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Renaissance Festival is celebrating 30th year


Eagle Staff Writer

Two new acts and a new stage will help the Texas Renaissance Festival celebrate its 30th year.

Making its debut this year is the Empyrean Fire Tribe, five dancers who will perform before the fireworks display. Under the direction of Laura McFall, who first became acquainted with fireplay at the Burning Man Festival in 2002, their shows have evolved from simple exhibitions of fireplay into cohesive theatrical dance productions using a dazzling variety of fire apparatus.

Another new act, which should fit right in with the mud eaters and washing wenches, is called Bold and Stupid Men, a comedy swordplay act.

The Cloister stage has been built in Sherwood Forest specifically for “Cast in Bronze,” featuring Frank DellaPenna and his carillon. A carillon is an assemblage of at least 23 bells and was often found in 15th century cathedral towers. “Cast in Bronze” has 35 bells weighing 8,370 pounds. The instrument is played by a keyboard.

DellaPenna has the only movable carillon in North America. He has played for Pope John Paul II and the presidential inauguration, as well as at Walt Disney World and on numerous television shows. DellaPenna is a graduate of the French Carillon School and a member of the Guild of Carillonneurs.

“For the last two years, Frank has been located next to the joust and played while the fireworks were going off,” said media director Melba Tucker. “But he has become so popular that he needed his own stage.”

George Coulam opened his first Renaissance park in his hometown of Salt Lake City in 1968. But the Mormon fathers didn’t look kindly on 16th century revelry, so Coulam moved his show to Minnesota. That event developed into one of the most successful in the country, but without Coulam. After five years, Coulam split with his partner and found a perfect setting in the piney woods north of Houston.

The festival has grown into a major venue for arts and crafts, unique entertainment, unusual food (fried ice cream, steak-on-a-stick) and people-watching. Many of the guests come dressed as everything from fairies to leather-studded warriors.

Visitors can get married in the King’s Chapel, Roman Basilica or Titania’s Bower. They can eat a sumptuous meal at the King’s Feast and watch full-contact jousting in the arena.

The most popular act is the mud eaters, two men who delight in diving into a mud pit.

Twenty-one stages have more than 200 performances daily from music to comedy. Children will have plenty to keep them entertained, including animal rides, face-painting and a variety of games.

A fireworks display in the newly completed jousting arena ends each day’s activities.

The Texas Renaissance Festival is on F.M. 1774 between Magnolia and Plantersville. Gates open at 9 a.m. and close at dusk for seven weekends beginning Saturday. Admission is $21 for adults and $10 for children, but discounted tickets for opening weekend are available at AppleTree supermarket in Bryan and Brookshire Brothers in Navasota or online at

• Jim Butler’s e-mail address is


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