Downtown Riverside transforms into Dickens Festival

By Misty Severi 

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Men with mustaches escorted women in long dresses while children played in the street as bagpipes played loudly in the distance.

Actor Paul Jacques has portrayed Charles Dickens at the Dickens Festival every year for the last 13 years.

“This is living history,” Jacques said. “It’s a lot different reading a book than it is to go and experience living history around you.”

The Dickens Festival honors Charles Dickens, the successful English author whose known for his novels “A Christmas Carol”, “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Oliver Twist,” among others.

The Dickens Festival happens every year in downtown Riverside and highlights one of Dickens’ famous novels.

This year was “American Notes” which was a travelogue that told of Dickens’ travels during his visit to the United States.

“This year’s (novel) he took about six months and went to America during 1842 and each vignette depicts sort of what he thought about the White House, what he thought about Boston,” Jacques said.

Jacques says that because of his family, this year was his favorite.

“As my children are more involved, that makes it more interesting to me,” Jacques said. “As a family, it’s much more fun than just me being here.”

Actors portrayed famous authors from the Victorian era, some of them could be found wandering the streets such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Jane Austen.

While many of the guests admired the clothing and the music of the time, 27-year-old Blake Pinelli loved the authors.

“You know the actors put so much effort into knowing who they’re portraying that it feels like I’m actually talking to those people,” Pinelli said.

Visitors could listen to the stage performances, eat scones or drink tea, take their children to Oliver’s Alley and learn to play period games such as Graces, a game that taught children to be graceful by flinging a wooden hoop from two wooden sticks before their partner caught it.

For those who were over 21, one of the biggest hits was the tavern. Kendra Taylor, an RCC alumnus, has been working at the tavern as a dancer ever since it opened four years ago.

“I was approached by two of my good friends who founded the tavern and they asked me if I wanted to join their troupe,” Taylor said. “Of course I said yes, because who doesn’t love Can-can?”

The tavern was created to show a different side of Dickensian England.

“During the Dickens Fest, everything is so literary and proper and Madam Barbara wanted to have a different aspect of the Dickens Fest, have more of the bawdy, common folk,” Taylor said. “So she created the tavern.”

At the end of a day at the festival, the actors put on their ball gowns Sat. night for a night of Victorian era ballroom dancing at Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium.

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