Falconry, live-steel combat, rapier sword parrying and sharp repartee were all on display at Southwestern Michigan College’s second annual Renaissance Faire capping Welcome Week Sept. 8. Both the Sentinels of the Rose and the Swords of Valour returned to SMC’s Dowagiac campus, as did Ruby Jazayre’s Sisters of the Nile Middle Eastern belly dancers.
The Renaissance Faire aims to involve students in SMC’s vibrant campus life. “Had there been more events like this when I was a student, I would have stayed weekends, moved out of my comfort zone and gotten to know more classmates,” said organizer Branden Pompey, Student Activity Center assistant manager, who was wearing a kilt for the event. “I want to make it a point to get our students engaged, get them to stay on campus and have some fun on weekends. That’s a really important part of the full college experience.”
Birds of prey visited SMC from Lake Milton Raptor Center, the Jones wildlife rescue service. A Eurasian eagle-owl is one of the largest owl species, with each of its talons capable of applying 500 pounds of pressure. Loki is a southern Harris hawk, Kilo a red-tailed hawk and Jersey, a Grand Rapids peregrine falcon is rehabbing an injured wing. There are close to 80 birds at the non-profit facility in southeastern Cass County.
The Sentinels favor unscripted, clanging, brawling. Their more nimble dueling counterparts, the Swords of Valour, send a chef charging into battle with an outsize fork for laughs.
Haven the Hare, second-generation sword fighter, grew up around the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), an international living history group that studies and recreates Medieval European cultures. The SCA, founded in California in 1966, is often described as devoted to the Middle Ages “as they ought to have been.”
“That ends up being full-on combat like Sentinels of the Rose, but using rattan swords,” Haven said. “When I turned 18 I wanted to do something that involved more theatre acting, so I switched over to Renaissance Faires. Shortly after, in my 20s, I met the Swords of Valour and joined up with them. I was a serious swordsman with SCA, but always did theatre on the side through high school.” Now his daughter is preparing to join the show.
Swords of Valour members include avid gamer Vincent Polotsky, dressed as a Russian leather worker wearing a fur hat, who operates machines and forklifts in a factory. Jorik Knutson, who grew up on fantasy novels and playing Dungeons and Dragons, works in information technology, consulting on custom health software. Both of them joined Swords of Valour after attending Kalamazoo County’s BlackRock Medieval Fest. Haven sells jewelry at his day job, and met after the show with SMC student Christianna Schommer, who expressed interest in the group.
“One of the first things you do when you start with our group is create a character,” said Haven, the jaunty seasonal French pirate. “In February we become Vikings and focus on fighting with axes, broadswords and shields. We’ve also done steam punk, which has multiple sub-genres. Niko of the Sentinels started with our group until he wanted to put on armor.”
Such festivals’ popularity is spurred by a proliferation of video games, fantasy books, movies and TV series. Westeros, the fictional continent George R.R. Martin created in his A Song of Fire and Ice novels, spun off HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Martin drew inspiration from medieval European history, including the Hundred Years War, the Crusades and the 15th-century series of conflicts for the English throne known as Wars of the Roses, from which the Sentinels took their name.