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Renaissance fairs mark their 2021 return

5/5/2021

Iowa Shakespeare Experience on the Waterfront Stage at Des Moines Renaissance Faire XV, September 2020:  Pictured from left:  Preshia Paulding, Gavin Runles, Jillian Gabby. Photo Credit: Iowa Shakespeare Experience

As the refrain proclaims, “Tra-la! It’s May! The lusty month of May!” (from “Camelot”) promises performances to engage, entertain and inspire. As venues open, led by the Des Moines Playhouse’s “Some Enchanted Evening” through May 9, outdoor theater options abound as invitingly as the bursting of springtime buds.

One popular spectacle renewing its bodacious appeal to fans will be Renaissance fairs. One of many cultural casualties in 2020, these multiple-platform extravaganzas are especially enticing for families and reenactors. Who doesn’t like to dress up and pretend to be knights or ladies of yore or fantasy creatures? 

One of the earliest Greater Des Moines Ren Fair-style guerilla theater performing troops was Shakespeare on the Loose (SOTL), founded in 1987. Anchoring their performing blitzes with song and scenes pulled from the Bard’s great works, SOTL first appeared at the Des Moines Arts Festival progenitor, Art in the Park. Their subsequent award-winning appearances at the Renaissance Faire of the Midlands and the esteemed Minnesota Renaissance Festival highlight many years of performing throughout Iowa before the troupe disbanded in the mid-1990s. SOTL’s full Shakespeare plays at Greenwood Park’s Sylvan Theatre still are fondly remembered (including “Select Best Shakespearean Scenes,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Romeo and Juliet”).

The Salisbury House Foundation ran a short-lived Salisbury Faire from 1996-2002 in the rustic, tree-filled setting across the Waterworks Park Racoon River Bridge off of George Flagg Parkway. The longest-running Central Iowa Ren fair is the Des Moines Renaissance Faire, presented by Iowa-based Festivals International, founded in 1992. First appearing in Mason City, then expanding to the Amana Colonies in 2000, this veteran production premiered in Des Moines in 2006. It was staged at Sleepy Hollow until 2016, when Sleepy Hollow established a new event. The Renaissance Faire at Sleepy Hollow now offers two weekends of revelry this May and three weekends in the fall. It is Iowa’s only permanent village “Ren Fair,” set in a secluded, wooded location, adding to the escapism appeal of Ren fairs. For more information, visit www.sleepyhollowrenfaire.com.

Prep Iowa - Pride Month

The original Central Iowa event also continues. The 2021 Des Moines Renaissance Faire XVI is May 14-16 at 2977 N.W. 66th Ave. in Des Moines. After a year of pandemic-influenced 2020, it returns with its eclectic bevy of entertainments and enticements. Headlining the performances, the Iowa Shakespeare Experience (ISE) will present “Romeo and Juliet,” “A Short Comedy” (aka “The Storyteller’s Tale; A Midsummer Knight’s Romance”). ISE reflects shades of SOTL in their energized interpretations and delivery based on Shakespeare’s works, and this show features Preshia Paulding, one of the region’s best-known performers. For more information, visit https://dmrenfaire.com.

Iowa Stage Theatre Company continues to produce and offer its captivating adaptations of Anton Chekhov short plays — he often called them jokes — on demand. 

Ankeny Community Theatre continues its Readers Virtual Theater with “Motherhood Out Loud” by L. Ayvazian May 9 at 6:30 p.m. and “Puffs” by Matt Cox May 23 at 7:30 p.m.

A show that opens just past the end of May, and very much worth getting on your cultural radar, is Pyramid Theatre Company’s partnering with the Des Moines Community Playhouse in a powerful work, “A Love Offering.” 

Other performance education and camps:

• Des Moines Performing Arts – registration is open for MUSICAL THEATER CAMP, June 14 – Aug. 6, 2021. Check out full schedule of one-week camps. https://desmoinesperformingarts.org/classes-camps/

• Des Moines Community Playhouse – Friday Funday (interactive theater for children ages 4-6) May 2021: “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” “A wolf is in the sheep!” Classic Friday Funday stories are also available On Demand to share in your home when wanted. Each event begins with Edgar Allan Crow and the Clubhouse handshake. www.dmplayhouse.com/friday-funday-2

• Des Moines Community Playhouse – Classes and camps for children and adults. www.dmplayhouse.com/education/classes-and-camps

Overheard in the Lobby 

Check for updates with each company regarding future plans and how to support.

Ankeny Community Theatre – www.ankenycommunitytheatre.com

Carousel Theatre of Indianola – www.carouseltheatre.org

Class Act Productions – www.captheatre.org

Des Moines Community Playhouse/Kate Goldman Theatre – www.dmplayhouse.com

Des Moines Performing Arts – For rescheduled, canceled, postponed events and FAQ https://desmoinesperformingarts.org/covid-19-update/

Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre – www.dmyat.org

Iowa Shakespeare Experience – www.iowashakespeare.org

Iowa Stage Theatre Company – www.iowastage.org

Pyramid Theatre Company – www.pyramidtheatre.org

Tallgrass Theatre Company – www.tallgrasstheatre.org

Urbandale Community Theatre – www.urbandaletheatre.com ♦

John Busbee is a creative project developer, critic, playwright, author, producer and media professional. He has produced his weekly show, The Culture Buzz, on KFMG since 2007.

One Comment

  1. It’s always great to find Renaissance Faires getting a mention! There was one year when Iowa had SEVEN of them operating across the state.

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