As COVID-19 continues to loom large, renaissance fairs across the country are gearing up for another season. Like its brethren, the Ohio Renaissance Festival is figuring out how to keep its workers and attendees coming back for more while keeping everyone safe.
In 2015, Brimstone and Fire LLC bought the Waynesville-based festival from its founder, Peter Carroll, ushering in a new era for then 25-year-old institution. Taking the helm of an event with decades of history came with a unique burden that the team was able to transform into opportunity.
“We learned about the intense love many people have for the festival,” says Chuck Biehn, an owner in Brimstone and Fire. “In essence, we were responsible for taking care of ‘their’ festival.”
None of them knew what to expect, but change proved to be a good thing as new plans took root. Fresh ideas included themed weekends like Time Travelers and Fantasy Weekends brought in a broader cross-section of attendees.
When the pandemic hit last year, Brimstone and Fire faced the same monumental challenge that many other event coordinators were facing: cancel the festivities or move forward? The festival pushed through with limited hours and clever options for dedicated attendees. They even tried new ideas, including limited-attendance dinners, extended evening hours, and a Yuletide Village event in December. All three concepts met with roaring success and have been fine tuned for this year.
Many actors, stage performers, and vendors who joined the festival in its formative days continue to play an active role in the event’s success. It’s only natural to develop a connection after decades of eating, sleeping, and working onsite.
Nancy Miller Vallette, who founded the Lost Viking Hoard, an eclectic prop, toy, and accessory shop, with her late husband, Ed, began attending the festival during its second year in operation. So far, she likes what she’s seen from the current owners.
“They listened and got a feel for the event and the needs,” she explains. “They have made both structural and visual changes that have truly helped.”
“This isn’t just the new buildings, flushing toilets, and upgrades of the physical site, but the investment in its people,” says Daniel Higgins, owner of The Gilded Lily. “[They] have built relationships and truly care about providing a quality experience for all involved.”
And that quality experience hasn’t been restricted to fall weekends. The park has been physically expanded, adding a venue that can be used throughout the year. This led to the build out of a Halloween attraction, a seasonal barbecue restaurant, and more elaborate stages and pavilions for large concerts and events during the off-season.
The ORF team didn’t wait for the official festival season to kick off fresh events. This year, the park has already hosted 5Ks, a steak cook-off, a lantern festival, and the “1572 Presents” concert series as well as annual events like Celtic Fest. (Check out this weekend’s Midsummer Masquerade to scratch your pre-festival itch.)
With fair season fast approaching, Biehn has high hopes for the year. “Based on what other festivals around the country are experiencing, we are getting ready for a large turnout this year,” he says.
The Ohio Renaissance Festival returns Labor Day weekend. To purchases ORF tickets and see the full schedule of events, visit www.renfestival.com.