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Much more fun than the real Middle Ages

Whether a lady or a wench, a prince or a page, you're welcome at Puddleton on Piddle.

By EILEEN SCHULTE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2001


photo
[Times files 1995]
The royals always draw a crowd. Here, Sheriff Rupert Kilpatrick (Kirk Simpson of St. Petersburg) and others offer food to Queen Catherine (Mary Kababik of Sarasota) at a past Bay Area Renaissance Festival.
LARGO -- Ah, the Middle Ages, a time of feudalism, chivalry, knights in shining armor, unicorns and large turkey legs.

If you overlook the Black Death, barbarians and torture chambers, it was a great time.

Especially in the picture-perfect English village of Puddleton on Piddle, circa 1570.

A cast of more than 100 actors will re-create the gentler side of Olde English village life every weekend from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday through April 15, during the 22nd anniversary Bay Area Renaissance Festival at 400 Central Park Drive, Largo.

Well, maybe it's not so gentle. There will be a chopping block, pillory and an executioner named Dragfoot.

No wonder the town crier actually walks around crying.

Of course, this village has its own idiot. William Braelsford is "an irritant. He gets in the way and creates havoc," said Tom Bennett, 65, of Palm Harbor, who plays Lord Mayor Sir Thomas Francis Cranworthy (villagers address him as Your Worship).

And then there's Sue Lentz, whom the villagers address as "wench."

Lentz, 50, plays a tough, ear-pinching serving wench named Annie with a history of fighting women and thieves.

"I like the cat fights," she admitted.

But she has to scale back her scratching and clawing for the time being. There are more important things to do. Like guarding the Holy Grail of Ale at the old Barrelsbottom Inn run by a character named Celia Barrelsbottom and her husband.

The bar holds the last bottle of Holy Grail of Ale, made of hops, barley and a little something else -- and we're not talking about yeast. Take a swig of this powerful stuff and you get more than a buzz. You get eternal drunkenness and -- this is the best part -- no hangover.

Top that, Budweiser.

To guard the sacred brew, Lentz will jump on the bar and scream at four thieves who try to steal it. She does two shows a day.

Lentz, owner of Susan's Curls & Creations in Largo, loves the Renaissance Festival, and sold Pepsi there for years.

But playing a wench is more fun.

Once you step through the gates of the 40-acre site at Largo Central Park, she said, "you are thrown back into the 16th century. It's a whole fantasy world."

It will be a feast of live jousts by armor-clad fighters, a bustling marketplace, swing rides pushed by actors, jugglers, magicians, fire eaters, human chess matches, minstrels, maidens, peasants and fools.

More than 130 shops will sell hand-crafted jewelry, pottery, leather, artwork, footwear, glass, clothing and furniture. There will also be psychics and hair-braiders.

Food vendors will sell turkey drumsticks, soup in a bread bowl, Scotch eggs, scones, soda, beer and wine.

New on the entertainment lineup this year is Manolete, the Spanish Dancer, a pirate drama and stunt show and Rhythm of the Knights, a movement performance act. And then there are the village stocks.

For a small "bribe," you can lock your friends up in the pillory. They'll love you for it.

PREVIEW

The 22nd annual Bay Area Renaissance Festival, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, March 10 through April 15, plus Friday, April 6 and 13, rain or shine. Admission: $12.95 adults, $10.95 seniors, $5.95 ages 5-12 (4 and younger are free). Season passes available. The festival is at 400 Central Park Drive, Largo. Advance tickets and passes available 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday at the festival office, 1920 Lake Ave. SE, Suite 4, Largo. Call (727) 586-5423.

THEMES:

Each weekend of the Renaissance Festival has its own theme:

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY, WINE AND ROSES: Features free wine tasting (1:30 and 4 p.m. at New Gate Inn); grape stomping (11 a.m., New Gate Inn); wooing contest (2 p.m., chess field); Romeo & Juliet auditions (2 p.m., chess field); and a wedding vow renewal (5 p.m., chess field).

MARCH 17-18, IRISH FESTIVAL: Features Knight Wrap (11:30 a.m., children's realm); bar keeper's contest (1:30 p.m., New Gate Inn); hot potato toss (3 p.m., children's realm).

MARCH 24-25, HIGHLAND CELEBRATION: Features a pipe and drum band (2 p.m., chess field); Highland games (2:30 p.m., joust field); tug-o-war (2:30 p.m., joust field); junior caber toss (3 p.m., children's realm).

MARCH 31-APRIL 1, ROYAL ALE FESTIVAL: Features a treasure hunt (11:30 p.m., children's realm); free beer tasting (time to be announced, New Gate Inn); press-a-wench (2 p.m., chess field); and the perfect pirate contest (3 p.m., children's realm).

APRIL 6-8, WONDERS OF THE WORLD: Features belly-dancing lessons (11:30 p.m., children's realm); belly-dance competitions (2 p.m., chess field); Manolete, the Spanish Dancer (11 a.m. and additional times) Wychwood Theatre); and a costume contest (3 p.m., chess field).

APRIL 13-15, SPRING FLING: Features maypole dancing (10:15 a.m. at the maypole); Easter egg hunts (11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., children's realm); May queen contest (2 p.m., chess field); and an Easter service (check special events kiosks inside and outside the front gate for more information).

Scheduled events are subject to change.

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