“I’ve heard the things they say,” says Cheryl Bucholtz, vice-president of marketing for the Ohio Renaissance Festival. You can hear the frustration in her voice as she recounts some of the mockery she’s heard over the years.

“They say we’re like a flea market, that we’re just a bunch of weirdos dressed up like . . . well, I hate to tell you how rude some people are,” says Bucholtz. “They just don’t understand what we do here.”

Fortunately, there is no shortage of people who are huge fans of the Ohio Renaissance Festival, which opens its 27th season Sept. 3. Bucholtz estimates that more than 4 million people have attended the annual eight-weekend extravaganza since it made its first appearance in Harveysburg, Ohio, in 1990.

The goal of the Festival is simple—to recreate 16th century England.

Is it a historically accurate recreation? Not really. If you want that, you’ll probably have to hop a flight to England, where there are several living history museums that recreate the minutiae of everyday life in a time that hasn’t existed for more than 500 years.

“What we’re offering is escapism,” says Bucholtz. “You come out here and you can leave the modern world behind. With the election coming up, this fall will be brutal for everyone. You come out here for a day and you won’t have to deal with any of that. We’re like a time-traveling adventure.”

There’s an element of fantasy mixed in, too, as if Princess Bride had suddenly come to life in rural southwest Ohio. There are some aspects of steampunk, too. And yes, an attempt at historical recreation.

There are two schools of thought about how accurate gatherings like this should be. Some people prefer the English approach. But for all their historical accuracy, those sorts of events tend to be dry and rather subdued.

Then there are the gatherings like the ORF, which takes place on 30 acres located about a half mile from the eastern edge of Caesar’s Creek State Park. There is some history, though you shouldn’t take an exam based on what you learn there. Wander around for a while and you may bump into Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I. Or Sir Water Raleigh. Or Sir Francis Drake. (Remember him? The first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe in a single expedition?)

But what’s most important at this gathering is the entertainment: rowdy, very physical and sometimes a tad bawdy.

“We are similar to Kings Island in what we are offering,” says David Smith, ORF’s director of entertainment. “Except that we’re much more interactive and we engage people one-on-one.”

Modern Medieval Times

It wasn’t long ago that there was speculation that the Ohio Renaissance Festival might not be long for this world.

In January 2015, Peter Carroll, the founder of the festival who is approaching 90 years old, sold the Festival and 144 acres of adjacent land, a total of 287 acres, to a trio of Dayton-area developers. That same trio created Caesar Creek Properties to oversee a planned housing development next to the Festival site.

Some saw the idea of the commercial development as sacrilege. But Carroll himself already had a plan to develop some of that land, with the first phase being 28 homes next to the Festival grounds.

Thus far, though, the developers have shown no inclination to dismantle the Festival, which, by all reports, is something of a cash cow. In fact, they have stepped in and made several major improvements to the Festival infrastructure.

Last year, they created a new field for the jousting and added a much-improved viewing stand. And this season, according to Smith, they’ve added flush toilets.

“I know—that sounds amazing, right,” says Smith, who came to the Festival as a staff-swinging Robin Hood 20 years ago. “We’ve always been a Port-o-Let-sort-of place. But the new ownership listened to people’s comments and that was a big one. So was the idea for our new restaurant.”

It’s called the 1572 Roadhouse Bar-B-Q and it opened June 17 during the Celtic Fest Ohio, which the new owners hope will grow and become a staple of the Festival season. The menu is decidedly 21st century, filled with pulled pork, smoked sliced beef and grilled chicken breast sandwiches, along with baby back ribs, tamales, peach and blackberry cobblers and, of course, a broad selection of microbrewed beers. It even has its own website at 1572roadhousebarbq.com.

And don’t worry. There will still be plenty of places where you can still purchase the trademark dish of every Renaissance Festival—the turkey leg.

Entertaining the King

Smith recruits performers—up to 150 every year—from all over the country. There are some performers who follow a national circuit of Renaissance Faires and Festivals. Some are actors. There are semi-pro wrestlers, too, and wranglers for the horses used in the jousting.

“I even have one performer who is a college professor from Chicago,” says Smith. “It’s like a small city of people here. And they all have skills in things that you just don’t expect. That’s what makes it so fun, I think.”

Auditions were held back in late June. Those who were selected went through an intensive training process, working on everything from hand-to-hand combat to improv, depending on what jobs they’ll be doing when the Festival begins.

There are bands of roving street performers. And musicians. And jesters.

“I think they’re all great,” says Smith. Asked to pick his favorites, though, he offers this handful of suggestions.

- “You have to see a full-armor joust,” says Smith. It turns out that the ORF is one of the few festivals that features them. For one thing, they’re expensive. Riders do occasionally get injured. And the upkeep for their horses is pricey, as well. “But there is nothing as exciting as a full, hard-hitting joust.”

- “There’s also nothing quite like The Mudde Show,” he says. Three actors give trimmed-down versions of great works of literature while performing in the Theatre in the Ground. Yes—they stand in mud and share zany adaptations of stories like Beowulf and Dante’s Inferno.

- “If I were you, I wouldn’t miss the Kamikaze Fireflies,” says Smith. “They do a little bit of everything,” he says, rattling off a list of specialties like fire-breathing, juggling, balancing atop a tower of chairs, twirling, mass hula-hooping—you name it.

- “There are The Swordsmen,” says Smith. “They are an amazingly quick-witted pair of gentlemen who balance comedy and the manly art of sword fighting.” They don’t drag out the swords until they’re on the stage. But when you meet them on the Festival grounds, you may just get a lecture on the other manly arts, like the proper way for a man to stand or how best to present yourself.

- “I’m a real big fan of the pirate comedy stunt show,” says Smith. “I especially like the human combat chess match.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. A full chess set made up of human beings, except that when one piece moves into another’s square, they fight for the space. Invigorating.

The Ohio Renaissance Festival runs 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays from Sep. 3-Oct. 23. It is also open on Labor Day, Sept. 5. Tickets are $21.95, $9.95 for ages 5-12 at the gate or by calling 877-987-6487. Tickets are available at renfestival.com. Children under 5 are free.