Troupe of knights joust at Oso horse arena

OSO — Backstage, they pull on their chain mail, buckle up their armor and unpack their swords.

Their audience spills out of the upstairs restaurant at Rhodes River Ranch, eating, looking down at the arena and waiting in excited anticipation.

The Seattle Knights, whose 32 members include about a half-dozen from Snohomish County, begin to work the crowd.

The idea is that you imagine yourself in the Middle Ages at an English tournament festival. You are cheering for either the green, the blue or the red team. Not with timid cheers or yells of “go blue,” but robust heckles and shouts of “fight, fight, fight.”

The highlight of the show is jousting, a martial arts competition in which the troupe’s six chivalrous knights in shining armor take turns riding toward each other on swift and heavy horses, trying with their lances to break the other’s shield or knock the other from his horse.

The arena at Rhodes River Ranch is a great place for the sport, said Seattle Knights theater company director Dameon Willich, of Lynnwood.

Every other month the Seattle Knights make the trip up to Oso to perform at the ranch. It’s been a sell-out each time, Willich said, and a good gig for the 20-year-old company.

“The ranch has one of the finest arenas in the area. I wish it was just 40-feet longer, but we work on a diagonal here, which offers a better view for the audience and a little bit more room for the horses to hit the brakes,” Willich said.

The Seattle Knights members are not paid well, and most have day jobs, but they share a love of performance art, sword fighting and history. Along with knights, the actors also perform as pirates and swashbucklers throughout the Northwest, including educational events for children.

Especially during the rainy months of the year, which is most of the time, the Seattle Knights appreciate being able to perform at indoor arenas such as the one at Rhodes River Ranch.

“Cleaning mud off armor is a tough job,” Willich said. “But we do like performing outdoors in the summer.”

One of the knights, “Sir” Edward Shanahan, affecting a fine English accent, makes friends with Lenea and Dave Dyer, who live just up the road from the ranch.

Their granddaughter Lourdes Guzman, 8, of Shoreline, is a fan of the blue team, which is OK with Sir Edward.

Shanahan and Lourdes pose for photos taken by grandma.

“It’s great that we don’t have to travel far for good entertainment,” Lenea Dyer said. “This is so cool.”

As the knights don their helmets, it’s clear that a certain amount of danger is part of the show.

“This is more difficult than it looks,” said Walt Szklarski as he closed his helmet, limiting his hearing and his vision. Off he went, hellbent toward the opposing knight, as both gripped their reigns, lances and shields. After a few runs across the arena, Szklarski and his horse returned, both sweating a bit from the “battle.”

“We love it,” he said.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

Take in a Knight game

The Seattle Knights plan to perform again at the Rhodes River Ranch in Oso again on June 15. More information is available at www.seattleknights.com and www.rhodesriverranch.com. For reservations, call 360-474-8313.

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