Photography Courtesy of The Bristol Renaissance Faire
They say history repeats itself. But the Renaissance, in particular, is downright perennial. Every summer for the last 30 years, lords and ladies and all things 16th century have returned to The Bristol Renaissance Faire.
Set in the Elizabethan era, The Bristol Renaissance Faire is based off of a summer day in 1574 when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth visited the English hamlet of Bristol. You, too, can remember that day with human-powered rides, acrobats and a gluttonous amount of period food. (Maybe that’s why billowy pants were all the rage then? All the better to overeat in.)
For nine summer weekends and Labor Day, tens of thousands flock to the Wisconsin-Illinois border to enjoy 16 entertainment stages, nonstop music, merriment and live performers in a 30-acre space located just off of I-94 in Kenosha. More than 225 artisans and crafters showcase their wares, which include period jewelry, pottery, clothing, swords and home décor.
One of the first Renaissance fairs in the U.S. was founded in California by Los Angeles schoolteacher Phyllis Patterson. Frustrated by the lack of arts education in schools, she started a Renaissance market, which turned into a fair—and is still going strong there 55 years later. (They have a sister fair in New York, too.) The Wisconsin event started in the 1970s as King Richard’s Fair and was acquired in the 1980s by Renaissance Entertainment productions and renamed The Bristol Renaissance Faire.
“Nothing knocks you out of Facebook faster than people with quill pens in front of you,” says Julie McMillin, the fair’s webmaster and social media director. “It’s a place where you can escape the modern world. It’s more than historical reenactment—you can immerse yourself in history and get hands-on with history.”
TICKETS: Bristol Renaissance Faire tickets can be purchased on the grounds or online. Adult single-day tickets are $25.95; children ages 5-12 are $11.50; and children four and younger are free.
DATES: This year’s season opens July 8, and the Faire is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through September 4, and Labor Day, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
LOCATION: The grounds are just off of I-94 at the Wisconsin/Illinois border at 12550 120th Ave. in Kenosha. For more information call 847-395-7773 or visit renfair. com/bristol/.
The Faire celebrates life in the 16th century every day it’s open, with themed weekends like Steampunk and Celtic celebrations. Other fun activities include:
OPENING WEEKEND: On July 8 and 9, meet Lord Mayor Arthur Trewilliger Brim and his sister Hattie, as they “open wide the gates” to the 30th Bristol season.
PUB CRAWL: Those of age can enjoy a loud and boisterous crawl to four pubs every Faire day. Actors flavor the day with jokes, stories and riddles, and attendees can sip on beer, cider and mead as they follow along. For a fee, you can even travel with your own bartender.
RENQUEST: An interactive theatrical gaming experience, RenQuest offers players the chance to immerse themselves in all things Renaissance by completing quests and defeating villains.
GETTING IN CHARACTER
Most of the year Chicagoan Amber Wuttke can be found at the Drury Lane Theatre, where she works as head of wigs and as a wardrobe assistant. But come summer, she’s got her own hair and makeup to do when she gets into the act at The Bristol Renaissance Faire. We asked her to take us behind the scenes.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED?
There’s a formal audition process that is held … but a bunch of my classmates in college were doing it and told me I should do it, and since I have trust in my friends, I did.
EXPLAIN WHAT THE BRISTOL RENAISSANCE FAIRE IS FOR THOSE WHO’VE NEVER BEEN.
The nutshell version is it’s like going to a county fair, only it’s Renaissance-themed. You have shows happening all over the place, a bunch of stores with handmade items and different characters walking around to interact with you.
YOU’VE PLAYED A LOT OF CHARACTERS, EVEN A FAIRY. WHAT’S IT’S LIKE TO BE A FAIRY?
Well, with the fairy character, we weren’t allowed to speak. We had to use a lot of other actions to communicate, which is magical, and the kids gravitated towards us. The adults [did] too, and you kind of find the magical child in them.
YOU’VE ALSO PLAYED WHAT YOU DESCRIBE AS A FLOOZIE. TELL US ABOUT HER.
This past year, I really solidified my character. I put her in the box of the “Woo-hoo Girl” at a party, wanting to be wherever the party is. She just wants to have fun.
WHAT’S THE BEST PART ABOUT PERFORMING?
I’ve made a lot of connections with people, and I get to play with friends in a fantasy world that is not 2017.
This article originally appeared in the 2017 spring/summer issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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