Photograph by Whitney Curtis
Where do you go for turkey legs, wenches and knaves? Back in time. As the Greater St. Louis Renaissance Faire marks its 10th anniversary this summer (May 17 to June 8, stlrenfaire.com), the people behind the festival discuss its past, present and future.
1. Bigger is better
After 10 years, the Faire hasn’t changed so much as it has grown. “Our first season, we had a dozen merchants in tents, four stages and a cast of 30,” says executive director Tammy Duncan. “Now, we’ve doubled the size of our grounds, we have nine stages and many of our merchants have permanent buildings.”
2. France rules
While most Renaissance fairs focus on England, the GSLRF is decidedly French—hence the village’s name, Petit Lyon. “The rich French culture up and down the Mississippi River makes it a logical choice,” says staffer Beth Wiles.
3. It’s got reach
Petit Lyon’s volunteer inhabitants are dedicated. “They come not just from St. Louis, but from Columbia, Mo., and Springfield, Ill.,” Duncan says.
4. People really dig it
Roughly 2,500 people visit Petit Lyon each day. The Faire cracked the 3,000 mark last season, and Duncan expects to hit that target again this year.
5. You get popcorn ... and grog and mead
It wouldn’t be a Renaissance fair without beer and turkey legs (the Faire has sold as many as 400 in one day). “Turkey legs aren’t historically correct, but who’d have a Renaissance festival without them?” asks Duncan.
6. They put on a good act
The Faire performers are actors, but they’re actors who get to talk to the audience. Enter Barbara MacRobie, speaking in character as Ilse Gersten: “I spoke with a gentleman who asked me many questions about myself. He was surprised I could answer them, but who could not tell such things about her own life? He was most pleasant, and he thanked me and called me ‘a trip.’ I was puzzled, but he said this was a compliment.”
7. They keep it real
The Faire staff wants to bring some Renaissance flair into contemporary culture. Duncan would like to see “huzzah” re-enter the lexicon. “What a great word! Huzzah!” Performer Grace Boehm has a different take. “One word: bodices.”
8. Humor is allowed
The performers are serious about what they do, Boehm says, but not too serious: “Nobody likes a historically accurate party-pooper.”
9. It’s as strong as ever
Faire organizers are ready for another decade. “The magic of stepping into a world where we can be anything we want keeps the performers and the crowds coming back,” says performer Charles Fliss.
10. You learn stuff
Why should present-day Americans care about 16th-century Europeans, anyway? “The people of the Renaissance wanted to exceed the ancients in everything they did,” says performer Ed Fliss. “There is a tremendous amount that we can learn from the past—not just imitate it, but build upon it.” Huzzah!