This weekend, Philadelphia will host its first Renaissance Faire. The organizers of the two-day event say it is the only one to be held inside the boundaries of a major American city.
The event will unfold in an obscure corner of Fairmount Park — along Chamounix Drive between the Bala Golf course and a recycling center where you can pick up free gardening compost — on land leased by the Cancer Support Community of Greater Philadelphia.
Most of the Elizabethan-themed festivals – even those with a city name in its title – are held beyond urban areas, where real estate rentals are low and reminders of modern life are few.
“This is the perfect location. It is naturally bordered on three sides by forest,” said Patrick Rodgers, co-creator of the event. “The front end is so far from the edge of the property, you don’t see cars and rarely hear traffic. At the back of the property, all you hear are birds. Nothing but birds.”
Rodgers, who has vampire fangs permanently implanted in his mouth, is known as a nightclub and concert promoter in Philadelphia catering to the goth crowd. The outdoors is not his natural habitat. During an unseasonably hot, 85-degree day, he toured the site wearing a black leather trench coat, black knee-high boots, and a black cowboy hat.
“This is different from anything I’ve done,” said Rodgers. “But a lot of my skill sets apply.”
Rodgers partnered with seasoned RenFair people: Patrick Colleton, owner of the Midsummer Fantasy Renaissance Faire in Connecticut, and Gil Cnaan, a longtime figure with the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire in Lancaster County.
“I was a kid who had a vivid imagination, I liked writing and reading. I got in trouble for hiding a book under my desk,” said Cnaan, who had to stop performing as Gepetto at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire in order to have a heart transplant. “This is a place I could go to live out stories.”
Story is at the heart of the Philadelphia Renaissance Faire. Rodgers penned a long, epic tale about a wandering son of a beer-brewing family who creates a commercial trading hub, called Amman, catering to a mix of races and cultures. During the fair, about 40 actors will be on-script, playing out the fictional narrative while mingling among fair-goers.
The event will get some star power from Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, who plays The Mountain on “Game of Thrones.” There will also be period musicians, magicians, juggling acts, and comedy.
Alas, jousting will not be part of the fair this year.
“Our insurance company was not thrilled with adding jousting to the policy for the first year,” said Rodgers. “But good things come to those who wait. It’s on our radar.”
The organizers see this fair as a preview – or “Year 0” – of a larger fair to be produced next summer, which they plan to have for three consecutive weekends with, if all goes well, horses.