Most weekends, Devon Ibarguen, like many 13-year-old girls, would be hanging out at the mall or going to the movies with her friends, but life is different for her at the moment.
"I don't have weekends anymore," she said. Since mid January, the eighth-grader at Southside Fundamental Middle School in St. Petersburg has been learning sword-fight technique and practicing character development so she could perform at the 2003 Bay Area Renaissance Festival at Largo Central Park, which opened over the weekend.
"Everyone is so nice to me since I'm one of the youngest people there," she said. Devon plays a roaming gypsy and also has a part in the Human Chess Match.
At a festival preview last week, many of the Renaissance village residents were concerned about the pirates who might be invading. "The pirates are in town; they think we have treasures," said Jenna Sezionale, who plays the role of Elizabeth Mary Winnafren Henry, the mayor's daughter. Jenna, 14, is in the ninth grade at St. Petersburg High School. This is her second year participating in the festival.
"The pirates smell like fish," said 17-year-old Haley Pritchard, a St. Petersburg High 12th-grader playing Wruston Skitch.
"My favorite part is performing," said Jennifer Trieste, 13, an eigth-grader at Safety Harbor Middle School, who becomes "Sereena" as part of the Demzareh Gypsy Show this year, her fifth season with the Renaissance Festival.
Adults relish their roles at the festival, too. "I'm a gypsy," said Michael Mulconry, who plays the role of Mentar. "They (the royal family) live in their own little world. We don't get involved with them unless we can steal something."
The festival, which runs through April 13, includes eight stages and street theaters featuring jugglers, magicians, fire-eaters and specialty acts. Other favorites include armored-contact jousting and human chess matches, as well as a chance to mingle with minstrels, maidens, peasants, fools and royalty.
New attractions this year are "Pirate Ahoy," the scorching "Stage of Fire," "Return of King Edward" and "Larger Than Life." Some activities cater to younger children, such as the water balloon toss at the Castle Siege and face painting. Each weekend features different games and events that include Tug-of-War, Wrap the Knight and a Spaghetti Eating Contest.
As usual, the festival marketplace shops offer handcrafted items, and there is plenty of food, including Chocolate Explosion Mousse Cake, Kentucky Bourbon Pecan Pie and Chocolate Covered Bananas.
This is what organizers are calling "The Last Huzzah" for the Bay Area Renaissance Festival in Largo Central Park; plans are to relocate the show next year.
"I definitely recommend it to other kids," said Devon about being part of the Festival. "It's a great experience, and you get a lot of acting experience. Normally you'd have to pay hundreds of dollars for acting classes, but here you get it for free."
Amita Shah, 15, is in the 10th grade at St. Petersburg High School.