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Real weapons call for real training for Elmira battle

Actors demonstrate their stage combat training in a dress rehearsal at Gibson Park on Sunday. The Robin in the Hood Medieval Festival will take place there this weekend, the 18th outing for the popular event. [Veronica Reiner / The Observer]

Actors starring in the Robin in the Hood Medieval Festival have been training since February to perfect their stage combat ability. The educational and entertaining event takes place this weekend.

More than fun and games – and more than swinging a sword at random – the combat skills involve industry standard stage-combat training. That’s essential given that all the weapons in use are real.

“Of course it’s all choreographed, so you have to learn your moves, and then you have to practice them, and then you speed it up, and speed it up and speed it up as you go,” explained assistant director Chris Duncan. “It’s just like the people in the movies. They’re using the same type of stage combat that we use. The exact same numbering system and all that. The people in Stratford would be going through the same training we’ve gone through, so our guys could actually go to Stratford and set a fight with the people there because it’s the same coding.”

There are approximately 105 actors who act in the festival this year. Throughout the 18 years of the festival, that number has varied.

“Some are more experienced than others,” said Shayna Meadows, promotions coordinator for the festival. “Actors in our festival are anywhere from eight-years-old to adults. Some have no experience; some have lots of experience.”

The actors are clearly comprised of all shapes and sizes, as well as coming from all different areas.

“There have been a lot from Elmira, a lot of the high school students come over,” said Duncan. “And it’s, you know, especially with theatre groups. But we have people from Mississauga, Kitchener, Waterloo, Wellesley. And we have some people from Guelph. People hear about it, and they want to come and do it.”

Six of the actors have starred in the festival every year since the beginning in 2001. It’s in their best interest to be careful with the props.

“They’re using real weapons,” explained Duncan. “Those are real swords and real quarterstaffs.”

The festival is separated into two days. The Friday is an educational day for fourth-grade students that are located within an hour of the location.

“Most of the actors do dramatic fights for the festival, and there’s a set of tournaments that we go through,” said Chris Lubberts, who’s taken part for eight years. “We have some fights, but on Friday there’s the education day. About 1,000 Grade 4s come through, and a bunch of people educate them on medieval life.

The educational topics on Friday are all medieval themed, such as storytelling, medieval jobs, and medieval medicine. Each topic is about 20 minutes long before moving on to the next station. The second day is geared towards a series of tournaments, including a display of choreographed fights with a plot attached, as well as an archery tournament.

“The king is in debt to an Italian bank, so we’re all fighting to make sure we keep our titles and everything like that,” Denise Petcoff, an actor in the play of nine years, said of the plotline. “It’s the Twelfth Night. Whoever wins the entire tournament becomes the Twelfth Night of the realm. But they’re offering up Robin Hood’s land as part of the prize. So Robin Hood and Will Scarlett are trying to win this year –  they want to keep their land.”

“It’s like the ultimate tax war, essentially,” added Sara Brown, a music major and actor in the play for six years. “We’re mostly adults; we’re really nerdy adults. A lot of us are longtime friends.”

The festival will take place at Gibson Park on First Street in Elmira starting at 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tickets cost $5 per person or $15 per family. June 9 is the day available to the public, and tickets tend to sell out every year, with about 1,500 to 2,000 people coming through on the Saturday. Pets are allowed as long as they are on a leash and cleaned up after. Anyone interested in more information can visit www.robininthehood.com.

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