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Roaming the streets at The Carolina Renaissance Festival has become old hat for 30-year-old Troy Dunbar. But in true renaissance fashion, that hat has changed into a turban.
After portraying a wandering poet at the festival for three years, Dunbar is now Arabian sultan Azeen Al-Mullah (“defender of money”) at the 16th- century European-style arts and entertainment festival.
And Dunbar, choral director at Lancaster High School, is easy to spot.
He’s the guy in the turban with the big feather, a flowing robe and “puffy MC Hammer” pants with a curved scimitar sword strapped to his side.
Dunbar’s main job is to welcome the hundreds of guests to the festival each weekend. He may be a high school music teacher, but Dunbar has the heart of a street actor, especially when it comes to children. His Arabian get-up has youngsters flocking in his direction.
“I really like it,” Dunbar said. “I actually got my first hug of the season last weekend and that really felt good. I enjoy the camaraderie of getting to know the cast. So many people enjoy the roles they play and some of them even make a living at it.”
Many festival visitors, he said, are shocked to learn that eastern cultures played a role in western history.
The Renaissance, sometimes called The Enlightenment, was a cultural movement that began in Italy in the 14th century before spreading across Europe for the next 200 years. Its influence affected everyday life, as well as literature, philosophy, art, science, politics and religion. There were some strong links between Arab culture, science and medicine and the start of the Renaissance, when great strides were made, ushering in the modern era.
That's why Dunbar and his fellow cast members are more than actors in costume. He may be a teacher, but his role as sultan comes with homework.
“To be honest, this requires a fair amount of research to make everything as accurate as possible,” Dunbar said. “The Eastern influences were actually a huge part of it, so you want to let people see the Arabians did exist and were part of the culture of the day.”
The highlight of each festival day for Dunbar is the Sultan’s Court. Held at noon, Dunbar and his sultana (wife) share stories and songs about the fictional Al-Mullah, while belly dancers and others perform.
Dunbar said the fictional sultan only has one wife. However, his character does have a harem of more than 40 concubines. That’s so many women to keep up with that the sultan doesn’t even know all of their names.
“At Sultan’s Court, I try to include as many aspects of the arts into it as I possibly can,” he said. “We finally figured out that the sultan’s target audience is children.”
After today, only one more Renaissance Festival weekend remains. Because of recent rainfall, Dunbar said that a cloak has been his best friend.
“Until last weekend, (Nov. 7-8), when we had the second-highest attendance of the season, we’ve had some pretty nasty weather,” he said. “It’s either been very cold or very windy. We hope all of that is going to change.
“Still, I’m already a little sad to see it winding down,” he said. “It seems like it comes and goes so quickly.”
Want to go?
WHAT: The Carolina Renaissance Festival, a 16th century European style arts and entertainment festival that includes outdoor theater, circus entertainment, arts and crafts, a marketplace, a jousting tournament, and food and fun
WHERE: Just north of Charlotte between Concord and Huntersville on N.C. 70 at Poplar Tent Road (between I-77 and I-85)
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m on Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 22.
HOW MUCH: Advance tickets ($18 for adults and $7 for kids ages 5-12) are available at all Harris Teeter stores. Children under 5 are free. Tickets at the gate are $1 more and senior discounts (age 60 and over) are $17 at the gate.
INFORMATION: (877) 896-5544 or www.royalfaires.com