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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Time to Party Like It's 1599!

Bristol Renaissance Faire runs weekends July 9-Sept. 5

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The Bristol Renaissance Faire is a pleasant place to forget your 21st-century cares with 16th-century frivolity. This popular summer destination event is set in a village among the trees with more than 400 period-costumed performers, 160 merchant shops, and a lot of turkey legs (and other tasty treats, too). Twenty-four years after opening the gates for the first time, the Faire draws average weekend crowds of 20,000. As general manager Linda McFeters says, "It's all about having fun."

There is no lack of fun for visitors. All patrons will enjoy taking in the Joust, one of the Faire's longest-running events, put on by the Hanlon-Lees Action Theater. On stages around the village, there are some 80 singing, acting and action groups during the course of the season ready to put on an entertaining show. Long-standing favorites like the Queen's Show, The Swordsmen and MooNie should not be missed.

For those planning to attend with children, the Faire offers many family-oriented activities in the Kid's Kingdom and around the entire venue. "You can take your kids to 99% of our shows without worry, and the remaining 1% is marked PG-13," McFeters says.

Aside from the shows and shops, there is a climbing wall, a petting zoo, horse and elephant rides, Da Vinci's Flying Machine and a number of other Renaissance-inspired games.

RenQuest

Prior to 2008, patrons who wanted to completely immerse themselves in the experience would create, buy or rent a costume and spend the day blending in with the performers around them. Since then, a more interactive option has been created. RenQuest is a live-action fantasy play that Faire patrons can join in for a nominal fee. These "patron-players" interact with performers and merchants throughout the entire village to solve challenges, collect points and, potentially, win prizes. The story is ongoing, and participants are welcome to return and register for another quest if they attend the Faire again during the season. Also, those playing who are 21 and older can sign up for a pub crawl that will take them to five pubs around the Faire.

"RenQuest is huge," McFeters says. "This year's story is 'Chaos Rising' and promises to be even bigger than last year."

In the three years since its introduction, RenQuest has become so popular that a Kids Quest was added for children under 12. It's a shorter, smaller game of RenQuest—each day there are two different quests, and both are 30 minutes long.

Special Events Add Interest

Nearly every weekend the Faire has a special event or theme. Some favorites returning this year include the Costume Contest held Saturday, July 23, for fantasy costumes and Sunday, July 24, for historical costumes. A "Plein Aire" (French for "in the open air") event, in which about 25 high-end oil painters from Milwaukee and Chicago come to paint the colorful scenes of the Faire and then auction off their paintings, takes place July 30-31. All proceeds go to Variety Children's Charity.

"This is such a great event," McFeters says. "People love seeing the art being created right there, and knowing that it's for a great cause makes it even more special."

Other events of note include Scouts Weekend, Marketplace Weekend (where you can exchange receipts over $200 for future Faire tickets), a "Manly Mustache" contest, Pirate Weekend, Rainbow Days to celebrate diversity, and Steampunk Invasion Weekend.

For patrons who are watching their budgets, there are several ways to save on admission. On opening weekend, children under 12 are admitted free. Discount tickets are available at Walgreens and online.

"We just want people to laugh a lot and have a blast with their family and friends," McFeters says.

The Bristol Renaissance Faire is open weekends, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., July 9 through Labor Day, Sept. 5.

For more information about the Faire and a schedule of performances, go to www.renfair.com/bristol or call 847-395-7773.

Susan Harpt Grimes is a freelance writer living and working in the Milwaukee area. She spent several summers during college as the unofficial potato queen of the Bristol Renaissance Faire.