News Column

Maryland Renaissance Festival opens 37th season with new mix of music, magic and good-natured mayhem

August 24, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 24--She should ask for double time.

Andrea Adam is sawed in two, after all.

For this year's Maryland Renaissance Festival, magician Johnny Fox will be making these crucial cuts to his staff. But not to worry. Adam, who has been Fox's assistant for four years, is made whole again.

She has to be -- there are more shows and more stunts to do in the nine-weekend run of the event.

Fox, a staple of the Crownsville festival for 33 years, added the classic trick to his repertoire this year, as well as some other twists.

"I've been trying to cut myself in half for 30 years with the sword-swallowing," Fox said. "So, I'm starting to cut the assistant in half."

There's nothing halfway about the 37th season of the festival, though. The revelry in Revel Grove kicks off Saturday morning. Mixed in with the always popular turkey legs and Tudors are a host of new attractions.

And many of the veterans, such as Fox, have revamped their acts. The festival's acting company will be performing "Orlando Furioso," a departure from the Shakespeare of the past two seasons. The Human Chess Game will be moved to the jousting field.

King Henry VIII and his court, meanwhile, find themselves in 1520, greeting foreign visitors and dealing with royal intrigue.

"If you can't find something you like, you're determined not to have a good time," said Carolyn Spedden, the festival's artistic director.

This week, vendors set up their booths and festival staff roved around to make sure everything was shiny, clean and ready for crowds, which average 15,000 a day.

Among the new acts:

--The Apple and the Arrow with Matthew Pauli, which re-enacts the legend of William Tell.

--Faction of Fools Theatre Company with "A Commedia Romeo and Juliet."

--Fractured Fairy's Tales with Michele Schultz.

--Landless Theatre Company with "Davy Jones' Locker."

--Musician Roxanne Bruscha.

--Pumpkin Theatre with "Three Little Tales." "It's a great opportunity for us to reach out to people who maybe wouldn't necessarily know Pumpkin Theatre," said Stacey Needle of the Baltimore-based troupe. "(The Renaissance Festival) is a fun place you don't find anywhere else."

--The Wallace Band, a group of Celtic musicians from Russia.

--The Wheel of Death with Grant Murray. Murray performs stunts atop a large wooden wheel he said is like "having your own personal roller-coaster."

Some of the acts only appear on certain weekends, so it's best to consult a schedule.

Getting to the point

Clank. Clank. Clank.

Chuckle. Chuckle. Chuckle.

The Steele Sisters were practicing their sword-fighting routine Thursday. After four years, they're still having fun trying to run each other through.

The sisters, Samantha McDonald and Nicole Skelly, are another new act. They've played other Renaissance fairs and kept hearing how great the Maryland festival was.

"It's good to put on your resume," McDonald said. "Everyone else is jealous of it."

Their act mixes comedy and combat as the sisters fight over who gets to be married first. Their father has promised that daughter all his possessions.

Skelly, 32, of Ontario, N.Y., and McDonald, 28, of Chicago, met through a mutual friend on the festival circuit. They'll hit the stage four times a day in Revel Grove, although their final appearance each Saturday and Sunday is pirate-themed.

The women want their act to come as off as cool, clever and captivating.

Magician Mike Rose hopes his new show also has a coolness factor.

Rose, who has performed at the festival for more than 20 years and has a magic shop on the grounds, is putting on "The History of Mystery."

The show mixes magic history with three or four tricks, such as the Chinese linking rings. There was magic during the real Renaissance, Rose said, but it was condemned as witchcraft.

The Mom Crosewl Magic Shop he operates with Tom Crowl sells tricks, as well as handmade wands in an array of woods. Birch is the cheapest, and Rowan is the most expensive.

Rose, of Bel Air, used to appear at six or seven Renaissance festivals, but comes now only to the Maryland event.

"It's something unique."

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(c)2013 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)

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