It’s time to dust off your armour and sharpen up your swords: Gibson Park in Elmira is soon to be transformed into a land of medieval mayhem as the 11th annual Robin in the Hood festival is nearly set to return. The event is the brainchild of Elmira District Secondary School drama teacher DJ Carroll, but has taken on a life of its own in the past decade. What started as a small festival with only 50 cast members has grown to more than 160 this year, as well as another 50 to 60 volunteers that will help on the day of the event.
Many of them include former students of Carroll’s and other local actors and volunteers who continue to return year after year for the excitement and fun the day has to offer.
“My last year of high school was my first year in Robin in the Hood, and I went from being an actor to helping with the costumes to helping with education day to now being the assistant director of the festival,” said Erin Frape, now in her tenth year with the festival. She said that being involved in the event this long has allowed her to watch squires as young as seven or eight grow up and become more involved in the festival each year.
On June 2 there will be an education day that’s closed to the public and aimed at Grade 4 students from throughout southwestern Ontario who are bused to the park for a day of workshops and fun activities to help them learn more about the medieval time period, while doing more than just reading a textbook or sitting behind a desk.
The number of students participating in the education day has grown from about 400 the first year for a half-day seminar to about 1,100 this year for a full-day seminar – with just as many on the waiting list hoping to get in, said Frape.
The main attraction, however, is on June 3 when the park will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Visitors can spend some time in Sherwood Forest with Robin and his gang of outlaws where they can shoot a real bow and arrow, play outlaw games and learn about birds of prey. They can also walk around the village area, explore the castle or wander among the shops and vendors who will be selling leather goods, armour, toys and other period novelties.
There are 25 actors this year playing the role of knights and every half-hour there is a tournament scheduled between a group of knights, and every hour there will be a different show scheduled so visitors can listen to medieval music, learn about crime and punishment in medieval times, or go to knight school where they can wear armour, hold a sword or fire a catapult.
The event is just as much fun for the actors as it is for the public as well.
“These type of festivals are great because a lot of it is improv, as opposed to being on a stage with a script where it’s very set,” said Neil Murray, who has played the lead role of Robin Hood at the festival for the past 10 years.
“You can play with people and make it up as you go, which is a lot of fun in these environments.”
Admission is $4 per person or $12 for a family of five or fewer.
“We’ve really been focusing the past few years on making it as authentic as possible and trying to get people to believe they’ve walked out of Elmira and into Nottingham,” said Frape with a smile.