“Dirk & Guido: The Swordsmen” — David Woolley (bottom) and Doug Mumaw — return to Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wis., for their 21st year teaching the art of being a manly man. The fair runs weekends July 7 through Sept. 3.
Bristol Renaissance Faire
◆ 10 a.m.-7 p.m. weekends July 7-Sept. 3 (including Labor Day)
◆ Tickets: $19.95 for adults, $9.50 for kids 5-12 (check website for discounts)
◆ 12550 120th Ave., Kenosha, Wis., west of Interstate 94 off the Russell Road exit
◆ (847) 395-7773; renfair.com
Promising the biggest party since 1599, Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wis., celebrates 25 years this summer.
“I’m very excited about this year,” said Kristen Mansour, entertainment director. “We’ve done a lot to embrace the 25th, and we’re going to blow it out of the park.”
And quite a park it is. The fair site covers 30 acres, offers 16 stages with continuous entertainment, has a dedicated children’s area (Kids Kingdom) and employs 1,200 performers and artisans. Enter prepared to go back in time to a summer day in Elizabethan England when the tiny hamlet of Bristol is visited by the queen herself. Visitors experience 16th century entertainment, games, arts, crafts and food fit for a queen — and for families (most shows cater to families; those that don’t are clearly marked).
To celebrate this milestone, Bristol is offering some surprises in addition to popular staples.
“We have such a wonderful new lineup coming in … to complement an already outstanding entertainment lineup,” said Mansour, who recently returned to Bristol after a hiatus to start a family. She got her start in the Bristol marketplace during the 1990s and also worked at the fair’s Virginia location.
Among the new acts this year is the Seelie Players’ “Sirena: From Down Below We Sing,” an all-woman trio who sing like sirens (July 7-Aug. 19).
Mansour described Sirena as a “singing, drumming, dancing show, and it is such a unique blend of harmony. They definitely are sirens. You will sit there and just be hypnotized by their sound.”
Klaxton, a pipe and drum band with a hint of Celtic flair (July 21-22), and circa Paleo (July 14-15, 21-22), purveyors of ancient traditional folk music from around the world, will both make their Bristol debut.
“Circa Paleo is a strings group,” Mansour said. “They combine strings and percussion, but it’s such a hypnotic sound. It’s very, for lack of a better word, gypsylike. It’s that warm sound that just makes you want to move. Very often I see people getting up and just dancing, they’re moved so much by the music that they just begin to dance.”
Among the returning headliners are “Dirk & Guido: The Swordsmen,” MooNie the Magnif’Cent (both all season) and aerial artist Lauryn Murray (July 7-Aug. 19), who uses silks suspended from a 30-foot-high tree branch to ply her art.
Chicago fight master extraordinaire David Woolley — certified by the Society of American Fight Directors — is one-half of the hilarious popular “Swordsmen.” He and fight partner Doug Mumaw have been playing Bristol for 22 years. An artist-in-residence at Columbia College Chicago, Woolley has acted, directed or choreographed more than 450 theatrical productions. He staged the fight scenes for “Billy Elliot” on Broadway and received a 2010 Jeff Award for fight choreography for “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” at Victory Gardens.
Why does such an accomplished actor return to the fair year after year?
“The audience is what attracts us,” Woolley said. “And it’s outside; I love performing outside. I like the intimacy. … It’s a beautiful fair site, and the patrons have known us now for 20 years, so it’s like playing for family. And it’s a big family-friendly place to be.”
In “The Swordsmen,” Woolley and Mumaw are “itinerant gentlemen adventurers here this day as living examples of the finest qualities to be sought in a Renaissance man, which obviously we are,” he said. “We teach gentlemen lessons. We of course, as men, settle our disagreements with sword fighting.”
“David Woolley’s a master of what he does,” Mansour said. “It’s sword play at its finest … even though it’s a sword fight, it’s beautiful in an artful way; it’s a dance.”
Philip Earl Johnson, aka MooNiE the Magnif’Cent, is another accomplished local actor who plays Bristol every year, this being his 23rd. He’s worked in film, television and on the stage and is set to play the lead role in two back-to-back productions at the Court Theatre this fall (“The Dead” and “Skylight”). He worked at the fair during high school (he was born in Libertyville and now lives in Mundelein) and returned to it after college.
He described his show as “a silent European-style clowning act … the whole point is interacting with the audience and using different subtle techniques to draw them into my world using their own natural curiosity and their own natural desire to be entertained.”
He incorporates juggling, physical stunts, magic and tightrope walking in what Mansour calls one of the fair’s most popular shows.
“Phil Johnson is a unique performer in the fact that the majority of the show is silent. He whistles. He communicates with the audience by whistling,” she said. “Phil Johnson, he’s exquisite with how he handles his audience, and he has a full house always.”
Other fest highlights include jousting tournaments, mud beggars, a marketplace with 15 new artisans, games and rides, the Kids Kingdom replete with its own schedule of entertainment and activities, and RenQuest and Kids Quest, live-action fantasy games, which Mansour called “interactive scavenger hunts.”
♦ The Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences presents a musical version of “Sleeping Beauty” July 7 through Aug. 18 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. Tickets are $15. Call (847) 634-0200 or visit marriotttheatre.com.
♦ The Smart Museum of Art is offering three more free Family Days from 1 to 4 p.m. this summer. Up July 7: Bright Lights, Big City — create pastel paintings inspired by landscapes and portraits in the museum. Play with Korean Clay will be offered Aug. 4, and Art Monsters will be offered Sept. 8. Projects are geared for kids 4 to 12 years old. The museum is on the University of Chicago campus at 5550 S. Greenwood. Call (773) 702-0200 or visit smartmuseum.uchicago.edu.
♦ Theatre-Hikes at the Morton Arboretum kicks off the season with The Hound of the Baskervilles, running weekends at 1 p.m. in July starting July 7. Tickets are $13 for adults, $8 for kids 2-17. The Wind in the Willows will be presented weekends in August, The Tempest in September (starting Sept. 8) and Werewolve’s Curse; Or Hair Today Gone Tomorrow in October. The arboretum is at 4100 Illinois 53 in Lisle. Call (630) 968-0074 or visit mortonarb.org.
Jennifer Burklow is a local free-lance writer.