The Kansas City Renaissance Festival frequently elicits the question, “Really?”
Adults sword fighting with no real consequences. Men wearing tights that would make King Arthur blush. Medieval taverns brewing Sierra Mist. The list is longer than Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.”
But fall after fall, Kansas Citians make their annual pilgrimage back to modern-day “Canterbury” (Bonner Springs). Part of the reason they go, myself included, is purely to crack jokes about the man gallantly strutting around in 90 degree heat wearing a full suit of armor. Some inherent element of human nature compels me to appreciate these quirks. It may be sympathy, empathy, admiration or adoration, but the Renaissance Festival’s raw charm always overcomes its imperfections.
However, navigating to the Ren Fest was by no means charming. After a wrong turn on K-7, it ended up taking nearly an hour to get there. Then, after arriving in the lot, I faced a walk to the entrance long enough to tire even the noblest of steeds.
Upon making my way through the gates, which were guarded by old-time ticket takers, I sat down to rest my weary legs and take in the scenery.
The set-up is remarkable. Trees cover the grounds, giving a shadowy and crisp feel to the majority of the premises. The ground is hilly and intersected by a winding creek. Old wooden buildings line the perimeters, making up the various shops, restaurants and performance areas of the Ren Fest.
As impressive as the scene was, I decided to get going. Masses of fest-goers and “employees” crowded the paths.
The street actors give the scene a quality of authenticity. Everything from a queen – who dons full queen garb and struts around with arms interlocked with the king – to a blacksmith – who melds metals in his public shop – is represented. One street actor played a recognizable riff on his ocarina and then yelled out, “Heyyyy Ocarina!”
When asking an actor a question, they almost always give an “Indeed” instead of “Yes.” A few times, I had to jolt myself back to reality after daydreaming into “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
This willing suspension of disbelief is all-important. Refusing to use your imagination leads to a less than enjoyable experience. For instance, if you see a kid walking around 15th century England in a Chiefs jersey or a performer with a microphone, over thinking the situation takes away from the experience.
Some of these influences from the outside world proved to be impossible to look past, though. The one that nearly sent me over the edge was an airbrush painting shop that displayed a big-screen TV sized rendition of Edward Cullen. His face has become more coveted than the first printing press.
Despite the Twilight-induced pain, I continued on. After walking around a while and watching a few performances, I began to see a few recurring observations, both positive and negative.
First, every sign is different, from the one directing the easily amused to a weapon shop that reads, “Sharp, Shiny Objects,” to the disclaimer outside a men’s rest room saying, “No Wenches Allowed.” Small moments like these add up to the general appeal of the Ren Fest.
Secondly, every “employee” looks like they are having just as good of a time as a visitor. The raucous, audience participation-based presentation of “The Magic of Steve Payton” turned a fairly run of the mill magic show into a crack-up. Although the jousting spectacle was striking, I enjoyed the pre-game entertainment just as much, which involved teenage festival workers going at each other with foam weaponry, consciously making fools of themselves. The enthusiasm displayed throughout the Fest is contagious.
Third, like any other festival, the price of admission is not the final cost. Whether it’s wax hands, torture museums or replica chain mail, your wallet will be slimmer by the time you leave.
One thing that would be well worth my money, I figured, was the Renaissance Festival’s hallmark, the handheld piece of meat dubbed the “Turkey Leg.” It would be a nice way to finish out the day. Roughly the size of a human forearm, these delights are hard to come by outside of Thanksgiving season.
To my surprise and dismay, they are also hard to come by at the Ren Fest. When I went up to order my Turkey Leg, I was given an upsetting, “Sorry, we’re out right now.”
Despite the lack of meat, I felt content after a day in Canterbury. My stomach was empty and I was exhausted. I should have been in a mood to complain or mock. But the overriding charisma of the Ren Fest prevailed. Every “Really?” that could ever be asked was vanquished by a simple “Indeed.”