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SMC stages first Renaissance Faire

“King’s Landing” at Southwestern Michigan College’s first Renaissance Faire Sept. 9 wasn’t a “Game of Thrones” reference so much as chunks flying when President Dr. David Mathews’ sword went fruit ninja slashing a watermelon. Mathews, his wife Sarah and their son, Daniel, dressed as royalty, while Information Technology Professor Kyle Kelly wore armor for sword combat with Sentinels of the Rose. The Sentinels include Student Activity Center Evening Supervisor Mollie Grabemeyer officiating the live-steel combat.

“Points are awarded as they fight one-on-one for clean, uncontested hits to their heads and torsos,” Grabemeyer declared. “Points are also awarded if fighters disarm their opponent or take them to the ground.”

The Sentinels favor unscripted brawling set to the clanging of heavy metal, bagpipe and swarm-of-mosquitos sound from a drone hovering overhead.

Their more nimble dueling counterparts, the Swords of Valour, pair rapier wit with weapons, such as a chef charging into battle bearing a big fork.

Kelly earned a new sobriquet, “Cole Slaw,” slaying a head of cabbage in the “cutting” demonstration.

Undulating between violent clashes were time-traveling Middle Eastern belly dancers from Ruby Jazayre’s Sisters of the Nile, including back-bending Sophia Zovich, daughter of SMC’s former international student advisor, Sarah Wilkins Zovich.

Zovich majors in communications with a double dance and graphic design minor at Indiana University South Bend.

“I was dancing with another company when I saw them. My jaw dropped in amazement,” Zovich said. “I liked how everything moved like a snake. I’ve only danced for about three years. I grew up acting. Growing up, I didn’t like dancers. I thought they were weird. I only knew of ballet dancers. I really wanted to learn how to balance a sword.”

Jazayre, a 39-year veteran, and Dr. De Bryant, psychology professor, teach at IUSB.

“I thought it would be Middle Eastern Zumba,” said Bryant, who started eight years ago.

Jazayre put together her ensemble to suggest “steampunk,” a science-fiction genre with an historical setting favoring steam-powered machinery and Victorian aesthetics over advanced technology.

“I saw a girl walking around with goggles on her head who looked steampunk,” said Jazayre, who also teaches at O’Brien Recreation Center, South Bend, and Battell Community Center, Mishawaka.

Nine of the Sisters’ more than 20 dancers included a couple museum curators, too, including from Western Michigan University.

Student Activity Center Assistant Manager Branden Pompey aimed in organizing the icebreaker after the first week of fall classes to engage students in weekend campus life.

Megan Plasterer, Elkhart graphic design major, said, “This is interesting because I like games like this,” particularly Skyrim.

“When I was little I loved Lord of the Rings. I really liked the president going out there and chopping.”

“I think it’s really cool to have our RAs and RHMs (residence hall managers) dress up,” Quincy graphic design major Mikayla King agreed. “I think more students than usual stuck around this weekend.”

Staff garbed as brown-robed monks made them easy to find in the crowd.

“The belly dancers are the most interesting,” Plasterer said. “I wouldn’t want to balance a sword on my head, so that’s cool. I’ve never been to one before. It’s definitely different. I thought a cannon fired off when they first smacked the shields. SMC definitely goes all out with its activities to make students feel welcome.”

Charles Stanard of Niles, who read about SMC’s fair in the newspaper, attended BlackRock Medieval Fest July 8 in Kalamazoo County and last month’s Michiana Renaissance Festival in South Bend.

“Next week is Michigan Irish Music Festival (in Muskegon),” said Stanard, wearing a kilt for his Irish heritage.

“Next weekend is Holly, which I haven’t been to in five years. Last time, they told me there were 17,000 people and 22 stages. You can’t do it in one day,” Stanard said. “When I lived in Lawton I went to Civil War re-enactments.”

“It’s a very difficult hobby to get people to stick with,” said Kelly, himself exposed to sword fighting at a Renaissance fair.

“It’s very easy to get people to see it, think it’s cool and say they’re interested. But you’ve got to invest a significant amount of money on gear and show up to practice (all day once a month). I quit a while to finish my education, get married and have a family. Once I was done having kids, I figured I could have a dangerous hobby again. I got back into it five or six years ago. We rotate meetings between Kalamazoo and South Bend.”

“Every group does different types of shows,” Kelly said. “The charm of ours, I think, is we don’t choreograph. We practice together a lot, trust each other and know what we can do and shouldn’t.”