Philly gets its very own Renaissance Faire

“Listen,” says Patrick Rodgers, hold­ing up one hand to hush the chat­ter. “Just stand still for a mo­ment. What do you hear?” Look­ing out across the gently slop­ing, thickly for­es­ted land­scape of West Fair­mount Park, lush with spring blos­soms of a dozen bold hues, it only takes three seconds to dis­cern what the an­swer he’s wait­ing for with calm cer­ti­tude is: birds, and no city. “Yep,” he agrees. “We are two minutes from City Line Av­en­ue, three minutes from 76, and it is quiet enough to hear a pin drop.”

That veil of isol­a­tion—that abil­ity to step dir­ectly from the traffic-and-sky­scrapers fury of 21st-cen­tury urb­an life in­to a bu­col­ic scene of semi-wil­der­ness—was the de­cid­ing factor that promp­ted Rodgers and his busi­ness part­ners to choose this ob­scure Chamounix Drive loc­a­tion (a five-minute drive from the Mann Cen­ter) as the site of their bold new ex­per­i­ment: the Phil­adelphia Renais­sance Faire, a me­di­ev­al-themed week­end won­der­land of staged sword­play, wan­der­ing bards and big chick­en drum­sticks that, un­like pretty much every oth­er such fest­iv­al in the na­tion, is based not in the ex­urb­an coun­tryside—like the an­nu­al au­tumn Pennsylvania Renais­sance Faire in Lan­caster County, an hour and a half away—but with­in the bor­ders of the city it­self.

The Faire’s 2015 de­but is a pre­view event com­pris­ing a single in­aug­ur­al week­end, May 16–17. The show or­gan­izers—Rodgers, plus loc­al event pro­du­cer Gil Gnaan and Patrick Col­leton of Con­necti­c­ut’s Mid­sum­mer Fantasy Renais­sance Faire—are look­ing ahead to a three-week sea­son in 2016.

Design­ing a Ren fest spe­cific­ally for a big-city audi­ence, Rodgers says, has meant do­ing some things dif­fer­ently at this Faire than at most. For starters, its cast of per­formers boasts not just a merry im­prov troupe of knights, jug­glers and tav­ern wenches but a re­l­at­ive big-name head­liner: Hafþór Júlíus “Thor” Björns­son, the Iceland­ic strong­man who stars in HBO’s Game of Thrones as “The Moun­tain,” the gi­ant, 420-pound war­ri­or who serves House Lan­nis­ter. At the Phil­adelphia Renais­sance Faire, Björns­son will play Thor, King of the Vik­ings, in a storyline that will see his crew of Norse­men land at the Faire’s fic­tion­al trade out­post of Am­man.

That’s an­oth­er way this fest­iv­al is unique: Where most oth­ers are set de­cidedly in a fantasy ver­sion of me­di­ev­al Eng­land or France, the Phil­adelphia Renais­sance Faire boasts an elab­or­ately con­struc­ted back­story that draws upon the full di­versity of the Middle Ages’ most mul­ti­cul­tur­al mer­cant­ile hubs. It pulls ele­ments, for in­stance, from Moor­ish Iber­ia, the cen­tur­ies-long era when North­ern Afric­ans oc­cu­pied much of Spain, Si­cily and France, and from the Jew­ish and Muslim cul­tures of Span­ish Córdoba.

It’s a savvy, his­tor­ic­ally ac­cur­ate way to en­vi­sion a Renais­sance fest that can re­flect Phil­adelphia’s own cos­mo­pol­it­an blend of eth­nic her­it­ages. Put­ting that eth­os in­to place was a key part of the pro­ject’s ap­peal for Rodgers, who just marked his 20-year an­niversary pro­du­cing and pro­mot­ing mu­sic and goth events in Phil­adelphia, and who cites far-flung world travel as one of the core in­spir­a­tions for the ar­ray of en­ter­tain­ment he mas­ter­minds, ran­ging from his monthly “Tribe” club nights to his re­cently launched “Meals of An­tiquity” series of an­cient din­ners.

The Faire’s en­ter­tain­ment lineup fea­tures 14 per­form­ance acts throughout the week­end, in­clud­ing fu­sion belly dan­cer Sam­antha Diaz, ma­gi­cian Mi­chael Mirth, myth­ic-folk band Ashagal, comedi­an Lord Mar­shall Laww, con­tor­tion­ist Scar­let Check­ers and more.

Phil­adelphia Renais­sance Faire: May 16-17. Noon–8:30pm. One-day tick­et: $20 ($15/kids). Week­end tick­et: $35 ($30/kids). VIP pack­ages for cus­tom ex­per­i­ences with Hafþór Björns­son: $39–$269. 4100 Chamounix Drive, West Fair­mount Park, on the grounds of the Can­cer Sup­port Com­munity of Great­er Phil­adelphia. phil­lyren­

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