Photos and text by Amy Davis
Nestled deep in the woods of Crownsville, the Maryland Renaissance Festival, now in its 40th season, attracts over 300,000 visitors each year. Participants, often in period costume, repair to Revel Grove for the spectacle of theater, music, jousting, street performers, crafts, grog, roast turkey legs and other treats. Most of all they come to be transported back in time. Many return, year after year.
Jules Smith, the festival’s longtime operator, reflects that such festivals were once considered counterculture. It was “a communal opportunity for people to get together and celebrate the live arts. That’s changed in this country and we’ve become kind of the establishment now. But it’s still a great opportunity to get out and have an unstructured, safe experience. People come here to be somebody they aren’t in their regular life.”
Performers love the interaction with the audiences. Mark Jaster, a mime whose act, “A Fool Named O and LaLa” has been running for 31 seasons, says the spectators are direct and honest. “We get scholars, bikers and toddlers in one audience.” Nicole Skelly, who performs with Samantha McDonald as The Steele Sisters, puts it simply, “I like to make people laugh. That’s my favorite