Renaissance Fest welcomes merritime fun

Professional falconist “Knightwings” wowed families and friends as he signaled his bird to fly through the audience. Only adults with “a lot of bravery” could volunteer for his tricks.

Capri Scarcelli | A&E Editor

Sept. 29, 2022

Frolicking through meadows of 16th century folklore, the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival delivered “music, magic and merriment” to the lively village of Morelandshire — orchestrated through live performances, craft shops, fried turkey legs and more.

Running annually from August to September at West Newton fairgrounds, the Renaissance Festival took the last bow of its 2022 season on Sunday. Rain or shine, the day persisted with muddy ankles and bounds of laughter and smiles from actors and visitors alike.

Live entertainment was offered hourly at various outdoor stages, as characters interacted with families passing by. Booth after booth of chalices, armor, jewelry, crystals, flower crowns, essential oils and wooden trinkets welcomed guests to souvenirs throughout their journeys, like tokens of a long day’s quest in support of local actors and small businesses. Because festivals are a main source of income for those working the magic behind the scenes, it is courtesy to tip actors for their show or purchase something small from a booth to make sure the money goes directly to the cast members and businesses.

Throughout the day, I had the pleasure of attending seven different shows: including The Knights of Noble Cause, Thunder’s Power Show, Rin Tin Thoms Circus, Knightwings, The Duelists, Lady Amyella the Hypnotist and Dragonfire.

Sectioned off behind a red and yellow fence was the jousting tournament, where The Knights of Noble Cause dueled to preserve their honor. In authentic garb perched on horses, the crowd had to choose an opponent to side with, and heckle the other. The competition started with equestrian obstacle courses, then turned toward combat jousting. A percussionist would drum to the beat of the fight, which added to the effect for audience members. The cast even included a king, queen and princess watching, as “God Save the King” played as an intro and outro for the next event.

Thunder’s Power Show, however, was a vastly different event. “Thunder” insisted to young audience members, “this is what a degree in sociology will get you.” These jokes trickled throughout his set, which added a sharp, witty twist to a typical circus act. During his set, Thunder called an audience member on stage to help him onto a unicycle, then made her throw knives for him to catch mid-air. His uncertainty for his own stunts made the crowd cackle and cower in fear, as he stated “well if I mess this up, if I hit about 10 of you I’ll at least get a strike.” His precision and balance was always taken one step further, insisting that “Americans want stupid and dangerous, so that’s what I’ll give [them].”

Rin Tin Thoms Circus was in the grass away from the stages, with 20-foot tall poles for acrobatic structure. The duo, Rin and Thom, took turns performing their talents, then came together for their grand finale. Thom went first, performing some of the tricks previously seen at Thunder’s Power Show, but with less sarcasm and more charm. Thom had a knack for juggling and balancing, narrating each skill for the audience to understand his process, which was a great attention-grabber for kids in the audience. Rin was next, hoisting herself 20 feet in the air for her aerial silk choreography. She stunned audiences as she dangled upside down, twirling through pose after pose until her final “death drop,” where she fell through the silk until she caught herself two inches from the ground. Afterward, Rin and Thom performed a balancing act together, on top of tin barrels and blocks. Achieving this final set, the audience erupted in applause.

At this same venue, a falconist arrived — a professional bird-trainer that brought six different species from a facility that rescues, nurses and trains local species in the western Pennsylvania area. Thus, the Knightwings show featured a falcon given small cues by his trainer to hover through the audience and perch wherever the cue was set. Inviting volunteers to interact with the falcon as he zipped past them, Knightwings would refer to the falcon as a “cheater” for spoiling surprises and being so eager to perform their act. According to Knightwings, “every species is different, but it doesn’t make them untrainable.” He added, “If you find me sitting under a tree for a few hours trying to interact with more species after the show, don’t be surprised.”

The Duelists were an absolute fan-favorite: a comedic duo who introduced sword fighting through crass humor and innuendos. Making jabs at one another’s height, age, hairline and abilities to woo women, the two knights were fighting for honor — and masculinity. This show felt like a realistic display of both Renaissance and Medieval humor in literary tales, not pretending to be prim and proper in the slightest. Creating an interactive set with the audience, the duo heckled visitors young and old equally.

Lady Amyella is a professionally-trained hypnotist for counseling, acting and more. For her show, she described the psychology of hypnosis, explaining to the audience that “anyone can fall into a hypnotic state as long as they want to, though they will not if they do not want to.” In order to demonstrate this fact, Lady Amyella invited 12 volunteers up to the stage to be entranced live in front of their loved ones, walking them through a sleep stage and into a hilarious hypnosis, where volunteers were turning into rockstars, huggers, beach-goers and sports car drivers. As she stated in her set, “some folk are more susceptible to hypnosis than others naturally, depending on their willingness to sink into it.” Seeing the varying levels of the volunteers was entertaining and fascinating all in one.

The finale of the day was Sir Dragonfire himself: the man who can manipulate fire by the flick of a hand or a sharp inhale. Dragonfire casually lit and put out fires using only his hands, then began to light his tongue, his clothes and even his throat on fire, which he put out simply by breathing in the fumes. Bringing his fellow friends Rin, Thom and Sedwick on stage, Dragonfire used his castmates as a team to improvise different ways he could, quite literally, play with fire.

As the rain began to pour and the stage got too slippery to perform, the actors waved and shouted “farewell to thee!” as visitors trickled back into modern time after a long day of whimsical, merry fun.