September 12, 2003

here's a lot to like about the Historic Constitution Square Festival. It happens right when the temperate fall weather gets going, and marks the end of a busy summer season of festivals and the beginning of the autumn round of local revelries. And for Brenda Willoughby, park manager at Constitution Square State Historic Site, the festival is special because of the people's commitment.

"It's a community festival - that's what's so unique about it," she explains. "The community is involved, and I think that's why it's been so successful.

Willoughby has been working with the free festival for the past 12 years, and says in that time it has grown considerably.

"The Chamber of Commerce started the festival 25 years ago," says Willoughby. "It was one of their events. People like Jerry Boyd and Shirley Clark were the founders.


"Over the years, it has gone from the Chamber doing it to a committee doing it to now a state park event. Now, it's a state-recognized festival, one of the top events in the state. It's just a tradition all over the state. The festival has the

support of the Kentucky Department of Parks for marketing and advertising, that has helped this festival tremendously."

Local support also has been important, Willoughby notes. "The city and county have supported us for 25 years."

On a given year now, average attendance ranges from 18,000 to 20,000 people in three-day period. And the once two-day festival now is a three-day event.

"We've added the festival school day," says Willoughby, adding as many as 500 students will be at the festival this year. "That's probably one of the most rewarding parts of the festival for me - the school kids that come on Friday. They are there in the morning until noon, actually going through the living history.

"It's an educational activity for the school kids. McDowell House partners with us on that day, and the students experience the living history and watch the craft demonstrators. They go to the craft booths and buy things, and eat lunch there."

Community involvement also can be seen in the number of vendors and booths at the Historic Constitution Square Festival.

"One of most important things about this community festival is all the organizations that use this festival as a major fund-raiser - food booths, information booths, the artisans that set up. Many are from Danville and 95 percent of them are from Kentucky. That's something I have tried to focus on - having all Kentucky artisans."

This year's festival, which is Friday through Sept. 21, features more artisans - 95 - and an emphasis on living history. Among those performers is Johanna Ellis, AKA Signora Bella "The Beauty of Balance."

"She is 'The Great Italian Equilibrist,' an 18th-, 19th-century street performer," Willoughby notes.

Signora Bella walks the slackrope, juggles swords and fire, and balances on a big red ball. She has performed at Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon's 18th-Century Fair as well as the Country Fair at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

"She came by the shop about two years ago and asked if I ever had the need of such a performer," Willoughby says. "She asked if I hired outside-the-state entertainment, and I thought for the 25th anniversary, instead of doing T-shirts or cups, I'd hire an historically accurate 18th- and 19th-century street performer. I think she's going to be big draw to the festival."

Also on tap this year are classes at Grayson's Tavern about how to play the mountain dulcimer, and new re-enactors, including a fur trapper.|9/14/03***

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