The returning peasants — cloaked in everything from leather gloves to knee-high boots — deftly fought with their swords, heavily grunting as they thrashed the heavy weaponry through the air. One brave individual even fought shirtless. The rookies, however, gripped rulers or colorful light sabers and attempted to keep up with the seasoned veterans.
Men and women were seen jousting on a grassy field as they auditioned for the Sarasota Medieval Fair last weekend, at the Sarasota Fairgrounds. They tried out for stage combat, which takes place twice a day during the main event in November, and the Human Combat Chess Match, one of the most well-attended features of the festival along with the joust.
At 11, Kei Bland is the youngest jouster of the cast, which consisted of approximately 110 members last year. Each year, the Sarasota Medieval Fair scenario is different but is always based on history. It can range from “Braveheart” to “Robin Hood.”
“I write the scenarios from history — the stuff you fell asleep to in high school — and make it come to life so you can understand it,” said Artistic Director Dean Bowden.
Tara Connelly had been attending Renaissance and medieval fairs her entire life, but never thought about auditioning for one until she moved in 2007 from Baltimore to Sarasota and became best friends with Bowden and his wife, Shannon.
“At first, it was daunting to me because I have no theater background,” Connelly said. “I had to learn Scottish and French accents — British is the most common — and always played noble characters. My husband (Gary Conner) was the assistant chess match director. This year we have the peasant revolt, which is so much fun. You get away with a lot more.”
The eighth annual Sarasota Medieval Fair takes place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 12 and Nov. 13 and Nov. 19 and Nov. 20, at the Sarasota Fairgrounds.