Each night before his weekend performances, 42-year-old David Doyle rolls four pink, fuzzy hair curlers into his beard, curving the shape until it coils just right.
Doyle, a full-time aerial acrobat and co-owner of Laugh Now LLC, is performing at The 36th Annual Hoggetowne Medieval Faire for all three weekends of its duration. Newly located at 9409 SW Archer Rd, the annual Faire began Jan. 14 and ends the weekend of Jan. 27.
Stepping through the arched stone gates, Faire attendees are transported into the Dark Ages, immediately greeted by a soft harp melody and the magnetizing smell of deep-fried delicacies.
“It’s a very magical place,” Doyle said. “[Having] fun in a little fantasy world for the day can really help you out… It’s all about getting people out of their lives and letting them be free for the day.”
Although the Faire only rolls into Gainesville once a year, Doyle and his business partner, Angie Austin, perform all year long. The duo traveled to seven states last year, following Renaissance fairs around the country.
The pair together are the High Flying Fools, a traveling comedy duo specializing in ring flying, aerial acrobatics and sketch shows.
Doyle — also known as Pester during performances — quit his 9-to-5 job in 2011 to pursue performing full-time. He had been juggling his career at Carnegie Mellon University as a computer services assistant and his comedic passion for 10 years before the switch, and he said he appreciates the community Renaissance fairs create, both for the attendees and the performers.
“It’s a very accepting environment,” Doyle said. “It's more of personality of a character instead of a physical look of a character.”
Austin, better known as SoSo during their performances, agrees. The jester said they appreciate the unique casting versatility that renaissance entertainers are offered — unparalleled even to community theater where gender, race and age are often factors in casting.
“It’s the place where you can be whatever you want to be,” Austin said. “Even though I'm a 5-foot, barely-anything-else, very femme-looking person, I can be whatever I want to. If I want to be a 6’2 bodyguard, I can be.”
Before becoming a co-owner of Laugh Now, Austin was a hospital clown. When they met Doyle in 2009, they booked the gig and then realized they’d better learn aerial acrobatics.
Now, Austin is on the Renaissance Entertainers Services Crafters United Foundation’s board of directors. As the program committee’s co-chair, Austin is dedicated to assisting fellow Renaissance fair performers who may not have access to health insurance or primary care visits.
“The community looks out for each other,” they said.
The culture created at the Faire attracts an expected 30,000 attendees over the course of its three-week run. Some fair-goers dive in on their costuming, with knights armoring in chainmail next to fairies and elves donning intricate face paint to fully engage in the festivities.
Dressed in a flowery spring fairy ensemble, Meghan Short, a 30-year-old payroll account manager, sported a costume worth over $750.
The cosplayer’s dress was designer, with a delicate floral pattern lining its way up to her iridescent eyeliner, which painted intricate flowers on her face. She plans on attending at least three Faires this year to make all the effort spent worth it, she said.
“I love that people just dress up and they don’t give me weird looks,” Short said. “I love a chance to be extra.”
Many of the dedicated fairgoers enjoy immersing themselves in the fantasy that the festival brings, from the carefully hand-crafted artisanry that lines the aisles to medieval dining fit for a king at Ye Olde Domino’s.
Sunshine Andrei, assistant Cultural Affairs Manager for the City of Gainesville’s parks and recreation department, has been coordinating the Medieval Faire for six years, helped coordinate the event for two years prior and has been a participant in the fair’s Living Chess Board for over 26 years.
Andrei was an acrobat with the Gainesville Community Playhouse’s “Barnum” before joining the troupe, where she battles with swords while mixing tumbling skills with contortionist dance. A retired theater kid at heart, Andrei said she views the Medieval Faire as one really big show.
As soon as this fair closes Jan. 29, Andrei will begin filling out paperwork and securing the site for next year. With over 200 volunteers, 87 contractors and an anticipated 30,000 attendees, the preparation for this year’s Faire took about a year to complete.
But Andrei did it with a smile on her face.
On Faire days, Andrei dashes around the campsite ensuring that amidst the “live dragon” exhibits, live action role-playing and war horse rides, everything runs smoothly. Hearing people laugh and enjoy themselves, she said, is her favorite part.
“Knowing that all the work that we're doing is bringing so much joy to people gives me goosebumps,” Andrei said. “That's the reason I do it every year.”
Contact Loren at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LorenMiranda13.
Loren Miranda is a second-year journalism major and a staff writer for the Avenue. She is also a copy editor for Rowdy Magazine. When she's not writing, she enjoys watching either critically acclaimed films or cheesy reality TV, no in-betweens.