You don’t have to wear ribbons or elf ears to have a fabulous time at the North Carolina Renaissance Festival. (It would be fun, of course.) We went in everyday clothes a little jealous of those who got more into the attire. But whether you go full throttle on “Renaissance Regalia”, in everyday clothes or somewhere in between you can’t help but get into the spirit of the Festival! We did!
We’re incredibly interested in storytelling and the unique way stories are communicated. Each year, the North Carolina Renaissance Festival tells a story of another world in a special way. The idea to attend this seasonal event came up in conversation and within minutes we decided we had to go. (Dan’s a Creative Director and Mikkel previously worked for Disney and Universal’s creative departments – we love themed entertainment so attending this was a no-brainer!)
The Carolion Renaissance Festival event runs from either the end of September or start of October to mid-November each year. (For 2019, it’s October 5th through November 24th.) We drove west from Raleigh to Huntersville in the Cabarrus County area, just about thirty minutes from Charlotte, North Carolina, to have a fun-filled weekend that started with a bang: at the Renaissance Festival.
We met with a few key people at the fair who help ensure the event runs smoothly each year. Their Marketing Administrator, Kaila, and Director of Marketing and Entertainment, Matt, provided us with rare insight during our Q&A session.
Our peek behind the curtain was interesting and eye-opening. Let’s dive right into our interview…
What year did the Renaissance Festival in North Carolina?
It started in 1994 after the Festival Producer successfully started a Renaissance Festival in Arizona. Two performers in his Arizona Festival were residents of Charlotte, North Carolina. They kept pressing him to consider the area. His consideration was affected by the following favorable criteria:
- Fall weather
- Proximity to metro-area
- Proximity to highways
- Lack of outdoor Festival events (at the time)
The area ended up ticking all the boxes for what he was looking for! The festival is about 30 minutes north of Charlotte.
What other festivals it is related to?
The North Carolina Renaissance Festival’s sister event is in Arizona. Our producer first started out as a performer at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. He worked his way up into management, then decided to start his own festivals.
Is there any one, specific area of Europe the Renaissance Festival is most modeled after?
It isn’t modeled after one place in particular, though it draws inspiration from the following influences:
- European Renaissance, over a 300 year period
- A touch of the Italian Renaissance, more specifically
- A touch of Sherwood Forest
Food and Beverages
We arrived hungry and excited to dive right into lunch! Meeting with Chef Eli, head chef for the entire festival, was a great first impression. He was enthusiastic about having us there and happy to answer our questions.
Where do ingredients used in Festival foods come from? Are they locally sourced or from a place you’re able to get large quantities from for the population demand?
Most are provided to us via local suppliers and distributors. Example: all our bread products are baked locally and provided to us fresh on Friday before the weekend.
Do different weekends (like Pirate weekend) have any menu changes?
Unfortunately no – it’s simply too difficult to change the menu for special events, logistically speaking. Therefore there are no menu changes for themed weekends. Once the menu is determined before opening it remains the same all season long. We do work to add new items annually, like the gluten-free pizza you’re trying!
We saw a variety of soft drinks and two specific beers walking around the festival. How are the beverages decided on?
We have longstanding relationships with area distributors and beverage partners.
We had to try a beer, or two, of course. They were delicious and hit the spot!
Actors and Artisans
There are so many shows going on during the festival! We saw a comedy duo, jousting, falconry and musical acts. We had to inquire further about where they find their talented entertainers.
How many actors and artisans work with the fair? Has this number changed at all over time?
We have over 300 participants working as entertainers, with a total of 1,200 participants working at the Festival any given day. This number has increased over time as the Festival’s popularity has grown.
What’s the age of the youngest actor or artisan and the oldest?
As of 2018, Grant Bergerman was our youngest actor at age 13. He participated in a teen performance troupe entitled: The Underdonne Players. Our oldest participant was Judith Hutchinson, at 79 years old in 2018. She played Mother Nature and handed out event programs and maps at the entrance.
What are the backgrounds of some of the most interesting actors, performers and artisans?
It varies significantly. There are folks with nine-to-five jobs such as Craig Tucker, an IT Engineer at Wells Fargo. He’s hand-crafted a mobile printing press and performs as our Village Printer. Then you have folks like our Jouster, Jackson Cowan. He was born and raised on the road with his parents – also equestrian performers – and is now carrying on in their footsteps (as are several of our joust troupe members).
Do they travel with the show or they are dedicated to the NC Renaissance Festival?
Of our 300 performers, half are professionals that tour the country and globe up to eleven months a year. The other half are “local” in the sense they are near or in the region (southeastern United States). Some locals are also professionals, but most are semi-professionals and amateurs.
Are the actors trained in special areas, like jousting? Do they audition for the Festival with knowledge of it or are they trained after they audition?
