Renaissance Faire brings past to life in Norwich

Connecticut Renaissance Faire cast members Cliff Allen, right, of Somerville, Mass., as
Connecticut Renaissance Faire cast members Cliff Allen, right, of Somerville, Mass., as "Duc de Longville," and Alex Carrasco of Wallingford as "Ancel" stage a sword fight.

Norwich - Young Luciano is unlikely to forget the day he was knighted by King Henry VIII.

The little boy was strolling down a gravel path at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire on Sunday afternoon when the king - an actor dressed in an appropriately royal costume - addressed him in a booming voice.

When Luciano told the king, softly, about his attempts at archery, the actor declared that the English people were "in need of great warriors such as yourself."

"I know you hail from Italy," acknowledged the king, but he still pulled out a prop sword and asked the excited Luciano to kneel.

This kind of interaction isn't out of place at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire, which is being held this year at Dodd Stadium every weekend from Sept. 21 to Oct. 20. Actors dressed in period attire are often indistinguishable from costumed guests as they roam the gravel paths, sometimes stopping visitors to greet them as "my lady" or "m'lord."

This year's festival is loosely based on the story of Henry VIII as he tries to find a suitable husband for his daughter, Princess Mary. Several people in period dress speak with a French accent, a reference to the French court's interest in Princess Mary.

Scenes one, two and three of the Shakespeare play are shown at 11:45 a.m., 1:45 p.m. and 4 p.m. on small stages set up in different parts of the fairgrounds, and characters from the play interact with guests throughout the day.

But the festival isn't just about the king and his daughter. Although visitors are immediately greeted by actresses singing in both French and English, a very different performance is just a short walk from the front gate.

There, traveling performer Melissa Arleth hosts her Cirque du Sewer.

In a poufy red-and-black costume, Arleth elicited ooohs and aaahs from the crowd as she exhibited her rat circus. Rats with names like Sepsis, Salmonella and E. Coli jumped through flaming hoops and completed obstacle courses under her guidance.

Arleth, who said she learned how smart rats were in a psychology laboratory class in college, attracted large crowds with her performance. Several families stood to watch after the benches filled up.

Vendors selling everything from jewelry, period dress and wooden swords lined the gravel paths. Other booths offered services, such as tarot readings, henna tattoos and hair braiding.

The smells that wafted over the fair only contributed to the atmosphere: guests could recognize the scents of leather, herbs, turkey legs and horses.

"I love the leather. And I love the metal," said Mary Vona of Mystic, while her 5-year-old daughter looked at a stand of roses and her 12-year-old daughter browsed some jewelry. "This is like a piece of history."

Vona said she had always wanted to attend a renaissance fair and was excited to see one come so close to her home. She said she's now considering learning more about leather crafts, and mentioned that her kids are now "over the top about archery." For $17 for adults and $10 for kids 7-15, anyone can join in on the historical fun, including other attractions such as a jousting tournament. The fair is free for children 6 and under.

Visitors should be careful, though, to keep an eye out for a small wooden stop sign on the gravel path. Otherwise they risk getting a ticket from the sheriff for "failure to stop" and possibly even "excessive jubilation."

Melissa Arleth of New York performs with her rats on stage in an act titled
Melissa Arleth of New York performs with her rats on stage in an act titled "Cirque du Sewer" during the Connecticut Renaissance Faire held Sunday in an area outside Dodd Stadium in Norwich.


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