Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

SMC's first Renaissance Faire Saturday

09/06/2017 - 9am

Southwestern Michigan College’s Dowagiac campus could resemble Westeros Saturday (Sept. 9) for its first Renaissance Faire from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. around the Student Activity Center off Dailey Road.

SMC’s Renaissance Faire is open to the public at no charge.

This blast into the past features fully-armored, live-steel medieval combat demonstrations with an SMC faculty member, belly dancing, a comedy troupe and the Kingdom of Shiabrook’s interactive demonstrations.

Westeros is the fictional continent George R.R. Martin created in his “A Song of Fire and Ice” novels, now HBO’s “Game of Thrones” with Daenarys Targaryen’s dragons.

Martin drew inspiration from medieval European history, including the Hundred Years’ War, the Crusades and the Wars of the Roses, for which sword fighter and SMC Information Technology Professor Kyle Kelly’s unscripted brawlers took their name, Sentinels of the Rose.

That 1455-87 series of wars for control of the English throne was fought between two houses, Lancaster and York.

Kelly said the Sentinels perform two shows — one heavy on combat, another demonstrating “cutting.”

Think Gallagher if the prop comic smashed fruit with a mace or sliced it mid-air.

Kelly might as well be color commentating TV’s “Deadliest Warrior” when he starts talking about “bardiches” (long-poled axes) and gauntlets, special gloves worn with 80- to 100-pound armor suits.
Helmets cost $500 and up. Swords fetch $300 to $500, said Kelly, who once turned to an SMC welding student when he needed a helmet face plate.

“It’s not a cheap hobby,” said Kelly, who fights alongside a University of Notre Dame accountant.

Another way to approach medieval combat is LARPing (an acronym for live-action, role-playing games), where participants portray characters’ actions.

Michigan Renaissance Festival in Holly, inaugurated in 1979, attracts 250,000 to 17 themed stages for a season spanning August-October.

Renaissance fair formats are flexible and as unique as fingerprints.

“It’s a whole subculture of stuff,” Kelly said, referring to Vikings and pirates mingling with South Bend’s Sisters of the Nile, Middle Eastern belly dancers.

Cedar Springs in May carried out a theme of “Fellowship of the Springs” that revolved around author J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

The Sentinels have performed as far afield as Boyne City.

Kelly started 10 years ago after seeing sword fighting at a Renaissance fair and thinking it looked cool.

Since Kelly’s wife’s family owns Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary in Calhoun County, “We’re a fun couple to have out to dinner,” he said.

Swords of Valour, created in July 1995 in Kalamazoo, mixes “stunning sword play with cunning wit and comedy … (we) fight with swords and words.”

“We hope to have a big event that gets our kids involved and show them SMC tries to do fun things on weekends,” Branden Pompey said.

Pompey, SAC assistant manager, attended the South Bend Renaissance Festival last month in Pinhook Park.

“It was amazing!” he said. “There were high-wire acrobatics by pirates, people in (Japanese) samurai garb, people on horseback jousting and Kyle’s group fighting in full armor. They don’t pull their punches. Ours is more about entertainment than re-enacting historical battles. Everybody working will be in full costume.”

Attendees are encouraged to come in costume, too.

“I think Renaissance fairs’ popularity hearkens back to childhood in the backyard, dreaming of being a knight and fighting dragons, being a princess or sword fighting with cardboard tubes with your siblings,” said Pompey, who previously organized SMC’s blanket fort build and an escape room.

A veteran of SMC’s stage as a student, Pompey transferred to Grand Valley State University for his bachelor’s degree in theatre and communications and worked in the movie-theatre industry for three years.

A food truck will offer turkey legs, sausage on a stick, corn on the cob and veggie kabobs.