Renaissance Festival captures imagination


HAGERSTOWN -- Meandering the grounds of the Jonathan Hager House at City Park in Hagerstown Saturday might have caused people to do a double take.

Living history demonstrations at the Renaissance Festival played out in such detail that it called to mind the notion of time travel.

Belly dancers glided to the sounds of recorders, shruti drone boxes and tambourine-like instruments called tars, riqqs and deffs. Dozens of Elizabethan characters donned hoods and masks and wielded rapiers, battling it out in a melee in the woods. Over a wooden bridge and across a meadow, a bard raised her voice in a melodic celebration of the birth of the seneschal -- an officer in the house of important nobles.

The seneschal, in this case, was Rob VanRens of Adamstown, Md.

VanRens, 35, is the head of Barony of Highland Foorde, a re-enacting group covering Washington, Allegany, Frederick and Garrett counties. The group is part of the Society for Creative Anachronism, an organization dedicated to preserving the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe.


VanRens, who goes by Eadric the Potter among Barony circles, said he has been re-enacting at festivals for more than half of his life. Like many Renaissance re-enactors, he said he is drawn to the historical and intellectual aspects of re-enacting.

"I try to be authentic," he said. "I enjoy the intellectual challenge of creating clothing and personal gear for my portrayal."

VanRens said about 300 members of the society re-enacted at the festival, and estimated more than 400 people visited.

Wayne Dionne, 62, and Joanna Dionne, 55, of Bowie, Md., portrayed the Baron and Baroness of Storvic. Dressed in 12th-century Norman garb, the couple browsed merchant wares and explained their passion for re-enacting.

"I've always been fascinated with history. What resonated with me was the chivalric ideals. That was the shiny ball," Joanna said. "But what really got me was thinking about, 'How did they live? What did they do?'"

Part of Joanna Dionne's decision to portray a Nordic woman, she said, was her discovery that Nordic women had more rights than most at the time.

"They were independent, they could own property, run things," she said. "It was pretty democratic."

Jim Hayden, 42, and Julie Hayden, 41, of Charles Town, W.Va., said they took their son, Ian Widman, 11, to the festival as a fun way to cultivate his interest in history.

"This is hands-on," Jim Hayden said. "You can show a picture of a sword in a book, or you can go see one in person. It's two different things."

Alex Ayer, 17, of Frederick, Md., said he is captivated by Medieval history. Ayer went to the festival last year with his mother, and returned with her this year, along with his sister and her boyfriend.

"I love (the festival)," Ayer said. "I love the armored combat. I want to get involved as soon as possible."

His mother, M.C. Ayer, said Renaissance re-enacting seems to suit Alex, as he always has been "a history nut."

"People who are here are interested in history and cultures," she said. "That seems to be where a lot of this stems. People just enjoy that time and like to relive it whenever possible."

"Next year we'll bring a legion," Alex said.

"In garb," M.C. added.

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