NOTE: I had to type Kim Kardashian into Google to figure out how to spell her name for this. I never want to have to do that again.
What the Fuck is a Renaissance Fair?
Why I Choose To Walk Around in 90 Degree Heat in a Corset
There have been a few articles popping about the internet’s lately regarding both the design and value of a Renaissance Faire. While some of these have been immensely informative and insightful (namely those which have come from people who spent years working at one), others seem bent upon little more than establishing just how “cool” and “disaffected” the writers are and just how “lame” and “creepy” those of us who identify as Rennies are.
As a neophyte in the general Rennie community, I am still somewhat in touch with what people call Real Life. Now of course I can only hope that this is a temporary malady which shall be rectified by continuous applications of faire themed events. But as I am now, I think I can explain what it is that makes a Renaissance Festival such a source of entertainment and anachronistic debauchery that attracts the unusual minded people of our time.
Ren Faire is, in short, an opportunity.
And, unlike many opportunities, it is one that comes knocking every year. You know when it is going to knock, and exactly what it will sound like. You will have drinks and tapas waiting when it arrives. You will open up as soon as you hear the carriage in the drive and hug it like a friend you haven’t seen in far too long. Because no matter how long it’s been, it has been too long. And when it leaves, you will cling onto every last pub crawl and meet up in between the long months until you come back.
Let me start at my beginning.
June, 2012. I had graduated from college with my associated degree, having been fired from my first job in my career field and having been hopelessly out of work for over a year. I had just had my graduation party and had no career building jobs in site. I am not the sort of person who is prone to depression (my focus just doesn’t hold that long), but I was going into a bad place in my head. I was surrounded by a sense of uselessness and regret that no matter what I attempted, did not seem to lift.
My wife could sense that this was happening and did her best to cheer me up. She said that if I could find something, any sort of job really (finances were plummeting) that she would make sure we could go to the Ohio Renaissance Festival this year. We hadn’t been in a while, due to said lack of finances, and she knew it was something I hated to see fly past. I started to feel a little happier and click around the ORF page, thinking about turkey legs and knights and wearing my cobbled together Goodwill outfit.
It was then that I noticed a small link at the bottom of the page.
I thought about it for all of ten seconds and then decided to go for it. What was the worst that could happen?
A year later I’m jonesing for the last two weekends in June like a heroin addict at a methadone clinic.
So now that I’ve provided a general backstory, let me do my best to explain what I mean about opportunity.
When you join into the microcosm that is Ren Fair, you willingly submit yourself to waking up every day and actually giving a damn about what you are going to do. Most of us can’t muster that kind of passion with a gallon of Red Bull and espresso shots on the hour. You are greeted by the ubiquitous morning boob boop and, rather than be offended by this salacious display of assumption, you grin and say “Morning Mike!” Your breakfast is cookies and coffee (if you’re lucky), you stand in a group of anywhere between 20-100 people in various states of dress and undress as you help one another try to achieve one or the other. The cast director comes out, and unlike any manager I’ve ever been forced to work under, makes you feel jacked about opening the store up and serving the customers.
You are all of you, even the queen, there to serve the customer. Like every job you’ve ever had, you are still in a service position. This one is for less than minimum wage. Hell if you get a wage working cast at a Ren Faire you are damn lucky. You get paid mostly in tips (which you can not ask for but can be gracious in accepting), the occasional patron purchased cider or ale, and the roar of laughter when a skit goes off well.
You would not suffer this in Real Life. No one would.
But this is not Real Life. This is Ren Faire.
And why? Because you have a rare opportunity here. You have the opportunity to cast aside much of that which society had deemed as “appropriate behavior” and act in a manner which you find pleasing. You have the opportunity to retreat from the internet, reality tv, desk jobs, and video games. (To be fair, you also retreat from indoor plumbing, air conditioners, refrigeration and lumbar support in your mattress.)
You have the opportunity to interact with people who will not automatically reject you because of that obscure little interest you have in Tudor era political scandals and the sex life of Elizabethan woman. Your obsession with The Tudors, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and The Six Wives of Henry the VIII is a positive, if only so that everyone has the chance to discuss the various accuracies and inaccuracies of the shows.
You have the opportunity to make friends you will willing drive over an hour to see because they posted on FB “Hey, there is an event at __________. Wanna come?” You will get your hands on some of the best costumes, (Which are now garbs BTW. Costumes have zippers and take less than ten minutes to get into.) that will forever astound your friends at every Halloween party. You will get to spend your weekends smiling and singing and cracking jokes and spending time doing something adults never let themselves do.
You get the opportunity to rediscover just how much play means to a person. You forgot for over a decade. You were told that adulthood means work time is all the time and playtime means either getting drunk or having sex or both. You forgot that it means talking to people, running around, playing pretend and using your imagination skills to make people feel good.
It is not an exaggeration to say that joining Ren Fair was a renewal for me. It encouraged me to go out and strive. To actively try to do something again because I now had something to look forward to. Not only did I get a job, I got a great job. My creativity (which had been dead for some time) was now continuously spurred into making something for the next themed weekend. My garb boosted my confidence and made me feel better both mentally and physically. (Seriously ladies if you have minor back problems a corset goes a long way). I lost weight, I got more physically active, I engaged with people who had intelligent things to say! I LEARNED things.
I know that there are people out there who see the Renaissance Festivals as an excuse for the weirdoes and misfits of society to get together and praise one another for their eccentricities. And you know what, their right. This is the place for people who have trouble finding people to really connect to. For people who just need to pull away from the Kardashian’s and Dub Step and the latest political scandals and remember that there is a joy inherent in life.
If you are not capable of embracing this, don’t join Ren Faire. But I would encourage you to buy a season pass and come every weekend. Yeah spend your first two or three weeks snarking and rolling your eyes at the codpieces and feathered hats. Try not to stare at the giant racks on the wenches (it’s okay, we just ask for eye contact every 10.5 seconds so we know you haven’t gone brain dead). Get that out of your system early. But after that, keep coming. Around your 4th or 5th weekend, talk to someone that you see there every time. In all likelihood they are either Cast, Playtron or Boothie. Ask them why they keep coming back. Ask them what the best shows are and what is the best song at Pub Sing. Ask them where they get their cloths. Most of them will be more than happy to talk to you.
And when that little urge hits you, when you open your closet and think “Man, that tiered skirt I have would look really nice with a coin skirt and those leather bracers I saw…”
We’ll be waiting for you.