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1st Intermission

Behind the scenes at the royal joust

Preparations were underway in “Carvershire.”

The king’s throne was in a pickup near the viewing stand. Peasant dresses were filling the racks outside Hearts Delight. Town officials were on their way for inspections. The big cats were on the road, coming up from Myrtle Beach, slowed by mechanical troubles.

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And the jousters — free of their 70-pound suits of armor — were on horseback in the Tournament Field.

The 33d season of King Richard’s Faire kicks off Saturday on its 80-acre site in Carver. At every renaissance festival, the jousters are a main event. King Richard’s Faire is no different. They hold three shows each day, culminating in the Joust to the Death.

“What people can expect,’’ said Joseph Darrigo, director and choreographer of the Royal Joust, “is mayhem, is glory, is bloodshed, is excitement.”

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There’s no dying this day. But it is what the performers call Hell Week. With the fair’s opening looming, the jousters need to get their moves down, take care of the horses, build props and sets.

Darrigo is a Brockton High graduate who started at King Richard’s Faire in 1989 working in the kitchens. He then moved on to booths, games, and finally to the jousting arena as a squire for the Hanlon-Lees Action Theater. Kent Shelton, one of the founders of the jousting group, was a knight then, as he had been from the beginning of King Richard’s Faire.

‘Accidents do happen, but that’s why we rehearse, and we’re trying to be as safe as possible. We’re friends, but out there, in that area, we’re the most bitter enemies.’

Joseph Darrigo, director and choreographer of the Royal Joust 
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“The difference between a stuntman and a daredevil is a daredevil can do just about anything once,” Darrigo said. “A stuntman can do just about anything again and again and again. A stuntman will think it all the way through, understand how every nuance can alter how he hurts himself.

“I really enjoyed risking everything for the entertainment of others.”

The moves may be choreographed, but the action is real. Each horse is moving at about 25 miles an hour, and the lances — wooden dowels 10 feet long and 1 5/8ths inches in diameter — are heavy and dangerous and hurt every time.

“When that hit comes in, [the lance] can go in and down, or in and up [into the neck and face], or in and out,’’ he explained. “We want it to go in and out. We want it to go away from us and our horse. That’s safe. . . . That’s why we practice.

“Accidents do happen, but that’s why we rehearse, and we’re trying to be as safe as possible. we’re friends, but out there, in that area, we’re the most bitter enemies. We hate each other.”

In years past, Darrigo has donned the armor — which costs $3,500 and up for a full suit — and become Sir Joseph, the Lord of Lincoln. But this year he is changing things up and will be Sir Amadeo, the Count of Mantua.

“I’m not going to say I’m the villain, but I’m currently misunderstood,’’ he said.

Aside from the jousting, the knights may wield fire whips, shields that ignite, or swords that are on fire. There have been injuries and scares.

“The jousters put on a spectacular show, but it’s not for everybody,” King Richard’s Faire founder Bonnie Shapiro said. “So we try to find balance. We have animal [acts] with big cats and frivolous musicals and jugglers and vaudeville acts.

“But when you hear thousands of people cheering and roaring at the jousting arena, you know you are having a successful day.”

For Darrigo, dressed in armor, playing a real-life knight from long ago, there’s nothing like it.

“It is an adventure. It is an adrenaline rush,” he said. “This arena holds 3,500 people — 3,500 people are watching me do stuff. Look how cool I am. Look how mean I am. Look at how awesome this is. Look at what I can do with my horse. Look at what I can do with this sword. Look at what I can do with this torch.

“I don’t care whether you love me or hate me, you’re watching.”

King Richard’s Faire is open weekends and holidays from Aug. 30 though Oct. 19. Details at kingrichardsfaire.net.

Knights practice their jousting routine on the grounds of King Richard’s Faire in preparation for opening day.

Zack Wittman for the Boston Globe

Knights practice their jousting routine on the grounds of King Richard’s Faire in preparation for opening day.

John Vitti is a member of the Globe staff. He can be contacted at john.vitti@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeVitti.
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