Noble lords and ladies stroll among the booths, drinking from goblets while examining the wares. Peasant children frolic and play, their bare feet kicking up dust. Drumming fills the air, and the sharp sound of clashing swords can be heard. The village of Fenford bustles with activity, and over it all presides Elizabeth Gloriana, the Virgin Queen, resplendent in her finery, her courtiers at her side.
The village of Fenford doesn't really exist, and Queen Elizabeth and her court are actors in elaborate costumes, but the history and splendor of a bygone era lives on when Sebastopol's Ives Park is transformed into the village of Fenford, turning back its clocks to the 16th century as it hosts the inaugural Much Ado About Sebastopol Renaissance Faire on Sept. 18.
While the event is primarily a fundraising benefit for the financially strapped Sebastopol Unified School District, it is also hailed as the triumphant return of the Renaissance fair format to the North Bay, a sort of Renaissance fair renaissance, if you will, filling the void left by the departure of the Black Point Pleasure Faire in Novato and, more recently, Stafford Lake's Heart of the Forest Faire in 2005.
Being a school-run fair, Much Ado serves as a family-friendly good time and also contains an important element of education.
"We hope to provide people with a living-history experience. We hope that they are going to learn something while having fun," says co-organizer Andrea Hagan Schmitz.
For Hagan Schmitz, this event has been a labor of love a long time in the making. The former middle school world history teacher regularly hosted a Ren fair for her seventh graders.
"Every time I did it, people would come up to me—non-seventh graders, old ladies walking and young moms pushing strollers—and get all excited and say 'Where can we buy tickets?'" Hagan Schmitz says.
Much Ado also features historical reenactmens. The Ottoman Traders Guild plans to recreate a trading caravan. The Guild of Saint Michael features historical martial arts and weapons demonstrations. The northern chapter of the Guild of Saint George Inc.—yes, "Inc."—portrays the court of Queen Elizabeth.
"I expect a very good turnout of enthusiastic fair-goers who will be more than eager to step into our reality, a Michelmas fair in our little town of Fenford," says Saint George guild master and Much Ado artistic director Rydell Downward.
For Downward and his guild, maintaining a sense of historical accuracy is even more important in an educational setting.
"Attending the fair allows one to learn in an entirely different way. If we do our job well, each audience member will leave thoroughly entertained, but also knowing something more than they did before they arrived about this extraordinary place and time in history," Downward says.
It is the organizers' hope that the event will not only bring in much-needed funding for Sebastopol schools, but will become an annual event that students and community members alike can enjoy year after year.
"People are already asking us, 'Now that you've outgrown Ives Park, where will you go next year?'" Hagan Schmitz says.
Much Ado About Sebastopol brings history to life on Saturday, Sept. 18, at Ives Park. 7400 Willow St., Sebastopol. 11am-5pm. $5&–$12. A Much Ado to Do afterparty follows. $10-$15. www.muchadoaboutsebastopol.com.