The first thing you need to know about the Tortuga Twins is that there are six of them.
But only three show up at a time for a comedy act that has become a favorite at Renaissance festivals nationwide, including the one in Tampa which opens this weekend.
On stage, the “Twins” are the three goofy Tortuga brothers, medieval men in tights with swords who romp through audience participation skits, some jokes with slightly risqué moments, others with family friendly silliness.
The act is just one of a dozen comedy acts that share stages at the 36th annual Bay Area Renaissance Festival which runs through April 6 on 15 acres (transformed into a 15th century village) behind the Museum of Science and Industry on 11315 N. 46th St.
Spread out over seven themed weekends, the festival draws an estimated 125,000 visitors. In addition to the comedy acts, there's a cast of more than 300 characters, including a Royal Court, peasants, jugglers, knights, fairies, dancers and ventriloquists, jousters, wandering musicians and more. There also are artisans displaying and selling glassware, crafted leather, jewelry, toys, musical instruments and period clothing as well as various food vendors.
“The Tortuga Twins started in 1987 when the festival was in Largo and there were two of us,” says Jef Hall, who along with Riki Robinson, created the act. Hall plays D'Angelo, and Robinson is Raphael. Ronn Bauman, a former Navy battle stations supervisor on a nuclear submarine, joined the act in 1990 as Scaramouche. He had left the Navy to become a festival juggler.
“We added a third 'brother' because it made the skits better, but we kept the 'Tortuga Twins' name because it had a ring to it,” says Hall. “We just say that our mother couldn't count. The act got so popular and there are so many festivals that we hired a second Tortuga troupe to tour.”
Hall, who grew up in St. Petersburg, and Robinson, who grew up in Tarpon Springs, are performing at a Renaissance Festival in Arizona. Coming to the Tampa festival are Bryan Ragon as Salvador Tortuga, Jon Wray as Lucio Tortuga and Liam Fate Selvey as Fortunato Tortuga.
Hall is the son of a big band crooner who migrated from the Catskills to manage the Port O' Call in Tierra Verde. He has a degree in computer engineering that he has never used. And he once worked as a director at the Home Shopping Network. “But performing at a Renaissance Festival is a lot more fun,” says Hall, who started out as a mime.
He was 19 when he and Robinson wrote the first Tortuga script at a McDonald's on Ulmerton Road in Pinellas County. The characters were gypsy brothers in search of a lost princess. The characters names were inspired by a then-underground comic book (The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).
“We now have several different scripts to work from, but every show is different because we improvise with the audience,” says Hall. It's a lot like vaudeville. One show is a twist on the Robin Hood legend. Another is a comic re-telling of the Helen of Troy. A fan favorite is the bawdy sword fighting skit.
Themed weekends at the festival get underway Saturday with “Wine and Chocolate,” which features the fourth annual fencing championships and the “Cupcakes Crusades” on Sunday which will crown the “Best Baker in the Realm” based on recipes for Renaissance-themed cupcakes.
There also will be free samples from local chocolatiers, bakers and other sweet makers, beer and wine tastings, a grape stomp, a fudge fling, a sweet stroll, a wooing contest and a couple's chocolate pie eating contest.
Other themed weekends are:
♦ March 1-2 — Highland Fling weekend with Scottish themed games competition and kilt-wearing contest.
♦ March 8-9 — Buccaneer Beer Fest is devoted to all things pirate including an arm-wrestling contest. There will be beer tastings and a pet fest featuring dogs.
♦ March 15-14 — Shamrocks & Shenanigans is billed as Tampa's largest St. Patrick's Day party.
♦ March 22-23 — Wonders of the World weekend features the Florida Archery Championships and the Florida Belly Dancing Championships.
♦ March 29-30 — The High Seas Adventure weekend brings back the pirate theme with contests such as swab the deck, press-a-wench, the perfect pirate contest and a pickle pie eating contest. There's also a best tattoo contest. And facial hair is celebrated with contests to determine the longest beard, the grizzliest (fullest) beard, the most unusual beard, the best mustache and best-trimmed beard.
♦ April 4-6 — The last weekend starts with a Friday festival (and after hours party for an additional fee) and a Huzzah to the King party on Saturday and Sunday with a barbecue contest and a turkey leg eating competition.