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A trip to the Georgia Renaissance Festival

By Greg Gelpi

On the typical day, Michelle Mayorga can be found sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen in her office, but Saturday she will shed the modern clothes and technology and transport herself to the Middle Ages.

Mayorga, a 39-year-old Rex resident, will join a cast of more than a thousand others for the 20th Annual Georgia Renaissance Festival in Fairburn, donning period dress and speaking the language of the time.

Mayorga, who has participated in the festival for 14 years, plays the part of Chastity Puckerwell, a kissing wench. The role is one part Miss Piggy, one part Marilyn Monroe and one part Pepe Le Pew, the frolicking cartoon skunk, she said.

"I'm just bitten by the bug," she said of her love for her experiences with the Renaissance Festival.

To prepare and add to the authenticity, Mayorga studies the dialect of the period, practices improvisational acting and watches comedies, such as Monty Python and Mel Brooks movies.

"I've had fathers bring their sons back for a kiss," she said, adding that it's all about the smiles and the laughs. "That's just like food for the soul. That's an entertainer's high."

The characters make the scene of the festival come to life.

"It's the general ambiance when you walk through the gates," said Jack Sias, president and general manager of the Georgia Renaissance Festival. "It's probably one of the greatest feelings in the world. We're throwing a big big party."

From the language to the food and from the architecture to the dress, the festival transforms a wooded area into a bustling village of another time, Sias said of the escape from the world of today.

The "signature" food of the festival has become the turkey leg, but there will be more than 75 food items offered, he said, including a full array of foods on a stick, such as pork chops, steaks and even macaroni and cheese on a stick.

More than 40 tons of turkey legs are served each year at the Georgia Renaissance Festival.

Each year the Renaissance Festival grows and has become a "much, much larger extravaganza," Sias said.

"We don't seem to delete anything," he said. "We just keep adding."

There will be more than 130 shops, games, people-powered rides and 10 stages of entertainment, he said, announcing the return of the "highly popular" Ded Bob. The act includes a man with a skeleton dummy interacting with the crowds using grave humor.

"It's hard to describe, but audiences love it," Sias said.

The 32-acre Artisan Market will have more than 150 artisans and will feature demonstrations by nationally-acclaimed artisans of fine weaving, blacksmithing, coin-minting, glass-blowing, pottery and jewelry. Other crafts include blown-glass goblets, handmade perfumes, leather goods and hand-turned pottery.

A joust tournament direct from Hollywood, parade, haunted attraction, strolling minstrels, comedians, jugglers, magicians, dancers, multi-cultural entertainment and a bird of prey show are among other festival highlights.

New shows for the 20th anniversary of the festival include, the Washing Well Wenches, Parrots of the Caribbean, Dextre Tripp and his "amazing, death-defying slant rope of fire," Curious Magic and Impossible Illusions, Sword Swallowing by Thom Sellectom, a children's petting farm and the Assault Catapult, two bungee cords that propel visitors into the air like a human slingshot.

Sias expects a crowd of 150,000 to 200,000 to show up for the event, although the weather will play a large factor.

He advised festival-goers to dress comfortably, keeping in mind that the festival takes place in a wooded area.

The Georgia Renaissance Festival will be open Saturdays and Sundays, as well as Memorial Day, from this Saturday through June 5. Hours are from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. rain or shine.

Tickets for the festival are $15.95 for adults, $7.50 for children ages 6 to 12 and free for children under 6. For seniors 55 and older and those with an AARP card, tickets are $12.95. Parking is free.

Several weekends offer special ticket discounts or themes. This weekend is the "2-4-1 Grand Opening Weekend" with a buy one adult ticket and get one free offer (not available at Kroger).

April 23 and 24 will be Renaissance Weekend, April 30 and May 1 will be Scottish Highland Weekend, May 7 and 8 will be Mother's Day Weekend and May 14 and 15 will be Kids Free Weekend. One child 12 and under will be admitted free with each full paid adult admission that weekend. May 21 and 22 will be Romance Weekend, featuring Singles Saturday.

To get to the festival, take Interstate 85 south to Exit 61, the Peachtree City/Fairburn exit, and follow the signs.

For more information or to purchase discounted tickets online, visit www.georgiarenaissancefestival.com. Discounted tickets can also be purchased at Kroger with a Kroger Plus Card.