The professionals are trained in a variety of skill sets. I scout them for their specific skills. I also receive proposals every day from acts that want to be part of the Festival.
Most locals have some level of performance art training but not at the professional level for an outdoor themed event. So we hold auditions, workshops and rehearsals for those folks. Auditions happen in June. Workshops and rehearsals run from August up to the day we open.
Do the team members stay in “character”?
Vendors, merchants, ride operators, concessionaires etc. are not held to the same costume and character standards as the performing cast.
Animals and Falconry
Fair animal treatment is important to us so we had to ask about the following:
- Where are the animals kept?
- Who cares for them?
- Were they rescued?
Horses are kept in stables located behind the Joust Arena on Saturdays and Sundays. They graze at our hobby farm located on the property Monday through Friday. They are owned and cared for by the Jousters.
Petting Farm animals, pony rides, and camel rides are provided by Rockin’ A Ranch of Midland, North Carolina. The operator brings the animals on Friday afternoon and returns them to the ranch on Monday morning.
The birds are property of Sky Kings, the non-profit organization that operates the birds of prey presentation. The royal falconer, Kevin Gaines, owns the organization. Most of his birds are rescues and stay onsite in muses located behind the stage.
Set Designs (Costumes, Paint, Etc.)
What are the disciplines/training of the designers who create the sets? Is it one team that works on a lot of Renaissance Festivals around the US or one team dedicated to North Carolina’s?
Great question. We contract independent designers based upon the idea or vision we have in mind. And yes, the folks we hire tend to work on other Renaissance Festivals around the country as well as theme parks in general. Typically they all have theatrical set design and/or art backgrounds.
How long in advance do they start designing?
It depends on the project. Typically, for new construction, the design process begins a year or more out. Once a design is agreed upon, it is then presented to a local architect that can transfer the preliminary design to a buildable plan, which meets local codes and requirements.
Are the facades, sets and signs reused every year or are new ones created?
We use the same sets every year until wear and tear warrants a replacement.
Costumes: are they custom designed to a specific period within the Renaissance?
Some Renaissance Festivals require the costumes be specific to a time period down to every stitch and button.
Our events are not historical reenactments. We honor the history and strive for quality costuming of the 300 year renaissance period, but we also blend in theatre, circus, carnival, and a bit of Monty Python. Our characters can be historically accurate or theatrically fictional caricatures.
What else is themed/designed? (Maps, tickets, etc?) Is there a graphic designer or company that does it?
Yes we have employed the same graphic designer for nearly 30 years. We also have employed for nearly 30 years the same artists to hand paint all our signs and most of the stage sets and buildings too.
Wow, we learned so much about how the Festival works and operates. We thought there was so much skill, experience and hard work that went on behind the scenes, year-round, but we know it for certain now!
The Carolina Renaissance Festival, in Huntersville, North Carolina, is something we’ll look forward to going to each year now. Even though we are frequent travelers there’s eight weekend of Saturday and Sundays to attend so we know we’ll be able to make one day work every time!
- Parking: There is plenty of parking on site, and it’s free, courtesy of our regional grocery store, Harris Teeter. (We recommend getting there first thing in the morning because the traffic to get into the lot builds up quickly. We spent over an hour trying to go two miles to get into the lot.)
- Ticket Prices for 2019: Adult tickets are $25, children ages 5-12 $15, under 12 free. (Prices include taxes and fees.) You can buy tickets in advance online and send them to your phone, print at home or buy them in person at Harris Teeter. You can also become a season pass holder, which may make a lot of sense if you plan on going to the Festival more than
- PUB CRAWL: new for 2019 is a Pub Crawl option for guests aged 21 and over. From the site, “Take a comedic guided tour to 4 Festival pubs. Play games, toast your favorite Knight and enjoy fyne craft ale at each pub stop! Price includes admission, a souvenir pottery chalice, up close parking, reserved seats at the joust, four sample pours of craft ale and a toast by the Queen! $50 per person. Adults 21 and only.”
- What’s the Carolina Renaissance Festival Address for GPS? 16445 Poplar Tent Rd, Huntersville, NC 28078
- What happens if it rains? The Festival is every Saturday and Sunday during the eight weeks of operation, rain or shine.
Please note: we thank the Carolina RenaissanceFestival for generously hosting us. All the opinions in the post are ours and we bring you genuine content with real facts, photos and thoughts. Always.
Heading to the Renaissance Festival? Also check out:
- 5 Instagram-Worthy Experiences in Cabarrus, North Carolina
- Best Food Halls and Markets in North America (including Charlotte, North Carolina)
- Top Spots to Indulge in Asheville’s Brews and Art Views
Have you been to a Renaissance Festival? Let us know which one in the comments below!