Going REALLY old-school: ‘Ren fest’ feeds passion for acting, history (photos, video)

WHALLEY — When she puts on a corset, big hoop skirt and headdress this weekend, Alessandria Testani will morph into a queen of a certain vintage.

"It’s a very heavy costume but it’s very cool to wear," the North Surrey resident said as she prepared for the BC Renaissance Festival, held across the river in Maple Ridge.

The so-called "ren fest" is a four-day romp through the early-1500s history of characters such as King Henry VIII and his wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon, played by Testani in her first time participating in the event.

From Thursday to Sunday (June 11-14), Albion Fairgrounds will teem with the historically-influenced production, an all-ages place for jousting knights, sword fighting, music, theatre, period-specific games, rides, archery and more.

"It’s the ninth year for the festival, and it was in Langley for a few years, but I didn’t really know it existed until last year," said Testani, 20.

"I’ve been trying to make life work as an actress, and I’m very interested in history. So when I heard about this festival I got super excited because I love history and I love acting, and I auditioned right away and got one of the leads."

Testani’s younger sister, Katrina, 16, as Lady Anne Hastings, will also dress up for the festival, which involves 30 main cast members and several other costumed volunteers.

Fellow Surreyite Robert (Bob) French, who lives in the Guildford area, first got involved in the festival five years ago, as both cast and crew. He serves as the event’s volunteer co-ordinator and also does "roving improv" on the festival grounds.

"I take care of the games and rides and some other stuff, and I have five different outfits that I wear," French told the Now. "It’s a real highlight (of the year), for sure," he added. "It’s a lot of work but also a lot of fun, and it’s great to see kids involved, too."

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The 2015 festival’s main storyline builds on last year’s action. The royal court returns to Steller’s Grove, with the king searching for Lord Norfolk.

"There are pirates based on historical characters and different lords from different lands, with lots of drama and intrigue," explained Testani, who doubles as the festival’s media co-ordinator.

"In our program book there’s a little key to indicate who’s who, because a lot of guests will come in costume, and people who are in the cast wears a little ribbon or crest (to separate them from the general public)…. We love and encourage people to come in costume. And it’s fun because some of them have nothing to do with the 1500s, because we’ve had Stormtroopers (from Star Wars) even come to the ren fest, which is great."

Up to 4,000 people attend the festival each year, Testani said.

"We have some people coming up from the States, Alberta, northern B.C., and the Island is huge for this, from all over," she said. "I know we have some people coming up from Texas this year…. A lot of those people get a weekend pass, which is smart because there’s a lot going on and different things to see at different times."

For admission rates and more festival details, visit Bcrenfest.com or call 778-926-3378.

tom.zillich@thenownewspaper.com

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