Men in Tights: Florida Renaissance Fest Promises Gaye Olde Tyme
Paul Stickney and Richard Weber are determined to rewrite history. As the entertainment directors of the Florida Renaissance Festival, running weekends through March 14 in Deerfield Beach, the two are presenting history from the gay perspective.
“Every year, we create a storyline and again this year, we decided to go totally gay, campier than we ever have before,” explains Stickney, who like Weber is a professional actor who appears in a number of Renaissance festivals across the country each year.
Stickney adds, “My background is in musical theater, and once again, we’re bringing some musical theater to the Renaissance. We’ve brought back a crowd favorite for a second year, a musical version of Macbeth that is completely anachronistic—with a happy ending and the three witches as the Andrews Sisters, parodies of Broadway songs—all squeezed into 25 minutes and performed twice a day. Of course, Shakespeare hadn’t even been born yet in 1502. We bent logic, history and good taste.”
He says this year’s production is the “Director’s Cut,” with a larger cast, more songs and fabulous costumes.
In addition to the daily productions of Macbeth, each weekend has a theme. Opening weekend, Feb. 13-14, is Romance Weekend, with special interactive shows, including a Renaissance flavored, “Not Just for Newlyweds Game.” The festival also offers a pets-themed weekend, with registered and tagged pets welcome and encouraged to enter a daily costume contest.
Stickney and Weber are particularly excited about Pirates Weekend, Feb. 27-28, featuring performances by a new act, The Dandy Pirates, two extremely elegantly dressed pirates: “They’re very easy on the eyes, guys,” Weber promises.
Wenches Weekend and Celtic Weekend round out the 2010 festival during the March weekends. A popular highlight of the former is the cleavage contest, which Stickney says is “scary, but very popular,” and just to be fair, Celtic Weekend, includes a kilt contest. Of course, Weber is happy to judge and will be having mirrors installed on the tops of his shoes.
According to Weber, such an avant garde take on history might not fly at some festivals, but in South Florida, the audiences look at entertainment value first.
“This show is a lot looser than a lot of other renaissance fairs,” he says. “Originally, years ago, this show wanted to be historically accurate, but the audience wasn’t into it. We decided to push the envelope in the direction of comedy and numbers have gone up.”
In addition to planning the entertainment, each of the actors enjoy the opportunity to “perform,” with Stickney, portraying a flamboyant Cardinal Claudio decked out in authentic cassocks and Weber prancing around the village as the lord mayor, Lord Percival Degage, an effete character loosely based on the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Of course, there is plenty of traditional renaissance entertainment, too. Guests will see armor-clad knights competing in jousting tournaments and nearly 100 other performers wandering the grounds, ranging from jugglers and singers to magicians, each in their own character.
“The Florida audiences really get into the unique aspects of this type of entertainment. So much entertainment these days is passive, and (the audience is) not an integral part of it. In Renaissance fairs, the audience is an active participant,” Weber says. “We [performers] welcome people to come up—sometimes people really shock us, too. A major part of our training program is instilling in our cast members that even though they are playing a role, their real job is in customer service, answering questions in an entertaining way.”
The Florida Renaissance Festival is open on weekends from 10 a.m. to sunset, Saturday, Feb. 13 through Sunday, March 14, at Quiet Waters Park in Deerfield Beach. Adult tickets are $20. For more information or to purchase advance tickets, go to www.ren-fest.com.