SARASOTA -- When Palmetto resident Debbie McNulty began acting in the Sarasota Medieval Fair in 2006, her two kids and husband did as well.
While her family has since put an end to their acting days, McNulty still acts in the fair, which kicks off on Saturday in Sarasota's Ringling Woods behind the Sarasota County Fairgrounds, Fruitvbille Road at Ringling Boulevard.
The fair gives McNulty the chance to do something that she doesn't get to do in her job as a software engineer.
For her, like many of the performers and event organizers, the fair has become a family. "You meet friends that you just keep forever," she said.
The 11th annual Sarasota Medieval Fair will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and will continue Nov. 15-16 and Nov. 22-23, rain or shine. Event organizers said they are expecting about 4,000 people to attend each day. There are about 150 vendors at the festival selling items such as leather swords, costumes and food, and some of the fair's entertainment will change each weekend.
While many of the events, such as human-combat chess and full-contact jousting, remain the same each year, the theme of the fair changes every year to a different event from Medieval times. This year's fair has a German theme and will be centered on the Battle of Lechfeld, a between the Germans and Hungarians in 955 AD.
Because each year has a different theme, McNulty said you don't get bored with the character you will be cast as since you get to be a different one every year. This year McNulty will be Alda, a German cook who serves the German army.
"This year is a little unique because we have never done a German scenario," she said. "The German dialect is new to everyone, pretty much. ... It is really fun to learn a different accent and dialect."
Shannon Bowden, the fair's marketing coordinator, said it likes to do something different every year to be able to teach people a different historical lesson.
"We like to change up costumes and characters," she said. "We like to show history in a different light. It is nice to give a history lesson."
The Sarasota Medieval Fair, which is one of about seven Medieval or Renaissance festivals held in Florida each year, is the only festival of this scale within a 60-mile radius, Bowden said.
The festival allows people to escape from everyday life and become part of the Medieval times, Bowden said.
"You become part it and root for whoever you want to," Bowden said. "Get out there and get involved. It is the one place where you can wear a costume and live out your fantasy."
For information about the fair, visit SarasotaMedievalFair.com or call 888-303-FAIR.
Claire Aronson, University Parkway/Sarasota reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.