Local renaissance fair celebrates 20 years of success

Time changes things — new technologies are developed, businesses come and go, children grow up and trends shift. With everything that unavoidably changes as time progresses, it’s what stays the same that is often celebrated.

Anchorage used to have multiple renaissance festivals in the summer, but as municipality and arts counsel-sponsored events fell to the wayside, one completely volunteer-run fair still remains: the Three Barons Fair.

The three barons of the Three Barons Fair. Photo courtesy of Dave Brown

The general premise of the Three Barons Fair is that three barons from vastly different lands all meet in the town of Hillshire with their courts to trade with one another and settle disputes. The Blue Barony is ruled by Baron Ali Akbar Mohammet el Mut Amin (the Magnificent), who hails from the Far East with his harem; the Green Barony is ruled by Baron Victor Steele and his warrior court from Spain and the Red Barony is ruled by Baron Demarco Valentino, whose Italian court celebrates love, romance and honor. The town of Hillshire itself is home to a series of shops, pirate-infested taverns, games and several guilds.

“It [the fair] has a cast of about 150, and that includes the folks that put together all the backstage things you don’t see,” said Mel Kalkowski, the Three Barons’ Vice President of Directors, as well as the in-character Director of the Alchemist Guild and magistrate of the village.

Despite being a fixture in Anchorage for the past 20 years, the fair has seen its own changes as well. When it was first organized, the fair was located at Hilltop Ski Resort, which is how the town of Hillshire received its name. It was later moved to the University Lake area near the UAA dorms and now resides at Tozier Track on Tudor Road, where it has resided for the past decade.

Another aspect of the fair that changes from year to year is the actors and vendors. The Three Barons Fair holds auditions every year for each barony, as well as the Hillshire citizens and the guilds. Key members in the baronies don’t change often, but lesser roles are up for grabs to talented and interested volunteers.

“We try to control the cast size because we just as soon not have more people performing than attending; we don’t want to overwhelm the fairgoer with so many costumed characters that it becomes oppressive,” said Wayne Mitchell, events facilitator in UAA’s Wendy Williamson Auditorium and a volunteer actor for the Three Barons since its founding. “But we do have open auditions every year; we advertise them in the papers and online. So, if you feel like being a participant on that level, please come out and audition next year.”

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Children of all ages are even eligible to be involved with volunteering, so long as their parents are volunteers and can watch over them. Volunteers must be 16 years or older to work by themselves. Mitchell’s 11-year-old stepdaughter, Grace Fahrney, has been a member of the Blue Court with her mother and Mitchell for the past six years.

“I guess since I was five … I went to it when I was one with my mom because she was involved, but I was just in a wagon. But I’ve been acting since I was five,” she said. “I love theater, so basically getting to do theater all day long is just like a perfect day for me.”

Three Barons has been a not-for-profit organization since 1998, and is designed to financially break even every year; any money left over from vendor fees and admission goes right back into the fair for the next year. Considering how much work and money it takes to put on the event (roughly $60,000 annually), doing just that is an accomplishment.

Wayne Mitchell as a member of the Blue Court, with a puppet from his show. Photo courtesy of Dave Brown

“First and foremost is having a site and having a good contract for that; insurance is huge, and we serve alcohol, so we need to have insurance that has liquor liability. [We need] a good security team, since we need round the clock security for our week in between [fair days] and the night after the fair,” said Carol Lalone, the Three Barons’ secretary and treasurer. “We also need an assembly permit, and we go through fire prevention for that … the fire department comes out to the site, does an inspection, and lets you know what you need to do different … oh, and the alcohol permit itself.”

Volunteers celebrating the fair’s 20 successful years and are already looking to the next two decades and can be accomplished by then. Many dream of seeing a property owned by Blue Barons that would be a permanent home for the fair.

“Long term, you’re always thinking, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be good if we had a long-term site?’ I’m not so sure that’s really practical because the summer season isn’t long enough, but if you go outside and you see the fairs that are able to set on a permanent site, you can see it’s a lot easier than setting it up and tearing it down all the time,” said Kalkowski.

Whether you enjoy dancing with peasants, listening to pirates sing, throwing tomatoes at bad actors or watching battles unfold on stage, the Three Barons has your fancy covered, and the volunteers love every moment of it.

“Seeing the little kids’ eyes get really big when they see a pretty lady go by in a big dress, or the little boys seeing men in armor and the clashing of the swords and the kid with ice cream on his face … that, to me, makes every minute of the work worth it,” said Lalone.

The Three Barons Fair runs on Saturdays and Sundays at 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. from June 2 -10. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children, seniors and military. There will be a special mid-fair feast on Friday, June 8 at 6 – 11 p.m. Admission is $20.