On the street
I love going. I can still remember riding the elephant when I was little. I try to go at least once a year; sometimes costumes are involved, sometimes not. But I’m really looking forward to going with my friends this year.
The Renaissance Festival this year runs every weekend from Aug. 30 to Oct. 13 at 628 N. 126th St., Bonner Springs.
For more information, visit kcrenfest.com.
Scene four rehearsals open as lovers Hermia and Lysander, from "A Midsummer Night's Dream," run away into a forest infested with fairies.
In between lines, calls of directions can be heard from the entertainment director who sits on a bench in front of the unfolding scene. Across a courtyard, Gypsy boys with tambourines in hand rehearse a synchronized dance routine as drums keep the beat behind them.
When the scene ends, the actors are called forward and listen as the stage manager reads off a list of mistakes to fix, changes to make and compliments for lines that came off perfectly. The brief huddle ends, and the actors and director take their places to start the process again.
This is the activity taking place at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival Fairgrounds two months before the festival's front gates near Bonner Springs are opened to the public. But it is also just a fragment of the work that's been taking place since January to prepare for the day when the 16th-century "town" of Canterbury, England, comes alive.
"It's certainly a huge show," said Jim Stamberger, the Renaissance Festival entertainment director. "We'll entertain 180,000 people. Some Broadway shows can't even say that."
Getting into character
Starting in January, Stamberger hosts recruiting parties throughout the Kansas City area to attract new performers, followed by auditions in April. Once actors are chosen, the lengthy work of character development begins.
In May, Stamberger requires that the actors attend acting classes to perfect vocabulary, accents and character history. This happens before the scenes are rehearsed, lines are memorized and the script is physically acted out. To Stamberger, this is the most important part of the whole process.
"Unlike regular theaters, we have to go one-on-one with the audience," he said. "At a normal performance, you walk on stage for two hours, walk off and you're done. We're performing 100 percent of the time, eight hours a day. It's the lives of the characters that make Canterbury come alive."
For first-time Renaissance Festival performer Nick Kledis, of Kansas City, Mo., the character development process has been the most challenging compared with the theater he was used to.
Kledis had attended the Renaissance Festival for many years before deciding to get involved. He's taken on the character of Puke, the fool and right-hand man of the King of Shadows. Kledis' role allows him to act in a goofy and silly way, but the carefree attitude has come with a lot of hard work.
"We have to stay in character from the morning until the time we leave," he said. "I think (patrons) would be very surprised by how much thought goes into that."
Dressing the part
With the character development well under way, third-year veteran Renaissance Festival actress Bailee Platt, of Overland Park, is no stranger to the preparation.
She said what keeps her coming back each year is the fun of working with the thousands of patrons who come to see her perform. She said the most rewarding part was to hear someone say that the trip to the fairgrounds was worth it.
The Renaissance Festival is a passion rather than a job for Platt, who works for an advertising firm in Lenexa, and it comes with a cost. All actors are required to obtain their own costume for their characters. Performers can end up spending anywhere from $20, if he or she plays a beggar, to $2,000 for a role such as the king or queen.
"It's a big investment," Platt said, "but totally worth it."
A passion for the show
So with all it takes to get the festival up and running - actors, food, crafts booths - it's easy to wonder why the organizers and actors would put themselves through all that work.
"I ask myself that every day," Stamberger said. "It's just a passion for the show and for the people."
Stamberger has three goals for every performance: entertain, educate and make someone feel good about themselves.
"If our time with the audience doesn't do one of those three things, then it was a waste of time," he said.
Stamberger said he wants his actors to not only light up the faces of children, but also adults. He said patrons should be given attention that shows their time is appreciated.
"It's important for them to feel that," he said. "There's not enough positive in this world. We want them to let go of the troubles of their world and enjoy our world for the afternoon."