors, on any given day,” he said.
“Although we’re open on weekends and Labor Day for about eight weeks, we work year-round maintaining the village through our workshops. We’re also involved in promotion, public relations and the business aspects as well.”
E-mail Jeff Brown at email@example.com.