Hear ye, hear ye
Nottingham Village brings the Renaissance back to Ventura County
By Chris O'Neal 11/14/2013
Renaissance England: land of bards praising heroics in song, maidens locked away in towers for knights to free, and beheadings on every corner for the entertainment of the masses. What’s not to love? At the Nottingham Village Renaissance festival this weekend, hundreds of actors and educators hope to revive the spirit of the Renaissance, sans the plague.
The Nottingham Village Renaissance festival is a two-day celebration of all things Elizabethan hosted by several volunteers, alongside the Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi and the nonprofit Simi Valley Cultural Association, at Simi Valley’s Rancho Tapo community park. More than 500 actors and volunteers will transform the grounds into a re-creation of the city of Nottingham circa the 16th century, replete with characters both famous and infamous (i.e., William Shakespeare, the Sheriff of Nottingham) and even a visit from Queen Elizabeth herself.
The Renaissance Masters Pavilion will feature performances of famous characters in history, and staged events will occur throughout the weekend. Of course, no festival would be complete without grog and meat — several beer, wine and mead vendors will serve traditional spirits, and turkey legs will abound.
Executive Artistic Director Jan Glasband’s first experience with a Renaissance festival was attending the 1965 Renaissance Pleasure Faire (RPF) in Agoura Hills as a child with her parents. The RPF, progenitor of modern Renaissance fairs, started in 1963 alongside its sister fair in Northern California, spawning an entire genre that gave men and women from all walks the chance to don garb from the mid-1500s and reenact life under a monarch.
In 1989, the RPF moved from Agoura Hills to San Bernardino. No fair has made as big an impact within county lines since.
Coincidentally, that same year, Glasband founded the Pacific Arts Workshop in Simi Valley, which eventually became the Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi. Through the years, Glasband has been involved with many culturally rich events, including the Ghost Tour in Strathearn Park during the Halloween season.
The idea for the Nottingham Village came about when a meeting with Josie Hirsch revealed the duo’s urge to create an event that would involve the community, hearken back to the glory days of the RPF and inspire children to become involved in both their community and active education.
“My real joy comes from creating events in the community that are not only family-oriented but something that gets them out of their usual spot in front of the TV,” said Glasband. “I like to involve kids whenever I’m creating an event like this and have them be a part of it.”
For Hirsch, who hasn’t missed a single year of the RPF since 1981, the opportunity to be involved in the creation of an original fair was not to be missed.“[Glasband] had mentioned that she was thinking of having a Renaissance Faire, and I said that was my lifelong dream,” said Hirsch.
It was due to the RPF itself that her interest in history and literature developed.
“Growing up, I was a science and math person,” said Hirsch. “I went to the Renaissance fair and saw history around me, so I started taking world history classes and I was able to put things together. It became so much more meaningful for me.”
Hirsch and Glasband hope that the same kind of excitement is developed in children who attend the festival this weekend and aspire to recapture what the Renaissance fair was — and in some ways isn’t any longer.
“It’s changed a lot over the years,” said Glasband in reference to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, which now operates out of Irwindale and has shifted from its nonprofit roots to a for-profit entertainment leviathan.
The Nottingham Village fair will attempt to balance entertainment with education. To help in that regard, guilds and volunteers who were once involved with the RPF have returned to Ventura County once again.
Dennis Michael knows entertainment. For 18 years, he was an entertainment correspondent for CNN, hosting The Hollywood Minute and Showbiz Today, and his portrayals span a number of historical periods in both theater and fairs. At the Nottingham Village festival, Michael will play Nottingham’s Master Mayor Henry Quarneby. For Michael, the idea of a Renaissance festival is to take home a piece of living history.
“The whole idea is for us to interact with you,” said Michael. “It’s not something you sit and observe; it’s something you participate in.”
Michael takes his role very seriously, but isn’t afraid to throw a curveball or two at other actors.
“There are big moments and small moments,” said Michael. “One of the great spectacle moments you get at the fair is the queen’s arrival. She’s being carried by yeomen, and nobility are following her around.”
The Nottingham Village will have its own Queen Elizabeth who will be greeted daily and, if Michael gets his way, may need to field historically accurate questions.
“One of the things I do when the queen shows up, is I greet her at the gate as mayor,” said Michael. “For example, we ask the queen if she’d like us to perform a swan upping.”
Swans, by royal decree, are the property of the crown and a swan upping is a sort of census of the fowl.
“So we’d greet the queen in the morning and explain to her, “Your majesty, we have a small problem: none of our constables can count. Would your majesty mind an estimate?”
Glasband hopes that this balance of humor with historically accurate re-creations will inspire the next generation of fairgoers to continue on with the tradition and is optimistic that next year’s festival will be bigger, expanding from one weekend to several.
“I know that this is really good for a community. Kids need this so desperately,” said Glasband. “This is something that will make them feel connected to the world.”
The Nottingham Village Renaissance festival will take place on Saturday, Nov. 16, and Sunday, Nov. 17, at Rancho Tapo Community Park, 3700 Avenida Simi, Simi Valley. Tickets are $12 at the gate and $20 for the weekend. For more information, visit www.nottinghamfestival.com.