Renaissance Festival brings chivalry to Pittsburgh

By Larissa Gula

Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival

When: Sept. 4-6, 11-12, 18-19, 25-26

Where: On Route… Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival

When: Sept. 4-6, 11-12, 18-19, 25-26

Where: On Route 31 East,

between West Newton and Mt. Pleasant. Take exit 51A off of Interstate 70. Festival is 1/4 mile on the right.

Phone number: 724-872-1670

Regular Gate Adult

Admission: $15.95

Hear ye, hear ye — Pittsburgh’s fantasy king and queen have opened their doors to the city once again.

Returning for its fourth year under new management, the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival is an annual medieval-themed fair that combines combat jousting, music, comedy, games, carnival rides, costumed performers and a marketplace for handcrafted materials.

“Once you walk through the front gate, it’s all entertainment,” said Jim Paradise Jr., director of marketing.

Every year the festival acts are carefully selected to provide the best entertainment for local residents. The performers are a mix of new talent and old favorites.

One memorable act is Cast in Bronze, a music group started by Frank DellaPenna of Valley Forge, Pa. He plays a carillon, a four-ton medieval instrument made of different sized bells, historically used for weddings and town events.

“I am the Spirit of the Bells,” said DellaPenna, explaining that carillon players in the past were not seen while playing their instrument. To capture the same historical feel, he wears all black with a mask, keeping his facial identity a secret from the general public.

DellaPenna has performed in medieval-type fairs for almost 15 years. He was recruited to Pittsburgh during the Colorado Renaissance Festival.

When performing, DellaPenna plays his bells “as a silent and masked spirit, which is kind of different than what other people do,” he said. “I don’t speak, I perform. I only appear in costume to play the instrument, and no one knows me outside of the costume. It’s a mystical, magical thing.”

Paradise affirmed the uniqueness of the performance.

“Cast In Bronze is something you won’t see anywhere else,” Paradise said. “People sit, not laughing, but enjoying the sounds that come from him.”

Other festival acts this year include a hypnotist, a juggler, a fire-eater, a master piper and jousters. Jousting, in particular, is a quintessential Renaissance Festival staple.

“People enjoy the jousts,” Paradise said. “It says what we are and the different entertainment that we have.”

Bryan Beard, the owner, producer and jouster of Noble Cause Productions, came to the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival after Paradise recruited him from the Colorado Renaissance Festival.

Beard rehearses with three other jousters and their horses three times a week, ensuring that the “good guy wins” after each match.

“We have so many kids coming to see the show,” Beard explained. “They come to be entertained. Sometimes the bad guy will cheat, but they always lose in the end. The good guy is in black and gold, obviously, as a Steeler tribute, and he wins every time.”

Beard enjoys traveling with the crew but also has another investment in the shows.

“I like being able to present an idea of chivalry,” he said. “I don’t say it’s lost, but I say sometimes it’s forgotten. People living up to their own code, doing what’s right and kind — I think that’s something that needs to be emphasized as much as the negative.”

A daily marketplace offers spectators relief from weighty morality plays. Items sold include pots, art pieces, jewelry, handmade soaps, welding, swords and various leather bags and ornaments.

“It’s not your everyday item that you’re going to see,” Paradise said of the marketplace. “We need to be different, and the quality of what we bring in will be appreciated.”

In addition to a diverse product list, each weekend features a specific theme that alters the festival a little, making each day a little different for workers and visitors alike.

“For us, it’s having additional elements to the festival other than what we do every day to make each weekend different,” Paradise said.

Paradise cited Wine Revelry weekend (Sept. 11-12), in which a variety of local wines are available for tasting, as one such theme. Other upcoming themes include Celtic Fling (Sept. 18-19) and Oktoberfest (Sept. 25-26).

The festival has been ongoing in the Pittsburgh area for about 14 years, according to Paradise, with one missed year when ownership changed hands to a private company. The Festival is now managed by Rocky Mountain Festivals, Inc., which owns and funds the Colorado Renaissance Festival as well. Paradise said the new management provides a reliable lineup of features.

“I don’t want to change a lot because of the quality of what we have,” Paradise said about the lineup. “We may bring in two or three new acts and add them to the cast.”

For his part, DellaPenna returns every year because he is asked back and has a fan base in Pittsburgh. He doesn’t mind sharing his music, considering he owns one of only two traveling carillons in the United States. According to Paradise, entertainment like what DellaPenna provides is key to the fair.

“Some of the struggle that we have is that people look at people in costume and think it’s reenactment, but it’s truly a fantasy park,” he said. “You don’t have to come in costume. It’s the Shakespearean entertainment — outdoor, interactive entertainment that people enjoy. You become part of it.”