Maurene Drew, affectionately known as Molly by the Renaissance fair crowd, is on a mission to raise the entertainment bar in Solano County by bringing high-quality events to the people. She and her partner, Dalia Vidor, own Benicia-based production company Avalon Themed Events, and have created Carnevale Fantastico, an Italian-themed Renaissance faire now in its second year. Drew is on the board of and entertainment director for the biggest Renaissance fair in Northern California, the Northern California Renaissance Faire, and Vidor works at the Vallejo Visitor’s Center and has been producing Shakespeare in the Park in coordination with the Greater Vallejo Recreation District for six years. When the two got together to create Carnevale Fantastico, Vallejo was the obvious choice. The GVRD has been an important sponsor and provided a scenic location, Blue Rock Springs Park.
Within the central goal of taking quality and innovation to the next level, Drew conceived the Italian theme. She says, “The English Renaissance fair has been done so many times. People love Italian food and culture, and Italy was really the center of the Renaissance with the Theatre del Arte, comedy, high fashion, beautiful art, music, dance and food.” According to the event website, “The first stirring of ‘la rinascità’ (the rebirth) began in the Tuscany region of Italy and was centered in the cities of Florence and Siena, but it soon reached Venice and Rome as it spread throughout the region.”
With Vidor and Drew’s combined community connections and a rich cultural heritage to draw from, the theme and event fell into place. After actor auditions, the team held Italian Language workshops that were also available to the public through the GRVD Spring Recreation Guide. According to Drew, many Renaissance fair actors and crafters have moved to Benicia and surrounding areas in recent years so it was easy to rally people. Most of the actors are experienced performing at Renaissance fairs or the Dickens Fair, and/or are professional stage and screen actors.
In addition to rotating stage shows, several hundred costumed actors engage with the crowd throughout the weekend, including travelling performances of Romeo and Juliet vignettes, inviting guests into another world. “All the costumes are movie quality—you won’t see them anywhere else. People put a lot of work and detail into the costumes representing different areas of Italy—Venetian, Florentine, Tuscan, etc. They are beautiful and very colorful,” says Drew.
Four stages will be packed full of comedic fodder, with 30 minute shows that are included in admission and rotate through several times daily. Features include morality plays (comedic takes on actual historic court cases), the Cucina dell’Arte (wherein Mama Focaccia and her daughters reveal the arts of the Italian kitchen), comedic sword fighting shows, traditional music and dance, marionette and fairy tale shows especially for kids, and seafaring songs (especially for adults!).
In addition to world-class entertainment, traditional crafters will be selling handcrafted wares, and traditional Italian food including wood-fired pizza, Italian sausage, cannoli and more along with beer, wine and sodas. Benicia’s Rellik Tavern and Lagunitas Brewing Company are helping to sponsor the event, and Drew’s job as a wine distributor came in handy for sourcing authentic Italian wines.
Some VIP Parking will be available on site, but SolTrans, another sponsor, will offer free transportation from lots at Solano Community College, the Vallejo Ferry Terminal and the Vallejo Transit Center on Curtola Parkway. Tickets are less expensive online and can be purchased at Carnevalefantastico.com, where you can also find detailed information about the shows along with photos to whet your appetite for the Italian Renaissance experience. Drew says, “We encourage people to dress up! This is not just an event to get people through the door. Our goal here is higher art.”