Stepping into the sunshine, Prince Nicholas and the royal family survey the crowd below them that has gathered for the afternoon joust. The Tournament Arena is packed.
Festival-goers fill all sides of the stadium, holding turkey legs in one hand and drinks in the other. As the knights gallop into the arena, more cheers echo from each corner while the royal family members take their seats.
Of course, this is all make believe — and while Prince Nicholas takes his place to the right of the king — he just as easily takes courses at ASU.
Prince Nicholas is in fact Noah Brown, a 20-year-old student who is currently studying English. He’s been participating in The Arizona Renaissance Festival since he was in the eighth grade, and with the exception of last year, he hasn’t missed a single one.
Every weekend starting from Feb. 9 and ending on March 31, Brown and many other actors and workers will dress up in medieval garb and transform themselves into swordsmen, squires and suitors. The line between fantasy and reality becomes even more diminished after visitors step into a Renaissance-period village, where cottages look intentionally weathered and pavilions are decorated in decadent fabrics and details.
The festival is an amusement park for medieval believers, but it wouldn’t be complete without its cast of characters like Brown.
“It’s a larger-than-life experience taking on those roles,” Brown said.
As a child, Brown was interested in the romantic aspects of the medieval times, such as chivalry and knighthood. After his first visit to the festival, Brown said, “I pretty much demanded to be a part of it.”
His involvement with the festival is not just about expanding medieval vernacular. (When people who frequently wish you “Good morrow” surround you, you tend to pick things up pretty quickly.)
Brown’s goal is to stir the imagination and get visitors to feel the spirit of the times, which means shaping the language until it fits his character.
“The way that they used language as a form of expression and entertainment — it’s something that I really love playing around there,” Brown said.
As a performer, Brown flirts, insults and compliments other characters who pass him by to draw spectators into a world that he creates for himself and for others.
Brown said the festival has turned him into a much more outgoing person, the type that can strike up a conversation with anyone.
There’s also a sense of familiarity among the cast members that turns the medieval playground into a comforting atmosphere — even if the shared experience is the men’s mutual insanity for wearing tights, Brown said.
“It’s like an enormous family out there,” Brown said.
Guillermo Hernandez Jr., who plays the King of Spain, said the festival made him come out of his shell. He’s never done anything like this before, and if wasn’t for his girlfriend — who is also a part of the production staff — he wouldn’t have done it at all.
“All of the sudden, there is this crown that I have to wear,” Hernandez said. “It was shocking at first, but because this was done so early in the year, I’ve gotten used to it.”
Hernandez said it was awkward to see regular people bow down to him, and at first, he didn’t know how to react. The other actors gave him tips on how to behave (“Viva la Spania!” is a common answer.)
A majority of the day’s events and actions are improvised, yet in honor for the Arizona Renaissance Festival’s 25th anniversary, the show was formalized to include a script and a plot line.
It’s the classical tale of the inconvenience of marriage: The King would like to marry off his daughter for her 25th birthday. Three suitors come: one from Italy, one from Russia and the other from Spain — and the battle for her hand begins.
Hernandez said not all of the competition is serious. He’s been know to play a game of thumb-war with another suitor.
Street characters circle the grounds and performers filter on and off stages. The trick is to stay in character the entire time, even if you can’t master the accent.
Breaking character would mean the show’s authenticity is ruined, and the spirit of the Renaissance festival would dissipate among the viewers.
It’s a fine line to accommodate the serious medieval reveler and the just the curious onlooker, and while the large soda cups clearly show the Pepsi logo, at least it’s advertised in Old English on the menu. Chocolate was certainly not available for the common crowd during the Renaissance, but the daily prepared desserts from various chocolate booths wouldn’t be considered a bad leap in history.
And, yet, while some leaps are further from others, some inventions during the Renaissance are more relevant to our age than most of us would assume.
ASU students from the International Geographic Honor Society, Gamma Theta Upsilon, presented a display during the festival that showed how maps changed throughout centuries.
During the Student Days at the Renaissance Festival, the GTU and the Arizona Geographic Alliance asked students to place a dot on the map of where they think their ancestors came from and showed how maps have changed over the years.
“I think it’s important for students to know where the current map came from and the different ways of mapping the world,” said Tracie Mulvin, president of GTU. “It really changes your world view.”
Rodney Carlson, vice president of GTU, said navigation during the medieval times meant sailors and captains used protractors, compasses and hourglasses. They also depended on the theories of the grandfather of GPS, cartographer Gerardus Mercator.
“We’re in a new age of awakening with things such as GPS,” Carlson said. “This new age is where we’re coming up with new innovations to make our GPS systems, our Garmins or our handhelds. It’s all using this same structure.”
After all, this was the time in which commoners thought that the world was flat, and the new realizations were a striking blow to the old way of thinking.
Yet maybe there is some need for us to go back and act out our ancestral selves. Jumping back in time — no matter how far — is a way to escape and have fun in a land of princes and princesses.
“As a kid, I loved to play pretend,” Brown said. “And I’m still doing that.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated the Arizona Renaissance Festival runs through March 21. The correct end time is March 31, 2013.
A photo slideshow of the festival can be found here.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com