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A Weekend Trip to Merry Olde England : Entertainment: The Renaissance Arts Festival will re-create the trappings of the 16th Century.

August 25, 1994|JOHN POPE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Allen Hughes works as a sheet-metal mechanic at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, but this weekend he will don the trappings of 16th-Century England and help transform downtown's Shoreline Park into an Olde English village.

The Long Beach Renaissance Arts Festival is coming to town, and for two days Hughes and other volunteers will have the chance to become any character they choose--peasant, nobleman, Gypsy, craftsman, minstrel and others. Many volunteers say they participate in the festival year after year because they love re-creating the history of the era.

"It's definitely different than the normal grind," Hughes said.

The festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, seeks to re-create a spring celebration during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, complete with royal feasts, mock battles, parades, folk pageants, traditional games and fortunetellers.

Eighty booths, surrounding the Rainbow Lagoon at Shoreline Park, will have enough food and drinks to satisfy the hungriest knight and lady. And dozens of vendors will sell items ranging from swords and daggers to jewelry and handmade garlands.

The festival is a fund-raiser for the Traveler's Aid Society, a United Way agency that assists the homeless. It relies on about 600 volunteer performers to add an authentic flavor and interact with customers. Although some pageants are scripted, most of the actors' work at the Long Beach festival is improvisational.

The royal court also is composed of volunteer actors. This year's royalty will include King James, who ruled Scotland during Elizabeth's reign and assumed her throne when she died without an heir in 1603; his Queen, Ann of Denmark; the Irish Queen and her entourage, and the King of Denmark. King James will be played by Ole Olausson, a Whittier resident who has portrayed royal figures at festivals for 17 years.

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Performers pride themselves on making sure costumes are authentic and that accessories, from drinking cups to metalwork, could be created from the technology and tools of the Elizabethan era. They often chide festival-goers for wearing "strange bejeweled blindfolds" (sunglasses, of course) and athletic shoes that show the person is no doubt dealing with "a shady pirate who doth sail from the Far East."

Hughes, a history buff who collects 16th-Century firearm replicas, will demonstrate his skill with a primitive musket.

Ralph Owen, a respiratory therapist at the Long Beach Veteran's Hospital, will be playing tunes on a "sak-but," one of the first valved brass instruments.

Owen, 29, attended his first festival in 1986 and has returned as an actor since 1988. "It was exciting to see people dressed up in costume and speaking in the (Olde English) language I'd never heard before, using 'thees' and 'thous.' It really was a whole new world," Owen said.

Like other performers, Owen spends many summer weekends at festivals across the state, including San Marcos, San Bernardino, Long Beach and San Luis Obispo. Some festival organizers pay performers, but the sums usually don't exceed lunch money.

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Renaissance festivals, as they exist today, began in 1963 with the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, which is held in San Bernardino.

In a similar spirit, other nonprofit and fund-raising festivals have been organized during the years. Long Beach's festival, which attracted about 12,000 people last year, raises an average of $23,000 for the homeless each year.

The performers speak highly of the community and friendships that develop among people who may have little in common except the bond of a bygone time.

"You develop friendships over a series of weekends, and then you go back to your home life for the rest of the year," said Kathy Hughes (her husband is the musketeer). "But many longtime friendships are made at the festivals. There's an open-mindedness and acceptance that you don't find elsewhere."

Transforming oneself into a different character and persona, with names, background and attitudes developed by the performer, is a unique creative outlet, said Natalie Beatie of Gardena, who plays a brewer's wife in a group of traveling merchants.

"Creating a character allows you the freedom to do things that you wouldn't ordinarily do," she said.

The Long Beach Renaissance Arts Festival will be Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Rainbow Lagoon, near Pine Avenue and Shoreline Drive. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for seniors, $2 for children ages 5 through 12. Children under 5 are free. Information: (310) 437-0751.

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