In another week, Gibson Park in Elmira will be a scene of merriment, some mayhem and plenty of the medieval.
The ninth annual Robin in the Hood festival will see the park transformed into Nottingham and Sherwood Forest, with knights in armour, maidens and jesters.
The brainchild of DJ Carroll, the festival is a family-friendly event offering a glimpse of life in the Middle Ages. There will be games, stage shows, musicians, jugglers, tournaments with knights, birds of prey, siege machines, archery and merchants offering period wares.
Now director of promotions and advertising, Sarah Heppler has been involved with the festival since the very beginning. She was recruited by Carroll because she was a community actor with experience doing interactive theatre.
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“At that time it seemed like a huge undertaking,” Heppler said.
Back then, the festival involved 50 actors, compared to 125 today. Now they have a castle built with two-by-four boards and Masonite that has a rest area for the actors; back then, they used the gym at John Mahood Public School and the actors had to run back and forth to eat and change.
To put on the festival, Carroll recruits a veritable army of students, community actors, former students and parent volunteers. One of the original actors, a lawyer who moved to a practice in Ottawa, returns every year to take part; last-minute arrivals are dubbed “Barts” in his honour.
Carroll said they haven’t made any major changes to the festival, but it continues its slow expansion; there are more games in the arcadia and they’ve added a ballista to the siege machines.
There have been bigger changes behind the scenes; the festival has separated from Elmira District Secondary School and this is its first year as an official not-for-profit organization.
The festival is a two-day affair. The first day is an education day, with more than 1,000 Grade 4 students bused from across southwestern Ontario to take part in workshops about medieval life. The second day, June 6, the park is open to the public.
Heppler said her favourite part of the day is after the gates have closed, when the actors are resting and rehashing and the last protesting children have been dragged home by their parents.
“You just kind of look around and go wow, we pulled this off.”
Robin in the Hood festival is open to the public June 6 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $4 per person or $12 for a family of five or fewer.