Jugglers, jousters come alive in Renaissance Festival village

So that’s what living in the 16th century would have been like!

That’s the reaction organizers of the inaugural Oregon Renaissance Festival want you to have after spending some time in a virtual European village — circa 1572 — now being created at the Washington County Fair Complex in Hillsboro. A corner of the fairgrounds has been humming with building activity in recent days as the English village, Somerset, takes shape.

The Oregon Renaissance Festival opens to the public at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, and when it does, it reportedly will be as if a slice of the 16th century has landed in Hillsboro.

“This will feel like visiting a 16th century village,” said Wanda Carr, one of the producers of the Oregon Renaissance Festival in Hillsboro and manager of Minneapolis-based Renaissance Touring LLC, its parent company. Carr said the village will be ready to come to life on time this weekend, despite all the challenges in essentially building a new town from the ground NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth (Kate Hopkins) holds court during last Saturdays reversals at the Washington County Fairgrounds. The Queens court as well as the other Goodly Folk of Somerset are mostly local actors who auditioned in June.

“It’s going really smoothly,” Carr said. “There are always hoops to jump through, but we’re feeling very good about it.”

For the past few days, the new village has been humming with building activity as crews work feverishly to build sets and create backdrops for the stages.

This event is geared to be much more than simply a day wandering around and looking at exhibits. Rather than a static display, organizers boast that a day at the Oregon Renaissance Festival will be akin to entering a virtual time warp. Professional actors in detailed costumes from that era will go about their daily business as if they were truly residents of a 16th century European village.

Knights, knaves, maidens, blacksmiths, musicians, street vendors, belly dancers — and even a sword-swallower — will entertain the throngs gathered at the festival’s four stages, and jousters on horseback will occasionally challenge each other to duels in the public square.

“Visually it will be a lot of fun, and there will be too much for you to do in one day,” Carr said. “The whole environment is [designed] to bring you back in time. It’s a great escape for the day.”

One of the festival’s performers will be Virginia Lee Rice, a Hillsboro resident who will play the role of Lady Mary Sidney.

“In history, she was a well regarded member of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I’s court,” said Rice.

Rice, who minored in theater at the University of Oregon, said she heard about the auditions and decided to try out for a role in the festival. “I put together my monologue and brought my ‘A’ game,” said Rice. “I knew from the audition it was going to be something amazing, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Rice, who graduated from Liberty High School in 2008, said she’s impressed with the professionalism of the actors and actresses assigned to roles at the upcoming festival.

“Everyone has given more than their all for this show, and it is not one to be missed,” she said.

Rice, 22, added that she has an extra motivation to do well in her performances at the Oregon Renaissance Festival.

“I will be celebrating the 6-year anniversary of my liver transplant during the run of this show,” she explained. “I know my donor would want to be a part of amazing things like this.”

Washington County will receive $71,500 in rental fees from the Oregon Renaissance Festival for hosting the village at the county-owned fairgrounds complex. The county will also receive a share of the parking receipts, as well as a percentage of the take from alcohol sales during the events.

The county’s employment picture will also see a boost.

“We estimate more than 350 employees — and counting — will be working at the festival,” Carr pointed out.

Hillsboro City Council President Aron Carleson said she believes the festival represents another positive step for the community.

“I’m looking forward to the new event in our community,” said Carleson. “Something different and exciting. I am thrilled for the fairgrounds to have filled a significant gap in rental time that will bring in visitors to our community. Hillsboro businesses will definitely see an impact with all the visitors it will bring in.”

According to Carr, the company’s goal is to sell about 5,000 tickets per day. Because the festival is new to the community, for the first two weekends the company will offer a special deal — two tickets for the price of one — for those buying tickets in advance on the company’s website, NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Those attending the Renaissance Festival in Hillsboro may witness impromptu brawls in the courtyard.

“The ticket price includes all entertainment,” Carr said. “There are four separate stages offering different features, including the jousting tournament, which will take place three times a day.”

Carr said the special offer is designed not only to increase the audiences for the initial days of the festival, but also to be the company’s way of saying “thank you” to Hillsboro.

“We feel very fortunate to be here in the community,” Carr said. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to bring this festival to Hillsboro, and we hope to keep building the audience.

“This is the first annual festival. We want to be here every year.”

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