Somewhere near the back of the Florida Renaissance Festival, through the castle gates and around the mounds of golden-brown turkey legs, past the amateur archers and ax-throwing station, is a crowd overflowing from four sets of bleachers. When one approaches, the sound of hooves and trumpets grows louder, and metal clanks together. Weaving between bodies and peeking through necks, suddenly you see them, draped in armor, eyes hidden behind helmets: the knights.
Easily the most popular attraction of the festival, the spectacle is Game of Thrones sans nudity and decapitation; medieval times, but with more throat-slitting.
The men behind the armor are members of a troupe called Noble Cause Productions. Made up of former rodeo riders, trained actors, and medieval enthusiasts, their show is a carefully choreographed homage to a simpler form of combat. They swiftly perform the kind of moves you practice at home in your underwear every time you watch Lord of the Rings.
The troupe travels across the country from renaissance festival to renaissance festival, where they joust and perform medieval ground combat in front of eager crowds.
"Your horse is your most important tool," Brian Fertal of Noble Cause says. "You have to have a partnership with your horse" He's a jouster with more than a decade of experience. He usually plays the bad guy in the show.
Despite the seemingly high risk of physical pain that comes with jousting, Fertal hasn't had a single serious injury in his career. None of the other three performers who spoke to New Times has suffered serious injury either, something they attribute to a relationship of trust between performer and horse and hours spent rehearsing between weekend shows.
"It's a pretty steep learning curve," says Patrick Croce, a newcomer to Noble Cause with only a few months of experience. He and fellow Noble Cause rookie Zachary Minder went to school for acting and saw Noble Cause Productions as an opportunity to learn. "It's invaluable experience learning how to work a crowd," Croce says. Croce is one of the most vocal members of the show; it's his job to hype up the crowd. And he must do so in a fake Spanish accent, which -- as any gringo knows -- is very difficult to nail without sounding like Antonio Banderas' Puss in Boots. Croce, by the way, does a good job avoiding this.
The Knights aren't in it just for the paycheck, though. Like many of the renaissance festival performers and staff, they look at themselves as a family. The fact that they beat the shit out of each other, if anything, makes them a more authentic family.
The Florida Renaissance Festival runs every Saturday and Sunday at Quiet Waters Park in Deefield Beach from 10 a.m. to sunset. It runs until March 15. Adult tickets cost $21, and child tickets cost $9.
If you've never been, you must change that at once. The Florida Renaissance is a beloved event for a reason. Get an early start if you want to see every inch of the massive event. And whatever you do, don't miss out on Noble Cause Productions.