‘Brothers O’Bedlam’ return to fool around at Great Plains Renaissance Festival

09/20/2012 11:43 AM

09/20/2012 11:44 AM

Michael Crowley is a fool and doesn’t care who knows it.

“It’s fun. Everybody should try it at least once,” said Crowley, part of a two-man act known as the Brothers O’ Bedlam, which will be part of this weekend’s Great Plains Renaissance Festival at Sedgwick County Park.

Maybe that’s because Crowley and his partner aren’t just the bizarrely dressed butts of jokes — they’re giving as good as they get out there.

“We may insult them a little bit,” Crowley said of fairgoers the pair encounter. “We may make them cry a little, make them run a little bit. Bikers just want to stand with us. They think it’s cool.”

If malicious mayhem isn’t your cup of grog, the fair offers plenty more options, from knights in shining armor to damsels in all sorts of dress. Falconry, music, magic, dancing, food, crafts, costumes, jousting, sword fighting and other activities may have you feeling like you’ve been transported to days of yore.

The fair’s promoter, Richard Cathey, said regular attendees of the festival have been asking for years when Crowley and his partner in mayhem, James Courtney, would return. Both live in the Kansas City area.

A computer operator by day, Crowley said a friend first suggested he start playing the fool 30 years ago.

“She said, ‘You’re kind of off-the-wall,’ ” Crowley said. “I guess I just had a natural talent for it.”

He’s performed at hundreds of fairs and other events since as “Mad Tom,” partnering with Courtney — “Mad Tyler” — for the last 25 years.

Crowley said the pair’s performances rarely are the same. He calls them “reactionary improvisational theater.”

“We usually just wait to see what happens. First (people) react to the way we’re clothed. They stare.”

The brothers’ attire typically consists of things like mud, grass, baby bottles and hair brushes.

As to what happens next, Crowley said, “We never know what’s going to come out of our mouths. Sometimes we gather quite a crowd. We’re hit-and-run artists.”

Crowley figures the partnership has lasted so long because “we both seem to have the same personality. I’m a smaller version of him, or he’s a larger version of me.”

Other festival highlights include:

• Jousting, swordfights and other battles waged by an Iowa-based troupe of knights in armor. Cathey said the fights are realistic.

“In fact, a few years ago there was an accident with a sword and one of the guys got sliced right above his eye. They practice really hard, and they like each other. Those are the only two things that keep them alive, really.”

• Falconry demonstrations by master bird trainer Robert Aanonsen, who’s expected to bring more than a dozen birds of prey from his home in Oklahoma.

“He’ll let them loose and do a hunting demonstration with a fake mouse and rabbit — how they would have been used in the period,” Cathey said.

• “Andy” Shakespeare, who does stage shows and wanders the grounds spouting immortal lines from The Bard, plus readings by Kansas authors, a nod to the Renaissance’s role in spreading literacy.
• A wedding — a real one — at 1 p.m. Sunday, complete with a royal entourage, bagpipers and knights in armor as escorts.

“That’s something that humbles you as a promoter,” Cathey said. “This is something that’s important in people’s lives.”

It’s the 13th annual fall Renaissance Festival (another takes place each spring), and Cathey expects more than 200 invited performers to show up, meaning guests could wander the grounds all day and never see them all. Vendors sell costumes to fairgoers, as well.

“It’s not required,” Cathey said. “But I do genuinely believe the people that come out in costume have more fun. That way you become part of the experience.”

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